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Basra Key to Aid Operations

Aired March 25, 2003 - 03:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And a good morning to you. It is 3:00 AM here at CNN's world headquarters in Atlanta, 11:00 AM in Baghdad, where day six of Operation Iraqi Freedom continues.
I'm Anderson Cooper.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Carol Costello. Thanks for joining us this morning.

We want to get directly to Qatar, to CENTCOM's command center and Tom Mintier to talk about what's happening in Basra right now. Basra, of course, important because they want to get humanitarian aid through there. They haven't been able to do that. So now coalition forces are actually going to target the city, a much different strategy than previously mapped out.

Tom Mintier, tell us more.

TOM MINTIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Much different, Carol. As General Tommy Franks said yesterday, that this is an evolving process, that there are changes constantly. Well, those changes are going on here in Doha. A few hundred yards from where I'm located right now, I'm sure Tommy Franks huddling with other members of the coalition, deciding what to do. We got confirmation in the last 15, 20 minutes that the city of Basra has changed its status or had it changed by the coalition, the British military spokesman telling us that it now appears that they might have to go house to house in Basra because military units from Iraq have gone into that city and are exchanging fire with units in Basra. So changing the status of Basra, not able to bypass it, as they once thought they would. But because it is such a key humanitarian distribution point that it is necessary to make sure that that's secure.

Now, Group Captain Al Lockwood telling us just a few moments ago that they have made the decision that Basra is a strategic target that they're going to have to secure.


AL LOCKWOOD, BRITISH PRESS OFFICER: Well, obviously, it would have been ideal if Basra had surrendered and we'd been able to take the city without a fight. But what has become apparent is that we're meeting resistance not from regular Iraqi forces but from what we're terming as irregulars. These are members of the Fedayeen, those troops extremely loyal to Saddam Hussein's regime, and their security service organization. They're lightly armed, but -- and they're very small in number. However, they are terrorizing the citizens of Basra, and we will probably need to go in and meet any resistance.


MINTIER: That resistance is something that General Franks referred to in his last briefing here in Doha yesterday afternoon, saying that there is a very good possibility that there may be many more casualties in this effort and to be prepared for it, that it is an evolving process, but he promised that he was still able to fight the war on what he called his terms. Carol, back to you.

COSTELLO: Tom, I'm just trying to think of how to correctly characterize this, but this is sort of what the Iraqis want. They want to suck in coalition forces into cities so that urban warfare will break out. That's the best chance they have to inflict as much damage as they can.

MINTIER: It's a very difficult thing to determine what the Iraqi military strategy is, but if, indeed, they are able to infiltrate into the cities and turn this into urban warfare, rather than out open in the desert, as it's been so far, it does change the dynamics. The U.S.-led coalition does not want to go house to house. It's something that while they may have trained for, it is probably not a preferred method of operation because you have the possibility of civilians being caught in the middle or used by those Iraqi forces, where they put the civilians at the windows and they're upstairs firing from the second floor. So there is always the danger that civilian casualties will increase in this type of operation, and that's why it was preferred not to go into places like Basra and take it by force.

COSTELLO: Tom Mintier reporting live from Qatar, from CENTCOM command headquarters. Thanks very much.

COOPER: There is a lot changing in this hour so far in the military campaign. We just heard about to Basra. We're going to get a little bit more of an update on that, as much as we can, from Kuwait City. Right now, Group Captain John Fynes -- I'm sorry -- Group Captain John Fynes standing by with British Royal Air Force.

Captain, thanks very much for being with us. What can you tell us...


COOPER: ... about the latest in the situation with -- with Basra?

FYNES: Really that Basra has got this relatively small number of irregular forces within it, and at some stage, they're either going to have to come out or we're going to have to go in and get them. But talking from their point of view, if required, then we can use precision air. But at the moment, it's very much up to the decision of the army.

COOPER: But you're saying from a military standpoint, you can use aircraft to -- with precision-guided munitions to target forces within the city? FYNES: If it was required, yes. We can be very, very precise. But the whole principle of the campaign is to achieve minimum casualties -- civilian casualties to an absolute minimum. So we'll be very much waiting to see what the army needs. If they ended up needing some assistance from air, then that will be provided.

COOPER: How active an area is this? I mean, obviously, we're not projecting timetables here, but do you have a sense of -- I mean, are we talking hours, are we talking days for things to be heating up in Basra?

FYNES: I think it'd be wrong to talk about a particular time scale. What we're doing is we're being careful. We're taking our time. We're working very hard to reduce the risk to civilians. And we'll do that in our own time.

COOPER: And is your sense that this is largely irregular forces, the Fedayeen, the Baath thugs, if you will, as some have called them, as opposed to regular forces, the 51st Division?

FYNES: That's what we understand to be in there. It needs to be borne in mind that the way Saddam works is he's oppressed the people of Basra, in particular, for many, many years. And one of the ways that he can keep them scared, locked indoors and not willing to come out and welcome us is to put in these secret police and these irregular forces.

COOPER: Is it fair to say that they're really -- that there's not so much a military reason for taking Basra, it's really just to get humanitarian aid in, to get the humanitarian aid flowing to a city which is apparently out of water and has been for two days now?

FYNES: The humanitarian aspect is of real significance and importance to us. We've said all along that what we want to do is bring relief to the people of Iraq. A lot of the problems were there before this conflict started. A lot of the additional problems have been introduced by Saddam and his regime themselves. We've always said that what we want to do is make Iraq a better place for the Iraqis, and Basra needs some humanitarian assistance. So the quicker that they get out, the military forces, or surrender to us, the quicker we can get on to that humanitarian work.

COOPER: Now, my understanding is Basra would be a British operation. Is that correct? And you -- can you tell a little bit about the involvement of British forces, as well as American forces, in the region?

FYNES: The whole operation out here is coalition. We're using mixed air, both American and British, when required. Our forces are mixed in with the American forces. So very much, it's a coalition effort. There do tend to be a large number of British forces around the Basra area, though.

COOPER: So just the headline here -- RAF stands by, ready to bring in aircraft, if that is what is necessary, according to -- and who would make that decision, the forces on the ground or... FYNES: I'm beginning to lose you here, but I got most of your question. I think from what was seen earlier on in the campaign, with our precision work in Baghdad, that we've proved we can be precise, if required. But at the moment, it's up to the army whether air is required.

COOPER: All right, Group Captain John Fynes for the RAF, appreciate you joining us live from Kuwait City -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Talking about changes in military strategy -- well, there are changes in the air campaign, as well. We want to toss it now to our correspondent, Gary Strieker, who is aboard the USS Roosevelt. Tell us about these changes.

GARY STRIEKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, as the ground war intensifies, U.S. aircraft carriers will now be launching warplanes on missions to provide close air support for coalition ground forces in Iraq. Until now, they've only been launching air strikes against predetermined military targets. They'll still be doing that, but now much of the carriers' air power will be used to provide protection for coalition forces on the ground.

Close air support missions are sort of setting up an extension in the air, an airborne extension of ground combat forces that allows the pilots of the strike fighters to work in conjunction with the commanders of the ground forces, providing eyes and ears in the air for them and to allow them to strike targets themselves, if they have to. The pilots here tell us that these close air support missions are much more satisfying to them than striking predetermined targets. They get immediate feedback from ground troops and the satisfaction of eliminating threats to the survival of coalition soldiers. It's a much more emotionally satisfying mission for them than just attacking predetermined targets, Carol.

COSTELLO: I can imagine that they've been very frustrated. Now, part of this comes about because of Turkey's decision to allow coalition forces to use its airspace, correct?

STRIEKER: That's true. The problem was before Turkey did this, the positioning of the aircraft carrier had to be changed to allow them to use other airspace. It was a longer trip for the fighters to travel from the carriers to the targets in Iraq. That meant that all of the support aircraft that they need to support these strike packages, like tankers and radar-jamming planes and all of that -- it was a much more involved and complicated undertaking. Now that they're able to take advantage of Turkey's airspace, it's a shorter distance. They don't need to have that much in the way of support aircraft, and they can employ many more strike fighters in the packages of targets that they're going to attack.

COSTELLO: I was just going to ask you if...


COSTELLO: ... this would involve more flights for them. STRIEKER: The pilots here tell us that there will be many more strikes. The Naval authorities here on the carrier tell us that what has happened until now -- there's been a delay over the past 24 hours because of bad weather. Strikes were intended to take place today, but they did not. But as soon as the weather clears, whenever they make up their mind to do so, you can bet, they tell us, that there will be many, many more missions for the planes on these aircraft carriers than there has been over the past three or four days.

COSTELLO: Gary, in talking about the weather -- talk more about that because we understand there are sandstorms and strong winds in parts of Kuwait and Iraq today. What is the weather like where you are?

STRIEKER: It's been stormy, raining out on the deck, rather rough seas. And no sandstorms here, but it may be part of the same weather pattern. And I guess it was -- it was bad enough for them to scrub all the missions that were to be launched today. It's not necessarily a problem for the fighter jets themselves because they've got GPS and -- well, GPS-guided weaponry that can -- that doesn't require high visibility. But for things -- for other parts of the missions, like refueling, the tankers and other ships that have to be sent into the area, I think the weather presents a problem for them.

When you're refueling in the air and you can't see the pipe that comes down from the refueling tanker because of bad visibility, it can bang up an aircraft rather quickly, they tell us. So they'd rather not take that risk.

COSTELLO: Well, we certainly can understand that. Gary Strieker, thanks for bringing us up to date this morning.

COOPER: All right, we are going to check in with our correspondent, Rym Brahimi, who is in Amman, Jordan. We're talking about a wide variety of things. Want to talk a little bit later on about the Saddam Hussein speech. But first let's talk about the latest about U.S. using Jordanian airspace.

Rym, first of all, let me just say I think this is the first time you and I have talked since you left Baghdad. It is very nice to see you safe and sound, and we are happy you're with us this morning. What can you tell us about the latest on the use of the airspace?

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Anderson. Well, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Jordanian king spoke to a group of senators yesterday. Now, he has said that the Jordanian airspace will not be used by any U.S. air forces launching attacks on Iraq. This is something, Anderson, as you know, that Jordan has been at pains to repeat over and over again. Jordan has been extremely keen to be seen as a very neutral part in this conflict.

The Jordanian government, of course, is walking a very, very fine line. It's quite a balancing act in a very rough neighborhood for a small country like Jordan. Jordan has also had to -- has also expelled three Iraqi diplomats, saying that they breached security arrangements between Iraq and Jordan, on the other hand, saying they would accept any replacement for those diplomats as soon as possible.

And then, of course, there's the economic problems that Jordan has had to face with the loss of trade between Iraq and Jordan. Jordan has lost a lot of trade since the route between the -- road between Baghdad and Amman has been deemed by many drivers or companies as not a safe route. Well, oil isn't flowing into Jordan. Oil tankers are not coming in. Now, Arab countries, I understand -- according to the Jordanian media, say Arab countries are prepared to compensate for that loss of oil flow into Jordan. And also, the United States and Japan have stepped in to help compensate for the trade loss that Jordan is facing right now -- Anderson.

COOPER: Rym, there is a front-page article -- and I'm just going to hold it up to the camera -- I don't think you can see it, but just so our audience can see it -- in today's "USA Today," and this is a Tuesday edition. It's the front page. And down here, there's an article basically saying that "Doctors might be treating Saddam in bunker." This is the headline of the article. And it quotes unnamed intelligence sources. It says -- the person says, "We know we hit him. We know he was wounded Thursday in a missile and bomb attack on his compound. We also believe he has not left Baghdad."

Let's put this into context of the address we heard from Saddam Hussein yesterday. In that address, as you watched it -- I mean, you have been covering this story, covering this man for quite some time. Tell me a little bit about what you saw, what you really took away from that address.

BRAHIMI: You know what I saw, Anderson? I think what's important to see in that address, more than anything else -- the president -- for one, it would be impossible, in all honesty, I think, for anyone to say, I know he's been wounded, or I know he was in Baghdad at that time. He most likely was because that would be probably part of his strategy, and that is his seat of power. But nobody really knows anything about that. That would be pure speculation, on my part.

I think what's really important there, Anderson, is the fact that he may have been wounded or not, there may -- the fact that, you know, a lot of people speculated was it really him or was it one of his doubles, for instance -- all that, frankly, irrelevant, if you ask me, because the message to the Iraqi population and to the rest of the world remains the same. Whether it was him, whether it was a double, whether he was injured or not, it is the Iraqi government that's still in charge and in control of information. We can put out someone who is President Saddam Hussein or who maybe looks like him, it's totally irrelevant. But the message is still the same: We're in charge. We control information. We control enough that we can tell you we're here, and we control enough that we can show you an Apache helicopter being downed on Iraqi soil on Iraqi TV.

And I think that's the importance of the message, which is why, again, many people may have been surprised not to see all these Iraqis -- you know, there was this scenario, this dream vision, I think, for many people, that once the American soldiers would enter Iraq, they would find Iraqis welcoming them with arms open. And I'm not talking about the military resistance, just about the civilian population. And I think one of the reasons that may not be happening is because people -- one, they've been told to stay home by the ruling Baath Party, but also, they don't know what's happening. And as long as they see those pictures on Iraqi TV, there's no way these people are going to take any risks in coming out to welcome anybody else.

COOPER: And just very briefly, I think you make a good point that the message of the address was not just to the Iraqi people, it was to the larger world, and particularly the Arab world, in specific, the Muslim world. And how do you think the message played? I mean, he linked himself, as I think he often does -- and you can correct me if I'm wrong -- in speeches -- I think he said, Long live Palestine, at the end of the speech, put himself in sort of a larger pan-Arab context. How do you think the message played?

BRAHIMI: Absolutely, Anderson. Not just pan-Arab. As you mentioned, always the -- using the Palestinian cause as one of his big causes or rallying cries, in a way. But especially also using religion very much. This has been a consistent strategy of the Iraqi government and of President Saddam Hussein in recent years, and especially in the months building up to this conflict, again, trying to rally as many people not only in the Arab world but in the Muslim world at large, presenting this as a conflict between Americans and Arabs, between Americans and Muslims at large. And this is really one of the buttons that he's been pressing quite often to rally a lot of people.

And I think some people can be very sensitive to that in a region where people have turned to religion increasingly in the past few years. This is something, when you talk to people here, there's very few people that actually hide their satisfaction at seeing, well, the Iraqis are resisting. And he came out -- he's putting up a fight against the U.S., which is -- it's not even necessarily about Iraq, it's more about the U.S. It's -- not necessarily -- people can be sympathetic or not to the government and maybe most of them aren't, but it's really more about the U.S. and how they feel, how much resentment there is against the United States foreign policy than anything else -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Rym Brahimi, live in Amman, Jordan, thanks very much -- Carol.

COSTELLO: And we want to bring you the big picture because there's a lot of fighting going on inside Iraq today, in the north, Mosul, Kirkuk. We know there have been explosions there -- and also in the south, in Basra. And in Nasiriya, fire fights are still ongoing. And there have been intermittent bombings in Baghdad, as well.

Now we want to talk about those two helicopter pilots that are the latest U.S. forces taken prisoner by Iraq. Ronald Young of Georgia, David Williams of Florida, both chief warrant officers, were captured when their Apache attack helicopter went down after an intense fire fight with the Republican Guard near Karbala. Later the U.S. destroyed the downed chopper to keep it out of Iraqi hands. Iraq now holds at least seven U.S. POWs. Now, the other POWs are members of the Army's 507th Maintenance Company based at Fort Bliss, Texas. They are Specialists Joseph Hudson, Specialist Shoshana Johnson, Specialist Edgar Hernandez, Private First Class Patrick Miller and Sergeant James Riley. Seven other soldiers from their maintenance group are still unaccounted for after fierce fighting Sunday in Nasiriya.

We also have this reaction from the sister and father of another POW, Army Specialist Shoshana Johnson. Let's listen.


NIKKI JOHNSON, SISTER: When she went over there, we knew that, obviously, this was a little bit more in-depth and more intensive, but I'm sure she didn't think that -- I'm sure this is the last thing she thought was going to be on her mind. And she's -- maintenance is combat service support. You're not really supposed to be on the front lines at all, you know what I mean? They bring things back to -- you don't think about that stuff when you're a support element.

CLAUDE JOHNSON, FATHER: What happened? Did you -- did they miss a checkpoint? They made a wrong turn. Were they supposed to turn? What happened? Where's the breakdown?

NIKKI JOHNSON: You know you're going over there, but you never really think, you know, that this is going to happen. My sister's kind of had, like, a little angel following her around. She always manages to get out of stuff. So this was not something we thought was going to happen to her at all, you know? And in considering the whole situation in which some individuals did die, you know, and the fact that, you know, she -- she was seen on TV, she looks to be staying strong, you know, hopefully, her angel's still with her.

CLAUDE JOHNSON: I'm hoping that because it was a big televised issue that they will comply at least to show that they're not as -- not as much as animals that they're portrayed to be.


COSTELLO: OK, we have a live event happening right now out of Baghdad on Iraqi television, the information minister of Iraq speaking now. Let's listen.

MAHMUD AHMAD, IRAQI INTERIOR MINISTER (through translator): ... Swiss company Caltechna (ph) were using these oils for food for oil decision. This decision was as a result of George Bush decision and Tony Blair, prime minister of Britain. This decision is that Iraq does not need humanitarian assistance. Iraq is a rich country, and its people is great, led by a great leader, is fighting colonialism represented by the United States and Britain, who are motivated by the Zionists. And we will have victory, God willing, against this barbarian aggression invasion.

And I say that Iraq has today $21 million in their account. We made agreement to buy medical and food supplies, and these supplies are being shipped, these medical and food and essential water treatment. This is according to the agreement of the United Nations. There are -- most of it are contracts for food which is standing at the border and was stopped at the border. And there are seven (UNINTELLIGIBLE) contract for food and medicine still hanging at United Nations.

We are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) general if United Nation -- we are asking Kofi Annan not to punish people and not to submit to the evil intentions of U.S. and Britain. Kofi Annan has to allow immediately, according to decision 986, to let these essentials enter Iraq, these medical and food, which is sufficient to supply Iraqi people for two years.

But the evil administration represented by Bush and Blair are hunting the people of Iraq not just by bombs that they are dropping every day on the citizens and invading their holy land, which they are going to be buried in, but now they are preventing food and medicine from the people of Iraq. We expose this criminal behavior of the president of the United States and the prime minister of Britain, who had the general counsel (ph) to stop the U.N. decision, who -- which allowed to have food and medicine for oil.

We received only $21 billion of food and medicine, which was distributed on the people of Iraq. Today there are supplies in ships, and some are in Jordan and at the border. Some were returned from the borders, and they are now at Ruashia (ph) area. And I hope that our brothers in Jordan to behave responsibly, the way they behaved in 1991, and not to submit to the evil American administration will and to -- not to stop food reaching Iraq, according to the agreement we made together.

And we -- as I say, we do not, as a country, to need help, any humanitarian help. We have resources that would suffice our people, the way it was sufficient six years earlier. We are asking you to condemn these decisions and to condemn the president of the United States and the prime minister of Britain, who were stopping and preventing delivery of these supplies, food and medicine, to the Iraqi people, which, according to U.N. decision, it has to be $21 billion.

I will give you a hand-out of details of these contracts, according to the program "oil for food," which were stopped by America and Britain through this aggression, this militarist campaign. But I assure you that our -- we are prepared for this situation, and we knew that when the war starts, they're going to stop medicines to Iraq. And under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, we are -- we were prepared to supply the people of Iraq with these supplies. And we did deliver food to our citizens that would be sufficient for six months. These conditions that are surrounding these cities, such as Umm Qasr and Safwan and all these cities, we have sufficient. There will be enough for six months.

In these days, in spite of the bombing and the missiles, vehicles are going and having communication and carrying supplies, food and medicine, to Nasiriya and Mosamna (ph) and Najaf. And we assure them that there is enough to supply with food and medicine. But America and Britain have not to punish the people, these great people, with its barbarian way. These are contracts that we made to buy food and medicine using money belonging to the Iraqi people, this immoral behavior for the American administration and the prime minister of Britain who suggested to the Kofi Annan to stop this program.

(speaking in English): Well, in brief, I will say that Mr. Kofi Annan has been under the pressure from President Bush and the Blair to suspend Oil For Food Program which Iraq has begun to export oil through which Iraq imports food and medicine for its people.

Up to date Iraq has exported oil in $664 (ph) billion. The United Nations deducted $21 billion for its confiscation and for its expenses and Iraqi people has received during these six years $21 billion commodities from food and medicine and we still have contracts equivalent to $21 billion almost. Food and medicine and most of which are in the sea nearby Iraq. And has been suspended by the decision of Kofi Annan due to the withdrawal of geographical observation and quoting (ph) that they have been under the agreement between Iraq and the United Nation to stay in Iraq and to stay only in the border and entry.

Before they left we discussed this matters with the head office in Baghdad, we agreed that our employees and the minister of trade will handle their authentication that particular that is responsible for that so that payment can be made for supplier.

Unfortunately due the pressure from President Bush and Tony Blair, Kofi Annan refused to accept this proposal so that commodities of food and medicines can flow for our people in Iraq.

However, due to the direction from his Excellency President Saddam, last year and this year we had to prepare ourselves that this situation may occur and we have made available quantity of food and medicine to the people of Iraq. Now we have delivered until now six month stored in each city and each village, now it is available in Umm Qasr and in al Faw and Safwan and. All the places in Iraq we have delivered six months requirements of Iraqi people.

And now daily under military bombing and rocket and attack we are working heavily from Baghdad to all the places in Basra and in Mosul and in Nasiriya. And yesterday and today many tracks went to Nasiriya and to Basra to supply food for additional quantity of food for Iraqi people so that they can maintain their ability of Iraqi people to defend their country.

This aggressive and the criminal act of President Bush...

COSTELLO: All right, we're going to dip out of this to explain what those pictures are to the right hand side of your screen. These pictures are coming live out of Kuwait.

COOPER: That's right, where Daryn Kagan is going to be, we're going to go to her very shortly. Those are pictures of aid being off loaded from aircraft. Aid that the coalition is hoping to get through southeastern Iraq, through Umm Qasr into Basra. There had been reports and the United Nations, Kofi Annan, said on Monday that "urgent measures," in his words, are needed in Basra where Water and electricity have been cutoff for at least 2 days.

Now what is interesting to note, you were listening to an address made the trade minister Mohammed Salih in Baghdad. What he said was basically that Iraq does not need humanitarian help. He said that they do have resources, says that there is food in Jordan, supplies and he blamed coalition forces for depriving food and medicine from getting to the people of Iraq, surmising in his words.

In fact, he is making an appeal to the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to get the oil for food program up and running again it had suspended at the start of theses hostilities. And another irony here is the coalition forces are fighting for Basra so that they can get a huge amount of humanitarian aid into Basra.

Let's go back to Baghdad.

Let's listen in.

SALIH: From food point of view and medicine will provide the best quality of food and medicine for those prisoners of war. Thank you.

QUESTION: How will it reach Basra? Can you explain a little bit about this?

SALIH: Greatly, we in Iraq we don't need the humanitarian assistance. We have sufficient money in our accounts equivalent to the two-year requirement. If Kofi Annan allows these commodities to come to Iraq then there will be no problem and no need for any assistance. Sorry.

QUESTION: What is your civilian causalities when London and Washington say they are targeting carefully and they're targeting the military targets. What is your response?

SALIH: Well, it is not true. They are -- yesterday in Basra they had targeted and hit one of our flour mills that is imported. Imported through Oil for Food. Now until this day the situation of damage and the municipality are the fire is still in the warehouse of that project.

QUESTION: (in Arabic)

SALIH (through translator): This is propaganda, which United States and Britain use all the time. In Umm Qasr, there are food there that sitting in this city. There were three ships before the war started and we still have it there. They try to have it leave from that harbor. They are emptying these ships. Port of Umm Qasr is -- the porter was received by the government and it's ready to receive medical and food, supplies. Before and during ...

COSTELLO: OK, we're going to step away from this once again here. You're listening to the Iraqi trade minister. And basically, he was pleading to the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to continue the Oil for Food Program, something which was suspended at the start of the hostilities. He blamed coalition forces for stopping humanitarian aid from coming into Iraq. He says Iraq has plenty of money to pay, let the people in and our people will be just fine.

Of course, the irony to this is that fighting is going on in Basra in southeastern Iraq and they're trying to overtake that city, coalition forces are, to get humanitarian aid in.

COOPER: Well, one of the things the trade minister was saying is that Kofi Annan of the United Nations has been under pressure from the coalition. He was making that allegation and basically saying that Iraq doesn't need humanitarian help that the food, the medicine is there. He even said off the coast of the port of Umm Qasr where we have seen so much activity over the last several -- 72 hours or so, he said there are ships with food. Therefore, there is not a need for other humanitarian aid being brought in. He's saying it's basically propaganda from the coalition.

Now, let's put this in context. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Monday said that urgent measures are needed in Basra because their water and electricity had been out for some two days. According to the United Nations, there was enough food for several more days in Basra but no one can go without water for too long. And apparently it has been cut off for two days now.

And what we have also just been reporting all morning long really, is that the situation in Basra has shifted. Christian Amanpour reporting some hour and a half ago or so that Basra -- the regular forces, the Fedayeen, the Baath Party forces as well as some regular forces we believe from the 51 Division have actually pulled into Basra, into the city itself. Therefore, sort making it much more difficult for coalition forces to engage with them without risking a high level of civilian casualties.

COSTELLO: And what it means is now coalition forces have actually targeted Basra and they have to go from house to house searching out Iraqi soldiers. And of course, this makes it much more dangerous for them.

COOPER: That of course is the fear, it's not clear yet whether that will happen. That is the great fear of -- and the concern -- fear, perhaps not the right word. But concern on the part of coalition forces not wanting to get drawn into that. And the situation is very fluid and at this point, it's not clear what the strategy is going to be.

COSTELLO: Well, according to CENTCOM command center Basra has become a military target, a legitimate one. We don't know if that operation has begun as of yet.

Another bit of irony -- do we want to head live to Kuwait now to check with Daryn Kagan?


COSTELLO: Let's go there because she has word from the Red Crescent Society that humanitarian aid is available and you can see behind you Daryn that it's being loaded on to trucks right now.

COOPER: Daryn.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol and Anderson, we are right here as this has been loading on and I hope -- can you guys hear me in Atlanta?


KAGAN: Can you hear me in Atlanta? OK, great. Let me give you an idea of where we're are. We're actually at the -- we are at the headquarters for the Kuwait Red Crescent. These are Kuwaiti ladies, they are volunteers. This is all volunteers. They have come here to help the people of Kuwait.

We're going to kind of give you a behind the scenes look...


KAGAN: The ladies, they get right into. Do you need some help? Let me give you some help. They just dive into it.


KAGAN: You want some help?


KAGAN: All right, they're helping.

As these ladies are loading these boxes. I want to give you an idea what is in these boxes. Wayne, my photographer is going to give you a look.

Let's go down here. There's two types of boxes; right here, these are meals, complete meals. I don't need any cooking; things like, cheese and juice, milk, pita bread. Again, this would be an individual meal that doesn't need any cooking. Then over here, this is a box that is meant for a family of five to last a week. And these are provisions like cooking oil and lentils and tea and salt. There's also rice and flour, and this is very important especially for the children of Iraq, this is powdered milk.

Under separate cover they're going to be sending water that they can drink and also Iraqi bread.

Forty-five thousand meals like this are going to go out every single day. These are the first trucks, they plan on leaving today Carol and Anderson. They will head up as far as the border and then they'll wait until they get the clearance to say it's OK to go on into to southern Iraq.

COOPER: And do we know or has it been said by members of the Red Crescent Society exactly this food is going? Whether it's to Umm Qasr, to Basra, have they said?

KAGAN: This food right here that you're looking is being loaded on is going to an area called Safwan and that's right across the border. There are a number of families that are just on the other side of the Kuwaiti-Iraq border that do need help.

This is not food, that you're looking at here, this is not set to go to Basra but in other parts of the facility here is food that is set to go to Basra. But the thing that they're -- the types of food that they're planning on sending is just like what I've showed you right here, right now headed for the people of Safwan.

COSTELLO: You know, it's interesting Daryn because of course, Kuwait has no love for Iraq and for Saddam Hussein but apparently, they're just trying to help the Iraqi people in whatever way they can.

KAGAN: Yes, that is really interesting and again I think I mentioned this, these people are all volunteers. They're her giving their own time. I don't -- a chance to talk with the president of this society, the Red Crescent Society of Kuwait before going on the air to talk with you. And he in a sly voice he said this is how it works, we send Iraq our food; they send us their people.

A little sarcastic comment saying no matter what they do, if they invade, no matter what they do, the people of Kuwait are pulling together and all this food is donated, these people are volunteers.

I don't know if you can tell but where also in a bit of a rainstorm and sand storm is on the way and yet they are gathering together to help their neighbors to the north.

COSTELLO: Good to see. Daryn Kagan reporting live from Kuwait.

COOPER: All right, let's check in with Chris Plante who is has been at the Pentagon and talking about humanitarian assistance.

Chris, no doubt you saw the press conference given by Iraq's trade minister. What's the latest where you are?

CHRIS PLANTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I did Anderson and just a couple of observations on what he said there. There's of course been no official reaction from people here at the Pentagon.

But it was interesting that the minister was saying under these circumstances they that they had plenty of food and plenty of medical supplies to deal with their own people. That they had you know an abundant, overflow; I think it was $21 million in their account. And if their ports were opened, they would -- they have ships off shore, plenty of supplies to bring in.

One of the main complaints that the Iraqi regime has had for a number of years now regarding the Oil for Food Program, which the United St -- United Nations instituted after the embargoes, the U.N. embargoes first went into place. It was decided that these embargoes were too restrictive and was creating too much hardship for the population of Iraq.

So, the Oil for Food Program was created so that Iraq could generate an income, enough to provide appropriate amounts of food imports, medical -- medical imports, which they had complained they were short of. So, this has been enforced -- in place for a number of years now. Still the regime has complained all along that it wasn't nearly enough. They had complained of shortages. They had perpetually complained to the U.N. and to the international community that the Oil for Food Program did not provide them with enough money over the course of a year to give them the food and medical supplies that they needed.

So this is -- I think it's going to be interesting to people who've been watching this process closely to see the minister complaining they have plenty of food and plenty of water. It is the first time that's been heard in some time.

Of course, the United States has claimed during the course of this process that the Oil for Food Program did in fact provide the regime with plenty of money to accommodate their needs. But that the money was in fact being diverted by Saddam Hussein's regime to build palaces and to line the pockets of the senior leadership in bank accounts -- Swiss bank accounts, bank accounts overseas outside of Iraq for the senior leadership.

So this has been a matter of great debate in the United Nations and in the international community for quite some time. But I don't think that anyone has heard the Iraqi leadership claim that they had plenty of money to take care of their food and medical needs in the recent past.

And as I think Carol pointed out, there is also a bit of an irony in that the coalition is saying that they're attempted to get water and food supplies into the city of Basra and at the same time, there are Iraqi forces in Basra. Of course, the circumstances are a bit unusual but Iraqi forces in Basra that are keeping coalition forces, in this case, British forces from entering the city where they say they would be able to provide the population there with food and water and this water shortage becoming all the more critical as we've heard described.

So, there are a number of ironies here. Of course, the minister said this was a lot of propaganda coming from the United States. Certainly the United States would argue that you know, propaganda works both ways and this is an unusual turn of events.

COOPER: And Chris, correct me if I'm wrong. I seem to recall from several days ago in the early hours of the fighting that was going on in the port town of Umm Qasr, regular Iraqi forces actually -- according to one report, were hold up in a U.N. compound that had been used for the Oil for Food Program. And that compound was under attack by coalition forces because that's where some regular forces were allegedly using as a base of fire at some of the coalition forces.

Also, we should just point out that Umm Qasr is important because it is the port entrance for what would be this humanitarian assistance. And though coalition forces say they are still in control of the port, that they are still meeting pockets of resistance throughout Umm Qasr and that it is simply too dangerous at this point to off load humanitarian assistance through the two ports of Umm Qasr. So, that's part of the hold up according to coalition forces.

Chris Plante thanks for the update.

PLANTE: That's, that's...

COOPER: Go ahead.

PLANTE: That's one of them, certainly and there are -- I mean the situation is rife with ironies certainly.

If the priority were humanitarian aid then we probably wouldn't be in the situation that we're in now. But I think the Iraqi regime would claim that their first priority is defending their country against the invasion by the allied forces, and that if the people are going to suffer as a result of the inability to get humanitarian supplies in, they would doubtless blame that on the United States, Britain, Australia and the coalition.

Also in discussions in the past hour or so, including what Christian Amanpour's had to report about forces taking up positions in Basra, there have been some back and forth comments by British officials there as to whether now they would now be interested in going into Basra to engage these forces. This is of course you know, a very complicated situation Anderson.

COOPER: It certainly is that and likely to get more complicated before it's resolved.

Chris Plante, thanks very much at the Pentagon -- Carol.

COSTELLO: OK, we're going to regroup now. We're going to take a short break.

Before we do though, I want to remind you the prime minister of England -- of Britain rather, Tony Blair will speak live at 7 AM Eastern Time. And of course when he begins speaking we will bring that to you live.

We're going to have much more for you right after this very short break. You stay right there.


COSTELLO: Welcome back, 3:56 AM.

We want to bring you up to date on what's happening inside of Iraq right now. In fact, we have a graphic to show you illustrating it quite well.

COOPER: Yes, there's obviously a lot going on at this hour and has been all more morning long. I guess the top story at this point that we've been following is the change in the military situation in and around Basra. Christian Amanpour reporting that Basra -- elements within Basra have become military targets. And the city itself is now sort of on the agenda for targeting. Apparently, forces from the 51 Division, whether it's the regular forces, and Fedayeen forces, Iraqi forces have withdrawn and sort of moved into the city; apparently in the -- apparently desiring coalition forces to somehow enter the city to try to fight them in some sort of urban environment.

At this point it's unclear what coalition forces are planning. It's largely a British area of control. We spoke to a member of the RAF who said -- RAF fighter jets that stand ready to come in with precision-guided munitions if called upon. '

That is happening in Basra...

COSTELLO: And in Nasiriya there are more fire fights going. And as you probably already know, the Marines are trying to take control of those two bridges over the Euphrates River and of course, that would make it much easier for them to get to Baghdad.

We understand there are fire fights ongoing right now. There were reports over the wire from Reuters that the Marines were on the move again but we don't have that confirmed on CNN. So right now we're going to stick with the fire fights going on at Nasiriya. As you can see it's quite close to Basra, just north of it.

COOPER: And you probably saw the pictures if you've been following our coverage for the last 24 hours or so, those pictures of the downed Apache helicopter, it didn't look like it was severely damaged at all. But that was in the area, according to Iraqi TV and Abu Dhabi TV at Karbala, that apparently Apache helicopter has since been destroyed by coalition forces. It still had some munitions on board it. It's standard operating procedure to destroy aircraft, not leave it behind that's fallen into enemy hands.

COSTELLO: And of course, the sad fact is those two pilots that were aboard that Apache helicopter that are now in Iraqi custody. And of course, we saw pictures of them on Iraqi television

We are going to hit our next hour now, it is 4:00 Eastern Time.


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