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Strike on Iraq: Saddam Hussein, Sons Targets

Aired March 20, 2003 - 20:32   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And there is Baghdad, as dawn approaches on a Friday.

We remind you, coming up at the top of the hour, "LARRY KING LIVE." We'll also before that point with -- retired General Wes Clark will join us. We expect -- we are not certain -- but we expect we will hear from the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who made brief remarks to reporters about an hour and a half or so ago.

Even on a good day, the defense secretary doesn't give up much. I'll say that for him. He does it with a smile and a laugh, but he doesn't give up much. But we'll try and talk to him anyway. We hope to hear from him in this half-hour as well, before "LARRY KING LIVE."

Wolf Blitzer and Christiane Amanpour are in Kuwait City -- or in Kuwait -- I'm pretty sure Kuwait City, still. And they join us now. Air raid sirens have been going on and off. It's a very tense and difficult place for them and their reporting.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Aaron, right now, we're not hearing air raid sightings. We're hearing the call to early morning prayers, the first prayer of the day for Muslims. Maybe I'll be quiet for a second and you might be able to make it out behind me. Just listen for a second. No, I don't think you're going to be able to hear that.

But, Christiane, you can hear it. This is going to be another day, another day where people are probably to going to be hearing those sirens going on and off, if today, six or seven times that it's happened, is a prelude to what might happen tomorrow.


And let's not forget, though, that, here in Kuwait, it is one of the countries where they are very, very pro this military action. They want to see it completed. They want to see Saddam Hussein removed from power.

Just in terms of military updates that we've had, we've been hearing from all our correspondents who are assigned to different military units, some still in the sort of demilitarized zone in Northern Kuwait and others, like Walter Rodgers, with the cavalry division. The 7th Cavalry Division of the U.S. Army have penetrated now deep inside Iraq. He was telling us that they have been rolling for about two hours inside Iraq unopposed, unopposed, except for a little bit of hostile opposition when they first crossed into Kuwait.

And, of course, let's not forget that the British are also allies of the United States here as well. They are based in northern Kuwait. And they have also crossed the frontier into Iraq. And they have conducted, we're told, offensives or operations on the Faw Peninsula in southern Iraq there. Britain makes up about a fifth of the combined U.S.-British armor here, so they're an important part as well of this military action into Iraq.

BLITZER: It's by no means just a token British presence. These British forces are robust. They're trained. They're highly motivated. And they're moving together with the Marines, the U.S. Army. They're moving into southern Iraq right now.

Let's bring in our military analyst, retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark. He's joining us from the CNN Center, the former NATO commander.

Who would have thought, General Clark, that this war would be unfolding the way it was, given the experiences that you had leading NATO troops in Kosovo, when, for weeks and weeks and weeks, it was strictly airpower, U.S.-led airpower, and, of course, during the first Gulf War, where, for four or five weeks, there were no ground troops involved, strictly airpower. Now we have seen two relatively limited airstrikes in and around Baghdad. But you're seeing tens of thousands, effectively, U.S. and British ground forces moving into southern Iraq before airpower really has done much.

RET. GENERAL WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it is surprising if you think only in conventional terms, Wolf.

But if you think back a different way, this war really started in late December of 1998. We have been continuously bombing in the northern and southern no-fly zones since then, and particularly heavily over the last couple of months. And so the concern about the Iraqi air defense that we had and the respect for that air defense that we had back in 1990,'91, that's over. We're a lot more experienced. We're a lot better now than we were then.

And I think it's a good psychology that we have adopted there, because this is an opportunity to take advantage of the strike that was pulled off yesterday and also an opportunity to avoid unnecessary destruction and unnecessary infliction of casualties, if we don't have to, while we sort out the issue of Iraqi command-and-control.

Meanwhile, on the ground, it looks like there's a lot going on. It looks like it is going about the way we would have expected it to go. And so I would say all systems look go at this point.

AMANPOUR: General, if it goes like this and that the land campaign sort of proceeds faster than one had been led to believe, how long before, for instance, that 7th Cavalry Unit that Walter Rodgers is with, before it gets to Baghdad?

CLARK: Well, it's going to encounter some resistance. And it's not going to want to outrun the forces that are coming with it. So, they're taking advantage of the ability that we have to move at night, to maintain command-and-control at night. We're much better than the enemy at night. We're much safer moving and fighting at night.

As the sun comes up, we will probably end up stopped and refueled and refitting and allow some of the rest of the division to catch up with us. So we may be several days getting to Baghdad, still. It is not necessarily going to be a sprint. And, of course, the enemy has a vote on this, because the harder the enemy fights, the slower the slog to Baghdad.

BLITZER: General, just as the U.S. has been softening up, if you will, the ground over the past several years with the no-fly zones in the southern and northern part of Iraq, presumably, the Iraqi military has been preparing for this as well. How concerned should the U.S. military be of a so-called, what they used to call a rope-a-dope strategy, to sucker the U.S. troops, the ground forces in and then have some major surprises in store for them once they're deep inside Iraq?

CLARK: Well, I think we always have to be on the alert and we always have to respect our adversaries, Wolf.

And here, though, we have got a big advantage, because the terrain is such and the weather is such that, generally, our overhead superiority, our ability to control the skies, is a huge advantage on the ground. They're going to have a very hard time suckering us into something like a fire sack, where they're dug in on all sides and can conduct a major battle. We'll see it from the air. We'll pick it up.

And once they're fixed in position, we have got so much capability against them that they will be destroyed. So that technique is not going to work unless they just try to draw us into Baghdad. But with each kilometer that you advance into Iraq, you take away their will to resist. You convince them more and more of the hopelessness of their operation. And so their morale is a depreciating asset. So, I would say that we'll be ready for the surprise. I don't expect it.

AMANPOUR: Wes, if they do get to Baghdad, you know that the Iraqis have been basically -- the analysts have been basically been saying that one of the things that might happen is that they either, the allied forces make a siege of Baghdad -- this is if there isn't a surrender, etcetera -- or be drawn into urban warfare.

What do you think is likely to happen? I talked to senior commanders earlier on, weeks ago, who talked about the possibility of a ring of steel around the city there. Do you think that's, at the moment, a possibility?

CLARK: Well, that seems to be what they're planning, is fortifications on the outside of Baghdad.

But they're making a big mistake, because the United States is so powerful. The reconnaissance, the target acquisition, the ability to strike hardened targets is so good that the things that might have been doctrinally sound, were the Iraqis fighting the Iranians 15, 20 years ago, they are not going to work against the United States armed forces today.

So their chance is better defending inside the city. But then there are a lot of countermoves against that. There are a lot of citizens of Iraq who are no fans of Saddam Hussein. I wouldn't be surprised if we're in there, if we're working against that option right now. He'll defend inside Baghdad with knives at his back, if he does that.

BLITZER: General Wesley Clark, our military analyst -- General Clark, thanks very much.

Aaron, all those great articles you and I and all of our colleagues were reading over the past several months, predicting the strategy that would unfold, at least so far, day two of this war, that strategy is looking a lot different than we thought it would look.

BROWN: Well, we weren't the only ones reading them. I suspect the Iraqis were reading them as well. And maybe that's part of what has happened, but I suspect it is something else.

Morning prayers in the Persian Gulf going on. We heard them briefly in Kuwait. They are going on now in Baghdad.

General Clark mentioned kilometers. I guess everybody on the broadcast now is going to start speaking in meters and not miles. So, Molly Levinson, whose job it to make sure I'm smart -- and that is no easy task -- handed me a note saying, one kilometers equals six- tenths, .621 miles, OK? And we'll try to do the math for you as we go along.

One of the concerns -- actually, Connie mentioned the concern earlier about this nuclear plant in Phoenix. There is a broad concern about national security. But through the afternoon, there became a very specific concern about homeland defense with word that the FBI was looking for a specific individual.

That has fallen -- the task of reporting on that has fallen on Kelli Arena, who covers the Justice Department for us.

This is the many faces of apparently this one slight Saudi national, Kelli, as I recall.


As we reported earlier, the FBI did issue be-on-the-lookout for a man named Adnan El Shukrijumah. Sources say that could be an integral part of a new al Qaeda plot that threatens Americans and U.S. interests worldwide. Now, officials say that he's 27 years old. He's Saudi. He's about 5 foot 5, 132 pounds.

Interestingly, his name came up in documents, according to sources, that were seized along with al Qaeda leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. He was then identified during interrogations by Mohammed himself as one of Mohammed's deputies. Government sources describe him as a field organizer. They say that he's similar to Mohamed Atta, who coordinated the September 11 attacks, sort of a field commander. Now, sources say the documents found list him as someone who would be available to carry out a suicide attack. And sources say that some of his skills include flying and working with explosives. Now, the FBI does not know where he is, if he's in the United States or not. But agents today did search a house in Miramar, Florida. That happens to be the last known U.S. address for him -- Aaron.

BROWN: They don't know that he's in the country, though, right?

ARENA: Right. They don't know if he's left. Some sources say that they last put him here in 2001, early 2001. But there are indications that he may have come back in. They don't know.

BROWN: OK, and just one quick one. I thought I read that he knew how to fly. Is that -- do we know that?

ARENA: Yes. There are indications, right, that that is one of his skills, flying and building explosives.


ARENA: And sources also said that he may have had some connection to a U.S. flight school, but that's uncorroborated at this time, Aaron.

BROWN: OK, and if you said that and I asked you to repeat it, I apologize.

ARENA: That's OK.

BROWN: There's a fair amount of traffic going on in my ear here as we go along.

Kelli, thank you very much.

ARENA: No problem.

BROWN: Kelli Arena.

Around the world today, British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke out for the first time. We actually expected to hear from him last night. He didn't. He talked tonight to the British people. In a televised address to the people of Britain, the prime minister, Mr. Blair, said he ordered his nation's troops, 40,000 or so, into action to protect against a new threat of what he described as disorder and chaos.


TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Our choice is clear: back down and leave Saddam hugely strengthened or proceed to disarm him by force. Retreat might give us a moment of respite, but years of repentance at our weakness would, I believe, follow.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BROWN: As you know, it's been a very difficult road for Mr. Blair. One of things that will be very interesting to see is, now that the war has started, to see -- and we would expect to see a good deal of this -- the citizens of Britain, only about 25 percent supportive of their prime minister and his decision, whether they now will come to support that decision now that their soldiers are in harm's way. And they are.

Not everyone around the world, obviously, is in support of what's going on here. You know that. There have been a number of demonstrations around the world. Police fought with demonstrators in Seoul, South Korea. Demonstrations in Korea tend to get pretty nasty. Over the years, we've seen a lot of them over a lot of issues. And they are often nasty. And this one appears to be no exception. Hundreds of protesters kicked and punched riot police who tried to keep them from the U.S. Embassy.

In Cairo, a similar scene. One of the things we always watch is how Arab capitals react. Riot police fought off large groups, as you can see, a substantial-sized demonstration as they advanced on the U.S. Embassy there. Dozens of protesters were arrested.

With more on the Arab world's reaction, a critical strain in this story, we go to Rula Amin. She is on the Jordanian-Iraqi border -- Rula.

RULA AMIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, on the Arab street, there is anger and frustration.

Today, in the Arab world's biggest capital, Cairo, thousands of demonstrators took the street. They were protesting the war, protesting the fact that there are U.S. troops on Arab land. At the same time, they were trying to reach the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. The police there had to really struggle to keep them at bay from that U.S. Embassy wall. And they were shouting slogans, calling on the government to expel the U.S. ambassador, calling on the president of Egypt to step down.

The anger on the street is not just about supporting Saddam Hussein or supporting the Iraqi regime. Even those who really oppose Saddam Hussein and think he is a dictator and who has put the Iraqis in a lot of trouble, they don't buy the justification for this war. The main concern is Iraqi civilians. They feel that there will be civilian casualties, a high number. They feel that the Iraqi people have suffered enough under 12 years of U.N. sanctions. And they sympathize with them.

At the same time, they don't buy the argument that this war is necessary. If it is about the disarmament of Iraq, they point to Israel. And they say, how come Israel has weapons of mass destruction? If it's about democracy, they point to their own government. And they say, most Arab governments are not democratic. However, the U.S. supports them because they are allies of the United States.

So, many doubt that, even if the U.S. does invade Iraq and succeeds in removing Saddam Hussein, that, whoever replaces him will be just another dictator. But the difference will be that he will be a U.S. ally. So there's a lot of skepticism here in U.S. motives. And there's concern from the ramifications. Arab officials, as well as analysts, are concerned that this may actually lead to the radicalization of the region.

They say it's enough that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is still raging. That is a very controversial issue on the street. And the fact that there is another conflict now in Iraq, King Abdullah of Jordan put it this way. He said the picture of U.S. tanks in Iraq, perceived here as an occupation, along with an Israeli tank in the West Bank or Gaza is just something too much for the region to bear -- Aaron.

BROWN: Rula, thank you -- Rula Amin on the view from the Arab world. And that, for all of the reasons she mentioned, is part of the story that is important to keep track of.

Obviously, anti-war demonstrations are not limited to overseas. We all know this and understand this. And this is part of the American democracy. These pictures are from Chicago, live pictures from WLS, CNN affiliate there. This demonstration has been building. You can see the perimeter of police who have surrounded and cordoned off the protesters into one area.

We have no reports that it has been anything other than peaceful, OK? But there is a large number. We saw earlier a number, someone's estimate -- I don't if it was the police estimate or a wire service estimate, a reporter's estimate -- of about 2,000 people. It is one of those things I never do, because I know I'm always wrong. You can look at it and decide for yourself how many people there are there. But there is no shortage of police to deal with it.

And these are pictures of San Francisco, where it was quite a different scene today. These are taped pictures from the Bay Area. Someone described this -- I don't want to put a number on this, but there were a large -- wow. I'm not sure why the punching was going on, whether these are people who are supportive of the war and people who are opposed to it. This is the first time I've seen these pictures, so I'm a little blind on this.

But this is San Francisco, where, obviously, things got a little bit nasty, or more than a little bit nasty. Anyway, there were a large number of arrests. One report was that the largest number of arrests in 22 years -- and we'll do the math on that -- since about 1981, I guess. And I don't know what the -- 1,025 arrests, is that right? OK. So, more than 1,000 people arrested in San Francisco today.

And just as we look at this -- and, again, this is the first time I'm seeing this, so I'm just reacting to it as you are. There's obviously not a large number of people there. So, whatever this demonstration was, this was some sort of offshoot from it. And why that man in the car or those people in the car -- could we go back to the pictures for a second? Thank you. Why those people in the car and why there was the punching going on that we saw, I cannot tell you and I'm not going to guess, OK? Mostly, demonstrations that have gone on and most of the demonstrators on all sides of this have behaved themselves. There's obviously been some civil disobedience, but nothing like what we are looking at now. Why this person is reaching into the car, why they are fighting, what that is about, I have not a clue.

But it's not pretty to look at, is it? And we are great believers in the right to demonstrate, even in moments like this. It is not always popular, but there is no right to be throwing punches, for whatever the reason. And whatever the reason, it's somewhat sickening to see that.

All of that plays out in contrast, doesn't it, to the reality of what's going on thousands of miles away in the Persian Gulf. Soldiers are making their way across borders. And they are waking on this Friday, if, indeed, they slept. It presumes they slept. Maybe they're getting a hot meal. They get -- now, remember this -- hot breakfast. They get two hot meals a day under normal circumstances. I think -- I'm not sure they got any today.

Gary Tuchman is among the embedded correspondents who are out there.

Gary, I'm not precisely sure where you're at or what unit you're with. So go ahead.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Despite the warning from the soldiers, the reflexes of my cameraman and I were not quite as quick as the Army men and women.

They immediately started running to an underground bunker. While they were running, they were putting their gas masks on and buttoning up, zippering up their chemical clothes, their shirts, their pants. We followed them. We ran into the underground bunker, about 15 soldiers, my cameraman and I. It was very crowded inside. For 20 minutes, we sat there quietly. We then got the message from superiors that they could come out, that it was a false alarm.

For the first time, then, in 20 minutes, we saw smiles on faces. Previously, we saw eyes that looked very scared. As they came out, the soldiers went back to their appointed rounds, knowing that this could happen once again soon.

This is Gary Tuchman, CNN, in Kuwait City.


BROWN: As I said, Gary is one of the correspondents of ours who is embedded with units.

And I dare say, Wolf, he was one happy correspondent to find himself back in the modern city of Kuwait City, where there are hot meals and cold drinks, not alcoholic drinks, but cold drinks.

BLITZER: No, no beer, no alcohol, but a lot better than what he was facing up north in the northern part of Kuwait.

And I want to get back to this one point that we're all experiencing as journalists and as viewers and readers, listeners of news organizations. This is in marked contrast to what we've seen in recent wars. We're seeing U.S. journalists reporting with the troops from the front lines, getting a flavor of what's really going on, not just waiting for briefings over at the Pentagon or briefings at the Central Command, watching the Pentagon release those videotapes showing bomb damage assessment.

They're actually living and breathing and experiencing what it's like to be out there, fighting a real kind of war. And it's going to be giving the consumers of our business, the American public and the world community, indeed, an opportunity to see what's going on firsthand.

There are some 500 journalists, Aaron, who have been embedded, have been associated, have been allowed to go out with the troops, 500 journalists, not only from the United States, but many of them from other countries around the world, including Arab countries, a couple journalists from the Al-Jazeera Arabic-language television station as well.

Let me bring in Christiane Amanpour.

This is a whole fascinating new element for our business, isn't it?

AMANPOUR: Yes. And I think it came a lot because so many of our news organizations were so frustrated from the first Gulf War, when we really couldn't cover the Gulf War in any kind of real time or with any kind of closeness, because of the very Draconian censorship measures there were; and then, of course, in Afghanistan, where there wasn't any real meaningful coverage of the forces in action.

And so, since then, news organizations, our leaders, have worked with the Pentagon to try to come up with something better. And so far, in the initial stages, at least, we are seeing a lot more than we did in any of the previous conflicts certainly that I've been at and covered.

BLITZER: All right, we'll see how that works out in the long run.

But, so far, Aaron, it looks like it is working out the way it was supposed to work out. We'll be watching them -- Aaron.

BROWN: Well, yes, it hasn't really been tested yet.

It's going to get tested as this operation gets more complex, as the fighting, if indeed that's what going to happen -- certainly expect it to -- becomes more intense, then the process will be tested all the more. But the theory of it, in part -- and we don't like to spend a lot of time talking about ourselves here -- is that, if you put correspondents in units, they bond with the people in the units. They get a sense of who these men and women are. They know them. They trust them.

And the trust works both ways. And honest reporting comes out of it. And I know viewers sometimes get a little squishy on this. And I understand that, too. But it's an important thing that's going on. And everyone is doing it with extraordinary care. Anyway, enough on us for a second, at least.

We showed earlier, a few minutes ago, some pictures of protesters. That's obviously one snapshot of world opinion. These are pictures from Chicago, live pictures from Chicago. Every time I look at this, the pictures get better.

We ought not create the impression ever, on any side, that it is the only opinion. There are a range of opinions here. We should flush it out by talking to some people who didn't take to the streets today, but still have plenty of things to say about what is going on.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... oppressed people now depend on you. That trust is well-placed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was strong. He's going to keep us strong. And we're going to kick butt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Definitely regardless of my views on the president, I support our troops. And God bless them over there. And best of luck in whatever goes on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It makes me proud to see our president stand up and take action against a regime like that, when the U.N. just wants to keep its head firmly entrenched in the sand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last year, we were chasing down Osama bin Laden. We still don't have him. So now we shift our focus to Saddam Hussein.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think war is a bad idea in any situation. And I don't care what it is. I just think it's a bad idea. I just don't agree with war. I don't think it's the answer.

BUSH: ... in the early stages of military operations.

And we will accept no outcome but victory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I kind of have mixed feelings. We're sending people to die, in some respect. And then, in some respect, it's a necessary evil. It has to be done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know exactly where you were when the Challenger exploded. You know where you were when you found out about September 11. And it's pretty for damn sure I'll know where I am. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think something needed to be done. And President Bush decided it was time to take care of a threat to our nation and our country, and probably the whole world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe it is our legitimate right without the U.N. We will have a vote on November 4 in '04 in which I hope to see regime change here in Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's kind of exciting. It's kind of scary at the same time. We all miss our families and we want to spend as much time as we can.


BROWN: It is a great country, indeed, that, no matter how you feel about a government action, pro or against it, you are allowed to speak about it. It's something we can be proud of.

For Christiane Amanpour and Wolf Blitzer, I'm Aaron Brown. I'll see you again at 10:00 Eastern time tonight.


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