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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

American Soldiers Killed in Grenade Attack

Aired July 28, 2003 - 19:12   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. forces in Iraq continue to face deadly attacks as they hunt for Saddam Hussein. Another American soldier was killed today. It was the 109th death since May 1 when President Bush declared major combat over.
We have a pair of reports now from Nic Robertson in Baghdad and then from Harris Whitbeck in Tikrit.

We're going to start off with senior international correspondent Nic Robertson -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, one of those deaths today, that in a rogue traffic accident, was a soldier in the south of Iraq crashing his vehicle and dying.

Eleven hostile deaths just in the days since Uday and Qusay were killed last week.

The hostile act today killing a U.S. soldier on a highway in Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Carefully removed from a Baghdad roadside, one of the latest U.S. casualties of ongoing guerrilla style attacks. Three soldiers injured and one killed, according to coalition officials.

"I was driving behind them in my own car," he says. "A grenade was thrown from the bridge. The driver's head was blown off and the man behind had his brains blown out."

In the shifting tactics of this urban war, possibly the third such assault in as many days, where attackers rain explosives on troops.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is unclear now. It's unclear. There was personnel up on top of the bridge that ran from the vehicle. That's all we know at this time.

ROBERTSON: Nearby, U.S. soldiers defused what could have been another hostile situation: students angry the troops moving them out of their dormitory.

"We stood in front of the building," says this student. "The soldiers seized me, ripped my shirt and hit me." A misunderstanding, say the soldiers, now at ease with the students. The result of an intelligence tip-off, alleging the U.S. base overlooked by the dorm would be attacked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They thought we were making them leave and not letting them take their tests which is not in our intent at all. We want them to be safe. We want them to take their tests. We want them to pass their tests and do well.

ROBERTSON: The move, according to the troops, designed to head off danger for the students. If their base was attacked from the dorm, the soldiers say they'd return fire, possibly causing unintended casualties.

Not so fortunate, the three Iraqi citizens shot and killed by U.S. troops as they hunted Saddam Hussein Sunday. The tribal leader whose house was raided in that search voicing concerns of many.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know why the Americans are acting on such a thing, to get to hatred or to please hatred.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: Well, as the coalition troops say they're closing in on Saddam Hussein, many Iraqis are beginning to fear that the goodwill generated by his capture could be squandered in collateral, that is Iraqi civilian injuries, people caught up in the cross fire, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Nic, thanks for the update.

U.S. forces say they have Saddam Hussein on the run. No doubt, you've heard that already.

The special unit Task Force 20 has searched a couple of different areas. And the rumors placed Saddam in Fallujah several weeks ago. More recently, the task force combed the streets and back alleys of Baghdad. This past weekend the hunt centered on Tikrit, the ousted Iraqi leader's ancestral hometown.

Harris Whitbeck is in Tikrit tonight for us.

Harris, the buzz is that U.S. forces are dogging Saddam Hussein's trail, closing in on him. Are they that optimistic? Are they talking weeks, days or even hours?

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, they have gathered a lot of information recently on Saddam Hussein and his possible whereabouts, his possible movements.

They do believe that he is moving every two to four hours, which, according to military commanders here, indicates that he is rather desperate. He would be traveling with a small group of people and moving around.

Now, the 4th Infantry Division, which is -- with whom I've been embedded for a couple of days now, has been conducting a pretty intense schedule of raids here. And usually they go out two or three times a day. They go out looking for arms, caches, for ammunition. Any tip that they receive from the local population, they act upon.

And while those raids might not be targeting a specific individual, every raid does yield information that when they put together on a big puzzle, if you will, it helps them to gain the understanding of the terrain, obviously, of Saddam Hussein's homeland and there are some indications that he would be around here because he trusts the people here.

So as the days go by, and as these raids continue, they gather more information.

As far as the timeline of when he could be caught that is anybody's guess, Anderson. That's the question we've all been asking the commanders here. They say it could be days, it could be weeks, it could be months. But they do feel that it is only a matter of time and that window of time is closing in.

COOPER: Harris, let me ask you this, I mean, I've heard this, you know, "We're just two hours behind him." How do they know that?

WHITBECK: Well, obviously they have intelligence on the ground. They have a lot of informants on the ground. And they feel that as time has gone by, they have been able to gain the trust of the local population.

That despite that they have some of the raids that they operate, that they go on can seem pretty violent, if you will, in terms of when they go into people's houses and such. But again, the commander says that they are acting on information that local informants are giving them, so...

COOPER: All right. Harris Whitbeck on the hunt for Saddam. Thanks very much.

There's a somewhat odd addendum to the Iraq story tonight I want to tell you about.

U.S. troops searching the house where Uday and Qusay Hussein were killed said they found Uday's brief case. Now Uday Hussein had a reputation, of course, as a playboy, fond of money, luxury and raping women.

Today, U.S. officials said his brief case contained about $21,000 in U.S. and Iraqi currency, some clothes, cologne, Viagra and a condom. Can't make this stuff up.

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