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Sanchez Expected to Address Media in Baghdad Shortly

Aired July 22, 2003 - 14:06   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, now we're going to take you live to Baghdad where we're told General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of the coalition ground forces, is expected to hold a news conference. Our Harris Whitbeck is live in Baghdad.
What do we expect, Harris? Will he talk about this military operation that took place in Mosul?

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's certainly what we would hope. We were told to be here and to stand by for a very important press conference.

The word on the street, the soldiers who are out guarding the congress (ph) center in downtown Baghdad told us as we were coming in here that we would be hearing some, quote, "very good news."

So we'd certainly hope to hear more details about the events that transpired in Mosul and hope to get confirmation on the identities of those four, quote, "high-ranking people" who were very close to Saddam Hussein. Again, those four people who were killed today during this action up in Mosul.

PHILLIPS: Harris, also, we were listening to this Reuters correspondent that had talked with Wolf Blitzer, Miral Fahmy, that was there in Mosul after the shoot-out took place. She reported possibly one U.S. soldier shot in the chest. Have you been able to find out anything more about that?

WHITBECK: We have not. We heard that same information but so far we have not been able to confirm that. That we expect to get more details of this military operation from the general, if, in fact, that is who it is who comes out to talk to us. They won't even tell us here at the congress center it will be General Sanchez who will talk to us.

PHILLIPS: Harris, do you know if this intelligence came to military sources and they have been planning military personnel, have been planning this raid that took place today? Or is this something that happened at the last minute and they reacted to last minute intelligence? What can you tell us about what led up to this fire fight and this raid on this, we are told the home of a wealthy contractor, according to this Reuters reporter?

WHITBECK: Apparently they did have intelligence and they were acting upon intelligence (AUDIO GAP) did not just stumble upon this. So there had to have been some planning. In fact, one of the reported versions was that they had actually called in air support for this mission which takes a little bit of time. So obviously they did know something big might transpire, they were prepared for that.

PHILLIPS: All right, out Harris Whitbeck standing by there in Baghdad awaiting a news conference, possibly from General Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of the coalition ground forces. We'll bring that to you live as soon as one of the coalition leaders steps up to the podium -- Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well perhaps a confirmation will come there, perhaps it will come from the White House. In any case we're waiting for confirmation on the corpses identities in Mosul. One official admits to CNN positive I.D.s would certainly brighten a lot of moods.

Here's CNN's senior White House correspondent John King with a look at all that. Is it possible, John, that the news will kind of originate out of Baghdad?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are told, Miles, that if there is confirmation, at least today, it would come today from the military. So it could well come out of Baghdad. The line here at the White House is that it is the Pentagon that has this information. It is the Pentagon that will release it. That sometimes changes.

But we are told, as of now anyway, there are no plans for the president himself to address this. And at the press briefing a short time ago Press Secretary Scott McClellan said he had no definitive word. One thing the press secretary did allow, though, he said that President Bush has been in frequent touch with the Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld about this operation.


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has been in touch with the secretary of defense today. Earlier today. They have talked more than once. And he will be kept apprised of any updates as they become available.


KING: Now Scott McClellan refusing to say much more about the details of this operation, refusing even to confirm accounts we have from our sources that the defense secretary did tell the president that reports from the scene were that U.S. officials, military officials were reasonably confident that Uday and Qusay had been killed in the fire fight in Mosul.

White House officials telling us they are awaiting for definitive word from the Pentagon. Behind the scenes here you can be certain there is a great sense of anticipation. As one official said, quote, "We can't say for certain, but there is hope in my heart."

This official, who is involved in intelligence matters, said there was very solid intelligence that Saddam's two sons were in the house at the time of the fire fight. Again, here at the White House they say they are awaiting definitive word from the Pentagon. They say, of course, this would be something to brag about. Something that the White House would say is achieving a key military objective in Iraq at a time in which the administration has been under some criticism.

Some say it exaggerated the intelligence in the days leading up to the war, others saying that with U.S. soldiers getting killed on an almost one a day basis in Iraq since the end of direct hostilities that the president didn't have a good enough plan to maintain the peace. So they would view this, Miles, as a significant development in erasing any doubt at all that the regime of Saddam Hussein might someday return to power.

O'BRIEN: If, in fact, the announcement we're going to hear in Baghdad is what we're sort of being led down the road to believe, that really leaves the ace of spade as the focus, Saddam Hussein. There will be a lot of questions about that and where next in this search, I suppose, along with the opportunity to bask in the limelight, I suppose.

KING: And we're in a land of speculation at the moment. But one official I spoke to earlier said -- was actually excited about this news in the sense that two key officials in the former regime would have been killed, but said it would have been much more beneficial for the United States to capture them alive because of everything they know. Perhaps even the information about the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein himself.

Now -- but the administration, of course, will consider this, if it is true -- and we have to emphasize the if -- if Saddam Hussein's two sons have been killed it will be meeting a key military objective. But you're right, then, of course, attention will focus on the next question, OK, you found the sons, where is the father?

What the White House is hoping is that this will send a powerful psychological signal across Iraq that if there is anyone who has any information about where Saddam Hussein might be, this would increase the likelihood that that person or persons would come forward knowing now that Saddam Hussein might still be unaccounted for but that his two sons are dead and the chance of regime ever coming back into power are so greatly diminished.

O'BRIEN: And I wonder if anyone will be receiving the $15 million reward which might certainly help in all of that. CNN's John King at the White House. Thank you very much.


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