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Bloody Day in Iraq

Aired November 2, 2003 - 07:02   ET


RENAY SAN MIGUEL, CNN ANCHOR: Let's give you the latest now on what's going on in Iraq. At least four attacks there so far. Thirteen Americans killed, 20 injured, when Chinook helicopter was shot down near Fallujah. The chopper was taking troops to R&R leave.
Two U.S. convoys also attacked this morning. One American was killed in an attack in Baghdad. No casualties to report yet on a convoy attack in Fallujah. West of Baghdad, Iraqis hurled grenades at a U.S. patrol this morning, but there are no reports of casualties there. It's the same market area where U.S. troops came under fire on Friday and killed 14 Iraqis.

But our top story, an especially violent day in Iraq; the deadly for U.S. troops since March. The big attack was near Fallujah. A U.S. Chinook helicopter carrying soldiers bound for R&R leave was shot down. At least 13 Americans dead, 20 wounded.

CNN's Jane Arraf is at the scene and she's got the latest -- Jane.

JANE ARRAF, CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: Renay, we're here in Amarillo (ph), which is about four miles southwest of Fallujah. And as you can see, it's this wonderfully peaceful looking farmland, except for the helicopters that are circling the crash site.

Now, the crash site surrounded by swirling dust at the moment. But you can probably see off in the distance at least five helicopters that are stationed around there. They have been ever since this morning.

At 8:30 this morning, witnesses are telling us they saw -- some are saying they saw two missiles fired. And one witness described what sounded like a heat-seeking missile, what looked like a heat- seeking missile. He said it appeared to have been fired from up to a mile away. And he actually watched it, he said, track the helicopter until it hit and the helicopter exploded.

Now, the second helicopter, the second Chinook escaped. It landed at the same time and stayed there for about an hour until reinforcements came in.

What we're seeing now is the aftermath. We have been seeing for several hours the surveillance helicopters circling, presumably looking for any evidence of what individual or group might have fired that shot. But it is a very fertile area for anyone wanting to attack U.S. troops. Here in this town, in this farming village, we're being told that no one is particularly upset that these soldier have died. In fact, some of them believe that more should have died in this attack -- Renay.

SAN MIGUEL: Well, Jane, I'm sure that the folks that are upset there are the U.S. military, officials who are investigating this attack. Have you had a chance to talk to any of them? I know that they're keeping you far away from the crash site and may not have had a lot of time to give you any kind of official statements or anything like that. But have you been able to gauge anything about heir demeanor or whatever?

ARRAF: Well, they're reluctant to talk here, Renay. In fact, they've been confiscating film. They've threatened to confiscate ours and everyone else's, which is why we're on this rooftop of a private home.

Officials here are understandably nervous. There aren't any senior people on the ground. When these things happen, they generally do not make statements. And, in fact, they're forbidden to talk.

This has become a climate over the last few months where it's very difficult to get information from the military on the ground either because they've been forbidden to talk or they have been ordered that no one is allowed to take pictures. And increasingly, what we're seeing in sites like this, and even in Baghdad, is that it has become the kind of place where you cannot -- you are not free to take pictures, you're not free to talk to soldiers.

They are extremely nervous given these continuing attacks. And it's reflected here -- Renay.

SAN MIGUEL: All right. Jane Arraf, live from the crash site near Fallujah. Thank you so much.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And as far as the number of casualties that's concerned, this has been the deadliest day in Iraq since major combat ended. To be more specific, since Private Jessica Lynch's convoy was attacked back on March 23. Of course, that was during the war.

Live on our phone lines right now, our military analyst, General Don Shepperd. Good morning, General.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): Good morning, Carol.

COSTELLO: In those pictures that Jane was sending us, we saw more Chinook helicopters landing. What are they doing right now on the ground?

SHEPPERD: Actually, what you saw was UH-60 Blackhawks landing. I saw another Chinook earlier.

The Chinooks that crashed, they are the transport helicopters. The others are bringing in smaller numbers of troops to, one, secure the area, and also to evacuate the wounded. There are undoubtedly still other wounded in that area. And then also they'll recover remains of anybody that would be under or in the wreckage there.

It's a grizzly task, Carol.

COSTELLO: I can only -- I can't imagine, actually. Jane was telling us about this missile that people saw, a heat-seeking missile, she said, that was actually tracking the Chinook. She said that there were witnesses that saw it a mile away from where the Chinook was shot down. You know, you would hope that somebody from the U.S. military would have spotted that as well, but that's very difficult to do, isn't it?

SHEPPERD: It is. The nation is awash in these heat-seeking missiles, although we're trying to buy them back and have offered rewards to bring them back. There are just literally thousands of them.

These are the SA-7s (ph). They're the older heat-seeking missiles, but they do track the heat sources on the helicopters.

Now, the helicopters do have infrared countermeasures. I'll just leave it that the combination of flares and other things -- but generally speaking, you have to see these missiles coming. And there are some areas that you fire from certain angles or certain ranges and it just makes it very difficult to counter the missile.

They have ranges of up to -- actually, it's up to three miles, a way that it can be fired. So as you look at these pictures, you can see you can hide under any tree and get away with firing one of these missiles. The closer the missile is, the harder it is to detect and the harder it is to defend against. So you're just vulnerable any time you're in a helicopter or a fixed-wing airplane at low altitude.

COSTELLO: Yes. How hard is it to transport this type of weapon?

SHEPPERD: Oh, it's not hard at all. It weighs about -- depending on how you do it, you can break it down into two pieces, and about 20 pounds a piece. It's around 40 pounds. So it's very easy to carry and hide behind any dirt clump or tree or Bush.

COSTELLO: And even if they left it behind, I mean, they're not going to be leaving a big clue for investigators, are they?

SHEPPERD: No. They probably won't from where it was fired from. On the other hand, what you need is a field of fire. And what we're looking at, this flat land, it's very easy to hide in the green areas and jump out when you see helicopters overhead and fire one of these things.

Now, the helicopters do have door gunners that will fire back. But, of course, again, it's ideal territory. And the other thing you want to be careful about in helicopters is flying predictable routes day after day where people can watch you and see you coming over at 8:00 in the morning, 11:00 in the morning, 2:00 in the afternoon, and get ready for you.

COSTELLO: Yet they seem to have such good methods of finding out where U.S. troops will be. Let's talk a little bit more about this so-called day of resistance. Do you think that this entered into the picture at all today?

SHEPPERD: Yes, I think it definitely entered into the picture. My guess is that, again, the nation is -- they communication not only through regular communications means, but also through rumors (ph) and runners and that type of thing. And they could basically say, let's save these things up. We're going to make these attacks; let's save them up for this day of resistance and launch a whole bunch of attacks on this one day.

I was expecting many more than we've seen, at least so far. But of course there's still a lot of the day left.

Carol, you've got to steel ourselves for many more of these things to happen before we're out of there. I think we'll be shot at the day we leave. The key is not to put more U.S. troops in there, but to get them out as quickly as possible by training the Iraqis to take over their own security. And they've got to be strong enough when they take over to resist the former Ba'athists. It's a tough race.

COSTELLO: Yes. L. Paul Bremer talked yesterday about them expanding the Iraqi police force to, what, 200,000 by next year? So we'll...

SHEPPERD: Yes. The 200,000 is all of the various means, the army, the police force, the Facility Protection Service, the Civil Defense Corps and the border guards. But that's up about 40,000 from what was originally planned. And some of the numbers come out of the Iraqi army.

So it's the idea of putting more police into the neighborhoods. But again, they have to be strong enough when we leave to prevent the bad guys from taking over again.

COSTELLO: Let's talk about Fallujah itself. It has been a hotbed of resistance for U.S. troops; many, many attacks on U.S. troops in this area. Is there any way that Americans can win some small bit of support from the people of Fallujah?

SHEPPERD: I don't think so. I think that the -- here's the key to all of this that makes it really difficult. The former Ba'athists are in this -- what's been called the Sunni or Ba'athist triangle from western Baghdad, which is bad guy country, out to Aramadi (ph) and Fallujah and then north to Tikrit. It forms a triangle.

These people have been disenfranchised by the Iraqi Governing Council. They basically said that you can't be in any of the army, you can't be in the police, et cetera. So they have no jobs, no economy, no future. So it leads them to this type of violence not only against Americans, but against anybody else that's going to keep them out of a future. COSTELLO: Well, is there no solution to that?

SHEPPERD: Yes. There is, but it's a long-term solution. And that is to have a reconciliation with this area to give them a future and a new Iraq.

We talked to General Sanchez when we were there, and he said we can't kill all these people. We can't find them, we can't build enough jails to put all the bad guys in. And he says and so the real key is reconciliation of some type that has to be run by the Iraqis. And it's very difficult to do that.

I think as long as Americans are there, we're going to continue to see this thing on a day-to-day basis.

COSTELLO: Yes. And I wonder about troop strength within Fallujah. Is it stronger there than in other parts of Iraq?

SHEPPERD: It's not stronger there. In fact, again, what you want to do is you don't want to go into that area, just patrolling in general. You want to go in when you've got intelligence to get something.

Running more and more patrols in that area is just going to cause more people to be shot at and more people to be killed. You don't have enough American forces worldwide to secure Iraq. You simply can't do it; it's too big.

COSTELLO: All right. General Shepperd, I know you're going to stick around to talk more about this throughout the morning. We thank you.

SAN MIGUEL: The attack on the helicopter near Fallujah just one of several incidents today involving insurgents versus U.S. troops. Matthew Chance is in Baghdad now. He's going to talk about a couple of other attacks that happened there -- Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Renay, we've been hearing such a lot about these 13 U.S. soldiers, of course, that have been killed in this chopper being downed 25 kilometers to the southwest of Fallujah. But it's been a very bloody day elsewhere as well for U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq.

We'll start with an incident that occurred in the town of Fallujah itself, a hotbed, of course, of anti-U.S. sentiment. A U.S. Army convoy driving through the streets of the center of that town, attacked by an improvised explosive device, a roadside bomb that was detonated as the U.S. convoy moved past.

You can see these pictures from the immediate aftermath of that attack. A burning vehicle. The crowds came out, the people of Fallujah coming out to basically celebrate the fact that this attack has taken place. Many of these residents are fiercely opposed to the U.S.-led occupation of their country.

Now, in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, another attack as well. We have no pictures of it, but I can tell you that at least one U.S. soldier was killed when a similar kind of roadside bomb was detonated as his vehicle drove through an area of the city as well. One person killed form the 1st Armored Division. No further details on that.

But clearly, taken alongside the 13 dead, the 20 injured in the helicopter that was brought down near Fallujah today, has been an extremely bloody day already so far for the U.S. forces. And it's really underlying how intensive this insurgency has become.

Back to you.

SAN MIGUEL: Well Matthew, one quick question. We heard our military analyst, Don Shepperd, talk about a buy-back program initiated by the U.S. military there to try to get some of these Iraqis to sell any kind of shoulder-fired missiles or any other kinds of arms to the coalition forces in exchange for money. I'm wondering if you can say anything about the success of that program? Are people doing this, not just shoulder-fired missiles, but any kind of arms that they may have?

CHANCE: Well, certainly if you ask the U.S. coalition, they say it's been relatively successful. They say people have responded to this offer to buy weapons from them, to buy shoulder-launched missiles. But not just weapons of that sort of size, but also (UNINTELLIGIBLE) pistols.

These have all been sort of attempted by the authorities to -- they've attempted to offer money in exchange to try and get these kinds of weapons off the streets. They have had some success in the sense that people have been bringing in weapons in exchange for cash. The general you spoke to earlier said that even some missile and missile launchers have been brought in.

But the fact is that there are thousands upon thousands of these kinds of weapons. Of course the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) assault rifles, but even the shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles. Thousands upon thousands of them are still very much at large out there in the Iraqi countryside.

And the Coalition Authority simply has no way of getting them back. And we've seen the effect of these today, certainly the missiles today in this attack on the helicopter. But on a nightly basis here, on a daily basis, you see the results of the fact that there are so many weapons on the streets. People are going into emergency wards every night with gunshot wounds.

There is a great sense of insecurity. And indeed, that's one of the reasons why people want to keep their weapons, to try and protect themselves and to protect their families.

SAN MIGUEL: Matthew Chance live in Baghdad. We'll be getting back with you later. Thanks so much.

Well, as we have seen today, coalition forces continuing to battle the Iraqi resistance. But it's the day-to-day problems caused by lack of communication and understanding between American troops and Iraqi citizens that may be the hardest thing for the troops to overcome.

Joining us to talk about this culture clash that's going on in Iraq is Middle East analyst Fawaz Gerges. He's a professor at Sarah Lawrence College.

Thanks so much for joining us, Mr. Gerges.


SAN MIGUEL: Before we talk about that, you know, how the U.S. can bridge that cultural gap, I need to get some general comments from you about the attacks today. When the insurgents are going to hear the media talking about this being the deadliest day for U.S. forces since the war actually was going on, how much will that embolden the insurgency?

GERGES: Very, very much, Renay. By the way, in fact, what we are witnessing in the last few weeks is that the armed resistance is not only intensifying, but also it's becoming more coordinated and bolder and more organized. And I think a more important element here is that it's receiving a vital element of public support.

And all of the signs show that this is really the signs of a full-blown urban guerrilla warfare. The deadlier the armed resistance becomes, the more emboldened and empowered the fighters become. And this is really the danger for the American military presence in Iraq today.

SAN MIGUEL: When you talk about the popular support, that kind of gets us into what we had you on to talk about today, which is the culture clash here. The problem starts with not even having enough interpreters, those on the U.S. side who can speak Iraqi Arabic.

GERGES: Absolutely. In fact, to begin with, there exists a cultural gap between American troops and Iraqi population. But complicating the situation is the lack of interpreters and soldiers and officers with Arabic language training.

Often, American troops, even in Fallujah, control the streets, stop man and search houses without having anyone with them who speaks Arabic. And this fact not only makes communication difficult between Iraqis and American troops, but widens the cultural gap between American forces and the Iraqi population.

SAN MIGUEL: So you've -- and you've got that issue, the fact that not enough U.S. soldiers are just there to speak the language. But then the way that some of those interrogations might be carried out, give us some examples of what the U.S. just might consider as kind of a business as usual approach, trying to be as efficient as possible, might be seen as offensive by some Iraqis.

GERGES: Absolutely, Renay. I mean, let's make one point very clear. Occupying foreign armies do not make good cultural ambassadors. American troops (UNINTELLIGIBLE) forces in Fallujah and the Sunni triangle, all over Iraq, are trained to fight and to kill, not to police civilians. Many Iraqis on a daily basis complain about heavy arm tactics by American soldiers, interrogating, mishandling fathers in front of their children, breaking into homes while Muslim women are exposed. This suspecting (ph) religious symbols.

Ten days ago, as you know, a major incident of cultural misunderstanding took place and led to a major riot. American soldiers tried to subject an Iraqi woman to a sniff search by a dog. And the woman said no way, because her back contained a copy of the Koran. And what did the American soldier do? He took the Koran out of the bad and threw it to the ground, and a major riot occurred.

You might say, why did she object to a search by a dog? I mean, many Muslims (UNINTELLIGIBLE) dogs dirty-carrying diseased animals. And this is really an example, a classic example of cultural misunderstanding between American troops and Iraqi population. And the cultural misunderstanding has alienated many Iraqis and driven them into a position to come back to attacks on American soldiers.

In fact, many dissatisfied Iraqis today who were initially disposed to where the American invasions have joined the fray, and have begun to attack American soldiers. So there's a heavy price to pay for the question of the cultural gap between American soldiers and American troops.

SAN MIGUEL: Well, do we know for a fact that either the Saddam loyalists or some of these foreign terrorists that are supposed to be in Iraq are actually using those kinds of cultural clashes as a way to recruit more people into their cause?

GERGES: Absolutely, Renay. Let's remember, a study that was leaked -- a study by the Defense Department that was leaked to the press a few weeks ago said that today dissatisfied elements, dissatisfied Iraqis who were initially disposed to where the American invasion had become alienated from the American soldiers in Iraq, as a result not only of cultural misunderstandings, but also the intensifying number of civilian casualties.

I mean, we talk about American casualties, and we should. Let's remember, hundreds of civilians, hundreds of civilian Iraqis have died as a result of these incidents, raids against Iraqi homes, American soldiers being angry of course terrified of their shadows as a result of the attacks. And many Iraqis are being killed on a daily basis.

And Renay, this is a vicious cycle, because the more Iraqi civilians are killed, the more Iraqis would join the armed resistance. And this is why the challenge is how to minimize the contacts between American soldiers and civilian populations, how to transfer power to Iraqis, how to allow Iraqis themselves to take charge of their security. This is the challenge for the American administration in Iraq today. Otherwise, the attacks will continue, and otherwise, in fact, we might witness a full blown urban guerrilla warfare that would bleed not only Iraqis, but also American forces as well in Iraq.

SAN MIGUEL: Fawaz Gerges, Middle East analyst, Sarah Lawrence College professor. Thank you so much for your insight. We appreciate it this morning.

GERGES: My pleasure, Renay.


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