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Strike on Iraq: War With Iraq Continues With Increasing Resistance

Aired March 22, 2003 - 05:36   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Anderson Cooper. Thanks for joining us here at the CNN Center. If you're just waking up, there has certainly been a lot of activity in the last several hours that we have been following very closely through our embedded correspondents, both in northern Iraq and particularly Martin Savidge, Christiane Amanpour and Jason Bellini in southeastern Iraq in the city of Umm Qasr, also on the road to Basra. We're going to have updates from them coming up in the half hour to 45 minutes, we hope.
Right now, we're going to check in with Bill Hemmer, who is live in Kuwait City -- Bill?

BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, for the past several days, it's quite clear right now that our journalists embedded with the military are the chief source of information for us to learn what's happening right now inside the borders of Iraq. And what Marty Savidge and his crew thought about an hour ago was absolutely riveting. Our group of U.S. Marines working on the outskirts of the town of Basra, Iraq's second largest city, population about 400,000. The Marines at that time were working their way on the outskirts of the town, blowing up tanks, old T-55 tanks.

We've got some new videotape we can show you. Have a look and a listen at this and then we'll show you again what Marty found about an hour ago.

What you're seeing here is the videotape that photographer Scott McGuinney (ph) has filed into the CNN Center just within the past 30 minutes. If you were with us last hour and if you weren't, some absolutely riveting television. Marty Savidge by way of videophone, as they worked their way through this small village. Here is a sample, again, of what Marty filed live just about 60 minutes ago.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: This is a cat team, they refer to it. It's basically a heavily armed with your MOC 19 automatic grenade launchers and your TOW missiles, which you now see at the front and back of us. And these are very highly mobile. They can run and gun. And they pick off armor. And that's the way they work. They'll be other people that are out there spotting and say hey, we may see a tank moving. We may see this or we may see that. And you quickly call in a TOW. They peek around the corner launch, and then get out of the way again. So it's actually a very mobile, very effective means of fighting, unlike a tank, which can be slow to go. Take a look back here one more time. This tank continues to cook off. There is, you should see the shells inside of these things. They are quite massive. But again, the inside of the tank does not look well used. So it doesn't appear that somebody's been using these very recently.


COOPER: So, I'm...

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Martin, I'm sorry, I was just wondering about the town again and how many people were still there. And if you could see anyone?

SAVIDGE: Well, we saw them as we initially came in. Of course, once this -- the firing and the explosions occurred, the people had good sense to sort of melt away, either to get inside their homes or stay out of the line of fire because they realize, of course, that the Marines are going to be rather nervous with a situation around them. So it's always wise to just stay indoors. So we don't see anybody around us now.

But as pulled up, yes, there were a lot of people who are genuinely curious. Now that's part of the problem for the military here is yes, they love to see the people. They're glad that the people seem to happy to see them, however, force protection always being in their mind and not always being able to tell who is has got good intent and who does not.

They warn them continuously, stay away. They have announcements in Arabic that is usually done by these psychological OPS group going through the streets with loud speakers, just saying "stay away, stay away, stay in your homes and you'll be safe." So near action is on a very small level if it takes place. At least out here in the -- in sort of the front lines as it were, because you're still trying to decipher the good from the bad.


HEMMER: Marty Savidge, again, working on the outskirts of the town of Basra in southeastern Iraq. Since that time that report was filed, we do know they've gotten back in their humvees and moved away from that village. Reports here in Kuwait today indicate that there is some sort of negotiations underway right now that would have the Iraqis surrender possibly, the town of Basra. Not clear about the information going any further than that, but there are discussions right now underway between the Brits and the U.S. and the Iraqis on the other side.

The news of the day here in Kuwait, two British helicopters have collided shortly after take-off from an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. Seven dead, including six Brits and one American. That news breaking here several hours ago. We should hear more about this possibly in about three hours, 20 minutes from now. 5:00 local time, 9:00 a.m. on the East coast back in the U.S. Tommy Franks head of central command, operating now in Qatar, his first briefing since the military conflict unfolded late on Wednesday night. You'll see it live from Tommy Franks when we have it here for you on CNN.

More from Kuwait a bit later. Carol, Anderson, back to you now at the CNN Center.

COOPER: Bill, thanks very much.

We should just update our viewers, if you're just joining us, really for the last several hours, we have been following some ongoing action in multiple parts of Iraq, but most notably in Umm Qasr. This, the port town strategically importing to both in terms of establishing a port, a facility for U.S. military operations, but also for that humanitarian assistance that the U.S. military is very eager to try to get into this region as quickly as possible. There are two ports in Umm Qasr. There is the old port, the new port. We've heard from Christiane Amanpour, who is in the new port, which at the time that she was there, the British military was there. They had secured what we were seeing.

And what you are seeing now is a taped picture. These are from about I'm estimating two or so hours ago, Cobra attack helicopters circling around the old port area where our Jason Bellini was, where they were encountering sporadic pockets of resistance. Largely, the town had been secured, but there were still these sporadic pockets of resistance. Jason Bellini also reporting that in some of the Iraqi troops who were resisting, who had been captured, were not wearing the rocky military uniforms. And this is perhaps ominous. We have talked so much about that urban combat, that troops might face when they eventually get to Baghdad. Well, some of these pockets of resistance in Umm Qasr were dressed as civilians, military clothing underneath their civilian garb. The military garb only become apparent once they had been taken into custody and searched very aggressively.

Again, we are looking at some pictures just about two hours old. Smoke rising out of some of these areas. The Cobra attack helicopters were used to attack these pockets of resistance. Also Jason Bellini reporting with the Marines that they were going building to building, searching for pockets of resistance. Now what you are looking at is tape literally being fed in at this moment, tape shot by Martin Savidge's crew in the same general vicinity on the road to Basra outside of Basra. Martin Savidge was with a group of Marines who were blowing up, searching out and blowing up abandoned Iraqi tanks. These are -- they were searching T-55 tanks. They were blowing them up with ordnance, also with TOW missiles.

As they were undergoing that operation, all of a sudden, an RPG, a rocket propelled grenade whizzed by Martin Savidge, hit a building in a nearby town. There you see a Marine jumping off a tank, blowing up the tank. That's a T-55 tank, who I believe, which is the old Soviet made tank bought by the Iraqi government, not the most modern tanks. Those tanks officially abandoned, but they were ordnance inside the tanks. So you're also going to see ongoing explosions coming from that tank.

But again, the headline on that, the RPG that was fired, Marines responded with fire. You just saw some of that there. Let's listen in. OK, they're continuing to drive here. The RPG apparently came from the town that they were in. They could not identify where exactly it came from, who fired it. It wasn't their mission to seek out -- let's listen in to this.

Again, these pictures just coming in. This is the first we are seeing of them. 50 caliber.

COSTELLO: And really, their objective here is to secure the oil fields of this area. That's why they were west of Basra.

COOPER: And what they were immediately doing here, destroying Iraqi tanks, trucks, whatever the Iraqis have left behind. The Iraqi, -- there were no Iraqi soldiers per se inside these vehicles at the time. They reported finding several men sort of milling about around the vehicles, but not dressed as Iraqi military. Again, these pictures are raw coming in. we were getting all of this live about an hour or so ago from a different camera from Martin Savidge. These are -- he has two cameramen with him. These pictures are just coming in as we speak.

But again, that RPG, that rocket propelled grenade, did not as far as we know, hit any Marines, but they are responding with a lot of caution, very understandably.

COSTELLO: And another interesting point about the people standing around these empty Iraqi tanks, apparently they were in jogging suits. They looked like civilians. They had their hands up, but then that rocket propelled grenade came at the Marines, and they opened fire. As far as we know, though, no casualties as a result of that particular round of fire.

COOPER: And again, this is just one of the things the Marines of this unit is doing. Their mission, at least in this hour of this day, identify these Iraqi tanks, Iraqi fighting vehicles and destroy whatever they come across. And they are doing that very efficiently in this video. Let's watch what's going to happen to this tank. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) jumping off it. I'm assuming he's got some sort of ordnance inside. I guess not. Again, this video all coming in raw. So you are seeing it as we are seeing it.

COSTELLO: Yes, and all the while, Martin Savidge had to move -- keep moving because the Marines had opened fire. They didn't exactly know what was coming from the other side. And I believe that they were only fired on that one time, by the rocket propelled grenade.

COOPER: Right, it was sort of a chaotic scene. And Martin Savidge was reporting live all throughout it. There were shots going off. Hard to tell exactly what of it was Marines destroying other piece of equipment. In fact, we just saw about a minute or so ago, a Marine with a 50 caliber machine gun shooting into a truck that had been abandoned, disabling that truck so that it couldn't be used in any future time.

COSTELLO: And again, there's a small town nearby. And people were actually in the homes. In fact, they were out on the street kind of applauding the U.S. military presence. And then as things started to developed, they sort of faded away into their homes and took cover for obvious reasons.

COOPER: And initially, it was sort of confused, as it often is on a battlefield, not sure even where the fire was coming from, where that RPG came from. What it was later learned and what Martin learned and told us live was that the RPG actually came from within the town. So again, it made it a very difficult situation to identify.

COSTELLO: And has Martin moved on now?


COSTELLO: Because I know British tanks had come into secure the area.

COOPER: Right.

COSTELLO: And Martin and the Marines have moved along.

COOPER: That's right. They have moved along.

COSTELLO: Yes, we want to go to Walter Rodgers now in southern Iraq.

COOPER: Right.

COSTELLO: With the 7th Cavalry. At last check, they were still stopped. Are they still? It looks like they are. Walter?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Carol, I think the lead of the story, the military lead of the story all across the southern theater in Iraq from where Martin Savidge is in southeastern Iraq, to where we are in southcentral Iraq, the lead of the story is that the Iraqis are not rolling over and playing dead, despite overwhelming American power. They are putting up at least nuisance resistance. That's what we've seen with the third squadron of the 7th U.S. Cavalry. They have been bogged down on this road for a number of hours now because earlier in the day, it was determined there was detachment of Iraqi soldiers several miles up the road. And it was not clear how large the detachment was. It wasn't even clear the intentions of the detachment.

Then the Iraqis began firing mortars at the crazy horse troop of the 7th Cavalry. That suggested very clearly to the commanders here that those Iraqis were going to stand and fight, even though they were overwhelmingly outnumbered by the United States. The Americans began firing 155 millimeter haladon (ph) shells, laying these great arrays of artillery in -- out there.

Still, the Iraqi soldiers did not cut and run. Next thing, the Army sent in its helicopters. They began shooting at whatever remained after the artillery barrage. And more than a few Iraqi soldiers in the dismounts were killed in the artillery barrage, but the others did not run. The Iraqi soldiers held their ground. What they did was stand and fight. And when the helicopters came over, the U.S. Army's Hiawah's (ph) reconnaissance helicopters, the helicopters came under fire from these determined Iraqi troops.

Shoulder fired missiles were fired at the pilots. Also some 50 caliber machine guns. The pilots of the Kiwaya's (ph), a 7th Cavalry, had to fly very nimbly, ducking an dodging to get out of the way. Still, the Iraqi soldiers did not cut and run. Then the Army called in a little help from the Air Force. The Air Force flew in its A-10 Warthog, which carries tremendous fire power, has a huge Jacqueline gun in the front that just tears up the ground in front of anything before it. The A-10 made passes over the ground. Apparently, the Iraqi threat, the detachment which was up the road, again, we don't know the size of that Iraqi detachment. They have been pretty well wiped out. According to the Army commanders here, Apache troop of the 7th Cavalry, but again, the Army is waiting just a little longer.

It appears, however, that the threat has been eliminated at this point. It took longer than expected. The reason I conclude the threat's been eliminated is because suddenly we see refuelng tanks coming up to refuel the tanks that were parked beside the road. That suggests that they wouldn't bring refueling tanks if there was a danger of artillery fire coming in.

So the 7th Cavalry should start rolling northward on this road behind me very soon. Again, but they were detained longer than expected. No U.S. casualties at all. No U.S. vehicles injured, but it does prove that even though the Iraqis are a weak force, badly outnumbered, they can be a nuisance. Back to you.

COSTELLO: Yes, Walter Rodgers, I was just going to ask you, this isn't the Republican guard we're talking about? This is the Army that supposedly disorganized. So this must have come as kind of a surprise to the U.S. military there?

RODGERS: I think it did. I wouldn't over rate what we saw today. What we're seeing is essentially a nuisance factor. If the Army decided to punch through with the tanks, the armored columns, they could obliterate anything there. The problem, of course, in doing that is that you take risks with your men and you take risks with your tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. We don't want to take it this far to the campaign because the Army is still a long ways out of Baghdad. And the time to take the risks is when you get closer to Baghdad, and when you encounter the very serious unit, the Republican Guard units, which will be defending the southern gates of Baghdad.

Again, the Iraqis are showing that they can and will make a fight, albeit a nuisance factor. The Army could have punched through, but the decision and probably the prudent decision was to do a standoff by keeping the tanks, the soldiers here present at this time, and then fire the long range artillery at them, then bring in the helicopters, use the helicopters weapons against them. And when they still didn't complete it, they called in the A-10 Warthog, that old stalwart of anti tank heights from before.

No evidence the Iraqis had a tank up there, but they did have some very committed soldiers with anti aircraft weapons. Back to you, Carol.

COSTELLO: Walter Rodgers reporting live from somewhere in southern Iraq with the 7th Cavalry.

COOPER: And in northern Iraq right now, Kevin Sykes is standing by. He joins us via videophone with some new developments -- Kevin?

KEVIN SITES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we don't have quite the compelling video that you were seeing with Marty Savidge and so on, but there has been some interesting developments here in northern Iraq today. PUK sources, that's the patriotic union of Kurdistan, sources tell us that bombing in Kirkuk, which is about 40 kilometers from here, may not have been centered on the city. This gives evidence of that kind of pinpoint bombing that they've been talking about the use of -- the 90 percent use of smart bombs here.

Many of our PUK sources actually say that they've called family members within Kirkuk who have told them that they watched the bombing from the rooftops. And it was really headed west toward the military compound of Haleed. That military compound apparently has an air base. It houses the first Iraqi legion, as well as munitions and many of the people said that they saw secondary explosions going for hours after that first wave of bombing in Kirkuk. So that was an interesting development.

You've heard from Fredericka Whitfield on the Turkish situation, as well as Brent Sadler about what's going on in the northern part of northern Iraq, the region next to Turkey. There's also been an interesting development on the border with Iran and now Ansar Al- Islam. That is the fundamentalist group that Colin Powell has actually linked to al Qaeda and says that is the connection that Saddam Hussein has with al Qaeda here in Iraq.

They're actually in Kurdish territory along the border with Iran. And apparently, our sources tell us that the U.S. military phoned PUK people here to tell them that they fired 30 cruise missiles at Ansar Al-Islam held towns and villages along that Iran-Iraqi border. And apparently, that has motivated the PUK here, the Peschmurga (ph) fighters, that's the PUK militia, it literally means those who face danger or those who face death, to say that they're going to attack Ansar Al-Islam either today or tomorrow. They feel that those positions have been softened up quite a bit, and that it would be prime time for them to take them on.

This would be a relief to the U.S. They're concerned about that as a nest for terrorism. They consider it kind of a mini Taliban here in Iraq. And again, it was one of the prime reasons, according to Colin Powell and President Bush, to actually make this attack on Iraq. So it's an interesting development and it will be interesting to watch in the next few days, if there's actual -- and attack on the Ansar Al- Islam positions by the Peschemurga (ph) here in northern Iraq.

COOPER: Yes, certainly a story...

SYKES: Back to you -- Anderson.

COOPER: Certainly, Kevin, a story we will be following very closely in the coming hours and days. Thanks very much, Kevin Sykes, live in northern Iraq -- Carol. COSTELLO: And of course, it was 1:00 yesterday afternoon when the shock and awe campaign began. As of course everyone is wondering right now, when it will continue. I want to toss it over to our military desk. Renay San Miguel is joined by General Shepperd.

Good morning to you both.

RENAY SAN MIGUEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol and Anderson. Yes, there's been a lot going on overnight for those must maybe waking up, we want to give an idea of what's going on in all parts of Iraq. And joining us now is our CNN military analyst, General Don Shepperd. We just heard from Kevin Sykes in the north. They're talking about not just the possibility of al Qaeda related terrorists up there, but also some Turkish troops now complicating the picture.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, complicated situation. Very quickly here, Renee, two air corridors opened from Turkey that the United States can use. But up here, Turkish incursion was about 1,000 troops into the PUK, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan area. Tensions between these two, the Turks say they want to have a buffer zone and take care of refugees. The PUK is very, very suspicious of that.

Over here, the Ansar Al-Islam in the eastern part of northern Iraq over here, many of their bases camps being hit by air power district.

SAN MIGUEL: OK, now down the south, we have seen some of the compelling video this morning from Martin Savidge. Near Basra, also Umm Qasr, there's still some resistance down there as well.

SHEPPERD: Yes, two, the old port and the new port at Umm Qasr down here. They're clearing out pockets of resistance in there. And up in the Basra area, some tank battles going on. Every village that you pass there has vehicles in it and people that you have to process with slowgoing in that area.

Meanwhile over here, the Third Infantry Division is moving, but they're also coming up against villages with minor skirmishes going on there.


SHEPPERD: Minor, unless you're involved in them.

SAN MIGUEL: OK. Exactly, they're about 100 miles into Iraq, from what we've heard last from Walter Rodgers.

Now we want to go to what's going on with Baghdad, the second day of shock and awe expected here. And there was some palaces hit yesterday. Let's talk a little bit about the significance of those palaces.

SHEPPERD: Yes, the palaces are not palaces as we think of Versailles palace and that type of thing. SAN MIGUEL: Sure.

SHEPPERD: Command and control headquarters. They are military installations. They have bunkers underneath them. Command and control and communications facilities. This is the Republican palace, one of the main palaces on the West Bank of the Tigris River. It was hit very, very heavily, and it's one that you've seen Saddam appear in many times on television broadcasts.

SAN MIGUEL: OK. And then we just go just north of that, another palace?

SHEPPERD: Yes, another -- there are actually two other palaces. The Peace Palace and the Flower Palace were also hit. All of these palaces will probably be hit in turn, again, because they are command and control and leadership facilities.

SAN MIGUEL: OK, and then just one north of that really quickly, we want to just show -- give some idea just how close these palaces are and also the fact that there could be just very hardened underground bunkers underneath, hence the reason to hit these again.

SHEPPERD: They are indeed. And just north of this palace also is the Council of Ministers, where their legislature meets, if you will. Now the important thing about all these is they're on the West Bank of the Tigris River in a confined area. This is not general bombing of downtown Baghdad.

SAN MIGUEL: OK, we have some animation to show a cruise missile on its way into Baghdad. What goes on here from the beginning that it is launched a conventionally launched cruise missile?

SHEPPERD: Right, these are launched. It's a -- what's called a calcum provincial air launch cruise missile. It's about a 3,000 pound missile. The warhead in it is about 1,000 pounds, has a 600 mile range, travels at about 500 miles an hour. Very hard to detect on radar. It goes in. It pops up and then dives into the target or can fly over the target. Many of these were used. Of the 1,000 targets hit yesterday, 600 of the targets were hit by these calcum missiles and Tomahawk missiles fired off Navy ships as well. It's a very, very powerful weapon.

SAN MIGUEL: It is an amazing piece of technology, very fiercesome as well, the idea that this kind of thing can come from hundreds of miles out and hit with such accuracy.


SAN MIGUEL: Don Shepperd, thank you very much. Anderson and Carol, back over to you.

COOPER: All right, thanks very much. A lot of things moving very quickly here. We are following them all in this next hour. Let's get a look what's happening in this hour.



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