CNN BREAKING NEWS
Explosion in Baghdad
Aired October 12, 2003 - 06:59 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Andrea Koppel.
SEAN CALLEBS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Sean Callebs, and you're looking at the aftermath of a pretty violent car bomb explosion in the heart of Baghdad. It happened near the Baghdad hotel. It happened 45 minutes to one hour ago. It depends on who you speak with, in terms of eyewitnesses. There was at least one car bomb explosion, perhaps two. Our Harris Whitbeck on the ground reports seeing at least one person injured there -- he can clearly see injuries. Reuters News Agency is reporting that perhaps as many as 10 people were killed.
There were barricades in and around the area of Baghdad Hotel, a sensitive area, perhaps home to U.S. CIA operatives. It is also just a few blocks, or very close, rather, to the Palestine Hotel, which is really housing the international news agency there, and that is where our John Raedler was, I believe. John, weren't you in the Palestine Hotel when the blast occurred?
JOHN RAEDLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sean, I was in a room on the 11th floor of the Palestine Hotel. That's less than one mile from the scene of the explosion. First, we heard the noise and it was very obvious that it was an explosion. There was nothing faint about the noise at all. It was loud. It was clear.
Very soon after that noise, we felt the impact of the shock wave as it hit this hotel structure and shook it. It was somewhat akin to being shaken in a high level earthquake.
Soon after that, we ran to the side of the hotel that offered us a view of the explosion scene. There were large plumes of thick, black smoke issuing up from what we believe is the Baghdad Hotel.
Soon after that, we saw U.S. military helicopters hone in and start circling the area. The scene on the ground was quite chaotic. CNN cameras were there very quickly. There were security personnel. There were ambulances with sirens, trying to get through the crowd of people that were there.
I might add this happened at about lunchtime on Sunday here. Sunday is a regular work day in this predominantly Muslim country, so there were a lot of people in the area. There were lots of buildings occupied with workers.
The reports we get from the scene, one and maybe two cars apparently rammed the scene of the explosion. There was some sort of restraining wall, blast wall there, we are told. That would be obvious because the Baghdad Hotel, we know, was housing U.S. officials. But the restraining walls and the blast walls not withstanding, it appears that this blast has knocked down at least part of the hotel and parts of other surrounding buildings. We believe another building nearby is a police station that was damaged there also.
I might add there were fires in the immediate aftermath of the explosion. They appear to have been brought under control. Most of the thick black smoke has also abated now.
Back to you, Sean.
CALLEBS: John, if I can, bring us up to date. We're looking at videotape from the scene 45 minutes or half an hour ago. It shows a pretty chaotic scene, a lot of tense U.S. military officials, Humvees, helicopters in the air.
What is the scene like now? Has it calmed down? Is it still as tense and fluid?
RAEDLER: I am more removed from the scene than the pictures you are showing, Sean, so I can't say with great accuracy. I've been seeing pictures of about five minutes ago from CNN cameras on the scene.
Certainly, there has been some degree of calm restored from the initial chaos that was rampant. There was a large presence of heavily armed U.S. military personnel on the scene. Ambulances going back and forth into the scene and bringing people out. There are clearly a large number of people who have been injured.
There are reports from the scene of fatalities. We cannot get a specific number or definite information on that. One of the news agencies reporting a local official as saying as many as 10. I can only say it would be very surprising if there were not fatalities in this explosion. Such was the magnitude of it. Such was the damage that it has caused -- Sean.
KOPPEL: John, it's Andrea Koppel. Just want to clarify for our viewers. CNN now confirms, according to your reporting and Harris Whitbeck's, that the -- at least one or two car bombs exploded, perhaps even hit the Baghdad Hotel itself.
And you are also saying that it is your understanding that U.S. officials are based there. Is that correct?
RAEDLER: That is correct. Affirmative, Andrea. That is very -- one of a number of hotels in central Baghdad that has been occupied by U.S. officials, officials from other branches of the coalition. It has been occupied at times by top-level military people, government people, members of the so-called Coalition Provisional Authority here.
And indeed, it's only a week or so back that another of the hotels where a lot of those (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the al-Rashid Hotel, that was hit with either a mortar or rocket propelled grenade. There was very little damage caused in that incident. But it is clear and obvious in recent weeks here, targets that are known to contain Westerners in general, Americans in particular, have become targets. Just in recent times, we've had a hotel that was almost solely occupied by an American television network, a bomb went off there, causing injuries. We've also had that incident of a rocket-propelled grenade or mortar hitting the al-Rashid Hotel, and now this incident today.
It is very clear that in recent weeks, there has been a very deliberate and planned campaign by those who are intent to target accommodations and other headquarters, as it were, of American, Western and also coalition authorities, Coalition Provisional Authority. And also, we've had a Spanish diplomat killed here in recent days, as well -- Andrea.
KOPPEL: John, you actually just touched on the point that I wanted to underscore here, so do you think that it was common knowledge in Baghdad that the Baghdad Hotel...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... not be completely successfully...
KOPPEL: ... was a center of -- either a headquarters or where U.S./Western officials lived?
I think we just lost John Raedler. Let me pass things over to Sean.
CALLEBS: OK. We're going to bring in a security analyst, CNN analyst Kelly McCann, who joins us from Washington, D.C.
Very difficult thing for families who have loved ones overseas to wake up to on a Sunday morning, Kelly. And we'd like to say that this is something that we won't see again. But we heard John talk about it. There is a deliberate effort by what he referred to as those overseas to inflict harm on U.S. and other international agencies there.
We also have reports of a number of more radical groups reorganizing.
How concerned are you about this?
KELLY MCCANN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Well, first, Sean, what I'll do is answer Andrea's question.
The fact is, Andrea, you're correct. I mean, in a place where there's only three or four hotels that come up to a standard where some of the CPA officials would stay and contractors, et cetera, it's pretty to discern where those groups are operating out of. Not to mention their daily schedules that, you know, going and coming from those places. So it is pretty common knowledge what's going on in the area.
Most of the hotels employ local national security forces that have been contracted in order to provide security at those hotels. And Sean, to your question, basically I think that this, you know, is indicative of the asymmetrical nature of terrorism. I mean, it's so difficult to, A, predict and, B, to prevent one of these kinds of attacks that, until we win the peace or until we win the trust and confidence of the people there, and they see that their standard of living is increasing, I suspect we're going to see more of this.
KOPPEL: Kelly, just for our viewers, the CPA is the Coalition Provisional Authority. You were just saying that you think there were just a few hotels there that the Western or American officials would be staying at.
Again, doesn't seem as if there is very much that they can be doing on the ground to beef up security around those locations, is there?
MCCANN: There really isn't. Again, it goes to the architecture of the way that they buildings were built. They were built not with terrorism or anti -- security in mind. So it's always a patchwork system after the fact, Andrea, that the force protection people have to try to correct by using Jersey barriers, the movable concrete barriers, by truncated landscaping that prevents a vehicle from getting this close to a building.
But the hotels there are typically right off main streets, so to create a buffer area. To push a bomb blast back is very, very difficult, especially when it's on a major thoroughfare. Something like that could actually increase or exacerbate the situation in the locals' eyes, because they resent that kind of inconvenience.
So it's a challenging situation. I know that there are a tremendous amount of force protection people in Baghdad, operating right now for the U.S. military and for the contractors. But their hands are full, quick frankly.
KOPPEL: Kelly, if you'd be good enough to stand by.
For our viewers who may just be tuning in now, it is October 12, and it is 3 p.m., just past 3 p.m. in the afternoon in central Baghdad. The pictures that you're looking at, they are helicopters flying overhead central Baghdad. There is a fairly heavy presence, U.S. military presence, on the ground and Iraqi military presence on the ground. You can see there the aftermath of what could be, perhaps, up to two explosions, car bomb explosions, that rocked central Baghdad.
Within the last hour and 15, 20 minute or so, a place known as the Palestine -- excuse me, the Baghdad Hotel, which is about four blocks away from the Palestine Hotel, where a lot of western journalists, a lot of international contractors are staying.
And it's our understanding from our correspondents and producers on the ground in Baghdad that U.S. officials were known to be staying and sleeping at the Baghdad Hotel. But again, the explosion happened mid-day on Sunday afternoon in Baghdad -- Sean.
CALLEBS: OK, Andrea.
We do want to bring in now our Mike Brooks. He is our national security analyst, and a bit about Mike's background. He was a member of the FBI's joint terrorism task force and evidence response team. And among the various sites that he has been dispatched to, including the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Belran (ph), Saudi Arabia, that killed a number of U.S. forces.
Mike, it must look somewhat familiar to you at this hour. What is the main job right now to get out there and try and get as much evidence as they can to try and find out what caused this blast and who was responsible?
MIKE BROOKS, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Sean, it looks very, very familiar, especially after 1998, after the bombings of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi. I was one of the team leaders there for the FBI's evidence response team. We were the first Americans there on the ground after the bombing.
What the -- the FBI has already been in Baghdad. They were there investigating the bombing of the U.N. headquarters, as one recalls, originally. And look, a scene very similar to what we're seeing here.
But what they'll want to do is they'll get on the scene, work with the local Iraqi police and the military there to try to find out, No. 1, what was the cause? What kind of improvised explosive device was used? Was it a car bomb? Was there multiple cars? And were car bombs involved?
And also, try to find out if the device is similar to any other devices that have been used in the past, for instance at the U.N. headquarters.
They'll start interviewing people, set up a perimeter and -- but it seemed like it's very, very chaotic in the initial stages, Sean. To really set up a command post and to start their investigation. But they will do the best they can, working with the locals to try to find out exactly what everyone there saw, what they heard, you know, whether the suicide car bomb, these kinds of things.
But they've already been there on the scene, working the U.N. bombing. And they're good at it. And hopefully, they'll be able to find out what was at the bottom of this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) explosion at the Baghdad Hotel -- Sean.
CALLEBS: Well, Mike, is there any kind of explanation you've been passed on that would perhaps provide some solace to those who have loved ones, family members in Baghdad, in Iraq. That maybe the investigations going on right now could help prevent further attacks?
BROOKS: Well, you know, we're talking about trying to mitigate any other further bombings, like Kelly was just talking about. But again, in an area like this, in an urban setting, it's very, very difficult to do that.
But, you know, we look at other bombings such as the Khobar Towers and that bombing in Delran (ph), Saudi Arabia, in '96, the U.S. embassy in Nairobi in '98, as well as the U.S. embassy in Tanzania in '98.
And, you know, they've put together a number of security plans. And the people there are trying to do the best they can for protection. But we look at the pictures that we're seeing now, coming to us from Baghdad. It's very, very difficult to create any kind of standoff. You know, the journalists -- the U.S., the CIA personnel there, other government contractors.
It's very, very difficult. This is just a very volatile and moving scene all the time, as we've seen in Baghdad, especially since the U.N. headquarters. Very, very difficult to protect against, Sean.
KOPPEL: Mike, I know that you have -- you were on the scene after the Khobar attack, not nearly as quickly as you might have liked. And also after the USS Cole bombing in 2000.
What, in terms of the evidence that you'd be gathering on the ground, that your former FBI colleagues would be gathering on the ground right now following this -- at least, what appears to be car bombing, in Baghdad. What would that evidence tell you? What are the materials you'd be looking for, for instance, that would indicate, perhaps, this is al Qaeda behind it or maybe just either Ba'athist Party or other supporters of the former Iraqi regime?
BROOKS: Well, one of the things, Andrea, they do is when they do get on the scene, one of the things they -- the first thing they do is try to find out what kind of explosive was used. Sometimes that can tell you, you know, exactly where the explosive came from. And you also go back in your database to see if there's any other similarities in any other bombs that have been used in the past.
They work together with all the intelligence agencies in the United States and abroad, to basically query their databases.
They'll go back and they'll try to piece together the device again, to try and -- that, again, as I said, they can go back and look for similarities and other bombs that have been used. Say, was it al Qaeda, or was it a bomb that was used in Spain? Was it another one that was used in the U.K.? They'll try to go back and try to piece together the device itself.
But again, in the initial stages it looks very, very chaotic because it is. Because, No. 1, they want to make sure that all the search and rescue is done before they can start their investigation. But I can guarantee you that they are there already, trying to interview people, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the victims, what they say, what they heard, exactly what happened that lead to this bombing -- Andrea.
CALLEBS: Well, Mike, we also heard Kelly McCann talk about one of the -- something going on like now is the U.S. authorities trying to work with the Iraqi police and the other locals to try and gather as much information as possible.
But we heard Harris talk about sort of a mixed feeling, clearly a mixed feeling, on the American presence over there. Some days they are glad, relieved that Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. But something like this happens, anti-American sentiment fuels rather quickly.
How difficult is it, trying to win confidence of officers and people who may be in the know?
BROOKS: Well, you know, we ran into the same kind of thing, Sean, initially when we were in Kenya after the U.S. embassy bombing there. And, you know, it's because you are there that this happens, because the United States is here that this happened.
But after they see genuinely the impact and the devastation of this. They'll say, "Well, we don't want to happen again." And they would cooperate.
The Kenyans in '98 were extremely cooperative after the initial shock of something like this.
But the Iraqis have been going through these kind of things for quite some time now. You know, it's hard to win the hearts and minds of the people there, especially when they see devastation like this.
But usually, the people will help in the investigation. Because they don't want to see their loved ones and their families, involved in anything like this and become the victims of something that has been centered against U.S., against the U.S. forces there in Iraq -- Sean.
KOPPEL: What -- Mike, in terms of the -- what we know from our reporters and producers on the scene, is that at least part of the Baghdad Hotel was destroyed in this blast. From your experience, does that take a lot of explosives to destroy part of a hotel. Or does that sound like, relatively speaking, a smaller blast, to you?
BROOKS: Well, just from looking at the pictures I'm seeing right now, Andrea, it would be a sizable high explosive type bomb. It's very, very similar to what we're seeing, as I talked about in the past, 1998 and 1996, exactly how much explosive was used is really hard to tell.
There's a number of calculations that the FBI investigators from the explosives slab (ph) will take into effect. They will go there, and they'll take a look at the size of the crater, if it did leave a crater, as such. They'll look at the damage to the building, to the surrounding buildings to put all these calculations. It's a little device -- actually, they call it Whiz Wheel (ph). And they'll take that and put it all together, and they'll say, we know it was approximately this much explosive.
You look back, in 1996, the damage that was done at Khobar Towers, they were able to determine fairly quickly that it was at least a minimum -- again, a minimum, of 5,000 pounds of C4 explosive. You look in 1998 at the bombings of the USS embassy in Nairobi, back then they looked, they said it was a minimum, at least, of 2,500 pounds of TNT. But these are the kind of things that they'll look at as the investigation gets further down the road.
CALLEBS: OK. Mike Brooks, national correspondent, his specialty in national security. Thanks very much, Mike, for joining us on the phone this morning, bringing us up to date.
For those of you who may just be joining us, let's tell you what's going on in the heart of Baghdad. There was an apparent car bomb explosion just outside the Baghdad Hotel. There may have been one, perhaps two vehicles. We know that there are casualties. Reuters News agency is reporting that at least 10 people are dead.
There is a big U.S. military presence on the scene right now, a number of troops in Humvees have secured the area. They are worried about the possibility of a secondary blast.
Meanwhile, overhead, surveillance helicopters fly. The U.S. troops do, apparently, have control of the area. It has calmed down somewhat. The investigation is going on now. And this, of course, will continue for some days, weeks to come.
And this is just the latest in a series of violent explosions that has rocked parts of Baghdad, Iraq.
And Andrea now has -- brings us up to date on the very latest -- Andrea.
KOPPEL: Well, actually I want to go to Harris Whitbeck, our correspondent who is on the scene, was there within minutes after the explosion rocked Baghdad, about an hour and a half ago, Central Baghdad.
Harris there are conflicting reports. There's one that just crossed the wires now from Al Jazeera Television, the Arab satellite news, quoting some governing council members, saying that at least seven were killed in the Baghdad blast. Have you or any or your colleague had a chance to work your sources, to get a figure as to perhaps how many casualties there were?
HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Andrea, we do know that there were casualties, though we have not been able to get any of those figures. You know those figures change very quickly, and nobody has been able to confirm exactly how many people might have been killed or injured.
We just saw one man, who was very visibly hurt. His head was wrapped in bandages, and he was actually walking back into the site of the bombed hotel. And he was wearing a badge that indicated that he was a hotel staffer. He seemed, obviously, well enough to walk and to function. That he was let back into the area by the U.S. military police.
We also saw one car just go into the area with blackened windows and two -- there were two Americans dressed in civilian clothes who were very heavily armed. They were allowed in there and are now at the site there.
And in the background, we've seen these character around, civilians dressed in -- obviously, people dressed in civilian clothes were very heavily armed and very obviously American. In the past, that has indicated that the level of military commitment to this has increased, a different type of force that might be involved in what is now very quickly becoming an investigation.
The crowd control phase has ended. The initial response to it, and as the rubble is now no longer on fire. In fact, the fire trucks have now left. The sky has cleared up here dramatically, as I told you earlier when we first got here, and it was just as black as night. And that has now cleared up considerably.
KOPPEL: Harris, our viewers are looking at two different pictures right now, one from just moments after the blast and one that is live right now. It looks like the streets of central Baghdad are full of U.S. military personnel.
Have you seen any more ambulances leave the scene? Do you have any sense as to how many? I know you had mentioned you had seen some. But just how many were coming and going?
And also, if you would be kind enough to tell our viewers, to your knowledge, who were the people, U.S. government officials, from which agencies, staying at the Baghdad Hotel?
WHITBECK: Well, we've heard several versions of that, Andrea, and I think you've been quoting the wires, as well. There were some -- we're told that it might be State Department officials living and staying there. There was also one report that indicated there were CIA agents.
I would ask for time to dig into that a bit more. I would be surprised if it was actually well known that the CIA was staying at a certain location. And people here on the street, there's some people say that there were no Americans inside. And others say that, in fact, there were Americans staying there.
Can I tell you that the hotel is an area where other hotels are being used by Westerners. As we've been saying, it's only four blocks from the Palestine Hotel, which is used by Western media. It's also used by one of the big U.S. military contractors that are currently working in Iraq.
And most of the big hotels in this area, in the past few weeks, have intensified the security (UNINTELLIGIBLE) around their buildings considerably. Concrete barriers went up, checkpoints going up, major checkpoints manned by private Iraqi security services, who will stop cars. They will check cars. They will use mirrors to look underneath the cars, to see if any explosives are in there.
But from what we understand, in this case there was at least one vehicle who actually drove up to a barrier. One version we hear is that the vehicle was fired upon, and when it was fired upon it blew up. We heard only one explosion, and we're now seeing people running away from where we are.
CALLEBS: Harris, we see a dramatic contrast in the pictures. Earlier, the chaotic scene and now the U.S. military clearly in control, with Humvees in the area. As we presume helicopters still flying overhead.
Bear with me for just a moment, because my count, since June 30 there have been at least 16 violent blasts in Baghdad, in Iraq, since the end of June. I want to clarify just a few. Just this past Thursday, two suicide bombers crashed their car through the gates of a police station in East Baghdad, killing at least eight other Iraqis.
Last month, a suicide car bomb outside the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, killing a security guard. And of course, that was proceeded in August by a very violent suicide bomber attack, a truck crashing through into the U.N. compound, killing 22 people, including the U.N. head of the mission, Sergio Vieira de Mello.
Now, what does this do, do you think, to the people in Iraq? You talked about the sense of vulnerability that folks feel in that area. But this appears to be -- the violence appears to have been escalated in just the past several days, weeks, after a relative period of calm.
WHITBECK: Well, that's right. I mean, it was just last Monday, nearly a week ago, that we had this incident in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in which an Iraqi police station was targeted in a similar attack, by (UNINTELLIGIBLE) killed there.
And then, just a few days later, this. So I think the sense of vulnerability has definitely intensified. And as we all know, the hotel bombings has completely random for those that are victims of them. It's very, very -- close to impossible to predict these events. So that increases, in terms of vulnerability, not only for Iraqi civilians but for civilians who are trying to work in this city.
KOPPEL: Harris, if you'd be good enough to stand by. I know you probably want to work the phones, which is not an easy thing to do, to say the very least, in Baghdad. Or at least try to track some folks down to do some reporting.
If we could, let's go back to our CNN security analyst, Kelly McCann, who joins us from Washington this morning. Kelly, of course, has lots of experience in hot spots around the world as a former Marine and somebody who's been leading and training various security forces.
Kelly, from the two contrasting pictures that you see here, what can you say in terms of the live picture that we're looking at, that the U.S. military is doing right now?
MCCANN: Well, typically, Andrea, in these situations what you want to do is isolate, contain and control the area. Because a lot of it goes to -- you know, there will be evidence collected to see if there's any significant similarities between this and other bombings that we've spoken about this morning, such as at the U.N. headquarters.
So there's an evidentiary responsibility. But there's also a public safety responsibility.
So typically, the first responders get there, and they try to, if an evacuation has to occur, move those people out quickly. Because there's an obvious immediate safety problem from building collapse, et cetera. Once that's done, there's an inner perimeter that is stood up, and everyone is pushed outside of that inner perimeter. There's a security force there established, then. And it prevents anybody from getting in there, to include the media.
The outer perimeter, then, is where all -- it's an area set up to basically screen vehicles that may have to come up to the inner perimeter to do medical evacuation. Because they don't want another bomb, another vehicle, to get inside and have, you know, the situation where the emergency responders show up and then they're killed, as well.
So it's a very -- It's a process that's well known to the U.S. forces there. It's a little bit difficult, obviously, to undertake when people are screaming and hurt and afraid and trying to account for loved ones and coworkers, et cetera. But it seems like right now they've got it much more in control.
KOPPEL: We heard earlier, just in fact in the last week or so, from David Kay, who is the -- leading the CIA's efforts on the ground in Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction, that there are over 100, perhaps even more, of these unexplored weapons munitions sites, Kelly. So many that the U.S. military, not only have they not even been able to comb through them, but they have no -- they don't have the personnel on the ground to protect them.
This must just be, you know, a cornucopia for, whether it be Ba'athists or whether it be other regime supporters, or for that matter terrorists.
MCCANN: It absolutely is, and I can tell you, having spoken to the EOD, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal people that are over there dealing with some of these situations at length. Some of these bombs are not sophisticated at all.
There are, in fact, exactly what you suggest, which is a lot of just previous military munitions that are modified so that they can become a larger explosion. They may be several artillery shells put together. They take the powder or the explosive compounds out of military munitions so that they can be used in other ways that they weren't intended to be used, such as bombs.
So it is maddening, Andrea, that people, you know, can't control those munitions any better. But there's only so many people in the country. It gives people fits.
KOPPEL: Which is one of the -- I believe that at least the preliminary investigations have shown that perhaps some of the ordnance that was used, some of the explosives material that was used against U.N. headquarters back in August, that massive blast there that killed 22 people, including the U.N. special envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello, that that came from one of these sites.
Folks were saying afterwards, "Gee, could this have been al Qaeda?" But then they said, "Oh, look at what's still available in Baghdad. Maybe this wasn't something brought in by terrorists after all."
MCCANN: Absolutely. And don't forget that the, you know, scores of thousands of people that were trained in Afghanistan, if we want to talk about al Qaeda just for a second, were trained how to make improvised explosives devices using military munitions.
I mean, from their standpoint -- and I'm not building the case that this is being conducted by them, but anywhere in the world, what could be better that all you have to do is have the operator arrive and his munitions are handed to him? I mean, it doesn't get much better than that.
So, you know, it is a very, very difficult situation. A lot of the munitions have to be screened to see if they were payload capable, to see if they were able to carry chemical munitions. And that's what's really stalled the detonation, or the destruction of a lot of munitions there.
CALLEBS: OK. Kelly McCann, if you can, sit tight. We certainly appreciate your insight. And we will be checking back with you in just a moment.
Let's bring folks up to date. You're looking some videotape shot, probably, about an hour ago. There was a very violent car blast, perhaps two, in the heart of Baghdad, near the Baghdad Hotel. This was a building that was housing U.S. personnel, perhaps CIA operatives. We don't know. Our Harris Whitbeck, who has been on this story for the past hour and a half, is trying to pinpoint that for us.
There you see a map of where this exactly occurred. It didn't occur too terribly far from the Palestine Hotel. The significance? That is where U.S. and other international news organizations are staying, pretty much their headquarters, while this U.S. and coalition presence continues to try and bring stability to Iraq.
We don't know the extent of casualties. We know there are people injured. Some reports saying at least seven people dead. Others saying 10 people dead.
Now we do know that apparently at least one vehicle, perhaps two, raced around barricades that were outside the Baghdad Hotel, apparently getting near the side of the hotel. Reports coming from the scene and pictures we've seen indicate that it caused some pretty extensive damage to the hotel. Apparently parts of it collapsing. We are trying to pinpoint exactly what is going on.
At this point, we have been talking with our security analysts throughout the morning. They say that FBI and other operatives on the ground are now doing the initial investigation work, trying to term exactly where the explosives may come from, and if this can, Andrea, in any way lead to some information as to who may be behind this.
KOPPEL: One of the things that has become so worrisome for the U.S. coalition provisional authority and other members of that, there are perhaps 30 countries that are supporting the United States in a military sense on the ground there, is that in recent months, Baghdad has become, in the words of senior U.S. officials, "a magnet for terrorists."
We don't know yet who was behind this blast, which took place our time this morning, Sunday morning. But afternoon time Baghdad time, John Raedler is CNN producer who has spent quite a bit of time in Iraq. And he joins us now live from I believe the Palestine Hotel. John, is that correct? Which is what four blocks down the street from the Baghdad Hotel?
RAEDLER: Certainly. Less than a mile, Andrea. I was in fact in the 11th floor of this hotel when the explosion occurred around lunchtime Sunday, local time. It was quite eerie, because first we heard the sound. And it was an unmistakable sound. This was a deep, heavy rolling sound that could only be a major explosion.
Soon after that, we felt a shockwave. And being sufficiently high up in this high-rise hotel, you could feel it literally shake the building in a manner of a whiplash.
We ran to the other side of the building then to see in the direction that the explosion came from. There was thick, black smoke issuing from what we now know was the Baghdad Hotel and the surrounding area. There was quite a deal of chaos on the streets, as emergency vehicles, military personnel, tried to gather to the scene. Other people at the scene trying to flying the scene. It was initially very chaotic.
There was fire in the Baghdad Hotel and the scene of the explosion. There were fire trucks there and firefighters. And they doused -- that part of the building at least appears to have collapsed. And we had this initial cacophony of sirens and other emergency vehicles and personnel trying to get injured people out, trying to get to possibly trapped people, and also trying to secure the area.
As much of the videotape and the pictures that you're seeing shows, there is a large U.S. military presence there. Heavily armed soldiers in armored personnel vehicles of various kinds.
We've also had three U.S. military helicopters that have been hovering over the site from soon after the time of the explosion.
As Harris Whitbeck, our reporter on the scene, has been telling us, a lot of that initial chaos and drama has now subsided. They are trying to get into the scene to check for possibly trapped people. They are trying to collect evidence now as to what caused the explosion and evidence, wherever that might lead, as to who might have been responsible.
But we do have a major explosion in Baghdad today. The Baghdad Hotel, believed to accommodate U.S. and other personnel of the coalition provisional authority here. There were earlier reports from the scene that it was believed to accommodate CIA personnel. We've had a couple of U.S. officials call us here and say that is not so.
At this stage, Reuters, I believe it is, or one of the news services, is reporting as many as 10 people killed. We do not have independent verification of that as yet, but it is no surprise if indeed there is a significant fatality count and injury count result from what was a massive explosion -- Andrea?
KOPPEL: John, an excellent point you make there. And I want you to explain to our viewers, who may be understandably impatient or anxious to get an accurate read on just how many casualties, how many wounded, who was behind it, explain to our viewers how -- just how difficult it is working your sources on the ground there in Baghdad? It's not like here in the U.S. where you just pick up a hard line telephone necessarily and get a U.S. government official, a Baghdad police officer on the phone. What is like trying to gather information on the ground there?
RAEDLER: Chaotic, often contradictory. Information that changes from one source to another. Very hard to get quickly reliable information. And very difficult environment. Not only the factors that you mentioned make it a difficult environment, but there's also the security layer as well.
We have to be careful as to where we go, how close we get to this. We have full-time security advisers with us. They have to assess the situation first. We try and get eyes and ears as close to the scene as possible before we move CNN personnel in.
So it is very difficult and very different covering these chaotic situations, these explosive situations, these unexpected situations here versus covering news events in other western countries, such as the U.S. and Europe -- Andrea?
KOPPEL: And you're working off satellite phones, isn't that right, John? And not everybody in town has a satellite phone.
RAEDLER: Well, exactly. There is no phone system here of any real magnitude and of any reliability. The existing phone system here was largely knocked out during the war. So yes, we have to rely on satellite phones. Sometimes the satellites become congested with the amount of phone traffic that's going over them. So that adds to the complication. It drags it out.
It's very frustrating being the journalist and trying to get information, and trying to get it quickly, and trying to get it with some degree of reliability and dependability.
As you say, Andrea, a very different environment, but everyone here. Very difficult for the visiting diplomats who are here. We had a Spanish diplomat killed just in recent days, who heard a knock on his door, went to his door, believed he knew who the people were there, and he was just shot and killed. So it's a difficult environment for everyone, an environment that is being made increasingly difficult as day by day, night by night, we hear things go bang. Sometimes these are small bombs that don't cause much in the way of damage or injury. And other times, like today, they are deadly and massive.
CALLEBS: OK, John Raedler, CNN producer, stand by just a moment for us. We certainly appreciate the information.
We're now going to bring in our Mike Brooks, a CNN national correspondent. His particular specialty in that of security as well. And Mike, I don't know how much you've been listening to it. It's 7:38 Eastern time, about 3:38 in the afternoon in Baghdad.
We know from Harris Whitbeck and others on the ground there that in the past several days, weeks, there have been a number of these barricades erected in around areas that are deemed sensitive to U.S. forces. How important is this? And can it do anything, other than just deflect the violence of a blast?
WHITBECK: You know, that's a good question, Sean. But a lot of times, you put these jersey barriers, these different barricades. A car can come up right through the edge of your security perimeter and detonate a car.
That's what they -- looks like they tried to do. Back at the bombing of U.N. headquarters, we actually into the perimeter. We've seen other car bombings in the past where they've pulled up right up to the jersey barrier. And Khobar Towers is a perfect example.
There was not much standoff from the building to where the jersey barriers were. They pulled a truck in, backed it in, detonated it with a minimum of 5,000 pounds of C-4 plastic explosive and did substantial damage to the building.
You know, you can only do so much, especially when you're in an urban environment, like we're seeing in the pictures coming to us from Baghdad, Sean. You can only do so much to have so much standoff from a blast like this of a car or a truck bomb such as what we've seen this morning.
CALLEBS: And of course, Mike, talking about the bombing of the Khobar Towers is ironic. It killed a number of U.S. servicemen. He was one of a member of the FBI's joint terrorism task force, an evidence response team who responded to that incident.
And we had a live picture up earlier, Mike, that showed just the amount of relative calm that had returned to this area in just about an hour. To me, that is -- it's almost amazing. You see a blast like this and within an hour, U.S. troops had the area secured. And many of the people who gathered immediately afterward have just filtered -- moved on. It really shows you, sadly, how used to something like this these people in this area seemed to have become.
BROOKS: Well, you know, it is, Sean. And you know, the relative calm that they're seeing now, again, people come down. The spectators looking and see what happened.
And then it seems to go back to normal. These people had been living this life for years. And especially since the U.N. went into Iraq and into Baghdad, they're seeing much of this happen from small bombs to major explosions like this and explosions such as the U.N.
Now it's really hard to -- you know, do these people become hardened to these kind of things. It's just -- it's -- the day to day life of people there has got to be just chaotic, so hectic.
But hopefully, they'll be able to find out exactly who is responsible. So far, we have not heard any claims of responsibility as of yet with this bombing. It was a little time after the U.N. headquarters was bombed that we did hear the group claim responsibility.
And also, as I said, the FBI team has been there on the ground in Baghdad, even prior to the bombing of U.N. headquarters. And I can guarantee that they are there on the scene right now, working with the U.S. military on trying to interview anyone to see exactly what the witnesses saw, what they heard, and also go back. And I asked some people well, was there any kind of pre-planning that may have gone into this. We saw this at Khobar Towers in '98 where there were actually people out taking pictures of the building, police sketches. But they didn't find this out until the investigation started.
But you know, hopefully, we'll be able to find out exactly who was responsible for this. And also, see if it was similar to any other bombings that they've had there in Baghdad or any place else in the world, so they could find out who was responsible and take the appropriate actions -- Sean?
CALLEBS: Actually, Mike, it's Andrea. Now our team on the ground, our CNN team, is now reporting confirmed seven people dead and 40 people wounded at that explosion at the Baghdad Hotel.
Mike, this is the second big car bombing in the capital in just the last week. A suicide bomber hit a police station in the northeastern Shi'ite Muslim slum known as Sadr City. It used to be known as Saddam City. And that killed at least 10 people, including the bomber.
We were talking earlier, I don't know if you were listening to Kelly McCann, about the fact that Iraq really has become in the words of U.S. officials, "a magnet for terrorists." How does the FBI, if at all, help to plan against future attacks?
BROOKS: Well, their role there, Andrea, is basically investigating acts of terrorism such as this. They also will -- can assist the U.S. forces and force protection in protecting contractors and other people there. We're trying to bring some normalcy to Iraq, but it's very difficult for the FBI to prevent these kind of things. It's -- they're relying right now on the U.S. military and also on intelligence, on trying to find out and be proactive, instead of reactive, what we're seeing here.
But it's very, very difficult to guard against acts of terror such as this -- Andrea?
KOPPEL: OK, Mike Brooks. If you just stand by, we want to bring our viewers up to date, not just on the scene that they're looking at here, which is the aftermath of a massive explosion at the Baghdad Hotel this morning, but also to give you a little bit of the backdrop against which this is taking place. And that is, really frantic diplomatic efforts...
CALLEBS: Without question.
KOPPEL: ...by the United States to get a U.N. resolution passed. This resolution would ostensibly give political cover to governments like Pakistan, to governments like Bangladesh, governments like India, which have been reluctant to contribute troops, well trained military forces, to Iraq until they have a broad U.N. mandate.
It isn't going well, to say the very least.
CALLEBS: And we're perhaps lucky this morning. We have our State Department correspondent with us here on set. And let's talk about the effort. We talked about this before we went on the air this morning, that Colin Powell is -- he's been out working the phones, trying to talk with Kofi Annan, trying to get other nations to come on board in Iraq.
The U.S. clearly wants to have some kind of control in that area, a constitution in place, before they have turned control over to the Iraqis, but Kofi Annan, Russia, Germany, other nations have wanted elections to happen quickly and want the Iraqis to control the show that the U.S. troops there are not occupying. They are simply there trying to provide the stability.
What has Colin Powell been facing the past several days, weeks?
KOPPEL: Well, the major sticking point continues to be the matter of sovereignty. And countries, particularly led by France, you mentioned Germany among them, they want sovereignty handed over quickly in a matter of months, perhaps three to six months to the Iraqi governing council.
These are 25 Iraqis, most of them, many of them Iraqi exiles who came back to Iraq after Saddam was toppled. And they're 25 people who are there to advise the coalition provisional authority. This is the U.S./U.K. run government on the ground there. They don't want to call a government, but that's basically what it's doing.
The United States, Colin Powell, has been telling his colleagues that the U.S. would like sovereignty to be handed over to the free -- a freely elected Iraqi government. In order for that to happen, they have to write a constitution. They have to have free elections. They have to get a lot things in order, which could take a year or two years. Nobody is really putting a time frame. So that has been the major sticking point.
How quickly do you hand sovereignty over? The U.S. is saying it's going to take a matter of months, perhaps longer, because we need to have elections first. France, Kofi Annan, the U.N. Secretary General, pushing for that to happen even before elections take place to the Iraqi governing council.
CALLEBS: Yes, and that's going to be the -- clearly, the sticking point. We're going to talk more about this as the day goes on.
But right now, we want to go back to the scene. Our Jane Arraf is now just outside the Baghdad Hotel, where a powerful car blast happened oh about an hour and a half ago. It is now about 3:45 in the afternoon Baghdad time.
Jane, bring us up to date. Describe the situation. And we now know that seven people are dead, 40 wounded.
JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well those are estimates, Sean. And they're estimates that we're hearing on the ground from civil defense forces. I'm not sure if they're coming from anything more official. But people on the ground, witnesses, police witnesses, part of the civil defense team, have told one of our producers that they do believe there are at least seven or eight people killed.
And as you mentioned, 40 people wounded. I'm not sure if you can hear me above the roar of those helicopters that continue to circle overhead. Now we just wanted to show you a little bit of what we can see from here from the scene.
If we look all the way down the street, and this is a major Baghdad street, although it doesn't look like it this time with the security blocked off, blocking off most of the street, you can see a group of policemen and a group of soldiers.
Now that alley is where the car was believed to have gone down. The car was believed to have broken through a barricade and exploded before it got to the hotel. The hotel we're talking about is a building at the end of that street, essentially a building at the end of the alley.
We can see the top of it from where we stand here. And it was by Baghdad standards in the early days one of the larger and certainly at the time the most glamorous of Iraqi hotels. Now it had been taken over by American forces, used to have...
CALLEBS: I'm sorry, we have lost Jane Arraf. One of the difficulties trying to get live pictures out of an area like that, but clearly providing the best view, so far, of the area where the violent explosion occurred.
You saw in the foreground, some of those barriers that had been erected. Just the past several days, according to CNN's Harris Whitbeck, a very violent car bomb. At least one blast going off.
You saw damage to the structure. The estimates we are getting on the ground from CNN folks, at least seven people killed in this blast, perhaps as many as 40 wounded. And certainly this is going to be amount of discussion in the White House. And this is also going to fuel speculation from people who either support or are against the U.S.-led activities going on in Iraq.
We would like to bring in our latest guest with "Newsweek" magazine, Trent Gegax. Trent, did I get that name correct?
TRENT GEGAX, NEWSWEEK: You did, thanks.
CALLEBS: OK, let's talk about the poll that was recently done. And clearly, the way President Bush has been handling the situation in Iraq. We have seen support for the president wane from the high back in -- I believe in the mid April, it was up about 75 percent, 74 percent. Nearly three out of four Americans supporting what is going on in Iraq, but that has changed dramatically.
GEGAX: Right. As has the support of the war. Back a month ago, 64 percent, according to a "Newsweek" poll said that they supported the president's actions in Iraq. Now that's down to 54 percent.
And in addition to that, there's about a 45 percent, 45 percent split on whether the administration intentionally misled Americans on the reason we were getting into the war.
CALLEBS: Well, Trent, let's talk about did the U.S. do the correct thing by invading Iraq? The information we have from your poll says 56 percent say yes, 37 percent say no, don't know, seven percent. There you see the margin of error, plus or minus three percentage points.
Firstly, what exactly was the specific question? And what do you make by these numbers?
GEGAX: Regarding -- I'm sorry, regarding the -- whether we should have gone in?
CALLEBS: Yes. Well, I mean, was it phrased? Did the U.S. do the right thing? Or was that perhaps melted down somewhat from the question that was asked the -- those sampled?
GEGAX: Yes. No, it was -- did the United States go in to both protect the United States, as well as rid Saddam of WMDs, weapons of mass destruction? And because -- the Bushes are definitely aware that they're slipping in this category. And that's why you have national security adviser Condi Rice taking action and taking a little power from Secretary Rumsfeld.
CALLEBS: And what about how George W. Bush is handling terrorism? We have the results there. About two-thirds of the people in the U.S. polled indicating that they are supporting the way the president is handling terrorism. I presume that moves on into Afghanistan, Pakistan as well, as the efforts going on in Iraq?
GEGAX: Right. Yes, there's about 52 percent are confident that he's handling it well. But there is -- you have to remember in all this, there's a bond today, but when you ask people what they care about most when they elect somebody next November, they say 44 percent say the economy matters most. Homeland Security is down at about half that.
So it's -- the Bush administration is concerned, but I think you'll be seeing them turning more and more to the local or the domestic economy.
CALLEBS: Interesting. Let's talk big picture about that for just one second. You really think that -- I mean, clearly, none of the Democratic candidates are making one of the cornerstones of their flight toward the White House, the fact that they believe the U.S. is now mired in Iraq, and there's no clear plan. And indeed, the administration got the U.S. into Iraq perhaps with information that wasn't on the up and up?
GEGAX: Yes, well they're trying to chip away. You're referring to the Democrats in the debate in Phoenix this week, they're trying to chip away at Bush's credibility, whether it's on selling a tax plan or Iraq.
And that will both endear them to all of the Democratic supporters that they're clinging to right now, because really swing voters and Republicans are not paying attention to the Democratic primary process right now.
They're just trying to get money and support from the core voters.
CALLEBS: Right. Well, Trent, in terms of our international policy, what really jumps out the most at you at the results of this most recent poll?
GEGAX: In terms of the international policy, we're going to have to -- the Bush administration is going to have to get things under control in Iraq. Clearly, but the reason I think they're attacking subtly, Clark is -- because Clark has an international presence that will play well with swing voters come next fall. And so clearly, national -- international policy's going to matter. But again, domestic, economic concerns probably matter more.
CALLEBS: Yes, without question. But let's -- one final question. You got the situation in Iraq. We talked about it back in mid April, the number nearly three out of Americans supporting the Bush administration, their efforts in Iraq. And today, that number down to 44 percent. I mean, that is simply the bottom falling out.
GEGAX: It is. It is and that's why the administration, as you saw this past week, was out a very concerted public relations effort. And when you see the -- Vice President Cheney out speaking, that means that they're calling him a fireman. And they're trying to get this under control.
CALLEBS: OK, Trent Gegax with "Newsweek" magazine. Thanks very much for bringing us up to date on this latest poll information compiled by "Newsweek." We certainly appreciate you coming in on this somewhat hectic Sunday morning. Trent, thanks again.
GEGAX: Thank you.
CALLEBS: Once again, to bring you up to date on the pictures you are seeing now, this is the almost immediate aftermath of a very violent car bomb explosion in the heart of Baghdad. There you see the map. It happened just outside the Baghdad Hotel. That is less than a mile from the Palestine Hotel. The significance there? That is where the international media corps is staying right now.
It happened just after probably 2:00 in the afternoon Baghdad time. Right now, it is closing in on about 4:00 p.m. Baghdad time. It is 7:54 here on the East coast. We do know that apparently at least one vehicle, perhaps as many as two, tried to race around or did race around that barricade that had recently been constructed in the area of the Baghdad Hotel.
The blast going off very violent, damaging a significant portion of the Baghdad Hotel. Our CNN troops on the ground tell us that perhaps seven people are dead. That is a number we are getting. Legions injured, perhaps as many as 40 people are injured.
There you see the chaos, as U.S. troops try and get control of the situation on the ground. At this point, they are clearly worried about the possibility of a follow-up blast. Overhead, helicopters continue to patrol. Harris Whitbeck, describe the situation on the ground right after this is extremely tense. He saw at least one severely wounded individual being led away, blood coming from his head, bandages up in the area.
But almost amazingly, within a period of about an hour calm, significantly restored to that area. Right now, there we see a picture of the calm that really came to the area of the Baghdad Hotel.
The reason the Baghdad Hotel's significant, we know that U.S. operatives are staying there. At least one report says they could be CIA, but by all indications on the ground, they are a number of U.S. individuals staying there. And we heard Harris earlier say it's certainly no surprise that people in Baghdad, people in the Iraqi area know which hotels. The U.S. forces, U.S. troops are holed up in -- Andrea?
KOPPEL: Right. Well, we also want to let our viewers know that the numbers are very fluid on the wounded and the dead. And one of the reasons for that is quite simply, it is extremely difficult to gather information as a journalist on the ground, let alone for other U.S. officials there who are trying to communicate with one another.
For the very latest, we go now to our John Raedler, who is at the Palestine Hotel, which is just down the street from where that powerful explosion rocked the Baghdad Hotel -- John?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One Iraqi policeman tells our crew...
KOPPEL: All right, I'm just as -- that we do not have John Raedler at this moment. This is quite understandable under the circumstances. It is difficult to get satellite signals when a lot of people are using their satellite phones. And that is how folks are communicating on the ground there. There is no hard line phone service. And that is complicating matters, not just for gathering information, from sources on the ground, but also communicating it back to us here in the United States.
But as Sean was saying, this powerful explosion, believed to be at least one, perhaps two car bombs, rocked the Baghdad Hotel where U.S. officials are believed to have stayed.
We don't know who -- which agencies these U.S. officials work for. There have been some reports they could be State Department officials. Others, perhaps the CIA.
We are hearing from sources on the ground that they are not CIA. So you can see that there are just bits and drabs of information that we're getting back.
But what you're looking at right now is a live picture of concrete barriers that have been erected in recent days outside the Palestine Hotel. The reason they were erected is that you don't have enough setback.
Ideally, what the U.S. would like to have is 100 feet. These are U.S. government standards between any U.S. embassies or any other facilities housing U.S. officials. But you can't do that when you're downtown Baghdad, as they are right now.
There are only a certain numbers of hotels there. One of them, of course, is the Palestine Hotel. So what they do is they erect these concrete barriers, to try to keep car bombs, to try to keep suicide bombers who may want to walk in from having immediate access to structures like the Palestine Hotel.
Obviously, these are very graphic pictures that you're looking at here of some of the badly wounded, who were in or near the Palestine Hotel, when the bomb struck just after lunchtime or during lunchtime this afternoon on a Sunday afternoon, which is a workday in Iraq.
CALLEBS: And one thing you talked about those barricades that are up, we heard our security experts say that they can do little, except deflect the violence of the blast. And we have seen car bombs, other explosions really pick up since the end of June. By our account here, there have been 18 violent explosions in Baghdad in parts of Iraq. I want to highlight just a few of those.
Just this past Thursday, two suicide bombers crashed their vehicle through the gates of a police station in the northeastern portion of Baghdad. Eight Iraqis were killed there.
Last month, a suicide car bomb attack outside U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, killing a security guard. A bomb was also detonated outside a hotel used by U.S. TV network NBC.
And of course, that was preceded in August by an extremely violent suicide bomber crash that killed 22 people -- Andrea? KOPPEL: You are watching breaking news right now out of Baghdad of a couple of the aftermath of what is described as a massive explosion in central Baghdad, outside the Palestine Hotel.
Good morning. It is 8:00 a.m. on October the 12th. I'm Andrea Koppel here at CNN headquarters in Atlanta.
CALLEBS: And I'm Sean Callebs. We want to bring you up to date on what's going on overseas.
Andrea mentioned it's 8:00 a.m. here on the East Coast, it is 4:00 in the afternoon in Baghdad. And this is what U.S. military personnel are coping with at this hour, as well as legions of Iraqi citizens. We can tell you a powerful car bomb explosion ripped through an area near the Baghdad Hotel close to two hours ago. Our information we have received from our reporters, producers on the ground in Baghdad, perhaps as many as seven people dead, 40 are injured.
We are now going to be joined by our Jane Arraf, who is in an area overlooking the Baghdad Hotel, where we can see the barricades down below, and also, Jane, the significant damage to that building as well.
ARRAF: Sean, we're looking down the street near where that car bomb would have gone to get to that alleyway near the Baghdad Hotel. Now, what you can probably see from here is quite a lot of destruction and a lot of security and not much else. This normally would be a very busy street. It is one of the main thoroughfares in Baghdad, and it's normally jam-packed.
Now, the car bomb is believed to have gone down the street in between those two concrete barriers that you can see from here. It would have gone through another concrete barrier that's meant to slow traffic, but not stop it, and into a metal barricade. That was a checkpoint.
Now, it's that checkpoint that the car is believed to have gone barreling through. It's not clear how far it got before it exploded, but certainly far enough away to do intense damage to the buildings on either side, some of the Baghdad Hotel, and buildings here across the street going back a couple of blocks almost.
The Baghdad Hotel itself, the apparent target of this bomb. These are surveillance helicopters that have been flying overhead ever since the bombing, and they're now going directly over the hotel. That was the apparent target, the Baghdad Hotel, that large white building. It had been at one point a luxury hotel quite a long time ago in Baghdad history. It was a few months ago taken over by coalition forces.
Now, there are conflicting reports about how much damage was done to that hotel. Some reports say part of it was reduced to rubble. Obviously, the top part is intact, and we've been seeing snipers on the roof. And some Iraqi civil defense people on the ground have told us that there's only shattered glass and minimal damage to that hotel. Now, the hotel is a little bit away from where the car bomb is thought to have exploded. It's quite a long alley going up to it -- Sean.
CALLEBS: Well, Jane, firstly, I want to apologize to our viewers. It's seven hours ahead in Baghdad. So it is 3:00 in the afternoon. You know it, I know it, now the viewers know it.
But let's also just explain a bit about what the Baghdad Hotel is being used for. Our information, U.S. operatives. We have heard reports the CIA perhaps, but that is being downplayed now?
ARRAF: Well, it's not clear how accurate those reports are. But what is clear, Sean -- and I'm not sure if you can still hear me. So we'll just let that helicopter go by. There's a lot going on in the ground and in the sky.
When that hotel was first taken over by coalition forces, Iraqi newspapers, several of them, reported that the CIA had taken it over. Some were even reporting that Israeli intelligence agencies were ensconced in that hotel. It is widely believed by Iraqis -- and there's a very strong and effect rumor mill here that many people pay attention to more than they do the facts -- that it was where the CIA was based.
What we do know is that it was used by U.S. forces exclusively, coalition forces and military forces, and possibly other kinds. It was used to house some governing coalition members, Iraqi members of the Governing Council. One of them has been assassinated lately, showing you the level of threat they're under, as well as coalition officials. Now, there are several parts of town where they are, but this was one of the hotels that was used exclusively and was off limits to people other than those with the coalition -- Sean.
CALLEBS: Jane, you're our Baghdad bureau chief. You have been there for a period of years. Tell us what you can see, how the area has changed in the past weeks. We heard Harris talk about those barricades going up. And also, talk about the anti-American sentiment. I'm sure it ebbs and flows there.
ARRAF: It does. And, in fact, we've just come back from Karbala, where an Islamic state was declared. Certainly the anti- American sentiment there is quite prevalent, although it's tempered by the fact that Shias, who make up the majority in Iraq and in Baghdad as well, are still incredibly grateful that Saddam is gone. They just would like the U.S. troops to leave.
Now, as for the way it looks, dramatically different. This would have been a street previously where there was shopping going on, where people were strolling. Just down the street, where we can see where the trees are close to the Baghdad Hotel, that was traditionally one of the most famous and nicest streets in Baghdad. It's called Abu Nawa (ph) Street, and it's named after a poet. And it was where people would go to fish restaurants, sit by the river, and generally enjoy a nice evening out on the Tigris River. Now that place after dark is pretty well deserted. It has become a war zone. And it's one thing that really upsets Iraqis to no end, that they can't go out in the street, that the city looks so different, that there are barricades all over, concrete and barbed wire. And necessarily so, apparently, as long as the U.S. forces are here, given the continuing attacks. But it really has changed the character of the city that Iraqis are passionately attached to -- Sean.
KOPPEL: Jane, it's Andrea Koppel. If your cameraman would be good enough to pan wide and pan just across the street there, and if you could walk us through again, visually explaining what we're looking at and where you think the car bomb, at least one, perhaps two, exploded, and which one is the Palestine Hotel? I'm a little confused, and I'm not sure if our viewers are.
ARRAF: Sure. I know it's quite confusing from here. But what we're looking at is straight down the street. This is Sadun (ph) Street. And you can see -- if you can pan all the way over to the end -- that large building, and you can see the sign on top at some point is the Palestine Hotel.
It dominates the skyline here. That is the hotel that was fired upon by American forces, killing the journalist during the war. That's the hotel where a lot of journalists continue to stay, and it's very heavily secured, as are a lot of these buildings.
Now, if we come down towards where we are from the Palestine, we'll see businesses, various small hotels, travel agencies. A lot of helicopters still flying overhead. And a lot of security still in place trying to keep people out, trying to gather evidence.
Going down that street, Andrea, you can see a little corner with two concrete barricades. It's the street directly perpendicular to those concrete barricades that the car bomb would have driven down.
KOPPEL: OK. Jane, thank you for that explanation. We'll be coming back to you, I'm sure, later in this broadcast and later this morning. Jane Arraf, our Baghdad bureau chief.
Joining us now from the White House, a very different scene there, is our White House correspondent, Dana Bash. Dana, I know I've spoken to a couple of my State Department source this is morning, who -- I actually woke up, hadn't heard about the blast -- this was about an hour-and-a-half ago -- and said that they weren't going to have any comments for me today. What are you hearing from the White House?
DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Andrea, I'm hearing virtually the same thing. I also woke up a couple of people. They are trying to figure out what is going on, on the ground, much as we are. They are monitoring the situation. But as you said, no reaction from the White House as of yet as far as this blast goes.
But it's certainly, Andrea -- as you know, comes on the heels of what has been a massive PR campaign from the Bush administration from the president to the vice president, the national security adviser. Even the first lady trying to get out throughout the past week and talk about what is going on in Iraq, talk about the fact they believe -- regardless of the images that we are seeing now and what we have been seeing over the past month, they believe that Saddam Hussein is gone, and that is a good thing for the country and for the world. And also, they had been trying to get out positive things that have been going on in Iraq.
They have been -- even the president and vice president have taken some jabs, per se, you would say, at the media, talking about the fact that there is more progress going on in Iraq than we are being told, that the American people are being told. But these kinds of images, this kind of violence certainly is not going to be welcome in any event.
But certainly, given what the administration has been doing over the past week in order to try to push out what has been going on that they believe is good, they're going to send the commerce secretary, Don Evans, to the region this coming week in order to unveil the new currency. That is something that the administration has been pushing, has been looking forward to. But as far as this particular blast goes, Andrea, as you said, we are still waiting for any kind of reaction as they are trying to figure out, as we are, what exactly went on, on the ground, and what exactly the aftereffects are -- Andrea.
KOPPEL: Well, certainly, this does speak to what the administration has been trying to do -- to achieve at the United Nations. That is, to get a new U.N. resolution through up there that would give other countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the broader mandate and the political cover they need to contribute troops to Iraq.
The problem is, I'm hearing from sources at the State Department things are not going well, the U.S. doesn't think it has enough votes at the U.N. And, if so, may just squeak by and may not even go for a vote on that resolution at all, Dana. What are you hearing at the White House?
BASH: Similar things. And you know, it's this kind of explosion. Obviously, the massive explosion over the summer at the U.N. was part of the reasoning that got the administration to sort of change course and decide to go back to the United Nations in New York and decide to try to get a resolution through in order to get the troops and the aid that the United States and the coalition so desperately needs to come into Iraq. And that, of course, is all -- a lot of these countries, as you mentioned, are waiting for a U.N. resolution in order make that more palatable to their people back home.
This kind of explosion certainly, you would think, might not help the push in New York in order to get that resolution. But, as you know, Andrea, the secretary of state has been working the phones even this weekend trying to get the votes for a new resolution. He called the Russian foreign minister yesterday and was expected to make calls today. But it's that kind of push that the administration has been working on. And also, we should mention that the Bush administration and the president's poll ratings certainly have been sliding. There has been increased disapproval of what the Bush administration has been doing in Iraq, and that is why the president and all of his top aides have been trying to talk about what is going on in terms of the positive. This kind of explosion certainly isn't going to help that.
KOPPEL: No, it is not. And the U.S. trying to get nine out of 15 votes at the United Nations at this point. It doesn't seem as it if it would have what it needs. Dana Bash joining us from the White House this morning. Thanks so much.
CALLEBS: OK. We move from the White House now to the Pentagon. CNN's Chris Plante is there.
And, Chris, we've heard basically tight-lipped officials with the State Department, the White House. What is the word from the Pentagon this morning, and what does this do to efforts by the Bush administration to say, look, military efforts are helping bring stability to Baghdad and Iraq?
CHRIS PLANTE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's been no actual official response from anyone at the Pentagon yet this morning. They're still on a sort of a normal Sunday schedule here and a skeletal staff. I haven't been able to find anybody in a position to respond to this incident specifically.
But I can tell you that over the past number of weeks, Pentagon officials have said that they've been aggressively pursuing the forces behind these attacks, that raids have been stepped up. That they feel that they are getting increased cooperation from Iraqi locals who are turning in people, former regime members and foreign fighters that are in Iraq to confront American troops there. They feel that good progress is being made in this area.
They put the numbers of bad actors, as they sometimes call them here, in the country at somewhere between 10,000, perhaps as many as 20,000 people involved in these anti-coalition activities. They feel that they have the situation perhaps not yet entirely under control at this point, and that seems to be made clear with great regularity. But they do feel that good headway is being made.
A recent piece by Michael O'Hanlon in "The Washington Post" of Brookings Institution, who was just back from Iraq, said that he had met with the commander of the 4th Infantry Division there, and that over the past preceding several weeks, perhaps two weeks before Michael O'Hanlon visited with him, they said that they had in engagements with these elements killed approximately 600 of them and taken into custody about 2,500 of them.
So they do feel that if this does become a situation of attrition, that they will eventually have the situation under control. There's no specific timetable on that, but they do claim that they're aggressively pursuing the people behind these attacks and that they are making good progress. You should also keep in mind that the U.S. military has perhaps slightly a different view of the situation than the State Department, the administration, or the average American. The U.S. military has been the subject, the target of attacks by radical Islamic terrorists for quite some time now, dating back at least to 1983, where 241 Marine peacekeepers were killed in an attack in Beirut. And of course we're all aware of more recent attacks at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, where 19 were killed, 17 were killed in the USS Cole attack, five killed in Riyadh in 1993 at the office of the program manager of the Saudi Arabian national guard.
So they take a very sort of long view of the situation here at the Pentagon. And, in fact, General Sanchez, who is in charge of U.S. forces there, recently warned that something much like this might happen -- Sean.
CALLEBS: OK. Chris Plante at the Pentagon bringing us the perspective from there. Chris, thanks very much -- Andrea.
KOPPEL: It is 8:15 here on the East Coast, 3:15 in the afternoon Baghdad time on a Sunday afternoon. If you're just joining us, there has been at least one, perhaps two car bomb explosions outside what's known as the Baghdad Hotel. Our CNN correspondents and team on the ground saying that it's known to house U.S. government officials.
Just down the street from there is where our John Raedler is staying at the Palestine Hotel, where a lot of Western journalists are staying. And he, in fact, felt and heard the explosion which happened around lunchtime today, is that correct, John?
CALLEBS: OK. We apparently don't have John right now. But we do -- we apparently don't have John Raedler right now, but we do know we have Simon Robinson. He is with "TIME" magazine.
Simon, it's my understanding -- firstly, thanks for joining us here on this very hectic afternoon for you. You've just come from one of the hospitals in the area. We understand that perhaps dozens of people have been injured.
SIMON ROBINSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: That's correct. Most of the injured being Iraqi policemen, some with minor injuries, shrapnel in the arms, pieces of metal from the explosives. And others much, much more seriously injured. I was at the al-Tindi (ph) Hospital, which is, as the crow flies, only a few blocks from the scene of the explosions this afternoon, and they had -- at least two dead have been brought there, and a couple of other policemen who were very seriously injured.
CALLEBS: Well, Simon, describe the scene the hospital. The Iraqis that you spoke with, that you saw there, is there bitterness? Do they want to know who committed this act? Do they blame the U.S. in any part for the fact that the car bomber raced down that alley?
ROBINSON: Well, to be honest, most of the people who were there were policemen who had been at the -- outside the Baghdad Hotel, and they didn't blame the U.S. at all. They were mostly worried and concerned about their colleagues and trying to find out information.
There was a guy I spoke to who had a piece of shrapnel in his arm. He had been treated and had been released. He had his arm in a sling. And all he wanted to do was find out who of his friends had been more seriously injured or worse.
So when I asked him who he blamed, he said that, you know, elements of the former regime here, but he didn't really go into detail in any way. He was just more worried in an immediate way about his friends.
CALLEBS: Well, tell us about that area where the barricades have been set up. How recently were those put up there? And we talked about the sense of vulnerability that many people must feel in the heart of Baghdad, and certainly this is going to do little to calm any kind of concerns.
ROBINSON: Well, there really is that sense of vulnerability. And perhaps in a false way people have felt a little bit safer over the last few weeks as some of those big barricades have gone up. And in lots of parts of the city where coalition forces or U.S. officials have been staying, they're being surrounded. I would say over the last month, six weeks, surrounded by very, very tall concrete barriers that are lifted into place by cranes, and usually they have kind of a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) entrance to them with Iraqi police.
And areas of the city around where the coalition are, which were previously off limits once these barriers have gone up, the roads in those areas have been reopened, which has helped traffic a lot here. But obviously it's also allowed people to get a little bit closer to perhaps some of those buildings.
Now, the street that runs past the Baghdad Hotel has since, for the last six months, since the end of the war, has been open to traffic. So it's not a question that in this situation that people have got closer to the hotel. So, you know, I think that the barriers there went up around three weeks ago, I'm guessing. So I presume whoever was inside the hotel felt a little safer, but today proves that feeling to be a false one.
CALLEBS: Yes, reality hits home. Simon Robinson from "TIME" magazine at the hospitals, reporting that a number of Iraqi police officers have been injured, and right now they're chiefly concerned about the fate of their colleagues. Simon, thanks very much for joining us -- Andrea.
KOPPEL: One of the things that is complicating matters for journalists on the ground, let alone U.S. government officials, U.S. military officials, is communicating with one another, trying to gather information. Our John Raedler was at the Palestine Hotel, which was approximately a mile down the road, and still is from the Baghdad Hotel, where the explosions took place this morning.
And John, I'm not sure if you've been able to gather any more information about it, but maybe you could just bring our viewers up to date. RAEDLER: Andrea, the latest information we're receiving here from our crew that is closest to the hotel, they say that people there, including Iraqi police, are telling them seven or eight people killed. That known at this stage. Forty or more wounded. So that gives us a little detail of the extent of the injuries and fatalities that have resulted from this blast.
It all happened around lunchtime Sunday local time. Sunday is a regular day in this predominantly Muslim country, so there were lots of people on the street, lots of vehicles in the street as well. People in buildings and going about their business.
One of our CNN engineers reports that, immediately before the sound of the explosion, he heard four distinct gunshots coming from that direction. The first that I heard was the explosive sound, and it was big and unmistakable. It was a large explosion; you could tell immediately.
Soon after that, I was on the 11th floor of the hotel, and the hotel building shook and shuddered from the impact of the shock wave hitting it. To be frank, I ducked for cover immediately because I feared that glass from sliding doors and windows would crash into the room. Fortunately, it did not.
Soon after that, we went to the other side of our hotel and were able to see the thick, black smoke that was pouring from the scene. We could also see the early stages of chaos on the streets as U.S. military in particular and emergency vehicles such as ambulances and fire trucks started to try and get into the scene. At the same time, other people there, panic-stricken by what had happened, were trying flee from the scene of the explosion.
A couple of interesting points as well. The source of this explosion, if it is found and if it is traced, could be very interesting. It's only a few days ago that Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, who was in charge of the coalition military effort here, said at a press conference that the amount of ammunition that has been left here from Saddam Hussein's army is massive, his word. He said it is humanly impossible to guard it all, and he said that he cannot rule out the possibility that some of that ammunition is being stolen and used against the coalition.
Now, the type of ammunition involved ranges from everywhere from small bullets up to surface-to-air missiles. He said there was one such ammunition dump that is 15 kilometers by 15 kilometers, which would make it the size of a town. So this particular explosive, if they can trace where it came from, could be revealing. And it also raises anew the question of, are there sufficient numbers of coalition soldiers here, not only to secure the place, secure the infrastructure, get Iraq up and running again, but are there enough military personnel here to secure these ammunition sites and to prevent ammunition being stolen from there and used against the coalition -- Andrea.
KOPPEL: John, very good point there. In fact, here in the United States, we've been hearing some reports in some of the major newspapers that some of those surface-to-air missiles had disappeared and gone missing, and that that could be one of the reasons why the Baghdad Airport has of yet to open to civilian air traffic.
Listen, I know that you've got to get going to do some more reporting now on the ground. John Raedler, thanks so much for bringing us up to date.
CALLEBS: And perhaps what the coalition official talked about the other day could be prophetic. In that one ammo dump site, 15 kilometers by 15 kilometers. Wow.
OK. We're going to look at some of the pictures that happened just around 6:00 a.m. Eastern Time. You were probably not awake when these first came out. There we see some of the talking points, a powerful explosion in Baghdad, this just before 6:00 a.m.
You see one of the cars on fire. The information our CNN people have called from this chaotic scene, at least seven people are dead. They're saying perhaps 40 are injured.
We talked to a "TIME" magazine reporter who just came back from the hospital. He said a number of the injured were Iraqi police officers.
KOPPEL: We are seeing those pictures like you for the very first time. These are the first pictures from the scene of the blast in central Baghdad, where can you see there are a lot of shops, there are a lot of small businesses, and quite frankly, the road is right up against a lot of the buildings like the Baghdad Hotel, where that -- at least one, perhaps two car bombs exploded this morning.
We don't know yet if some of the vehicles that you were looking at on fire there may have been, in fact, the ones carrying the explosives. But what you can see is a very heavy presence on the ground within minutes of the explosion by Iraqi police, by U.S. military personnel. Their first to order of business to try to secure the scene, to try to guard against any people perhaps getting too close to the scene and getting injured or, for that matter, tampering with any of the evidence that would remain there that would help the FBI figure out who was behind this blast.
CALLEBS: OK. We're going to contrast that video from right after the blast to what we see coming in now, a very different picture on the ground there, just outside the Baghdad Hotel. There you see a number of U.S. troops trying to garner what information they can.
I think it's interesting from hearing from the correspondents we've heard from this morning that this area is along the Tigris River, it's one that had been very close to the hearts of the people of Baghdad, the people of Iraq. It's where in quieter times people would gather for perhaps tea on the riverside in one of the cafes.
But clearly, after the end of the war, the area was taken over by U.S. personnel. The barricades have gone up in recent days. Most people have been kept away from that area, but we heard our correspondents tell us just a short while ago that, as these barricades began to be raised, there was a certain sense of perhaps more security in the area. And more people were allowed in and around this area. But certainly this violent car blast that killed several people, perhaps as many as seven this morning, going to shake the faith of a lot of people in the area, and certainly put the U.S. and coalition troops more on edge.
We do know that there was apparently one car bomb used in this, perhaps as many as two. We heard our John Raedler say that witnesses told him that there were some gunshots just before the explosion. That would pretty much be in line with what our Harris Whitbeck told us, that apparently someone fired at the car as it careened around through the barricades -- Andrea.
KOPPEL: One of the things that has been of great concern to U.S. forces on the ground is that they just don't have enough military personnel, coalition forces or, for that matter, Iraqi police up and running to guard against all of these multiple suicide bombings that we've seen. To our count, there have been 18 different attacks since the end of June alone, and they've been increasing in their frequency.
The U.S. military is obviously concerned about too much of a visible presence on the ground there. They don't want to be seen, even though that's what they're called, is an occupying force, so they've been trying to rapidly train as many Iraqis as possible to try to get them up and running. But as you were saying, Sean, there have been barriers that have been erected in recent days, concrete barriers to try to block against, to prevent some of these car bombs from getting smack dab up against some of these structures.
We know that the Baghdad Hotel was housing U.S. officials. We don't know which agencies they were with. But certainly that is of concern I know to many Americans back here in the United States.
CALLEBS: Without question, Andrea. And we are going to get into the diplomatic landscape a little bit later on. We have several correspondents on the ground in and around the Baghdad Hotel. We have also heard from the White House and the Pentagon this morning.
We will also tell you a bit about what is going on at the State Department. We know Colin Powell has been very busy over the past several days trying to drum up support for a U.S. resolution at the United Nations. Very difficult to say exactly what today's activities are going to do, whether it's going to short circuit that, continue to throw another wrench in the works, or whether this is going to provide perhaps a little more of information from the U.S. as they try and lure other nations over to Iraq, as they try to get rid of that stigma as an occupying force and rather one as liberator.
But clearly, the U.S., before anything like that happens, they want to have stability in the area before they have any kind of free elections. They also would like to have a constitution in place. That, of course, all taking a backseat row today to the violence that we have seen explode in the heart of Baghdad.
Once again, a car bomb going off. At least seven people are dead; perhaps as many as 40 injured. KOPPEL: This is CNN SUNDAY MORNING. Good morning again. I'm Andrea Koppel at CNN center in Atlanta.
CALLEBS: And, I'm Sean Callebs. We want to bring you up to date on what has been going on in the heart of Baghdad. There was a violent car bomb explosion this morning. It is 8:30 Eastern time, that makes it about 3:30 in the afternoon Baghdad time. Our CNN Baghdad bureau chief, Jane Arraf, now joins us.
There you see, looking down on the site where the powerful car bomb blast took place. And Jane, tell us about those barricades that went up. And also, our Kelly McCann pointed out, just a while ago, that there's apparently a gap in there. Can you explain that?
ARRAF: Well Sean, we just got a few new details in, now. A public affairs officer from the U.S. military on the ground tells us that what happened was a car pulled up just near where we can see the oil drums that are laid across the road, these blue and green oil drums, a car pulled up into there and those barricades are where any ordinary traffic that is authorized and allowed to there, would have gone on. It stopped at a checkpoint, according to the military official. The driver was asked for his I.D., and when he was asked for his I.D. he barreled through, detonating the bomb, car bomb exploding just on the corner, where this major street meets that small alley that goes down, back towards the Baghdad Hotel. Now, that would be the reason why most of the casualties, actually all of the people killed in this blast were local, as were most of them who were wounded. According to U.S. officials now, it is six people dead, and several more wounded, and they were, apart from a U.S. soldier to who was slightly wounded, all Iraqi casualties.
Now, streets here where the car bomb would have exploded there are businesses that are set up. This was a major shopping area; it would have been very crowded, seemingly normal until that car blast went off -- Sean.
CALLEBS: So Jane, I see now that we look at the concrete barricades, now we're getting conflicting information. Those were actually put up after the car bomb this morning or were they there beforehand?
ARRAF: Those barricades have been here for quite awhile, and they are meant to direct traffic. Now, the Baghdad Hotel, which was the apparent target of that car bomb has been heavily secured and off limits to normal traffic for some time, ever since it was rented by coalition authorities a few months ago. So, that would have been where the traffic that is -- traffic that's allowed to go into that complex is sorted out from people who are not allowed to go into the complex, which is the reason for the checkpoints and asking for I.D. But, what is new around here, are some of the concrete barriers, as well as, barbed wire that you can't see very well from here, but on both sides of the street, quite a long way down there are new barricades that have been set up -- Sean.
KOPPEL: Hi Jane, it's Andrea. I think what's -- what is a little bit confusing is, I think the bottom line the Baghdad Hotel was never reached by the -- by the car bomb, the car bomber. Is that correct? So, they blasted through the barrier that we're looking at there, but never made it to the hotel, which is farther down the street.
ARRAF: Exactly, Andrea, and that is the reason for American forces, essentially, renting that hotel. It really is set quite a long way back down the alley. It's quite unique in that regard and in security terms, it's almost ideal because it's set quite far back from the main street. The street itself, that small alley could be relatively easy controlled and has a large perimeter around it. On one side of the street, facing the Tigris, on the other side a large parking lot and a garden. It has a lot of area that could be easily secured for use for what it was used for, which was to house coalition officials, some members of the governing council, and U.S. security forces. So, bottom line is that car bomb tried to approach the hotel, but detonated before it did.
CALLEBS: Well Jane, also give us a sense of history. You've been the Baghdad bureau chief for some time, may have perhaps have as much knowledge on the ground as anybody in that area. What was that area like? You talked about it earlier on the Tigris River. Really very close to the hearts of the people in Baghdad.
ARRAF: It was very close to the hearts of Baghdadis who remember what was like in the old days and still really, are upset more than almost everything in daily life, now that things are getting slightly better, but the old days are gone and in the old days, this area would have been, not only a major shopping street that we're looking at, right now it looks sort of dirty and dingy and it's deserted, it's only full of tanks, security people, and security forces, but on a normal day, it really would be quite vibrant, the way that Middle Eastern cities are. There would be people out: street vendors selling things on the street, there are tourism companies here, there are offices, there are small restaurants, and there are small hotels that have sprung up. So, it really is one of the liveliest areas and one of the most crowded areas.
Now, the Baghdad Hotel is in between this very crowded main commercial street and a street that is perhaps closest to the heart of many Iraqis, it's called Abu-Nuwwas and it really goes back to a poet, a famous Arab poet and it's one of the things almost from "1,001 Nights," that sense of Baghdad as a city that had a wonderful night life where you could sit under the palm trees on the Tigris, have a lovely dinners in fish restaurants, and never give a second thought to security, never give a second thought to car bombs, or American soldiers in the streets. It's really that vanished part of Baghdad that a lot of Iraqis long for. And, a lot of the reason why Baghdadi's here, although there's not deprived of really anything in material terms, some of them, are so distraught, because the city really has changed.
CALLEBS: Indeed. CNN's Baghdad bureau chief, Jane Arraf. You paint a wonderful picture there, really a stark contrast with that military helicopter flying overhead and the smoke from the rubble. Jane, we'll check back in with you a little bit later on, thanks very much -- Andrea. KOPPEL: We want to bring you now, a taped interview recently done with someone described as a U.S. Army official who's in Baghdad, presumably immediately after the blast at the Baghdad Hotel speaking with reporters bringing us up to date.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COL. PETER R. MANSOOR, U.S. ARMY: Mansoor, commander of the Ready First Combat Team and this area is part of my sector, here in Eastern Baghdad. I'm responsible for Rusfa and Anomia (ph). I have just a brief statement and then I'll be happy to take you questions.
Just prior to 13:00 hours local time a car tried to negotiate a security checkpoint at the entrance to the Baghdad Hotel, and it was prevented from doing so by the Facility Protection Services guards. He drove by anyway. The guards fired at the vehicle, and he was not able to enter the complex, and shortly thereafter, the car explode, and caused some damage to the buildings, as can you see there on the corner, but was not able to damage the Baghdad Hotel or negotiate the security that protects it.
Right now, we know of six fatalities, all local nationals, and ten wounded, who were taken to local hospitals, and they were all local nationals. There was only one soldier slightly wounded, and he was subsequently treated and returned to duty. There were a number of other more likely wounded, and we're getting the numbers on those now as they come in, but most of them are being treated on the scene and released, and with that, I'd be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: How big was the bomb? Do you have any idea?
MANSOOR: I don't have a size. We do know the car was a car small, a sedan-type. So, as much explosives you can packed into that.
QUESTION: Where would it have been packed into, what part of the car?
MANSOOR: I don't know.
QUESTION: Can you confirm whether the actual explosion happen on the inside of the blast wall or outside?
MANSOOR: As you can see, the blast wall was knocked outward, and so the checkpoint is between the blast wall and the corner. As he went up to get his credentials checked and his car checked, which is the standard procedure, he gunned the engine and drove by, was fired on by the guards, and then the car blew up.
Our condolences go out to those families who lost loved ones. I'm very, very proud of the Facility Protection Services forces, however. They did their job and they prevented a greater loss of life. So, the security worked.
KOPPEL: OK, you've been listening there to just a replay of a taped interview with Colonel Peter Mansoor of the U.S. Army, which really kind of drives home a point that we've been trying to make here, sporadically throughout the morning and that is, it is so difficult to get accurate information on the ground in Baghdad. There are no working phones. We've been putting out numbers there, other news organizations have been putting numbers out there. We have now finally heard from the U.S. military directly as to what the numbers of casualties and wounded are, and that is six fatalities, ten wounded, all foreign nationals. That means they were not American citizens, one U.S. soldier according to the colonel, was slightly wounded, and that the car, sounds as if just one suicide bomber in a car, a sedan-type car, only made it to the blast wall, to the concrete barrier that was blocking access to the Baghdad Hotel, so that the car bomber actually never made it to the hotel, where U.S. officials were housed -- Sean.
CALLEBS: OK, Andrea. We want to bring CNN's Kelly McCann, our security analyst.
Kelly, we've been talking this morning via the computer and you're very concerned about this arm on this gate that is up. What does that tell you in your years of working scenes like this?
MCCANN: Well, of course, as the story's developed, I mean, we have learned things as we've gone along, Sean. But, look -- if you -- if that is the path where the vehicle entered and that gate is not damaged, then that would tell me that gate wasn't rammed, in other words, the gate was either raised because someone recognized the vehicle or it had passed some level of screening or whatever, because if it was, as it was initially reported, that the vehicles raced down that street...
MCCANN: That would have been knocked off its -- off its support stand. Those are very common throughout the Middle East, it's basically a pipe, sometimes filled with concrete that has a counter weight system and it's hand raised by guards that are standing there. So it's indicative that it might have either: A, been up already; B, was raised up as the vehicle came in -- can't be anything else. Now, what the colonel just said, of course, does tell us that the vehicle was not probably able to negotiate, you know, a serpentine kind of barrier system that would preclude a vehicle from getting right up to the hotel. The gate is...
CALLEBS: Yeah Kelly, look -- if I can interrupt you, let's talk about what Peter Mansoor, of the U.S. Army, the colonel, just spoke about. He praised the security force on the ground and as bad as it is, at least six people dead, ten injured, he made it sound as though it could have been a lot worse.
MCCANN: Oh, there's no doubt. I had just been on "CNN International" and when asked, I said, you know I don't want to sound callous, but for only six casualties dead, several wounded to be the result of a -- potentially a vehicle packed with explosives, it does show that those physical security measures that could have been in place were, and that the blast was mitigated, so a job well done for the designers of the security.
CALLEBS: Yeah, the real sad fact in all of this, however, from talking to you and other people this morning, there's really no way to stop the suicide car bomber. They said this was a small sedan, but clearly, packed with enough explosives to do a great deal of damage, damage that could have been significantly, significantly worse.
MCCANN: Absolutely. And, the other thing you've got to remember is no matter how far you push back and have that security buffer, at some point there's an interaction between the vehicle and the people who run that checkpoint, so someone will always be at risk, this is same thing you see in airports here in the U.S. At some point have you to say, OK, this is the standoff and no more. So, two interesting points, the gate, of course, is interesting and secondly, that it was not able to negotiate its way all the way up to the hotel.
CALLEBS: OK, Kelly, what's going to happen now? Are people going to have a knee-jerk reaction and just move the barricades back even further, make them more rigid? And, you heard Jane talk about how important this area is to the people of Baghdad. I mean, this is something, that in quieter times people would sit by the Tigris River in the evening under palm trees, and she just painted an idyllic picture and look the at mess, now.
MCCANN: The more draconian the security measures, the more that people find them unjust and want to rebel against them. So, I don't think that there'll be a knee-jerk reaction to this. What this is indicative of is maybe a vehicle recognition or access control issue, if the gate was up, was that vehicle recognized? Was, had it been in and out previously? Did it have some kind of pass? What was the conduct of the checkpoint? Why was it raised or was it left up? We don't know that.
MCCANN: Usually, Sean, one quick point. It's not technology that gets attacked, it's human patterns of behavior that the terrorist will attack.
CALLEBS: And also it's that human pattern of behavior that ends up saving people and apparently the good work by the security officers on the ground.
CALLEBS: OK Kelly, thanks very much. Stick around. We're going to check back in with you a little bit.
We've been talking to a number of experts this morning to bring you up-to-date. A powerful car bomb blast near the Baghdad Hotel, basically in the heart of Baghdad. There you see a map along the Tigris River. The reason you see Palestine Hotel, that is where a number of international journalists are stationed during this aftermath, the coalition war ousting Saddam Hussein from power. We know that at least six people were killed, ten people were injured. They were all apparently Iraqi nationals. We talked to Simon Robinson, a reporter from "Time" magazine, he had just come back from the hospital, described a very, as you can imagine, solemn, very difficult scene at the hospital, a lot of the Iraqi police officers are worried about their comrades, and we will monitor these numbers, perhaps the number of wounded, perhaps the number of dead will continue to rise as the morning goes on.
It is 8:44 Eastern time in the United States, that makes it about 3:44. We've been talking to a number of experts throughout the morning trying to get their information. We're joined -- of course, we've been here with our State Department correspondent, throughout the morning, and this has also been a very hectic time for the Bush administration.
We know, Colin Powell has been working the phones the past several days trying to drum up, trying to garner support for a U.S. resolution, bringing more international troops, more coalition members to Iraq. What do you think this does to -- I know you've talked to a number of people this morning, in between our interviews. I see you on the phone, but very do I have to get information.
KOPPEL: Right. Well, as things stand right now, Secretary Powell is really giving it one last try to see if he can get enough support, at least nine out of 15 U.N. Security Council members to support a U.N. resolution. They really -- the U.S. isn't keen on going for the nine vote, they want more than that, because they want to show a consensus among the Security Council, not just a slim majority of support for more troops and for more money. The way it looks right now though, they just don't have a consensus. France, which is a permanent member of the Security Council, Germany, Russia, other members, including the U.N. secretary general himself, Kofi Annan, have expressed grave reservations, saying that they want a rapid transition from the U.S. coalition authority there directly to the Iraqi governing authority. Why is that a concern for the U.S.?
Well, because the U.S. helped select the Iraqi governing council, there. There are 25, actually now 24, because one of them was killed recently in a assassination. 24 people, some of whom lived outside of Iraq for most of Saddam Hussein's regime, and the U.S. is saying -- look, we want it to happen quickly, but first, we need to have a constitution written, let the U.N. help with that. We need to have free and fair elections, and then we will transfer -- the U.S. will transfer authority to this newly elected government. That, Sean, is the sticking point. The U.S. wants it to happen rapidly, but realistically, they believe it could take upwards of a year or two, so that's where things stand with the resolution. The U.S. is saying it will be flexible on many of the other points, but not on the transition of sovereignty to the Iraqi governing council.
CALLEBS: We know Secretary Powell has been talking with Kofi Annan, as well as Russian officials. To what degree do you think that Russia, Germany, are now saying, "we told you so," even though the U.S. says that it does have, quote, "some idea" how they plan to accommodate the concerns of the other nations?
KOPPEL: The Russians are the only ones, so far, who are making hints like this. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is saying this publicly he's made various snide comments about that. Russia, of course, France, and china to a lesser degree, all permanent members of the Security Council, did not support the U.S. moving to war last March, which is why the U.S. and its coalition of the willing went it alone.
Nevertheless, as things stand right now, there is a poisoned atmosphere at the United Nations. Some of my State Department sources have quietly expressed frustration about this, not just because of what's happening on the ground in Iraq, but because if you look at the bigger picture, what just happened recently, in fact last weekend, in Syria when Israel launched the first attack in 30 years against, what it said was, a terrorist training camp on Syrian soil, Israel responding to yet another terrorist attack on its soil by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. So you see, there's a lot going on now. Syria's been trying, Sean, to get a resolution at the U.N., condemning what Israel has done. So, all of this is happening really at a terrible time for U.S. diplomatic efforts to try to get this broader mandate to get more troops and more money to help reconstruction, and security in Iraq.
CALLEBS: Let's continue to talk about this diplomatic landscape as we look at the latest pictures that are just now coming in from the heart of Baghdad. They are presumably one of the Iraqi, either police officers, security officers, clearly wounded in this blast, and a U.S. presence on hand immediately, a number of armored vehicles, as well as Humvees, patrolling the perimeter. Of course, concerned about possibility and that follow-up blast, which even though this happened two hours and 50 minutes ago, there's still the concern out there.
Also, we know that at the Baghdad Hotel there had been conflicting reports about the U.S. presence, there. Clearly some U.S. officials are staying in that hotel. We had been reported that perhaps it was housing the CIA. Jane also said there -- Jane Arraf, had also said there had been a rumor to that extent, but now we are told emphatically that the CIA is not housed at the Baghdad Hotel. So, there we have that information, Andrea.
But, let's talk about now it's been difficult to get anyone from the White House, the State Department, as well as the Pentagon to talk about what's going on in this morning over there. To what degree is this going to force the administration's hand to continue to move forward and perhaps give in to some of the demands from other nations?
KOPPEL: Well, the U.S. has shown flexibility and certainly, when you listen to U.S. officials speaking from the podium either at the White House or the State Department or for that matter, over at the Pentagon, you hear them say that they have transferred authority to Iraqi officials. They're running some of the ministries on the ground, they are running various other -- whether it be hospitals, clinics, helping to get education up and running there. So, do you not have a completely -- you know, U.S. authority spread across every single ministry in Iraq, but when push comes to shove, the fact of the matter is it is still the Coalition Provisional Authority headed by the United States and the U.K. that is calling the shots on the ground there, and would call the shots even under this new U.N. resolution from the military standpoint. The U.S. wants to have command and control under its authority.
CALLEBS: Indeed, and last count they had somewhere between 135,000 and 160,000 troops in and around the area. So, certainly the U.S. has a great deal at stake.
Andrea you talked a bit about the convoluted diplomatic landscape. Where there also some developments coming out of the other areas in the Middle East. We now want to go to the city of Ramallah and we are joined by Fionnuala Sweeney, who updates us on some developments there, as well.
Good morning, Fionnuala.
FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. There has been a ongoing crisis over the last few weeks about the formation of a new Palestinian cabinet under the prime minister, Ahmed Qorei. Last Sunday, one week ago today, Yasser Arafat instituted an emergency cabinet under emergency legislation which would deal really, only with matters of security in the West Banked and Gaza. There has been a lot of opposition to this amongst Palestinian legislatures and also a battle between Yasser Arafat and his prime minister, Ahmed Qorei over the appointment of the man, Nasir Yusuf, as interior minister, a very crucial (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on security within the West Bank and Gaza. Ahmed Qorei adamant, said he should remain as prime minister and Yasser Arafat adamant that he should go, and it would seem, following a meeting, this morning, that Nasir Yusuf will no longer remain as interior minister in this security cabinet which will now continue work for another three weeks or so while a new government is formed. But, apparently we're just hearing not under the Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei who has asked to be relieved of his post.
CALLEBS: Fionnuala Sweeney, thanks very much from Ramallah with the latest information, there as well.
KOPPEL: We had been hearing, for a number of days now, rumors that Ahmed Qorei, who was selected by Yasser Arafat after Mahmoud Abbas, the first Palestinian prime minister resigned in September, that he might quit, as well. It is to say the very least, a mest -- a mess within the Palestinian authority, the ruling body there in the Palestinian territories, and we will certainly keep following that. There aren't many candidates left who are appealing to Israel and to the United States who, they feel would genuinely try to bring the security situation under control. One of the main reasons that Mahmoud Abbas resigned was that Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian authority president, refused to cede security control, which would have given Abbas the necessary levers to bring the security, the suicide bombing situation at least limit the number of suicide bombings, if not end them. One of the key demands that the Israelis and the United States have been making of the Palestinians that they end the violence of the last three years in order to move forward on the so-called road map to peace. So that, again, more bad news for the United States and for Israel and for that matter, for the Palestinian authority.
CALLEBS: It has been a morning of developing events. We now take to you some of the latest pictures coming in from the heart of Baghdad, this just outside the Baghdad Hotel where a very violent car bomb explosion happened, oh about, nearly three hours ago. These are pictures from, obviously, much earlier in the scene. At least seven people were dead, ten people were injured. And, of course, these are new pictures that you're looking at now. We've had...
KOPPEL: Right, these are new -- these are the first pictures, we're told, from the scene immediately after the explosion, which happened at lunch time, Baghdad time, just before 6:00 A.M. East Coast time, here in the United States. Near the Baghdad Hotel, which is where a number of U.S. officials, we don't know how many, were staying. And we now know, because we've been piecing this story together here, all morning long, with help from our correspondents and producers on the ground in Baghdad, as well as from the U.S. military, which just confirmed a short time ago that there were six fatalities, these were foreign nationals, ten wounded, again, foreign nationals, but one U.S. soldier was slightly injured because they were able to keep this suicide bomber, who was driving a small sedan-type car -- keep this person from blasting through and getting close to the Baghdad Hotel. He eventually did blast through, but he didn't cause as much damage as might have been caused.
CALLEBS: Right. OK. That information coming from Colonel Peter Mansoor of the U.S. Army, who said that the car pulled up to a checkpoint and at that point began to speed his way through, then the explosion happened. We've been talking with CNN's Harris Whitbeck, throughout the morning, who has been in Baghdad for some time.
And Harris, you were on the ground immediately thereafter. Kind of bring us up-to-date on the situation. We now know that, apparently six people dead, ten people injured, the situation, relative calm has been restored to the area, but still, I'm sure, a very tense situation out there.
WHITBECK: Well, obviously Sean, the U.S. military still out there in force. People working, we understand from the U.S. military representatives from the FBI and also from the Iraqi investigative body and police body, here, are already at the scene trying to sift through that rubble, trying to figure out exactly what might have happened and find any evidence that might help them -- help point them to the people who are behind this. Again, the colonel on the ground, that you mentioned, confirmed six people dead, all of them Iraqi nationals, and at least ten wounded. Other reports indicate the number of wounded might actually be higher, and again, these numbers might change as the afternoon wears on, and as people are being able to sift through the rubble that is very near the Baghdad Hotel.
Again, the Baghdad Hotel, the apparent target of this car bomb and people now are saying that the security measures put in place, mainly these concrete barriers might have prevented the car from actually getting closer to the actual hotel and causing even more damage, and the al Jazeera network is reporting that one member of Iraqi governing council was apparently inside the hotel and was slightly wounded when that blast occurred. Again, that blast occurred around lunch time, bag time -- Baghdad time, a busy time, here. As you know, Sunday is a regular workday here in the Iraq and a lot of people on this busy street out taking care of their business when the explosion occurred -- Sean.
CALLEBS: Harris, if you can, take us back to the scene just after it occurred -- the sites, the confusion that you saw, just the pure chaos.
WHITBECK: Well, I can tell you from the perspective -- from my perspective, we were sitting in the bureau, which is only four blocks from the hotel and we heard a tremendously loud explosion, one of the loudest I've experienced here, at least since the end of major combat here, and the windows of our bureau shook, you could actually feel movement coming from the force of this explosion.
We immediately ran out, were able to get there within minutes and when we got there, Sean, the fire and the smoke were so intense that it literally looked like it was late afternoon, early dusk instead of noon, just a regular noonday in Baghdad. The smoke was curling up into the sky. It was obscuring the visibility and there was a very, very strong smell in the air -- a smell that is associated with the chemicals used in explosives, and that is -- that was obviously, it was very, very present and you could feel that it was stinging your eyes. People were running around, trying to get close, trying to figure out exactly what had happened, and as the minutes wore on, the U.S. military beefed up its presence there, soldiers immediately tried to start controlling the crowd, pushing us back and they started establishing different cordons. As time went by, they were able to push those cordons further away from the site of the blast in order to push the people away from that site. There were also military helicopters which were flying over that area. They continue to do that, and actually, Sean, we just heard another explosion, which I can't tell you about where it is now. We'll try to find that out.
WHITBECK: But, we just heard another blast, here.
CALLEBS: Harris, we will check back in with you. Thanks very much. And, we'll let you get to work on that.
And, Andrea, one thing, I think, that really stands out at this the hour -- now, close to three hours after this explosion, this could have been much worse.
KOPPEL: Absolutely. In fact, if you look at the record, since June alone -- since the end of June, there have been 18, today makes 19 various attacks -- suicide attacks against both U.S. and Iraqi and Spanish and other international targets across the country, but increasingly more in Baghdad. We just heard Harris say he heard yet another explosion.
We'll bring you the very latest. If you're just tuning in, this is CNN SUNDAY MORNING.
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