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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

War in Iraq: 1st Marines Head to Tikrit

Aired April 13, 2003 - 05:09   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: We want to talk more about what's happening in Tikrit as far as the coalition forces are concerned, so let's head live now to the Pentagon to check in with Kathleen Koch.
What do you know about that -- Kathleen?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, the Pentagon had long had its sights set on Tikrit. As you reported earlier in the newscast, an armored column of Marines from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force left Baghdad and headed north to Tikrit on Saturday. It included several regimental combat teams and light- armored reconnaissance battalions.

So the coalition is ready for anything, but it did have some idea in departing of what to expect. The reports are that there had been several unmanned reconnaissance drones flying over the city, checking it out, and not noting any signs of troops massing or of defensive preparations being made. Also special operations forces were said to be working in the area probing into Tikrit.

So talk was growing here at the Pentagon that perhaps that Republican Guard division that was believed to be based in Tikrit had simply walked away, laid down their arms. And, of course, Brent Sadler's initial images of those bases that seemed deserted certainly seem to confirm that. But clearly some pro-Saddam forces remain in control of the city of Tikrit itself, and the Pentagon here is not confirming, not commenting on that report from Brent that there may be some sort of surrender negotiations under way between coalition forces and tribal chiefs in the city of Tikrit.

One official here, though, was pointing out what Brent Sadler certainly learned himself today that -- quote -- "It remains incredibly dangerous to be out there as a unilateral journalist" -- Carol.

COSTELLO: I think that's the understatement of the morning, Kathleen.

Tikrit is not really a very large city. It only has, what, 30,000 people in it. But they fear it's such a stronghold because it was Saddam's birthplace, and the Baath Party and the clan members inside that town actually helped Saddam come to power.

KOCH: Certainly, and it was also a city where the Saddam Hussein regime had invested quite heavily in fortifying it militarily, building things like radar units throughout the city, observation posts in key areas, anti-aircraft guns, surface-to-air missile batteries were positioned strategically. So it was certainly set up so that if Saddam Hussein, if his sons, if any members of his regime wanted to go there and mount a last stand, it was certainly the sort of city that was prepared for it, that was set up for it.

But, again, the hope, at least at this point, is that militarily there really won't be that sort of concerted resistance.

COSTELLO: It's kind of ironic, too, this is the last major city not in coalition hands, yet the military is now sending some warplanes home, some aircraft carriers home. What more can you tell us about that?

KOCH: Well, that's something that the Pentagon is beginning to consider as at least this -- you know, this is the last remaining city, as you pointed out, that is not under coalition control. And as the aerial bombardments drop day by day, there isn't going to be the need for all of this firepower to be centered in the region. But the Pentagon is not going to be hasty. It doesn't want to move anything out preemptively.

So they're taking their time, but they're certainly beginning to look at that, scaling back a little bit.

COSTELLO: This chemical warhead that they found in Kirkuk, do you have any more information on that, so we can update our viewers?

KOCH: Still don't have a final reading on it. The plan right now was for a chemical weapons evaluation team to come in and check out that warhead very carefully, because when the teams came upon it in Kirkuk, they performed tests in the field. The first test was positive for the presence of some sort of a chemical nerve agent, and then the second test was negative, Carol. So they're still waiting for that team to come in and do a final and definitive test.

COSTELLO: Understand. We'll get back to you -- Kathleen Koch reporting live from the Pentagon this morning.

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