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CNN LIVE ON LOCATION

Bombs Falling in Several Iraqi Cities

Aired March 21, 2003 - 13:13   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Kevin Sites, our reporter in the northern part of Iraq.
Kevin, what are you seeing and hearing?

KEVIN SITES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there seems to be a simultaneous attack. About 10 minutes ago, it had been all quiet here. Now we started hearing major anti-aircraft fire as these bombs started dropping on Kirkuk, which is about 40 kilometers from here.

Now obviously, we wouldn't be able to see anti-aircraft fire in Kirkuk -- that's too far away -- but there's an Iraqi position about two kilometers from us, and I think they were frightened they were going to be under attack next. They began to open fire from here very close to us. Tracer fire's going over our head, also, going towards Kirkuk. You can see kind of the red glow over the horizon. There was some kind of major firepower dropped in that city.

Kirkuk, of course, is the oil-rich region that everyone was so concerned about when there were reports from the CIA that Saddam Hussein had planted munitions around those oil fields, possibly going to detonate them like he had after the Gulf War in 1991. So this, again, may be the start of the war for Kirkuk, the battle for Kirkuk here. It seems at this point, there is quite a lot of firepower, going about 40 kilometers, just over our shoulder here.

BLITZER: Kevin Sites, we're going to be getting back to you. Let me set the scene once again for our viewers. A Day, that's what the Pentagon is calling it, the start of this massive U.S. air campaign.

You're looking at live pictures of Baghdad. Huge areas of Baghdad, now in flames as a result of this massive U.S. airstrike, the start of the campaign that's been dubbed "shock and awe," an air campaign designed to undermine the Iraqi leadership. We're already told by our national security correspondent David Ensor -- look at that explosion. David Ensor reporting U.S. intelligence learning the Iraqi government now in disarray, unclear what is happening with Saddam Hussein, what's going on with Saddam Hussein, whether he's alive or dead, in control or not.

Jamie McIntyre, our senior Pentagon correspondent, who first reported the start of A Day, the start of the shock and awe campaign.

What are you hearing right now from your listening post, Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm in the briefing room here, but CNN's Barbara Starr, my colleague here, informs that she's been told by a senior Defense official that General Tommy Franks was given essentially a 48-hour window to launch this attack at his discretion, based on the conditions he saw at the ground, when he felt the timing would be absolutely right. So it was left to him, within a window of 48-hours.

Also, we are confirming now that this was originally designed to be an air campaign, followed quickly by a ground assault. And that was reversed, based in part for concern for the oil fields, the desire to get those troops in on the ground and secure the oil field in the south and prevent a disaster there. That was one of the factors that switched the timing. Obviously, this impromptu target of opportunity that occurred on the first night was another.

What we're seeing is massive explosion in Baghdad, is as we've said what the Pentagon's nicknamed this shock and awe, but the technical name for it is combined effect operations. And it's a very sophisticated, coordinated campaign, to hit a series of targets in a specific order, in specific places, designed to greatly magnify the effect this bombing campaign would have, as opposed to a more indiscriminate campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre, we're going to be getting back to you. We're only about 12 minutes away from the start of a briefing. Donald Rumsfeld and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Richard Myers, will be telling us the specifics of what's been going on.

Let's listen to the coverage right now of ITV. They have a reporter on the scene, Ian Glover James.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is where the central offices are, that is where the ministry of information is, and that's where our satellite dishes would be to try and get pictures of. But whether it's (UNINTELLIGIBLE), it's not for me to tell at the moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, Michael Nickerson (ph) in dad, thanks very much for that. We'll have more from here in Kuwait later in the program. But for now, let's go back to Katie in London.

BLITZER: That was reporting going on from ITV, the British news channel in London. They have a reporter on the scene in Baghdad. We'll be checking in with them periodically.

Let's bring back General Shepherd.

General Shepherd, you heard Jamie McIntyre report that the U.S. general in charge of putting this war plan together called a -- made some changes in advance of the war plan, because of concern for the oil fields in the southern part of Iraq. That's why U.S. and British military force went in on the ground before the start of this shock and awe air campaign. We've been speculating about that for the past 48 hours. But now we have official confirmation.

General Shepperd. MAJ. GEN. DONALD SHEPPERD, (RET.) CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, Jamie is normally right on. I think that makes perfect sense to me, without having insight Jamie has. Basically it makes sense to me the oil fields, when they start setting them on fire, you need to secure those because of the economy afterwards.

And we also understand General Franks was given this 48-hour timeframe to his discretion. This I believe, again, is a warning. It's confined to an area of Baghdad. The targets that are hit, again, are military targets. I observed them repeatedly hitting the same target, indicating to me they're going to try to dig deeper and deeper, for things that are underground, command and control facilities, Wolf. All this is making pretty much as advertised, in my opinion.

BLITZER: And the obvious political goal is a carefully timed strike, not only in Baghdad, but Mosul and Kirkuk, we're hearing explosions that have been going on there. If, in fact, around 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time, which would be 9:00 p.m. in Baghdad. If the strikes were timed to coincide around 9:00 p.m. that would be already Friday night, after the Muslim sabbath, which is Friday, the Muslim holy day. And as a result, presumably there would be less political criticism for the U.S. not striking on the Muslim holy day, but in the aftermath, the Muslim holy day ending at sundown. Would this be a consideration, in timing this missile strike, the bomb strike to coincide in simultaneous places across the country, General Shepherd?

General Shepperd?

SHEPPERD: Well, without knowing exactly, Wolf, I suspect that's one of the things in General Franks' consideration. I'm sure he was briefed on the considerations of that, so it certainly could be one of the factors of timing.

I think another thing that drives is that if there's time-sensitive information from a command and control standpoint that leadership is in certain places, that also would drive the timing. But I'm just speculating, Wolf, not sure.

BLITZER: General Shepperd, I want to remind our viewers right now that our reporters, our journalists on the scene in Baghdad, four of them, Nic Robertson, Rym Brahimi, and our photographer, our producer there, they are fine, they're in Baghdad.

They were ordered expelled. They were ordered to leave just a few hours ago by the Iraqi government. We are assured that they are fine. Unfortunately, they can't be reporting for us right now. The Iraqi government shut down the CNN operation in Baghdad, just a few hours ago, just before the start of this "A" day, this "shock and awe" aerial bombardment, that we've seen on live television over the past -- I'm guessing now -- 20, 25 minutes or so.

Remember, we're only about five or eight minutes away from the scheduled start of the briefing at the Pentagon. General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Of course, we'll have live coverage of that. General Shepperd, when you see the simultaneous nature of these bombings, I assume the planes have to take off at a certain time, the cruise missiles have to be launched, with the target time, let's say, 9:00 p.m. Baghdad time, 1:00 p.m. on the East Coast of United States, this is a carefully choreographed air strike.

SHEPPERD: Wolf, indeed it is. I don't mean to be glib about this, or make it sound trite, but it really is a symphony that has to be orchestrated by a conductor. The conductor is Lieutenant General Mosley, the air commander, if you will, of the air campaign. He is responsible to General Franks. He is the one that put together the plan. General Franks would approve the plan. The secretary of Defense would then present it to the president, so that it is up and down the loop.

All of these things take off from different air bases, from different ships. They have to go to tankers and refuel. All of it has to be done in a very carefully timed manner so as not to run into each other, not to cause undue effects, conflict between weapons in this type of thing. You're seeing a very carefully planned operation, Wolf.

(EXPLOSIONS)

BLITZER: And we just heard another huge explosion in Baghdad. Let's listen in to this one.

(EXPLOSIONS)

BLITZER: The bombs apparently still falling, unless that was Iraqi fire, anti-aircraft fire that we were hearing. But we see a lot of smoke, we see a lot of fire, coming from various locations in and around Baghdad. We're told similar activity going on elsewhere in Iraq, specifically in Kirkuk and Mosul.

We're standing by for that Pentagon briefing. That's about to begin in a few minutes. General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chief, and the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour, she was with me here in Kuwait City only a few hours ago. Now Christiane, I take it you're in southern Iraq. Tell our viewers what you're doing.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN SR. INT'L CORRESPONDENT: Just on the border, here, at the British divisional field headquarters. What's been going on, of course, is much quieter than what you're seeing in Baghdad, but nonetheless significant, in terms of securing vital strategic Iraqi economic and commercial targets.

They've taken the city of Umm Qasr, which is the main commercial port here, vitally needed. They've got U.S. and British forces, trying to secure the Ramallah oil field, which you guys have been talking about. The significance of that is extremely important.

That is the oil field that puts out 60 percent of Iraq's oil. They also, overnight, took and consolidated the Faw Peninsula, which is where Iraq's oil terminal is, and where that gets pumped out to sea and onto the tankers.

There have also been some casualties over here, over the last 24 hours. We've been reporting about the helicopter that went down with 12 British and four U.S. troops inside. There have also been two U.S. Marines killed, one of those in the battle for Umm Qasr, that port just on the other side of the border with northern Kuwait.

So, a lot of activity down this end. But obviously, not as noisy and dramatic pictures as you're seeing on Baghdad right now.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Christiane, how much resistance are the Iraqi troops in the area where you are, with these British forces, how much resistance are the Iraqis demonstrating?

AMANPOUR: Not much. On the whole there have been not much resistance except a little bit in the town of Umm Qasr. They're expected to take that town much earlier today. And it wasn't until later this afternoon they confirmed -- the U.S. Marines, also commanded by British 3 Commando here, that they have taken it.

But there are some pockets of resistance. However, there are also at least 250 Iraqis that we're told have surrendered, both to U.S. Marines and to British Royal Marines. So there's that situation going on. Not a whole lot of resistance down here.

Something interesting, though, about Umm Qasr. Earlier today, the Iraqi information minister and the interior minister appeared on television in a press conference in Baghdad. And they vowed that Umm Qasr would never be taken, that it would be a fiercely fought over. Well, it has been taken. There was some resistance. There's still U.S. and British forces down there trying to mop up the last pockets of resistance. But all in all, they have it.

Indeed, at one point the U.S. Marines raised a U.S. flag. They then had to take that down. They were told that was not an appropriate action, because they weren't occupying, they were liberating. And that's been going on.

But all in all, the military command down here saying the southern targets have been achieved and it's going to be up to the British to hold on to those southern targets, as the Americans move on up towards Baghdad.

We also understand the British forces are outside Basra. They've not gone into Basra. We're being told they're sort of scouting, reconnoitering the area. In any event, they're quite close to the outskirts of Basra, Iraq's second biggest city.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Christiane, as we stand by in the next few minutes to go to the Pentagon and hear a briefing from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Richard Myers, remind our viewers how important Umm Qasr is, given the fact that so much of Iraq's oil is in the southern part of Iraq. This is the huge port of Iraq. And if it's now under the control of the British forces, U.S. troops in the vicinity and they're moving towards the next major town, the next major city of Basra this is quite significant, especially since what Jamie McIntyre was reporting, General Tommy Franks reconsidered the military plan in order to protect those oil fields.

AMANPOUR: Indeed. Umm Qasr is the main commercial port. What we were being told by military officials here is that it is vital and strategic, not just for the oil but mostly, they're saying, for the influx of humanitarian supplies, which British senior defense officials have said they hope to bring that in, perhaps even in the next few days. They want to get that up, in-country.

So, this port, very, very important. Really, the only one that Iraq has this deep water port, the most important commercial port that it has. And now it's in control of U.S. Marines and some of those British forces who are commanding that expedition there.

In terms of Basra, again, they're telling us Basra is not a military target. That they don't intend to sort of assault Basra and try to take it. What they want to do is neutralize any resistance, any Iraqi divisions or units around Basra, and then hope that the people of Basra, the citizens of Basra, will welcome and bring Basra into the sphere of influence of British and other forces down here.

The bigger picture here is they're trying to show that having got the main oil terminal, the main oil wells and the main oil field in the south, and having Basra on side, as they say, that should send a very stark message to Baghdad that their important southern assets are no longer under their control. And perhaps, the British feel, give a message to the leadership in Baghdad to finally step aside. That's what they would like.

BLITZER: CNN's Christiane Amanpour, with the British forces. They're moving, not only today having taken control of Umm Qasr together with U.S. Marines, but on the road to Basra. The U.S. Marines and British forces about to attempt to take that important Iraqi city as well.

Christiane, stand by. I want to get back to you soon. But Kevin Sites is in northern Iraq where a similar round of intense U.S.-led air strikes has also taken place within the past half hour or so. Tell our viewers what you're seeing now.

SITES: Wolf, it's been sporadic here. About 15, 20 minutes ago there was some major anti-aircraft fire going up from the Iraq position, about two kilometers from us. It was in response to some bombing that was going on about 40 kilometers from here in Kirkuk. It seems that the Iraqis on this position were frightened, perhaps, that they may be next in this bombing run. Now, the sky behind me has actually turned much lighter. It looks almost like the brink of dawn here. You can see some of the light, possibly, from the fires that may be burning in Kirkuk. There's been a lot of bombing that has been going on there. You can hear some of the secondary explosions. We've heard some Dushka (ph) machine gunfire from positions here, so it seems like there's a simultaneous battle going on with the bombing of Baghdad picking up, in Kirkuk and in Mosul as well. This is just some major activity going on here tonight.

BLITZER: All right, Kevin, stand by for a second. I want to reset the stage. I want to tell our viewers what's going on. Viewers who may just be tuning in in the United States, indeed around the world, this has been a critical past hour or so, a carefully coordinated U.S.-led air strike against selected targets in Baghdad as well as elsewhere. At least we know Mosul and Kirkuk, important facilities. This, as the U.S. and British ground war continues in the southern part of Iraq. The ground war moving not only through Umm Qasr, but also up towards Basra.

Let's take a look at some of the earlier pictures of the huge explosions that rocked Baghdad around 9:00 p.m. local time, 1:00 p.m. Eastern time in the United States, explosions that rocked Baghdad and, certainly, created the kind of shock and awe the Pentagon has been talking about.

We're standing by for a formal Pentagon briefing. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, chairman of the joint chiefs, General Richard Myers, expected to walk into the Pentagon briefing room very soon and tell us what has just happened from their perspective.

Kevin Sites, go ahead, fill our viewers in a little bit more on what you're seeing right now in the northern part of Iraq, an area that has also seen an intense bombing campaign over the past half hour or so.

Kevin Sites may not be hearing me...

SITES: ... fire in response to some of the bombing that was going on in Kirkuk. You could see these little -- you could see these little red tracers going up in the air, almost like broken lines, and firing towards Kirkuk. The sky behind me -- you can't see it very well, because we're on videophone, but if I can describe it to you a little bit. It is just almost glowing with kind of a white light. It's the middle of the night here, and yet, the whole horizon line is lighting up, and we're about 40 kilometers away, so you can only imagine what that is like as you get closer. Now the Iraqis that are on this position about two kilometers from us are dug in. They have anti-aircraft as well, anti-aircraft guns, and they have been firing them in response to some of the bombing that's going on there.

We see the tracer fire going up every once in a while. It's settled down a bit in the last few minutes, but sporadically it seems to be going on back and forth, signifying that there is some action going on, just about -- about 40 kilometers from us.

BLITZER: And Kevin, as you speak, the Reuters news agency is quoting a Reuters journalist on the scene in Baghdad as saying that huge fires are raging in Saddam Hussein's palace in Baghdad, as well as other buildings throughout the city. We can see those fires. We can see what's going on in Baghdad. We obviously are having -- don't have the same kind of access, our cameras, to what's going on in Mosul, Kirkuk, perhaps other cities, other targets around Iraq as well. Even as this air war continues, the ground invasion of southern Iraq moves forward in a very, very fast pace. General Don Shepperd, our military analyst, is with us as well. General Shepperd -- we don't know this for sure, but I'm getting the sense, based on the pictures we're seeing from Baghdad that perhaps this phase of the air campaign, this initial shock and awe phase, may be over with right now.

They're going to assess what has happened, assess what's going on with the Iraqi leadership. We had been hearing reports from our David Ensor that it is in disarray right now. Assess what the status of Saddam Hussein is. They'll take a look at the pictures, they will do the bomb damage assessment, before presumably they go into the next phase of the air campaign. General Shepperd, what do you think?

SHEPPERD: I think that's a good guess, Wolf. I also believe that they're looking for other command and control targets or indications of leadership targets from all of their intelligence sources that would lead them to either restrike an area immediately, or strike it in another area if it is a moving-type target. So I suspect they're looking at all those things, but it appears to me that this phase, at least right now, is probably over -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And if, in fact, it was designed to -- I don't know what stronger word to use, to rattle, to unnerve, the Iraqi leadership, of course, most of whom are in Baghdad, we presumably think that -- I would assume, just as an observer, that that probably would be accomplished. But one other point, I do want to remind our viewers, that Saddam Hussein is from the Iraqi town of Tikrit, and many of his top commanders are Tikritis from that clan in Tikrit. We don't have television cameras there, but presumably that would -- might be an area that the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, might be looking at for sort of targets of opportunity there as well -- General Shepperd.

SHEPPERD: I agree that any place, if you can find the leadership gathered, would be a target right now. Again, I don't know what the -- what is going on in Tikrit or in Mosul up there, but if you've got -- if you have got concentration of military or their leadership, it definitely is going to be a target. I'd like to make one other point, again, that this -- these impacts that we've seen have been in the military and government ministerial area of Baghdad, along the Tigris River in downtown Baghdad, confined to that area. The lights in Baghdad are still on. So we will have to wait and see what comes out of the Pentagon briefing.

But this is meant as a message, I believe, and further, a message that we have the capability to do this to your forces if your forces continue to fight. That's my assessment, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. General Shepperd, stand by.

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