CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Pentagon Does Not Anticipate Further Major Battles
Aired April 15, 2003 - 01:01 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AARON BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Pentagon said today, it doesn't anticipate any more major battles, but jets and helicopters are still flying, soldiers are still patrolling, lookouts continue to look out. But more and more, the official summaries from Washington are really about the way things are winding down, not building up, and what comes next.
Here is CNN's Patty Davis.
PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cobra helicopters swooped above, as Marines moved into Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, north of Baghdad. They had expected Iraqi fighters to mount a last stand here, but instead, encounters only a few sharp fire fights and little problems securing the presidential palace.
BRIG. GEN. VINCENT BROOKS, CENTRAL COMMAND: There was less resistance than we anticipated. We certainly knew it was an area that was very important to the regime leadership.
DAVIS: With Saddam Hussein's regime dismantled, U.S. troops worked with Iraqi police to restore order in Baghdad, and other cities. But the Pentagon isn't declaring victory yet.
GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, JOINT CHIEFS: I would anticipate that the major combat engagements are over, because the major Iraqi units on the ground cease to show coherence.
DAVIS: The air campaign is now phasing out. Some F-117s and B-2 stealth bombers have been sent home. Air missions have dropped to 700 to 800 per day, less than half their highest level. The Pentagon said two aircraft carrier battle groups, the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk, and the U.S.S. Constellation will leave the Persian Gulf within days. So far, there is not plan to pull ground troops, who continue to face danger from snipers, renegade remnants from the Republican Guard and suicide bombs. With combat winding down, the hunt for weapons of mass destruction is ratcheting up. So far, though, no confirmed finds.
MCCHRYSTAL: We don't have positive or negative either way. We have gone to some of the major sites, as I said, and, in fact, shipped samples back to the United States for detailed analysis.
DAVIS (on camera): And the hunt for Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi officials remains a top priority. Also a top priority, finding the four Americans still unaccounted for.
Patty Davis, CNN, the Pentagon.
BROWN: More almost than Baghdad itself, Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit was considered to be the ultimate prize in the war in Iraq, at least if you remember the world "ultimate" means last.
Well, that may have turned out to be true after all, here is Julian Manyon of Britain's ITV.
JULIAN MANYON, ITV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): U.S. helicopter gun ships blast Iraqi positions on the outskirts of Tikrit. But this was not the battle royal that many had predicted. And tonight, Saddam Hussein's hometown is firmly in American hands. Earlier, we drove in from the north, on a dangerous road, where a little later militant Arabs fired on another group of journalists. We were lucky, and got through to American positions at a half-destroyed bridge. We found U.S. Marines already in occupation of Tikrit's main square, still occupied by an equestrian statue of the former dictator.
We joined the Marines as they pushed forward to secure the main populated area of the city. Ahead of us, helicopter gun ships swooped over the rooftops.
(on camera): We were the forward group of U.S. Marines, which is advancing extremely cautiously toward what we believe is the central mosque of the city of Tikrit. The situation at the moment is calm. There is no shooting, but it is extremely tense. And it is clear that these American soldiers believe that they could come under fire at any moment.
(voice-over): Many Tikritis had fled. Those who remained watched the American seizure of their city calmly, but with little warmth.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We support anyone who comes here, Saddam or anyone else. All we want is peace.
MANYON: The Americans occupied government complexes and carefully secured the police headquarters, already half destroyed by bombing. Then, suddenly, the gun ships went into action.
(on camera): American helicopters and now jets have been striking targets just beyond the outskirts of the city, behind me, over there. We were told by local people until yesterday, this area was full of what they call Fedayeen, the irregular fighters who have been fighting on behalf of Saddam Hussein. And it is possible that those units have now tried to pull out northward, and are being attacked by the Americans from the air.
(voice-over): In fact, the Iraqi fighters had withdrawn to a military base just outside the city. And it was immediately bombed by the Americans. The fight for Tikrit was effectively over. What remains are grandiose monuments to Saddam's rule. This was one of his favorite palaces. But, today, American armor filled his drive. Looters have already emptied the once magnificent buildings. The Americans found only empty chambers, and no answer to the question of where the fallen tyrant may now be.
Julian Manyon, ITV News, Tikrit.
BROWN: There have been plenty of uniformed figures on the streets of Baghdad over the last several days, but not of the kind just now beginning to reappear. In this case, we're talking about figures in police uniforms.
Here is CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These are the policemen and the officers who were supposed to be restoring order. It was for a morning almost as chaotic inside the police academy as on the streets. Saluting him last week, stomping on him today, it seemed the police were trying to purge themselves of Saddam Hussein's brutality that they had helped, and perhaps were forced to enforce. Staff Sergeant Jeremy Stafford and the Marines who had come to get the first police patrol out on the beat were overwhelmed.
STAFF SERGEANT JEREMY STAFFORD: So, I figured I would let them at it. The only other way I could have stopped it is was to start using force. And I am not going to start using force on these people. I think they have had enough of that.
AMANPOUR: Indeed, just last week, they had discarded their uniforms for fear of being shot by Americans entering Baghdad. Now, a few put them on again. All rushed to sign up for their old jobs, and feelings that had been bottled up for years pour forth.
The regime used to have a sword at our neck, says Sergeant Fasal Morsen (ph). If we didn't cooperate, we were fired or sent to prison on trumped up charges.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have refused to work with Saddam.
AMANPOUR: Hamid Mousafar (ph) was head of the traffic police back in 1983.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And, now, I want to come back and work, and to save my people.
AMANPOUR: But not everyone here is reporting for duty, nor do they trust those who are. Hussein Jarala (ph), has come looking for the security forces who imprisoned and tortured him back in 1999.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was hung by my arms from the ceiling, he said, electrocuted and beaten with sticks.
He came with a list of names. He didn't find them. But one army officer offered a mea culpa.
"Regrettably, as the army, we were a tool of repression of the Iraqi people," said Lieutenant Colonel Adnan Rashid. "When we joined up, we thought we would secure our future and our children's future, but it didn't turn out like that. God-willing, we will make up for the past and correct our relationship with our people."
And just to make sure they are recruiting good cops, Marines had called for only a couple of hundred to come today.
STAFFORD: Unfortunately, somehow the word got out, there was a breech in the security someplace. The word got out. So we had a couple of thousand of them show up, versus a couple of hundred.
AMANPOUR: Well, that's good, you want lots of people.
STAFFORD: Well, we do. Unfortunately, these things have to be done in baby steps.
AMANPOUR: A baby step like this, one Iraqi police car, with a two-vehicle armed Marine escort. Desperate city residents immediately clamor for a stop to the looting. Meantime, back at the academy, an exhausted officer tells everyone to go home, and report back Thursday morning. Restoring order to the city will have to wait a while longer.
Christiane Amanpour, CNN, Baghdad.
BROWN: Another strain to the story today, when a country that's just pulled a dictatorship out by its roots starts shaking its fist in our direction, you might do well to pay attention. They are paying attention in Damascus.
CNN's Sheila MacVicar is in the Syrian capitol, and joins us again Sheila.
SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Aaron. Indeed, the Syrians being hit with what may be called the triple whammy on Sunday. They got it from President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell, and from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. All of them speaking out about Syria, all of them speaking out about a different area of concern for the U.S. administration about Syria. It would seem that they certainly have gotten the attention of the Syrians. The question is, whether or not that message is very clear.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROSTOM AL-ZOUBI, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: All these accusations are baseless, we deny them. We don't have weapons of mass destruction, it is Israel who has the big arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. And we are wondering, not only me, the whole Arab region, the whole Arab people are asking, why the focus on Syria at this time, and forgetting everything about Israel? They understand it as a double standard. (END VIDEO CLIP)
MACVICAR: And, Aaron, that, indeed, is the question that is being asked on the front page this morning of the ruling Baath Party newspaper, asking the question, what is America doing? This is only in Israel's interest, what it is doing is escalating tension in the region. It is very clear, from what we have heard from America's closest coalition partners, the U.K., and certainly in the Iraq struggle, U.K., saying very clearly, there is no list, Syria is not on that list. But, clearly, the U.S. administration signaling that they are going to be asking Damascus to make changes. And in the words of various U.S. administration officials over last course of the last number of days, they expect full cooperation - Aaron.
BROWN: How much control does the Syrian president have over all aspects of his government, including, for example, the intelligence service?
MACVICAR: That is a good question. If you want to talk about the different allegations that the U.S. is making, there is one, in particular, that Syria has permitted some weapons to be shipped across its borders to support the military of Saddam Hussein. And it is fairly clear from everything we know about this, although the Syrians have denied it, this is a subject that the U.S. has been raising with the Syrians very quietly for more than a year. And we know that there are a number of private companies and private individuals who are engaged in that trade.
The question, of course, is how much does the Syrian government know. And the belief is that the Syrian government is in a position to know almost everything that is chooses to know. How much does the president know? How many choices can the president make? What can the president do? Can he, for example, deal with particular issues of great sensitivity, like Syria's covert chemical weapon program. The answer has to be that there is one man in charge of this country, that it is President Bashar al-Assad. And that he is the one who will be held to account by the U.S. administration. The reality as to whether or not he is fully in control, he controls all elements, and not some factions is another question. But he is the man to whom the U.S. will have to address all its issues of concern - Aaron.
BROWN: And, in the region, Egyptians, Jordanians, others, is the Syrian government seen as an ally, a comfortable ally or a wary ally?
MACVICAR: Well, you know, Syria has taken a position, certainly over the Iraq crisis, which, actually, in the Arab world, has brought greater standing to President al-Assad. What the Syrians did, if you remembers, is they voted as Security Council members in support of Resolution 1441, calling for Iraq to disarm, calling on the weapons inspectors to go back into Iraq. That was a stand that was widely accepted. The Syrians, of course, refused to support any military action. They did very clearly, they did not support the regime of Saddam Hussein, but that they supported Iraq's people.
Now, unlike other regimes in the region, take the Jordanians, for example, or the Saudis, or the Kuwaitis, those governments actually lent greater support, material support to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the U.S.-led action against Iraq. So, Syria, in sort of doing the right thing internationally, and then taking a stand against the war, seems to have won greater support in the Arab World. That's a kind of unusual position for the Syrians. And one they are sort of enjoying that at the moment. But it is clear, in terms of what the U.S. administration is saying, in terms of what other people who lately have been in Damascus, the French foreign minister, the Saudi foreign minister, a British foreign office minister.
It is clear that there will be things demanded of Syria, a clean break with the past. And that Syria will be asked to make changes. And Syria is being told, you are going to have to cooperate fully, otherwise, there will be consequences. We heard from Ari Fleischer, today, in the White House briefing, he would not spell out what those consequences are. And he wouldn't go so far as to say, no, we are not going to use the military weaponry we have got assembled next door. It is clear from the British view there will not be military force, but other forms of engagement instead -- Aaron.
BROWN: Sheila, thank you. Sheila MacVicar in Damascus this morning, a little bit more on the Syrian problem, if you will.
Chris Dickey from "Newsweek" magazine joins us.
We'll take a break first.
BROWN: Here on the subject of Syria, a pretty good working over tonight. It seems it is going to be out there for a little while longer.
To get more a feel for how this is all playing in Syria, in London and in the States, we go back to Damascus to Chris Dickey of "Newsweek" Magazine. Chris joins us again. It is good to see you.
Let's break this into three parts, what do you think the American game is here?
CHRIS DICKEY, "NEWSWEEK": I think the American game is to take advantage of the strength of the moment and warn Syria about several things that have been bothering the Americans for a long time. Obviously, short-term, there is a question of Saddam and people from his regime possibly coming through here. But the larger question of chemical weapons support for terrorism, those have been issues that the U.S. has wanted to go after for a long time.
BROWN: Is it inconceivable to you, that at this moment, the administration would, in fact, go to war with Syria?
DICKEY: Well, I think what people are worrying about is the sort of sliding scale of justification for war in Washington. You know, we went to war in Iraq supposedly about weapons of mass destruction. As far as I know, none have been found yet, no scuds, nothing. Now, it's a war of liberation, we are freeing the Iraqi people. Why do we go to war? The way the rest of the world looks at it, we go to war because we want to go to war. And I think that is what a lot of people here are worried about right now. They are trying to decipher Washington and find out what it's real intention is. And Washington may not want them to do that. It may keep them guessing.
BROWN: Where are the British in all of this, Chris?
DICKEY: The British are very worried in all of this, because they don't want to be in a game where we go from one war to another war, to another war, and they are constantly being implicated in the process. They are already being separated from the rest of Europe, because of their support for this coalition. If you go into a situation where they are just following along as they say. If Blair continues to be Bush's poodle, following him from one war to another, that is humiliating to Britain, and eventually will disrupt its relations with Europe very seriously.
BROWN: So, the British are uncomfortable. The Americans are pushing the moment. And the Syrians, what is your take on where they are and how they play this?
DICKEY: Well, I think the Syrians are very worried. They enjoyed a moment of sort of exhalation, if you will, in the Arab world, when it looked like Saddam Hussein was going to hold out. I don't think that they timed it quite right since Saddam crumbled. Now, they are sort of left holding the bag for him. I think they are trying to regroup, figure out where they can go, what they can do to appease Washington, without being completely humiliated themselves. I suspect that they will find a way, because, in fact, what Washington is demanding is nothing as dramatic as regime change here, nothing as dramatic as what it was demanding in Iraq.
BROWN: Can they give on the Hezbollah question?
DICKEY: Well, yes, there are things that they could give on the Hezbollah question. There are a couple of minor things. So technically, it is hard to understand. There is a little piece of territory called the Shebaa Farms, for instance, which has been the proxy battleground for Hezbollah and Israel. Suddenly, they could look at the map and decide, well, maybe that isn't in Lebanon that is in Syria, and we can solve that problem. There are things like that. On chemical weapons, they could enter into some kind of general regime for the region. I think that is an idea that is already being floated by the Saudis, and probably already by the Syrians. So, I think there is room to maneuver.
As far as the Iraqi officials being here, I don't think the intelligence on that is very good. You hear Rumsfeld and others talking about scraps of intelligence. And my information is that, essentially, the Pentagon is cherry picking intelligence. And if they were going to take the consensus of the intelligence community, you wouldn't see this kind of damming situation where Syria is concerned. So I think there is room to maneuver.
BROWN: I'm sorry. And the reason they are doing this, Washington is doing this, because is it trying to press this moment. It has an advantage, it is trying to use this moment to its best advantage?
DICKEY: Yes, I think it is trying to use the moment to its best advantage and also to Israel's best advantage at this moment. I think that is one of the sources of resentment in the region. But the basic thing, remember President Bush is very focused on one specific problem, which is weapons of mass destruction, and terrorism, coming together. Syria has had a chemical weapons program for a long time, according to millions of reports that have come out. And it has supported organizations that Israel has called terrorist organizations, and the State Department has called terrorist organization for a long time.
So, I think Washington is trying to take this moment and press it to try and roll that situation back, which is something that, actually, they would have wanted to do years ago, and now they have seized the opportunity to do it.
BROWN: Chris, thanks again. Chris Dickey, the Mideast regional editor for "Newsweek" magazine in Damascus this morning. Thank you very much.
Michael Holmes is in Baghdad. And there is some news developing there. So, we'll go to Michael. Michael, what do you have?
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Aaron, quite an extraordinary incident taking place just a matter of minutes ago here at the Palestine Hotel, where some two, two and a half thousand journalists are based. We have reports from even CNN staff that U.S. Marines went door to door on the 17th floor of this hotel, that is the top floor. And we don't know yet whether or not they went to other floors, as well. But certainly every room on the top floor, going into the rooms, without knocking normally. And if they did knock, according to one of our producers, they did so with a tip of the rifle. When the doors were opened, everyone inside the rooms ordered to lay on the ground. The Marines who went in there, apparently, masked, nobody could see their faces, ordering everyone on the ground, demanding credentials, checking everyone out. And we know that at least three people, we believe them to be Iraqis were blindfolded, handcuffed, put on the floor and eventually taken away.
The purpose of this raid, we don't know as yet. But, certainly, one of the staffers of CNN that I spoke to, who was in her room, quite a terrifying moment. A French photographer we spoke to said he wasn't even sure whether they were U.S. So, he didn't open the door. And the door was eventually opened for him. So, a little bit of drama right here at the hotel where the international media is staying. One other tidbit I can bring you, an enormous armored column, headed north, right behind us here. It took about 15 minutes for it to go past. U.S. weaponry on display. Where they were headed, we are not sure. Some U.S. Marines scrambled from here, jumped into Humvees. They, too, headed north, where they are going, their mission, we don't yet know. We are checking it out - Aaron.
BROWN: As I am sure you know, there has been lots of concern or speculation that the hotel would be a ripe target for some sort of terrorist attack. HOLMES: That is, indeed, correct - Aaron. And it's with a measure of relief that most journalists here - we don't like normally being crammed into one place together. But the U.S. Marines are in force around this hotel. And that gives us some sense of security, despite two rather noisy fire fights that have broken out over the last two days, right here at our position. But we have barricades set up, barbed wire barricades at either entrance to stop the potential for car bombings. And we have U.S. Marines literally throughout the hotel. You walk into the lobby, and there is probably 50 Marines and journalists. And that is saying something in terms of numbers. But, yet, it is a security target. This is the same hotel hit by a tank shell, because U.S. troops said they thought they might have been taking sniper fire from it.
And there are a mixture of locals, of course, here, local hires, as we call, that we use as translators, drivers and everything. But, you can't get into this hotel without showing credentials at the checkpoints at either end. But, yes, very much a security risk and very much a target, Aaron.
BROWN: And, just, back to the raid or whatever you want to call it that that took place. Two questions, one is, how long ago did it happen? Did it happen hours ago, in the middle of the night or did it just happen. Secondly, did they seem to be looking for something in specific?
HOLMES: They seemed to be looking for people. Once they discovered who was who in the room, as in the case of one of our producers I just spoke to. She was a female, who literally stepped out of the shower, and had the right credentials, and then they left. Told the people to stay in their rooms. Of course, being journalists, they poked their heads out to see what was going on in the corridors anyway. And that is how we know there were three people taken into custody. As for when it happened, it happened quite literally one hour, 20 minutes ago - Aaron.
BROWN: Michael, thank you. Michael Holmes, who is in Baghdad.
Our coverage continues in a moment. We will take a break.
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