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Strike on Iraq: Iraqi Army Div. Surrenders to U.S. Troops

Aired March 21, 2003 - 19:33   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the strike on Iraq. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting LIVE tonight from Kuwait City.
CNN's Andrea Koppel, our State Department correspondent, is getting new information on negotiations, talks, if you will, ongoing negotiations between the United States government and Iraqi military officers through third parties. Andrea, tell our viewers what you have.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, these negotiations, I'm told, have been going on for the last 24 to 36 hours. And what's interesting about them, I'm sure our viewers remember hearing Secretary Rumsfeld yesterday say that the U.S. had contacts with Iraqi military officials, but he didn't say how.

Well, CNN has learned that the conduit for these negotiations are Iraqi exiles, Iraqi dissidents, if you will, some of whom are former senior Iraqi military generals, officials themselves in the military and others, Kurdish leaders. And what they've been doing is they have helped CIA operatives and also Special Ops Forces, some representatives from them, to get together with Republican Guards.

Now these are supposed to be either special Republican Guards and special -- and regular Republican Guards. But the question, Wolf, is whether or not these individuals are speaking for themselves when they talk about wanting to defect or wanting to lay down their arms, or whether they're speaking for a vast number of Iraqi military officials. And so that has been the dilemma.

In fact, just today Secretary Rumsfeld again said that one of the reasons for the pause in the bombing campaign, among the reasons, were these negotiations. They wanted to see how they'd come. Whether or not they'd bear any fruit. And, in fact, they have not as yet. But today, Secretary Powell himself actually eluded to the fact that there are all kinds of contacts going on right now between the United States and Baghdad.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: There are a number of channels open to Baghdad. There are a number of individuals in countries around the world who have been conveying the message to the Iraqi regime that it is now inevitable that there will be a change.


KOPPEL: And now, of course, CNN has learned that the Iraqi expatriates have been the ones who have been facilitating these face- to-face negotiations that are still going on inside Iraq between U.S. representatives both from Special Ops and the CIA, as well as with senior Iraqi military officials -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Andrea, this is a development that obviously is one welcomed by U.S. officials, but what do they really expect as far as the elite Republican Guard? Not just the rank and file Iraqi military, but the Republican Guard, the special Security forces that have always been considered the most likely to fight and die in urban warfare, whether it's in Baghdad or in Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein?

KOPPEL: Well, certainly there were not high hopes going into the war that the special Republican Guards or the elite Republican Guards would defect. These are the ones who are the best paid, they get the most benefits from Saddam Hussein. And really are the most trusted among all of the Republican Guard units.

In fact, they were formed after the Persian Gulf war to keep Saddam Hussein really encircled, embraced, if you will, in this protective unit. So it remains to be seen. It certainly would be extraordinary if in fact special Republican Guard units were negotiating with the United States for some sort of surrender, some sort of laying down of their arms -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Andrea Koppel at the State Department, thanks very much.

Aaron, it's one thing for a regular army division, 8,000 Iraqi troops regular forces to surrender. It would certainly be another thing for those elite Republican Guard divisions to surrender. That certainly has not yet happened, although you never know, it might.

BROWN: However it happens, one of the great frustrations of those of us who do daily journalism is the historians get to write the details of what those talks are going on. As we were talking, General Clark passed me a note to say that during the Kosovo campaign that he ran there were similar sorts of talks going on. And one of the things you have to figure out is if the people you're talking to can in fact deliver the goods. And that's all part of what's going on now.

It's about 3:30 in the morning in Baghdad, as you can see in the big frame. It is quiet there. Whether it will stay quiet until the sun comes up, we'll just watch and see, literally watch and see.

There are plenty of things to talk about other than that. U.S. officials here at home worried about another group of oil wells. There's been so much talk about the oil fields in Iraq. In this case, they're worried about the oil fields in the United States. It turns out now that we can report the Security at oil refineries around the United States is considered very tight tonight.

Homeland Security alert now level orange, as you know. There's concern that the refineries could be among the targets that terrorists may strike should they decide that the war is a reasonable provocation to do so. CNN's Ed Lavandera has spent the day looking at the effort to protect refineries. He's in the port of Houston now. Ed, good to see you tonight.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN DALLAS BUREAU CHIEF: Hi, Aaron. Well what you see behind me is the Houston ship channel. You head up the water just in that direction toward the skyline back there and that is Houston. You head out the other way, and that takes you out to the Gulf of Mexico.

Virtually every major oil company works on this stretch of water. This is a 53-mile stretch of water that runs from Galveston all the way up to the southern edges of the city of Houston. There are about 700 ships that make their way through this body of water every day.

And we spent part of the morning today with the Coast Guard, and they told us that in the last company of days, even more so since 9/11, they've stepped up patrols throughout this body of water. Not only just on the water, but also through the air. We've seen several times throughout the day where air patrols have been going up and down this channel of water, just checking out every ship that makes its way.

This is a secure zone up here. So, essentially, if you have no business doing business up here you're not supposed to be up here. And also, the Coast Guard also has a command center, a nerve center, if you will, where they use a series of video cameras to monitor each and every ship that makes its way toward Houston through these waters. And they have the ability to not only see each and every person who is on these boats, but also to speak with them directly.

So this is a situation that is very intense. And the Coast Guard says that even in the last couple of days, since the orange alert level was kicked into gear, that they have stepped it up an even higher notch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Coast Guard is prepared and trained for just about any contingency. We have very professional boarding officers and law enforcement people out on our boats. We have professional pilots in the air that are looking and can pick out things that are anomalies that we need to be concerned about from a security standpoint. So we are as ready as we can be, watching the channel 24 hours a day by boat, helicopter and electronic surveillance through our vessel traffic service.


LAVANDERA: Just to give you a sense, what you're seeing there in the distance is the Fred Hartman Bridge just east of Houston, the city of Houston. I show you that because, earlier this afternoon, to give you an indication of just how much things are being watched very closely here, someone noticed a suspicious package that had been left on top of the bridge. It turned out to be nothing, but that bridge was shut down for several hours today.

And several of the things that have changed here since 9/11, but also has been -- the reminder has gone out to all the crews that work this body of water. Every Coast Guard official that goes out on the water must wear a bulletproof vest. And, also, since you deal with so much international freight that comes through here, this is the second largest petrochemical port in the world.

All of the international ships that come through this channel have to register with the Coast Guard 96 hours in advance of arriving here. That used to be 24 hours, but that has been changed. And they're able to be inspected and have all of the crew checked out before they make their way inland here in the port of Houston. Aaron, back to you.

BROWN: As quick as you can, have they seen anything out there that makes them nervous, or has it been a very routine day?

LAVANDERA: A very routine day. They say that they have intelligence that comes to them from several sources, but nothing out of the ordinary.

BROWN: Ed, thanks a lot -- Ed Lavandera. It looks like a pretty night, doesn't it, coming up in Houston today?

LAVANDERA: Absolutely.

BROWN: It is beginning to be nightfall in Houston. It is coming up on daybreak out in the Persian Gulf -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And it's actually been a pretty night here in Kuwait City as well. We're expecting a nice day tomorrow. Let's hope it stays like that.

Meanwhile, U.S. relations with Turkey took a turn for the better today, when Ankara announced it would let U.S. warplanes use its air space. But we're getting late word tonight the Turkish military is taking actions in defiance of Pentagon war planners. Our sister network, CNN Turk (ph), says about 1,000 Turkish troops have now crossed the border into northern Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said today such an incursion could cause big problems.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: You can be certain that we have advised the Turkish government and the Turkish armed forces that it would be notably unhelpful if they went into the north in large numbers.


BLITZER: The Turks say they're only trying to establish a buffer zone to help stem the flow of refugees. But the U.S. is afraid fighting will break out between Turkish forces and the Kurds of northern Iraq. That's only one thing that could go wrong. CNN's Miles O'Brien is standing by the CNN Center in Atlanta with perhaps some analysis of other things that could go wrong for the U.S. military -- Miles.

Unfortunately, Miles O'Brien is not yet ready. We're going to get to Miles shortly. In the meantime, let's go back to Aaron.

BROWN: Well, thanks a lot. That's what happens when things aren't ready. Just one quick point on that. As General Clark was wandering over to the maps, he noted that when the United States was negotiating -- and everyone's aware of this complicated negotiation that was going to in Turkey -- this whole question of whether Turkish military forces could go into the northern part of Iraq, the Kurdish- controlled part of Iraq, was part of the negotiation.

And as I think the secretary of defense said, remarkably unhelpful to have Turkish forces there. But the Turks are also nervous about their own Kurdish population joining up with the Kurds in northern Iraq and they're trying to keep that ethnic group from causing any problems. And the Turkish decision today didn't help.

That's the quick translation of that. Miles O'Brien has made his way over to General Clark over at the board to layout some of the things that can go wrong. It seems odd, gentlemen, both. We've talked about so many things that have gone right for the American side, but war is a complicated piece of business.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Complicated indeed, Aaron. And the Turkish question is one of the big questions we're going to be talking about, along with General Wesley Clark here. We're going to take a little tour of the region, if you will.

And a good place to begin to talk about ways things that can go wrong here is to begin in Israel. You'll remember in 1991, the first Persian Gulf War, the scud firings, which occurred in that little box we told you about earlier in the far western portion of Iraq, lobbed over into Israeli territory. At the time, the Bush administration was -- the coalition was able to keep Israel from engaging in any sort of reprisals, and that was a difficult challenge, wasn't it?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It was a difficult challenge, because Israel was hit again and again and again by scuds. Fortunately, the scuds did remarkably little damage and there were no weapons of mass destruction.

O'BRIEN: And to keep the Israelis out is crucial, because should they become involved, what happens?

CLARK: Then you really inflame tensions throughout the region. And instead of it becoming a U.S. operation against Iraq, it becomes an Arab operation against Zionists.

O'BRIEN: All right. And so we're talking about the scud missile, which is a derivative of the old V bombs from World War II. It's a very unsophisticated device. It doesn't have sophisticated aiming capabilities. It's just about out of range from that spot right at the Jordanian border, this scud V (ph) there. We'll give you some statistics on it.

But for reprisals there are those Patriot missiles we've been telling you about and improved versions of those, as well as the arrow (ph) missile designed to go up, intercept it, shoot a bullet with a bullet.

Let's continue on and let's talk about the situation in Turkey, because that is more on our minds today given events as they have unfolded. One of the issues when we've been talking about the access to getting the 4th Infantry into Turkey, some 60,000 troops, was not so much for a second front as it was to keep the Kurds and the Turks separated. This is a longstanding issue there, and as we move into the Kurdish region we'll kind of point it out.

It's disputed territory. This is an ethnic group. The largest ethnic group in the world that does not have its own country. It would be nice to have somebody standing between the Turks and the Kurds, wouldn't it?

CLARK: Long-term frictions there. And of course there's Kurdish nationalism that's a 19th century nationalism, and there are strong Kurdish minorities in Turkey. And from Ankara's perspective, it doesn't want to see an independent Kurdistan.

O'BRIEN: All right. Maybe we can move in a little closer and I can show you the actual region we're talking about there. It's the northern part of Iraq. If we can take the next step on the map, we'll show you exactly the area we're talking about here.

What we're talking about here is this region. It includes parts of Iran, parts of Iraq, parts of Turkey. And all of that is disputed. The Kurds would like to create a homeland there. And, actually, it extends a little further beyond that. Now, if they were fighting between the Turks and the Turkish elements and the Kurds, that could lead to Turkey perhaps moving into -- the northern part of Iraq, potentially, correct?

CLARK: That's correct. And there have already been conversations between the Iranians and the Turks, both of whom have a common enemy in the Kurds or potential enemy. So there's all kind of opportunity for geo-strategic mischief right here in northern Iraq.

O'BRIEN: All right. On that somber note, we'll leave it. General Wes Clark, thank you very much -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's right. Very interesting. The whole Kurdish probe there spread out not only in Turkey and Iraq, but in Iran, as well as in Syria. The Kurds would certainly love to have their own independent state, but that doesn't look like it's in the cards now or anytime soon.

CNN's Jane Arraf is in northern Iraq right now. She's moved in from Turkey. Jane, how complicated is this situation now that about 1,000 Turkish military forces have actually crossed the line and gone into northern Iraq? JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it couldn't get much more complicated, Wolf, given all the historical sensitivities. And it actually follows U.S. warnings to Turkey that they should not envision any unilateral action. But what we should keep in mind is that 1,000 troops is not a huge number by Turkish standards or by standards in the region.

Now we're not quite sure whether those 1,000 troops are just the vanguard of a much larger force. Turkey had originally, as you know, been talking about tens of thousands of troops in northern Iraq, and that's when the alarm bell sounded when the U.S. stepped in to try to ease tension between Turkey and the Kurds.

There are Peshmerga, Kurdish fighters arranged along the Turkish border. We saw 5,000 of them when we were up there a few days ago, and they're warning that there could very well be clashes if Turkish forces move in -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jane Arraf from northern Iraq. Jane, thanks very much.

Aaron, this whole Kurdish problem, I suspect we're going to be hearing a lot more about it. The Kurds are Muslims, they're not Arabs. They're fiercely independent.

They don't like the fact that the Turks are moving in. I have to tell you, though, Turkish officials insist if they are moving in they are moving in strictly for humanitarian purposes, they say, to prevent a flood of refugees moving from Iraq into Turkey -- Aaron.

BROWN: Wolf, thanks. It's part of the reason why whenever we talk about whatever the post-war Iraq is going to be, it's also complicated and takes so long, because you have all sorts of ethnic groups in the north and the south and here and there, and they all want a piece of whatever the future's going to be. And in the Kurds' case, they want their own autonomous piece.

This is no doubt of concern tonight at the White House. The degree of concern, as Jane said, you've only got a hundred -- or rather a thousand troops there. Dana Bash has the duty at the White House tonight. Dana, were they talking about it today?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: A little bit, Aaron. They were talking about the situation, no question. But the big question for everybody who was covering the White House today, and certainly inside the White House, is what everybody around the world is asking, is Saddam Hussein still alive? Is he still in charge?

And the answer at the White House here, Aaron, is they simply do not know. What Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said earlier today is that the CIA has confirmed, to the best of their knowledge, that Saddam Hussein was -- that was his voice on the tape that aired in Iraq last night, but they have no idea when it was taped. They say it very well could be canned.

But one thing that they do know here at the White House is -- or they think that the leadership in Iraq is in a state of disarray. Senior officials say that there is very little communication that they can tell between the senior Iraqi leadership and their troops on the ground. And that, according to the president, who spoke to reporters at a meeting with congressional leaders earlier today, is a good sign. And he said that the war at this point is going very well.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we're making progress. We will stay on task until we've achieve our objective, which is to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and free the Iraqi people so they can live in a society that is hopeful and democratic and at peace in this neighborhood.


BASH: Now, Aaron, the president also -- there you see a picture of him this morning in the situation room. It's a pretty rare glimpse into that room. It's a secure room where he has meetings with his war counsel, his national security team. That this morning is where they were discussing the fact that, yes, they do feel like the Iraqi leadership, as I said, is in disarray. But they aren't exactly sure, weren't sure.

So that is where they decided to go. The final go-ahead for the massive bombing campaign that we saw all day today. The president, for his part, at this point in time is at Camp David. He is spending the weekend there.

He left earlier this afternoon with his wife, Laura, and his daughter, Barbara. He took along with him in the helicopter, Marine One, his White House chief of staff, Andy Card. And he is going to spend his whole weekend there. We are told he is going to have a meeting with his entire war counsel, his entire national security team, including the vice president, the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, the defense secretary.

They will all be joining him tomorrow at Camp David. And, Aaron, you know Camp David is a secluded area, but it is certainly not far from what the president needs to do. There you see a file photo from 2001. He has a secure videophone you see there, so he has all of the tools necessary to lead this war, to be in touch with the people he needs to be in touch with. And he will, we are told, be doing that all weekend long.

And I should note that he will be back, we are told, on Monday for an important meeting. He will be talking to senior congressional leaders, key congressional leaders about the cost of this war. That has been a controversial question. How much does the White House think this war will cost.

We are told that he is going to brief senior members of Congress on the bill that he will send up requesting money. And that, we are told, is going to be in the ballpark of $75 billion -- Aaron.

BROWN: Dana, thank you. Dana Bash at the White House. Wherever the president is, whether he's on Air Force One or whether he's at Camp David, the White House's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) communication system travels with the president so he's never out of touch.

We heard as Dana was reporting the sounds of some protesters outside the White House. There have been considerable protests around the world, Wolf. I know some good number of them in your part of the world.

BLITZER: That's absolutely true. The U.S.-led strike, Aaron, on Iraq is certainly not being well received, at least in much of the world. Here's a brief look at some of the protests that have been taking place today.

About 4,000 Palestinians marched in Gaza, pledging support for Saddam Hussein. Two Hamas leaders called on Iraqis to use suicide bombings against Americans. In Yemen, at least three people were killed in clashes between police and protesters outside the U.S. embassy. Thousands of people demonstrated in Cairo as well, the Arab world's largest city. Dozens of police officers and protesters were hurt.

In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, crowds through eggs at the British embassy and besieged U.S. fast food restaurants and (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And there were also clashes in Beirut, as police tried to keep demonstrators from marching on the U.S. mission there.

In Italy, which officially is backing the war, thousands of people marched in Rome. Demonstrations were also held in other major European cities-- Aaron.

BROWN: Some of that looked very, very nasty. We saw protests in San Francisco today, nasty. Chicago, there have been protests in the last couple of days as well. Here's one going on in Chicago right now, courtesy of our affiliate there, WLS, or probably one of our affiliates in Chicago.

If -- we have no control over the camera, obviously. But if they do pull back, we'll get a much better sense of the size of them. It must be, Wolf, that to Kuwaitis in particular, somewhat amusing to know -- and Kuwaitis have access to CNN, for one thing, to see these protests in the United States, because they are, by and large -- there are certainly Kuwaitis for whom this would not apply -- but they are, by and large, very supportive of the U.S. effort.

To see these protests, which to them are interesting at two levels. One, is that there is antiwar activism in the United States. And, two, that this sort of political dissent is allowed to go on. You wouldn't see this in the streets of Kuwait at all.

BLITZER: Well, they strongly support the United States and this war, the people here in Kuwait. As you well know, Aaron, these are people who suffered very directly, very personally at the hands of Saddam Hussein when the Iraqis invaded Kuwait a dozen years ago. They lived through seven months of occupation until the first Gulf War ended in their liberation. So they're certainly sophisticated. They know what's going, but they're probably a little bit surprised to see the extent of the demonstrations in the United States.

BROWN: Excuse me. And just as we look at the pictures, Wolf, if you can take them full for us, that would help me, too, because I can see them a little bit better. You can see that police have pretty much cornered off the area. They're clearly trying to keep the protesters from flooding out into the streets, or at least that's the way it appears to be.

It's not like the police command center is talking to me, but they do seem to have them cornered, the police, to keep them off the streets so the traffic can continue to move in Chicago. As we watched these -- and we said this last night and we'll say it again and probably another time, too -- there also have been around the country today in various places -- we saw one in Mobile, Alabama -- protests. Protests is probably not the right word. Demonstrations in support of the president's policy, and in many places in support of the troop troops as well.

This is the American democracy. You are allowed to take to the streets to show your displeasure even in times like this. This is part of what we go through. And as long as it stays peaceful and there's no sense of what we see going on in Chicago, at least, down by the waterfront -- I know exactly where that is, actually -- there is no sense that it is anything but peaceful. These are live pictures coming from Chicago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Aaron. You see the police officers holding back the demonstrators in Chicago. It's hard to tell how many are there, and certainly but a tiny fraction of the population of Chicago showing up to protest against this war. But it does remind me a little bit, those of our viewers old to remember a little bit of Chicago police and demonstrators in 1968 protesting the Vietnam War during that Democratic convention in Chicago.

This is certainly a lot more peaceful, certainly a lot smaller. But it does bring some memories of the Chicago demonstrations then. An earlier war. Now, obviously, a very different war unfolding right now.

BROWN: I was literally a young reporter in 1968 in Chicago. I was not yet 20 years old and was getting paid $10 a story. A radio story to cover the protests in Lincoln Park in Chicago during the Democratic convention, that horrible week in Chicago.

We are in very different times. I think all of us as a country in many ways have come to understand some differences about policy and the military that we don't blame soldiers, for one thing, for what's going on if we're against policy. And in the case of the last couple of nights there have been these demonstrations in Chicago.

The largest demonstrations actually that we are aware of that have gone in the United States have gone out west in San Francisco. Yesterday, in San Francisco, as you continue to watch these live pictures down by the waterfront of Chicago, yesterday in San Francisco more than 1,000 people were arrested. There was another large demonstration there today.


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