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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

At Least 15 Oil Wells Set on Fire

Aired March 21, 2003 - 04:02   ET

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

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning to you. I'm Carol Costello, along with Anderson Cooper and we've been showing people some amazing pictures this morning.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, there's a lot happening at this hour, a lot of fast-moving events. We are going to try to keep you up to date over the next hour.

COSTELLO: Yes, we have another picture that we want to show you that we just got in. This is from the "Los Angeles Times." Take a look at that. These are the Marines of Alpha Company First Battalion, the regimental combat team 5. They were deployed sometime today in the area of an oil pumping station. We don't know exactly where, but we do know it's southern Iraq. But for family members, again, these are the Marines of Alpha Company First Battalion, regimental combat team 5. They are -- were deployed early Friday morning in southern Iraq at an oil pumping station.

COOPER: And this is one of those, you know, military planners that you plan for things, and you plan for things. And you have a battle plan in place for weeks. We have been hearing reports about this -- you know, this major strike, surprise and awe. Clearly that shifted with the early attack on the Iraqi leadership. That cruise missile strikes and these oil fires are presenting another incidence of the battle plan, perhaps having to shift.

COSTELLO: Yes.

COOPER: It's sort of an open question at this hour. With those oil fires burning, did things change on the battlefield tactically? Did operations have to shift in order to try to address those fires sooner rather than later?

COSTELLO: And the word we have right now, at least 15 oil wells have been set on fire. We want to head now live to Kuwait and Bill Hemmer for more about the oil well fires and also about the POWs, more and more Iraqis turning themselves into troops. Good morning, Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Carol, hello again from Kuwait City. Let's show you the videotape we're getting just a few moments ago. This is daytime pictures right now of dozens of Iraqi soldiers surrendering to British and U.S. forces in Kuwait. We're told they literally crossed the border before they surrendered, described again as dozens do not have a firm number, though, on the number of Iraqi soldiers now surrendering there a short time ago.

Meanwhile, overnight video taken by the British troops by way of a periscope -- excuse me, a night scope vision here. We can show you dozens more of Iraqi soldiers who have surrendered to British troops in this case. This was on the Iraqi side, we're told. We're also told that you can see in their hands quite clearly, a number of leaflets that have dropped over the past several months by U.S. troops flying overhead in southern Iraq, issuing orders on how to surrender to U.S. and British troops.

We're told that there are instructions on how to hold their weapon, where to put their weapon, and also encouraged to give up peacefully. And there will be food. Literally sometimes a basket of food waiting for them if indeed they choose. This was a similar operation to what we saw 12 years ago in the first Persian Gulf War. It seems, at times, that it's following suit to the pattern we saw 12 years ago.

Meanwhile, you mentioned these oil fires. The Kuwait National Guard reporting that 15 different oil wells are on fire right now in southern Iraq, west of the city of Basra. Basra is in southeastern Iraq, about 40 miles on the other side of the Kuwaiti border. And we can see back here in Kuwait City already the after effects of this. I'll show you the rooftop camera here on top of our hotel. It looks like a pretty nice day. The sun is out, but in the distance, that normally is blue sky. But today, it is dark. It is black at times. Earlier in the day, it was darker, but it appears to be lifting at this time. Whether or not this continues in a pattern later today is something we'll wait and see.

A lot of concerns right now healthwise. There can be visibility problems. There can be breathing problems. This stuff, the soot in the air can get into your lungs. We're told that short term health effects are almost a certainty for a number of people operating here. But all of that depends on how deep and how thick this smoke can be a bit later.

We also know there are essentially goat teams sent to Kuwait to counter these oil fires. We do know of at least three teams that are here on the ground from Houston, Texas set to respond at any point once these fires break out. If you go back 12 years again, the oil fires that were set ablaze here in Kuwait, it took almost eight months to extinguish them. It was a significant problem throughout Kuwait following the first Persian Gulf War.

Meanwhile here in Kuwait City, an update quickly. We did have air raid siren about 2.5 hours ago. It's a little bit after noon local time right now. The all clear has been given, but this follows three other waves of air raid sirens that we got overnight here in Kuwait City. And of course yesterday, Carol and Anderson, if you were with us, is a long series throughout the afternoon into the early evening hours, as the detection systems here in Kuwait City did detect Iraqi missiles flying overhead, low off the ground, about 300 feet in many cases coming into Kuwait City. Just to button that, though, no reports of injuries or casualties, and certainly that is a good thing.

Again, just past noon today on Friday, the 21st day in March. And we are waiting now to see what unfolds today here in Kuwait. Carol, back to you now. COSTELLO: All right, Bill Hemmer reporting live from Kuwait. We'll check back with you many times in the following hours.

COOPER: And for much of this morning, much of late last night, I think all of us have been transfixed by those images from Walter Rodgers, traveling with the 7th Cavalry. That's CNN exclusive, just moving fast and moving furiously through the deserts of Iraq. Target ultimately Baghdad. And as well, Rodgers has pointed out many times, all the troops in the 7th Cavalry want to get there as quickly as they can because...

COSTELLO: So they can go home.

COOPER: Exactly. They know that is the route home. That is their ticket home. And you know, of course, we wish them well. It is about midday right now in Iraq. And the U.S. Army 7th Cavalry has been moving with all deliberate speed across southern Iraq. As we said since before dawn, Walter Rodgers, as we said, is traveling with them. He's actually asleep right now. I mean, this guy has been going with these troops. And the troops, as much as possible, in their battle fighting vehicles in the Abrams tanks are shifting around. They have to go on sort of a staggered shift. They try to get sleep when they can. Anyone that's been in the military will know that you develop very quickly the ability to take a cat nap whenever you can. Walt Rodgers taking a cat nap right now. We're going to take a look at some of the reporting he's done over the last several hours. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The pictures you're seeing are absolutely phenomenal. These are live pictures of the 7th Cavalry, racing across the deserts in southern Iraq. They will -- it'll be days before they get to Baghdad, but you've never seen battlefield pictures like these before.

Immediately in front of our cameras, an M1A1 Abrams tank. We're sitting 30 -- we're sitting about 30 meters, now about 40 meters off the back of that tank. A short while ago, perhaps 30 minutes ago, this unit took some incoming fire, never came within more than half a kilometer of the 7th Cavalry, but there you can see these tanks rolling along. The army says these are the most lethal killing machines on the earth. And when you see those 120 millimeter guns go off, there's no doubt about it.

As you look at the soldiers atop the tank, the one mirror dust, on the left side of the tank is the loader. He is responsible for loading the 120 millimeter shell -- gun shells into the tank when it engages in hostile combat. That has not occurred. That is the tanks have not fired, to the best of our knowledge, so far today.

The other soldier on the right side of the turret, his head sticking up too, is the commander of the tank. You have to realize they've been riding along, bouncing along in these tanks for probably six or more hours now. We should tell you that some of the squadron is now completely fanned out. This is the Apache troop. Earlier in the evening, when we crossed the border with Kuwait, we were in a single column, the reason being we stayed in a single column because there was concern about mine fields. But now, we are well past the danger of mine fields. The entire Apache troop of the U.S. Army 7th Infantry -- 7th Cavalry is spread out in this giant fan across this desert plain.

Earlier this evening also, we think an unknown number of tanks were hit, no more than three or four. But that was really little more than a skirmish. It held the 7th Cavalry up at the border briefly, until the lane of passage through the border burham could be cleared. Once that border burham was cleared, they moved through very, very quickly.

If you stay with us just a little longer, we're coming up on another skeleton of another war, another old Soviet vintage tank that the Iraqis would have used probably during the Gulf War. You can see it. You're just about to see it in the ground there. The turret it (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It would have been knocked out by allied forces in the 1991 Gulf War. And look that old Soviet tank and then pan over and look at the M1A1 Abrams if you want to see how the history of mechanized warfare has (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the last 15 years.

Captain Lyle held a pep talk of sorts. And he spoke to all of -- each of his soldiers in the Apache troop you now see rolling toward Iraq. He began by saying, and I'm quoting Captain Lyle here, we're just doing what's right. This is a case of them, him, and us. Them being the Iraqi people, Captain Lyle said. Him being Saddam Hussein. And us being the United States Army. Captain Lyle went on to say the Iraqi people have been gassed and murdered by this tyrant. He has to be removed. He said we are marching. We are invading to liberate the people of Iraq.

And of course, they have their Army cheer whenever they hear something they approve of. And the Army cheer, which Captain Lyle was given was, "Ooh-ha!" Out on the horizon, you're seeing the Kayawa helicopters. And if you can see a small assortment of animals out there. Those are probably Bedouin goats. The Bedouins live off those goats. There's a small shelter there in the foreground. And a Bedouin family lives there.

This is about the Bedouin encampment we've passed. And they just appeared dumbstruck, awestruck by this huge mechanized unit, which is rolling across the desert. These people don't have automobiles. Often, they move by camels. And all of a sudden, they're seeing camels like nothing they ever saw before, with 120 millimeter guns sticking out.

We've been traveling in this very broad pattern, a fan-like shape for several hours now. And I would assume that the -- we're -- one of the reasons we're stopping now is just to let the soldiers inside the tanks and the Bradley fighting vehicles stretch their legs. We do not appear to be under any immediate threat. And the reason we can say that is because everyone's outside the tank now, just stretching their legs and getting some air.

Those tanks are extraordinarily cramped inside. I was sitting in the gunner seat, riding in a gunner seat last week. And I don't see how they can survive in there. You bounce around so much, that you have to wear a helmet, or you're going to get your head smashed in with all the steel around you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And we are showing you now a live picture with the 7th Cavalry. As you mentioned, Walt Rodgers taking some much needed shuteye, but there are our live pictures continue. The 7th Cavalry perhaps refueling, perhaps just taking a short break, waiting for the -- some of the Third Infantry Division, who are behind the 7th Cavalry to catch up to the 7th Cavalry, not wanting to get too far out in advance in the front.

Now one of the people watching the live pictures of the 7th Cavalry was the wife of the commanding officer. We contacted her by phone and she watched her husband leading the ground attack. Listen to what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANIE LYLE, WIFE OF CAPT. CLAY LYLE: I am proud of 3-7 Cav and Third Infantry Division. And I just can't believe that we're able to see this on TV. This is great.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Touching words...

COOPER: Yes.

COSTELLO: ...as she watches her husband. She didn't want to talk to him because we've tried to get him for them. Walt Rodgers tried his best to get her husband, who was a captain...

COOPER: And she very wisely said...

COSTELLO: She very wisely said no, I want him to pay attention to what he's doing. That's much more important than me talking to him.

We have breaking news to tell you about. The U.S. Marines have raised the stars and stripes flag over the UMM Qasr in...

COOPER: Qasr.

COSTELLO: In Qasr, I'm sorry. And...

COOPER: And this is a Reuters story that just crossed on the newswire, but a few moments ago, we had told you that the British Defense Secretary on British TV was saying that British Marines were encountering strong opposition, in his words, around Umm Qasr. This, of course on the road to Basra, that important major city in Iraq. But this just crossing on the Reuters wire.

COSTELLO: If there was heavy opposition, it did not last long. COOPER: Right...

COSTELLO: I mean, literally within a span of a half hour.

COOPER: Right.

COSTELLO: The U.S. Marines and British forces took control of Qasr.

And also, the Faw Peninsula. And the important thing about this is that it's one Iraq's major ports. And of course, that's where the oil goes in and out.

COOPER: Right.

COSTELLO: And that means that now British troops and U.S. troops have control of a major chunk of Iraq's economy. And that's very important in this war effort.

COOPER: And one can imagine, obviously, without giving anything away obviously Basra is a major point of interest for U.S. and British forces at this point. We're going to go now to...

COSTELLO: Nic Robertson, who is in Baghdad.

Nic, what could you tell us?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, very interesting, today is the Muslim holy day, Friday. And as is normal on the these days on Iraqi television, pictures of the mosque, pictures of people praying in the mosque.

What we have seen over the last several months normally is some very virulent anti-American speaking during the sermons in these mosques. What we're seeing today is perhaps something a little different. It seems much more a tribute to the fate of the imam sitting reading from the Koran, not standing up exhorting the faithful to resistance to the United States.

So this is a little different, the fact that the -- that if you will, the temperature of the particular prayers and rhetoric coming from the mosques today, at least what's being broadcast on the television here, the temperature a little bit down from normal.

The city of Baghdad returning to say to normal would give you the wrong impression. Returning a little bit toward a slightly busier life than yesterday when the streets were almost completely deserted. A little more traffic on the road today. The shops, one or two open, but most of them still boarded up. Most of the traffic on the road, a mixture of government vehicles and private vehicles and tractors.

The city, however, still waiting in expectation for what it has -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you expect would be a bombing campaign that would shock and awe it. We do have independent information from the northern city of Tikutz (ph). Tikutz (ph), of course, bordering that Kurdish controlled area in the north of Iraq. Tikutz (ph) also a large oil rich city.

We're told that overnight there were four heavy explosions there in the north of the city, that there have been no anti-aircraft gunfire, no planes. The air raid sirens have gone off on several times, several occasions. But what is interesting is that in a city of Tikutz (ph), Iraqi citizens are picking up broadcasts from the independent Kurdish area, broadcasts that are telling the Iraqi soldiers to lay down their weapons and surrender.

COSTELLO: And that's not what you're hearing in Baghdad, though, right, Nic?

ROBERTSON: Not at all. The news broadcasts here broadcasting an Arab news channel here, telling Iraqis that 1,000 Americans have been arrested for anti-war protests, that three American helicopters have been downed, that 16 coalition soldiers have been killed so far. Also, highlighting the international protests and resistance to the war in Iraq at this time, talking about the resistance in France and in China.

There have been absolutely no pictures on Iraqi television, no pictures and no hint about what is going on in the south of Iraq. Those pictures that our audience has seen of Iraqi soldiers surrendering is not something that's been broadcast here, not something that people here are seeing at all or hearing about. They will, however, hear about it to a degree on some of the shortwave radio, international radio broadcasts that people can pick up.

Word of mouth here will likely spread those stories around the city, but this is not an image that's being portrayed in Baghdad at this time.

COSTELLO: You know, we keep hearing that there's going to be a press conference held by Iraqi officials that's going to be broadcast on Al Jazeera television. And you have to wonder if that occurs, what Iraqi officials might say.

ROBERTSON: Well, the message yesterday was one to show unity, to show strength, to show that the leadership was still in control. It will be a message that will be as much for the international audience, as it will be for the Iraqi people, to show them that the leadership is still firmly in control.

Now the -- until yesterday, excuse me, until yesterday, Iraqi officials have been saying that any attack on Iraq would be met with resistance, that it would not be easy, it would not be easy for the coalition soldiers as they've been told. They were saying that the coalition soldiers had been lied to. And that was their position. So it would be interesting to see what they have to say today to see how events are unfolding, but it is -- if the broadcasts and the announcements are like yesterday, they will enunciate again the firmness of the leadership here, the resolve of the leadership, a call for the people to stand behind the leadership, and an effort to show that there are no chinks in the Iraqi army at this time.

COSTELLO: Before I let you go, Nic, I want to bring up a subject that damage in Baghdad, because it was hit for a second time. Do you know the extent of damage in the city right now?

ROBERTSON: Certainly, one of the government buildings that we can see from here that was hit is still smoldering this morning. The flames that appear to rip through it last night, from what we can see from the smoke damaged exterior of the building, the building does seem to be from where we stand, we haven't been inside, but one would expect from looking at the blackening outside of the windows, that inside it must be fairly extensively smoke damaged and burn damage.

The structure of the buildings does not seem to have been affected greatly. No parts of the building have collapsed. The explosions appear to take place at the base of the buildings.

Now in other areas as Baghdad, there were explosions to the perimeter of the city. We haven't been able to get an accurate assessment of what happened there. There were also a couple of other large -- very large explosions within a mile of our position, that we could see very, very clearly last night. No indication in daylight today to be able to see what buildings may have been hit and what may have been damaged there.

Those buildings for those particular targets didn't appear to burn and smoke for very long last night.

COSTELLO: Nic Robertson, reporting live from Baghdad. And I don't know if you know this, but Nic Robertson, Rym Brahimi, the only U.S. correspondents in Baghdad right now. Our appreciation to you both.

COOPER: And we are going to check in now with Jane Arraf, who is covering this region, and has covered this region for years. She is in northern Iraq.

Jane, what do you have at this hour?

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, as we're expecting, and people here are expecting to see more American troops in the region in northern Iraq. Now there have been for some time a select group of U.S. special forces working with Kurdish forces, but the Turkish parliament, as you know, has approved U.S. overflights over Turkey, which means that they're expected to air lift troops quite possibly into an air base near the Turkish border, and send those troops for a northern assault, not the one they had envisioned when they first asked for land based troops in Turkey, but it does provide them the ability to put American troops here.

Now you can probably hear prayers behind me. It's Friday here. And actually an important holiday. It's now Ruse (ph), the Persian New Year. Normally, people would be celebrating. It's a very festive day in this region. It's spring here. It's also the first day of spring. And we're at the foot of a mountain. Beyond that mountain is the city of Mosel (ph), about 30 kilometers away, Iraqi government controlled territory.

Now there are reports of bombings there, but so far here, a long line of control, it's quiet. Now the city is deserted. As I say, it normally would be a holiday, people in the streets celebrating, but they fled to the mountains. They're camped out on the mountainside, where it's been very cold weather, very bad conditions. Authorities are appealing for them to come home here, where they say it's safe, but they're saying they're safer away in the mountains -- Anderson?

COOPER: All right, Jane Arraf live in northern Iraq. Thanks very much, Jane. Carol.

COSTELLO: Okay, just a clarification. U.S. Marines have raised the American flag over Umm Qasr. That's in the port city of southeastern Iraq. It's between the Faw Peninsula and Basra. A Reuters reporter saw the marines raising the United States flag above the port there. And of course, that's important because that means that allied troops have control of Iraq's economy. And of course, that city on the way to Basra. Umm Qasr is how you pronounce that.

COOPER: And there had been no prior -- the sort of significance, there had been prior reports just in the last hour, stemming largely from the British defense secretary who said on British television that British Marines are encountering strong opposition in that region. So seemingly conflicting reports, but apparently this witness has seen the...

COSTELLO: Apparently the resistance is over.

COOPER: Apparently so. We're going to check in right now with Bill Hemmer in Kuwait City -- Bill?

HEMMER: Yes, Anderson, you're making the point last hour about how once a war begins, the plan can change almost on a dime. In television, we call this ad libbing. It's quite possible the U.S. military's doing that -- just that right now. We were told that Baghdad would be under siege, but listening to Nic Robertson again today, the bombing has stopped as of last evening.

As to why this is happening, it's anybody's guess, but clearly, something is changing within Baghdad, which is giving the U.S. military pause at this point.

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