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Strike on Iraq: Airstrikes Continue Over Iraq

Aired March 21, 2003 - 03:31   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Want to talk just generally, try to -- often you know there are bits and pieces which are coming in, you know, every few minutes and it's awful hard to get sort of a larger sense. Just want to talk for a few minutes about what we know kind of in the big picture. We know in Baghdad that the status of Saddam Hussein simply unknown at this hour. Was he injured in that cruise missile attack some more than 24 hours ago? Was he killed? One of his sons killed? Is he still in control? Is he, frankly, irrelevant at this point? Is he...
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: We don't know. I know the interesting thing is there was to be a press conference from Iraqi officials through Al Jazeera television, but so far that has not happened and...

COOPER: Right.

COSTELLO: ... we don't know why right now.

COOPER: And, frankly, that is something we have been -- we have been told to get ready for really all evening long, going back into late yesterday, last night, have yet to hear anything about that. Can we read anything into that? Unknown at this point. It's really -- there is so much which is unknown.

Also, the 7th Cavalry. What we do know about the 7th Cavalry, we've been talking with Walt Rodgers for a long time now, they are moving very quickly through the deserts of Iraq. And, as Walt says, all the -- all the members of the 7th Cavalry know ultimately their ticket home goes through Baghdad.

COSTELLO: And they're moving very quickly now. It's been stop and go to refuel, and of course that helicopter is flying reconnaissance missions to see what's up ahead. At certain times they stop, depending on what those helicopter pilots tell them. But right now, it seems to be stopped again, so we'll check in with Brent Sadler a little later.

COOPER: And we know that behind the 7th Cavalry, the 3rd Infantry Division also moving very fast up behind them, 7th Cavalry leading the way with helicopters, scout helicopters in advance of them.

We have had the first casualties so far in this conflict. That report came out several hours ago. A helicopter went down. It was initially thought there were 16 troops injured. Now it's down to 12, 4 Americans, 8 British, and a helicopter, which all indications, at this point, was an accident. No indication of...

COSTELLO: Yes, they think mechanical problems right now.

COOPER: Right. That occurred in Kuwait near the Iraqi border.

Also in that region, we know the 1st Marine Division has crossed into Kuwait -- sorry, excuse me, into Iraq, crossed over from Kuwait. There were reports of, according to the "New York Times," U.S. Marines clashed with Iraqis south of the Iraq-Kuwait border. Two Iraqi APCs were destroyed. That according to the "New York Times."

COSTELLO: And also in southeastern Iraq, the Faw Peninsula. British troops have commandeered that.

COOPER: Taken it.

COSTELLO: They've taken control of that. And at the same time, many Iraqi people, military people, civilian people, we don't know how many, are turning themselves in.

COOPER: Right. We saw those videos just a few moments ago and that were in the British just -- Faw Peninsula just coming in moments ago. Reports of oil wells on fire. There was also artillery fire from the Marines in advance of their movement into Iraq. Also reports of explosions in the Basra area up in Mosul. And of course 60 -- some 60 cruise missiles have landed in Baghdad since this operation began. So that's...

COSTELLO: There's action going on in northern Iraq, too, and we want to get there right now because that's where our Brent Sadler is. He's in Kalic (ph).

And, Brent, you brought us some extraordinary pictures in the last hour.

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes indeed, Carol. Things are looking pretty quiet here compared to the drama of what's happening with that Cavalry thrust north towards Baghdad. But I can tell you in the past six hours there have been two airstrikes against targets. We believe Iraqi troop concentrations or artillery pieces in the area around Mosul. Now that's Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, about 40 -- 35, 40 miles behind me behind those hills.

We saw, just before daybreak, anti-aircraft fire, Iraqi anti- aircraft fire at the same time as we heard aircraft activity in the sky. And then just a couple of hours after daybreak, again, more heavy explosions as a second airstrike went in.

Now if we just take a look behind me, we have a situation, a static situation here. Those hills behind us are the territory of Saddam Hussein's loyalists, at least loyalists for now. Some of the troops have been changed round over the past few hours. According to the Kurds on the ground on my side, they say that some of those troops, earlier troops up there had been passing on messages, secret messages to the Kurds that they wanted to give themselves up. Now the Kurds are saying some units will switch round and there has been a lot of activity going on up on those ridgelines for the past several hours, vehicles moving, front loaders changing barricades. Also a suspicion that the Iraqis have been laying explosives along the road, which leads to -- leads to Mosul behind me up there. So a lot of interesting developments going on.

But it's interesting, as you say, Carol, to make the note that there's no really hostile fire between the two sides. They're able to eyeball each other. The Kurds use binoculars, field glasses, to watch the Iraqis. The Iraqis watch the Kurds.

There were some senior Kurdish commanders came down here several hours ago because the Iraqis behind me, Saddam Hussein's loyalists, were making so much unusual activity they thought something was going to happen. Indeed it did, for a brief moment, there were two bursts of heavy machine gun fire. And the suspicion was that a group of journalists had got pretty close to the Iraqis and a couple of warning shots from the heavy machine gun were fired and there were echoes through the area here and people ducked for several minutes. But for as long as there is no territorial move, either from the Kurds towards the Iraqis and vice versa, then this situation is expected to remain.

And it does seem rather surreal, does it not, that I'm talking to you here on this side of that bridge behind me. If I were to walk several minutes down there, I would come across Saddam Hussein's soldiers and I probably wouldn't be coming back to this Kurdish side of the line. So an extraordinary situation here which, for the moment, does not seem likely to change unless, of course, there are any U.S.-led coalition moves against Kirkuk, that vitally important, oil rich area, and of course Mosul, which is another producing area, two very important cities, the coalition, and possibly with Kurdish support, to get their hands on those two cities.

Back to you -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Brent, we were looking at an extraordinary contrast now. If your photographer could go back on those Iraqi troops, we have a split picture here. The contrast between the American military personnel and the Iraqi military personnel, and I must say, just at first glance, the Iraqi military looks rather old fashioned.

SADLER: More than old fashioned, it's not properly equipped. There's suspicion about how much ammunition they may have. There have been consistent reports over many months of my time moving around this northern Iraqi enclave controlled by two major political parties that not only are they under equipped, they're underfed. There have been reports that the Iraqi soldiers you're seeing there have been buying local uniforms to throw their Iraqi Army kit away so that they can melt and disappear, if they have to, or to surrender. Many messages passed towards the Kurds.

It's interesting to tell you, Carol, actually, that Kurdish intelligence has actually, according to my sources, tried to deter some of the senior Iraqi officers within Saddam Hussein's units up there not to defect too prematurely because they want to have eyes and ears inside the Iraqi military. The Kurds relying a lot on intelligence reports, not only on what's happening with those Iraqi soldiers.

You're seeing live pictures of now here in northern Iraq, but more importantly, what's happening in the oil fields around Kirkuk, what's happening to Iraqi morale, the army morale inside Kirkuk city itself and, of course, Mosul. So some of those officers, it's said by the Kurds, have been told not to defect prematurely because they want to get intelligence reports still flowing from Saddam Hussein's military, from those who have prepared to use that knowledge against their leader, who, we assume, is still in power in Baghdad. So you have a very fascinating situation...


SADLER: ... on the ground here.

This is the closest that anyone is getting to Iraqi soldiers. There they are looking pretty low in terms of the kit they've got. And in terms of weaponry, I've only seen on the ridgeline behind me you know one 106 anti-tank piece, a couple of heavy machine guns and really, Iraqis just appearing to be waiting for the moment when they can just come down there and give themselves up. No real substantial change in their armaments or their displacements and two days, 36, 40 hours into this invasion -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, you have to wonder if they really know what to expect.

Brent Sadler, reporting live for us, many thanks to you, from northern Iraq.


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