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Bush Warns of a Dangerous Road Ahead After a Week of War.

Aired March 26, 2003 - 16:00   ET


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will be relentless in our pursuit of victory.

ANNOUNCER: The commander in chief warns of a dangerous road ahead after a week of war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The explosions we are hearing out there are more than a little ominous at this point.

ANNOUNCER: Coalition forces brace for more from Saddam Hussein forces outside the capital and farther south.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bottom line for many of these Marines, the first hard engagement they've had receiving unfriendly fire, returning fire of their own.

ANNOUNCER: Fallout in Baghdad, did coalition forces accidentally blast a market, or did Iraqis kill their own?

GEN. TOMMY FRANKS, CENTRAL COMMAND: Iraqi civilians are being killed on the battlefield by Iraqis.


ANNOUNCER: CNN LIVE this hour, Judy Woodruff reports from Washington with correspondents from around the world. A special edition of INSIDE POLITICS "The War in Iraq" starts right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the war in Iraq. I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington.

Our live cameras, as always, trained on the Baghdad horizon for any sign of new coalition attacks or Iraqi tracer fire. But video from the ground tells another part of the story the damage in the Iraqi capital after a week of U.S.-led air strikes. Within the past two hours, Pentagon officials faced questions about damage in Baghdad, specifically the explosions at a marketplace, in a residential area of the city. They say that that marketplace was not a target.

But officials at Central Command acknowledged firing some precision-guided weapons at nine Iraqi surface-to-surface missiles and launchers. They say that some of those weapons were placed within 300 feet of homes. The Pentagon says it is possible that U.S. air strikes went astray.


MAJ. GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, VICE DR. OPERATIONS, JOINT CHIEFS: We know for a fact that something landed in the shopping district, but we don't know for a fact whether it was U.S. or Iraqi. and we can't make any assumption on either at this point. We do know THAT we did not target anything in the vicinity of the shop district.


WOODRUFF: Iraqi officials saying that 15 people were killed and 30 some others were injured.

Now let's go back to my colleague, Wolf Blitzer, in Kuwait City -- Wolf.

WOLF BLIZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Judy.

The situation remains tense around Nasiriya. That's in southern Iraq. That area has been the scene of some very heavy fighting as coalition forces try to push north toward Baghdad. Let's get the latest now from CNN's Alessio Vinci, he's with the Marines near Nasiriya.


ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): U.S. Marines in Iraq burying the body of a 6-year-old boy, his head facing Mecca, according to Muslim tradition. A casualty of a new kind of war, killed along with his father, as their vehicle approached a Marine checkpoint at high speed. The man, the Marines say, was an armed combatant. Marines say they want to avoid killing civilians, but they pose a threat, commanders say, because Iraqi paramilitary troops recruit them to run scouting missions in U.S.-controlled territory, often accompanied by young children.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some have told us that they've been told, you need to fight. If you don't fight, we'll do something to your family.

VINCI: The danger U.S. military officials say, is that paramilitary groups are conducting guerilla-style warfare against U.S. positions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, we expect that. We're ready for that. And they may want to train -- and they're very well trained in guerrilla warfare. But we're very well trained in anti-guerrilla warfare as well. If they want to come at us with that, we'll be waiting for them.

VINCI: When possible suspects are cuffed and taken in for questioning. Or sometimes civilians are simply sent back from where they come from.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No entry, road closed on this one. VINCI: And to minimize as much as possible contact between civilians and U.S. Marines, the military is putting up signs in Arabic, warning the local population to stay away and remain in their homes.

(on camera): Marines say they do not know how many civilians may have been killed so far, but they say they were surprised to see women and children in the streets of Nasiriya while the fighting was raging on. Clearly, says one commander, there is somebody among the Iraqis who is not concerned about the well being of innocent civilians.

Alessio Vinci, CNN, with the U.S. Marines in Nasiriya, Iraq.


BLITZER: And that situation in Nasiriya, one of several flash points that we've been reporting about over the past several hours. In Basra, in the south, up near Najaf in central Iraq, not far from Baghdad. Judy, as we look at all these military situations develop on the battlefield it looks like a pretty rough situation out there, and probably going to get rougher in the next several days. Back to you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: It sure does, Wolf. It looks like there is a number of question marks. You could say well that's what war is all about. But we are watching it closely. We have an unprecedented, up-front view, if you will, with our reporters on the front lines. So, we're just glad we're able to keep track of it as we are. Wolf Blitzer, thanks very much. We'll come back to you in just a moment.

President Bush, as we were just telling you, not only has to monitor this war going on in Iraq, there are domestic concerns here at home. The president having just come back to Washington to Camp David to get ready for his summit meeting tomorrow with Great Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair. But just a few moments ago, it was reported from the capital that the budget that was passed by the Senate is less than half of what President Bush was asking for. Let's turn to our White House correspondent John King for some reaction. John, have they had time to digest this at the White House?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Judy, they have digested it. They haven't said anything about it yet. I tried to reach, quickly, an official here after John Karl made his report from Capitol Hill on the vote. The official said he was well aware of the vote, and that they would have public reaction perhaps later. Now, they knew this was coming because of the procedural vote yesterday that made clear the president would get less than half of the tax cut he wanted. White House officials said yesterday, Ari Fleischer saying on the record, they hoped the Senate would reconsider. Obviously, that has not happened.

The president's goal now is to get back some of that money. And he will rely, as he is in the past tax cut battles, on the Republicans in the House of Representatives. What the White House says will happen now is they hope the House will pass, essentially, just what the president has asked for. And then we go to conference committee with the House, hopefully, if the administration gets its way, calling for a more than $700 billion tax cut. The Senate calling for less than half that. Administration officials here say in the end they think the president will get at least $500 billion, maybe a little more. Again, this president's strategy now reliant on the Speaker Dennis Hastert and the majority leader Tom Delay.

WOODRUFF: John, overall, what is the White House saying about the progress of the war to this point?

KING: Well, the president's main goal today, Judy, at his trip, he went down to Tampa, Florida, to Central Command headquarters, his main goal in his public remarks was, essentially, to take issue with those who have been taking on the administration and being critical of the war strategy. Mr. Bush was supposed to say that the troops were ahead of schedule. He crossed that line out. Aides said he wanted to be conservative. But he did say that he thought the execution of the battle plan was going quite well. He said some dangerous fights just ahead as the troops now amass just south of Baghdad. Mr. Bush saying he had full confidence in the plan.

He made a point of mentioning Tommy Franks, the commanding general, and talking about his respect and admiration for General Franks. The president not only embraced the battle plan, he also offered his insights today on the tactics we have been seeing from the Iraqi forces. Reports from our correspondents in the field and the Pentagon that Iraqis have been trying to surrender and then firing on U.S. troops, in some sort of a feint, that Iraqis have been using hospitals and schools to hide weapons, and to using hospitals and schools as staging. Mr. Bush saying that offers some insights into the tactics of the regime of Saddam Hussein.


BUSH: In the Early stages of this war, the world is getting a clearer view of the Iraqi regime and the evil at its heart. In the ranks of that regime are men whose idea of courage is to brutalize unarmed prisoners. They wage attacks while posing as civilians. They use real civilians as human shields. They pretend to surrender ...


KING: You heard the president there note of brutal attacks on captives. The administration is looking into a report, unsubstantiated, it doesn't have confirmation just yet that some American troops who tried to surrender were then executed by the Iraqis. White House officials saying this morning the Pentagon is trying to get more information, that there is one report that that has taken place. Officials here saying the president has taken note of that report. And more broadly about the airing on Iraqi TV of interviews with POWs as the president, himself, said today in his speech, he said the day Iraq is liberated will also be a day of justice. The White House says the president, even in private conversation has said he wants anyone, any Iraqi forces that abuse prisoners of war held to account when the hostilities are over -- Judy. WOODRUFF: All right, John King, reporting from the White House. The president now on his way to Camp David if he hasn't already arrived, getting ready for a meeting tomorrow with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Meanwhile, the prime minister today ignored political criticism from the United Nations, from his European allies, even his own party, to join the United States in the war in Iraq. The question is, why did Tony Blair decide to risk his political future by siding with President Bush? Our Bill Schneider has an explanation.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Tony Blair and Bill Clinton? That's easy to get. Skilled politicians leading left of center parties. But Tony Blair and George W. Bush? What's that about? It's not about ideology. Blair and Bush have vastly different political values. It doesn't seem to be personal. In background, style and personality, the two leaders have nothing in common. Well, almost nothing.

BUSH: Well, we both use Colgate toothpaste.

SCHNEIDER: Blair's alliance with Bush seems to endanger his own political interests. Sure, other world leaders support Bush, but they're conservatives like President Asnar of Spain and President Berlusconi of Italy. The war is not popular in Blair's Labor Party.

BILL TYNAN, LABOR MINISTER: We should not go in that direction.

SCHNEIDER: Blair has long been seen as a calculating, poll- driven politician, not a man of conviction. But every poll before this week showed war with Iraq was widely unpopular in Britain. Blair bravely confronted his critics. In the end, Blair took his country into war and look at what happened. The polls turned around, in Blair's favor. Instead of being led by the polls, Blair led the polls. Maybe Blair is a man of conviction. He sees Britain's national security as inextricably linked to the United States'.

(on camera): Many Europeans would like to see Europe divided from the United States, a check on U.S. power in the world. In effect, a Europe united by anti-Americanism. Blair is convinced that division is dangerous. By joining with Bush, he stands firmly against it.

SCHNEIDER: Bill Schneider, CNN Center, Atlanta.


WOODRUFF: Criticism in a time of war, un-American or an American tradition? Our Jeff Greenfield takes a look.

Also ahead, did the U.S. underestimate its opponent's firepower out in the field? Insights from our military analyst when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our coverage of the war in Iraq. I'm Miles O'Brien at the CNN Center. And I'm joined by retired Air Force Major General Don Shepperd, to give you a situation report on a very dynamic situation in Iraq right now. Let's get to the heart of the matter, Don Shepperd. This big red arrow right at the center here, a thrust of some armored column, perhaps as large as 1,000 vehicle, headed right toward the 3-7 Cavalry with our Walt Rodgers. Explain what's going on.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Indeed, reports, early tactical reports -- must be careful, the early tactical reports from people in the field, about a thousand-vehicle column coming from Baghdad to reinforce the Medina division, and directed at the 3rd and the 7th Cav, the lead elements of the 3rd Infantry Division all meeting around between Najaf and Karbala.

MILES: If the numbers are correct, and that bears out, and we're talking about an early south report from the field, would that be quite a match for 3-7, a thousand armored vehicle vehicles?

SHEPPERD: It would be quite a force to deal with. But what the 3rd and the 7th, and the 3rd Infantry would do would call upon support from the air force A-15Es in bad weather, A-10s, AV-8Bs, F-16s, F-18s in good weather, to attack the overwhelming airpower and firepower of the United States would be brought to bear in this situation.

O'BRIEN: What this raises is the issue of the strength of the Iraqi force. Let's take a look at some graphics we have to give you a sense of the size, the breadth and the depth of the Iraqi forces, and, for that matter, the quality as well. Now, according to -- we have some fluctuating numbers we want to tell you about. Right now, we have the Republican Guard, which is the elite. These are volunteers, they are paid and fed and so forth. We have 80,000 here. Is that right?

SHEPPERD: Yeah, we showed 60,000 earlier, 80,000 is probably right now. And we showed originally seven divisions. They're now organized into six divisions with three of them armored divisions.

MILES: OK, 80,000 troops.

SHEPPERD: A formidable force. Well practiced in battle, some very confident generals.

MILES: And probably right at the heart of that big red arrow we were just telling you about. Now, let's talk about the special Republican Guard. And probably in concentric circles, as you get closer to Baghdad, more likely to see that special Republican Guard. Not this visual just yet. If we can give you one more of those graphics to tell you a little bit about the special Republican Guard first?

SHEPPERD: Well it's coming up, I can tell you, the special Republican Guard is the inner circle around Saddam, around the Baghdad area. Basically, around 26,000 troops, maybe more, organized into four brigades. Now a brigade is about 3,000 to 5,000 people, depending on how it's organized, 15 battalions -- 300 to 700 -- plus other support mechanisms. This is an inner circle around Saddam Hussein in the Baghdad area.

MILES: All right. And then the big picture, the Iraqi army. We're talking about conscripts, in some cases very unmotivated, in some cases, likely to walk away from the fight. Nevertheless, 430,000 active troops. That seems like a formidable force.

SHEPPERD: Poorly paid, poorly equipped, being backed up by the Fedayeen Saddam that has been deployed to back them up, give them some backbone and, also, perhaps some elements of the special Republican Guard being deployed down there. We don't know, but this is a formidable force.

MILES: All right, we'll talk about the Fedayeen in just a moment. I want to tell you, first of all, if what you envision is this roll of tanks across the desert, as we have depicted here, not necessarily so. This is probably more out of a movie that you might have seen at one point or another. Because what has happened, as time has gone on, yes there was that open desert beginning to all of this, but as they've gotten closer to the river basin between the Tigris and Euphrates, things have slowed down. And the issue that has come up as we've heard from Martin Savage who is with one of those armored units, is maintaining that supply line. He is with the Marines. Tell us about that.

SHEPPERD: Well, basically, Marty is with the Marines and they are confined to the roads and vicinity of Nasiriya, and moving north from there. And the further you get from your supply bases, the further you get in this case from Kuwait and the base camps, then you have to have the supply line. Look at these tanker trucks. You can imagine these are thin-skinned vehicles. And all of the way, they're subject to sniper attacks, to RPG -- rocket-propelled grenade attacks. It's a long supply line. It's very, very vulnerable. And until you completely secure the rear, which takes some time. But this gas has to move forward for any attack to move forward.

MILES: Thin-skinned vehicles and filled with an explosive chemical. Finally, let me tell you about this Fedayeen and help you understand that. Uday Hussein, son of Saddam Hussein, runs this force. It is irregular to say the least. That's a military term. People drive around in pickup trucks and armed, and so forth. Not a disciplined military group in anyway. But a terrorist organization, taking advantage of that rear echelon and its relative lack of protection.

SHEPPERD: OK. And also embedded with the regular Iraqi army, the poorly paid conscripts out there to give them backbone, and also to threaten to shoot them if they don't fight and they try to surrender.

MILES: All right. Don Shepperd, thanks very much for the overview and the sense of exactly the size of this Iraqi force -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Miles, I can come back with a clarification. I want to make sure I understand General Shepperd to be saying U.S. ir power, he's confident, can take care of whatever is coming south out of Baghdad, even in the middle of a very difficult sandstorm?

SHEPPERD: Well, Judy, I'm never confident to say it can take care of everything, but the supreme advantage of the coalition forces is its air power. Saddam has no air power. And anything that moves day or night or bad weather can be seen by coalition air power. And that air power brought to bear, to soften up the Republican Guards and anything that moves. It's very similar to World War II. Basically, the Germans could not move without being attacked by allied air power.

MILES: One thing to add, though, in a sandstorm, some of that advantage is undermined.

SHEPPERD: Some of it goes away. Any bad weather comes in, and it definitely mucks you up. And, therefore, it's a tough situation.

MILES: Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thank you, both. I was simply asking, given the concern we all heard in the voice of Walter Rodgers when he reported for us just an hour or so ago.

A common refrain since U.S. forces headed into battle has been the request for Americans to unite behind the war effort. Well, our Jeff Greenfield, however, reports that unity is often in short supply on the home front during wartime.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were told that we would then get the big picture ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... a seeming contradiction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... are not hitting their targets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... ones that don't go off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think you made the wrong decision?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What other options are there?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): skeptical questions from the press.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've placed ourselves in a risky proposition ...

GREENFIELD: Somber warnings from the experts. Isn't the country supposed to come together when a war begins? Isn't that part of our history?

(on camera): Well, as a matter of fact, no. Whether it's right or wrong, criticism in wartime is an American tradition. (voice-over): All through the Civil War, Abe Lincoln was savagely attacked as a fool and incompetent leader. In fact, his first commanding general, George McClellan, ran against him in 1864 as a peace candidate. And, but for some victories by General Grant, McClellan might well have won.

All through World War II, FDR's political and journalistic opponents kept up a barrage of criticism. They attacked him for everything from wartime shortages to seeking special favors for his sons in the military. His 1944 rival, Tom dewy, said this is a campaign against an administration which was conceived in defeatism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are fighting in Korea for our own national security and survival.

GREENFIELD: During Korea, President Truman was attacked for pursuing a no-win policy. And when he fired General Douglas McArthur, Truman's foes, brought McArthur to Congress for a speech. Some Republicans even threatened impeachment. In 1952 Korea, corruption and communism was the Republican campaign slogan. As the war in Vietnam dragged on, the opposition grew. Senator Robert Kennedy broke with Johnson. Eugene McCarthy, and then Kennedy challenged him in the primaries.

And the Republican nominee Richard Nixon made Vietnam a campaign issue. He said in his acceptance speech, "If after all this time, and all of the sacrifice and all the support there is still no end in sight, then I say the time has come for the American people to turn to new leadership not tied to the mistakes and policies of the past." And once Nixon became president, Democrats showed no hesitancy in attacking the war, even speaking out at anti-war demonstrations.

(on camera): And as for the press, at one point, during World War II, President Roosevelt got so fed up with one "New York Daily News" columnist that, at a informal White House news conference, he presented that columnist with a medal, an iron cross from Nazi Germany. It's hard to imagine George Bush or Donald Rumsfeld looking for an Iraqi medal to hand out to even the most skeptical member of today's press.

Jeff Greenfield, CNN, New York.


WOODRUFF: But that doesn't mean they're not frustrated with some of what they're seeing and what they are hearing. But the American people have never been shy about speaking up about their views.

If there is second-guessing in the news media, is it affecting public opinion of the war. Our Bill Schneider will be along with the latest poll number numbers when we come back.


WOODRUFF: Given the ever-changing situation on the battlefield in Iraq and the wall-to-wall live television coverage, we're going to be trying to check in regularly on public opinion about this war. As always, our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is keeping tabs on all the latest polls. So, Bill, you've been looking at the one CNN releasing this afternoon. What does it show? Is support for this war holding up?

SCHNEIDER: Judy, yes it is. Despite the fact that fewer Americans believe the war is going well, with 71 percent saying they favor the war, morale on the home front remains high. Now, we also asked people, did the U.S. make a mistake sending troops to Iraq? And the answer was three to one, no. That is a solid vote of confidence in this policy. Gallup has been asking this question for about 50 years. How does this war compare with support for, say, the Vietnam War in 1965, just after the U.S. escalated its troop commitment to Vietnam? Answer, pretty similar. Both Vietnam and Iraq started with about a quarter of Americans believing it was the wrong thing to do. It took three years for a majority of Americans to conclude that the U.S. made a mistake going into Vietnam. Now, let's compare some other war. Support was even higher for the war in Afghanistan in November 2001, 89 percent. No one questioned the connection of the Taliban in Afghanistan to 9/11. Whereas, some Americans do question the connection of Iraq to 9/11. The NATO bombing of Kosovo in 1999 was widely questioned, however, 42 percent of Americans thought that was a mistake. The Persian Gulf War, 1991, that had slightly more support than the war does now in Iraq, only 16 percent of Americans thought it was a mistake when the U.S. went in. The provocation was clear and the rest of the world was with the U.S.

WOODRUFF: So, Bill, when you compare the Persian Gulf War, Desert Storm, 12 years ago, with Iraq, where has the support fallen off the most?

SCHNEIDER: African-Americans. Among whites, support for the war in Iraq is nearly as high as it was for the Gulf War. But among African-American, support is much lower, 60 percent for the Gulf War, 30 percent for the war in Iraq. I think that has a lot to do with African-Americans' hostility towards this President Bush. Many blacks suspect this war may be fought for political reaons.

WOODRUFF: And, Bill, as you look at these latest polls, are there danger signs in here for the Bush administration?

SCHNEIDER: Judy, look at this finding from today's New York Times/CBS news poll, 61 percent of Americans say the Bush administration has not clearly explained how long the war will last. And 71 percent say the administration has not clearly explained how many American troops may be killed. Now, that suggests a potential credibility gap. Many Americans don't feel the administration is telling them enough.

Now, when asked those questions, the administration often says, we don't know. Now, there's no evidence that it is hurting support for the war, but it does present a problem. Americans want a realistic picture of this war's costs. The administration has begun sending out the message already that it could be long and difficult.

WOODRUFF: And that's right. The president himself said today, when he went to Florida and spoke at CENTCOM headquarters -- he said, this war is going -- it's making progress. But, he said, it could be a long one.

All right, Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

We are going to update the headlines after a quick break.

Also ahead: Our Walter Rodgers with the Army's 37th Cavalry, he reports on Iraqi troop movements south of Baghdad.


WOODRUFF: As we continue our coverage of the war in Iraq, I'm joined from Capitol Hill by Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. He's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is also a Vietnam War veteran.

Senator, we see public opinion polls today showing that the number of people who believe support for the war -- or who believe -- let me rephrase that -- people who believe the war is going very well has slipped in the last few days, as we have seen difficulties on the battlefield. How do you see this war going?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Well, Judy, we're only one week into this war.

I think you start with this very clear premise about war. It's unpredictable. It's complicated. It's dangerous. And you have to always assume worst-case scenarios. We're engaged now in a very significant battle across Iraq. I suspect there were some surprises early on that the Iraqi forces put up more of a fight in the south than we had anticipated. But that's war.

So you can't judge this in the first seven days. It's going to be a long-term commitment, as the president has said. In the end, our forces will win. But we want to win so that we have something at the end of that victory to build on. And that means we want to keep world opinion with us. We want to minimize deaths. We want to minimize collateral damage and we want to minimize civilian losses in Iraq.

WOODRUFF: Senator, did the administration in any way underestimate the will to fight, the determination of Saddam Hussein and his forces to hold onto power and to hold onto their country?

HAGEL: Judy, that's an element that you can never predict. You can go back and look at Vietnam. You can go back centuries of warfare. And when you're dealing with the human dynamic, it's very unpredictable.

And the fact is, most of the Muslim world and the Arab world sees the United States not always in a positive light. And we need to understand that dynamic going in. The motives that we have, the nobleness of our efforts, aren't always understood by others. And that has to be factored in. So, again, you always go into a war assuming the worst. And if the worst doesn't come, then that's a bonus. But you have to be prepared for every uncertainty. WOODRUFF: I guess my question is, is, do you think administration leaders did assume the worst?

HAGEL: Well, I have to believe that they did. We have some very experienced leaders involved here. Our military's the best in the world. When you look at Tommy Franks and his commanders -- Tommy Franks, as a matter of fact, was in Vietnam in the 9th Infantry Division the same year I was, the same unit. These are men who have dedicated their lives to strategy and planning. So I have to have every confidence that they did factor in these things.

WOODRUFF: Do you have any doubt, Senator, that the coalition forces, U.S.-led forces, will prevail, as the president is saying?

HAGEL: I have no doubt we will prevail. As I said, it's always, at what cost? What do you have at the end?

You have to remember, what begins in Baghdad does not end in Baghdad, because after this is over, after Saddam Hussein is gone, we, the United States, are going to be responsible for rebuilding Iraq. That's going to take an immense amount of commitment from the United Nations, our allies, our friends, our supporters, the Arab community around the world. And we have to remember, that's the end game as well, not just replacing Saddam and getting ahold of those weapons of mass destruction, if they're there, but then what happens the next morning.

WOODRUFF: Cautionary words from Capitol Hill from Senator Chuck Hagel, who is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thank you very much.

HAGEL: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: And the senator, of course, saw action in Vietnam. He is a veteran of the Vietnam War.

As we've been reporting, U.S. forces in central Iraq have detected new movement by the Iraqi forces.

A little while ago, our Walter Rodgers reported on the latest intelligence gathered by the U.S. Army's 37th Cavalry.


WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A major column of Iraqi elite troops are moving south from Baghdad in the general direction of An Najaf. There are said to be 1,000 vehicles in that convoy.

Because of the dust storms, it's difficult to get an exact fix on the types of armored vehicles, which are moving southward out of Baghdad. But a while ago, they were in Al Hillah, and that is very close to the 7th Cavalry's position.

There was a bit of scramble at the 7th Calvary tactical operations post. However, in the meantime, the Army has managed to bring up substantial reinforcements, although, you know, the Cavalry was a little thin earlier in the afternoon when this information was first gleaned.

Still, it is a situation to be concerned about. Air cover -- air strikes were called in a short while ago. It is not known at this point whether the Iraqis would attack the U.S. units here in a sand storm and at night, but that's a possibility and everyone is sitting on a very tight hair-trigger where we are.

I think this is serious, because, in some respects, those vehicles were pretty good, the old Soviet vehicles. We can't tell the precise configuration of the vehicles because of the sand storm, which is blowing. It just reduced visibility to 75 meters.

So we're talking about basically overhead air surveillance, peering down through the sands at the column. But it is a very substantial column. And it moved very rapidly when it first came out of Baghdad, anywhere between 30 and 60 kilometers an hour. That's quite fast. They were headed due south from Baghdad, in almost on a straight course, collision course, with the 7th Cavalry and the 3rd Infantry Division.

As for quality of those troops, we're told they are Republican Guard units, that's some of the best Saddam has.

And indeed, it is a serious threat to the area we're in. We believe that we will probably come under attack some time this evening. But what we've discovered now is additionally, Saddam Hussein's generals are throwing some of his better troops forward to stiffen the spine of his regular troops in cities like An Najaf and As Samawah, and going to down to Nasiriyah, all the way over to Basra.

So he is mixing his tactics this time. He's showing a fair amount of imagination in terms of his line of attack.

And one very important thing that we're seeing now is that the Iraqis are conducting a war of attrition against the United States military, which is pushing northward, that war of attrition being a kind of guerrilla warfare, where they send suicide buses into the side of a Bradley fighting vehicle, trying to knock out a tank here, a fighting vehicle there, another tank here.

And the idea, trying to break the morale and reduce the fighting power of the United States before the U.S. Army and the Marines get close to his crack units outside Baghdad.


WOODRUFF: That's CNN's Walter Rodgers. He's with the 37th Cavalry of the Army.

And, as you heard, he's telling us about an Iraqi column moving south out of Baghdad. Clearly, this has got to be the focus of U.S. and coalition forces over there, that report from Walter Rodgers filed just about 3 1/2 hours ago. And, of course, we'll bring you any more information on any movement just as soon as we get it. Just ahead: weapons of mass destruction -- and as the battles rage, insight from our military analyst on the hunt for Iraq's suspected stockpiles.


WOODRUFF: Here on the home front, the war in Iraq, as it turns out, is hurting the nation's domestic airline industry. And an industry group says that a crisis may be around the corner.

Let's check in with CNN's Patty Davis.

Patty Davis, it really that bad?

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, the airlines say that passenger travel has really plummeted in the past week or so. And that is due as a direct consequence of the U.S. war with Iraq.

Overall, passenger travel plummeted 10 percent last week. Now, the air travel picture gets even worse looking ahead 60 to 90 days. Advance bookings are showing a more than 20 percent drop in domestic travel, a more than 40 percent drop in international bookings for overseas Atlantic travel. Now, the Air Transport Association, who came out with those numbers today, says that, on some days, some carriers report having more cancellations than bookings for the same flight.

We've also seen some 10,000 jobs cut in the past week by the airlines. And the industry has predicted that that number could climb to as much as 70,000 lost jobs due to the war. The airlines are pushing very hard on Congress for some help. And they want Congress to give them a temporary tax holiday from things like the jet fuel tax. They also want Congress to pick up the cost of aviation security things, like hardened cockpit doors.

Delta's CEO, Leo Mullin, made the airline's case today, saying they are not looking for a bailout.


LEO MULLIN, CEO, DELTA: Our current contention is not for anything like a bailout at all. All we're asking is that the government pay for the security which the government has imposed, appropriately, on the airline industry. And so that isn't a case of a bailout. That's asking for payment for services rendered.


DAVIS: Now, Mullin's and the airlines' appeal for government aid comes one day after Delta revealed that it awarded millions of dollars in bonuses to executives last year, Mullin himself receiving a $1.4 million bonus.

Congress seems to be somewhat open to the idea of helping airlines. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said yesterday that he does expect Congress to pass legislation to help the airlines. And today, Senator John McCain, a key aviation leader in Congress, said that he thinks he and fellow senators will come up with a modest aid package. But others are saying, much of the airlines' troubles are their own doing, Judy. And they say, if they go bankrupt, let it be.

WOODRUFF: And, Patty, this is across the board with the airlines, right? We're not talking about just one or two airlines?

DAVIS: No, we're talking all the major airlines. Except Southwest and JetBlue seem to be doing OK. They're still hurting. But the major airlines -- we're talking American Airlines now teetering on bankruptcy, United perhaps teetering on liquidation. So they're in real bad financial trouble.

WOODRUFF: All right, some grim, grim news here in the United States.

All right, Patty Davis, thank you very much.

Marines have found 3,000 chemical protective suits and nerve agent antidote injectors in a hospital in southern Iraq. Now, this discovery is raising concerns about the potential of weapons of mass destruction.

Our Miles O'Brien is in Atlanta. And he has more on this.

O'BRIEN: Thanks very much, Judy.

That is a troubling thing, to see that and hear that. With me is retired General Don Shepperd with the U.S. Air Force to talk about the prospect of chemical weapons.

And, certainly, as U.S. forces move toward this center of gravity, which is Baghdad, the possibility of that coming into play becomes greater, unfortunately, doesn't it?

SHEPPERD: Indeed it does. Our two fears are house-to-house fighting and use of weapons of mass destruction. We've seen the chemical stuff, suits and stuff, at Nasiriyah having been discovered. We're afraid they may employ this now.

O'BRIEN: Plus the antidote to nerve gas. And since the Iraqis know we don't have it in our arsenal, one has to make the assumption that the Iraqi use was contemplated.

SHEPPERD: Indeed. Indeed.

O'BRIEN: Let's run you through a scenario, a grim scenario albeit, which explains what we might be talking about.

This is a hypothetical scenario. This is a device called a multiple -- you do it.

SHEPPERD: MLRS, multiple launch rocket system. And, basically, most of them are BM-21s. It's the hail system, if you will. It's four rows of 10 rocket tubes each, fires a 9-foot rocket, can fire it seven to eight miles. A battalion of these, a battalion of rocket launchers, can fire up to 720 rockets and cover a large area on the ground.

O'BRIEN: All right, so, if those were chemical-tipped, imagine what might happen. And this is the scenario which we're telling you: a launch from Baghdad of a chemical-tipped rocket. On it goes to U.S. troops, which presumably would be wearing chemical protection here. And as it comes down, it disperses. It explodes above the ground, correct?

SHEPPERD: Yes. It can either hit the ground or disperse above the ground, either way. You screw off these rocket warheads, change them from explosive to these gas warheads. And now you cover the battlefield with poisonous gas, V.X.

O'BRIEN: All right, so a likely scenario. In this case, of course, once those rockets are launched, it becomes a target very quickly, doesn't it?

SHEPPERD: It does. And, hopefully, you get them before they're launched. But the idea is, we're going to kill these rocket launchers no matter where they are, as soon as we can find them.

O'BRIEN: All right, this would be a targeting scenario. This particular helicopter is a helicopter that has a laser-guidance system or a laser designator, I guess is


SHEPPERD: This is one way you can do it, from a helicopter. You can do it ground, forward air controller, self-lasing from an aircraft itself, basically looking for these, cued by other systems. You drop a guided weapon, in this case, a laser-guided weapon, and try to hit the launcher.

O'BRIEN: And, of course, that, in and of itself, could cause a chemical cloud, unfortunately.

Quickly, let's go through the inventory of potential chemical weapons in Saddam Hussein's arsenal. Ricin, which is a nerve agent, correct?

SHEPPERD: Yes, indeed.

O'BRIEN: All right, ricin, is that a biological or a chemical agent?

SHEPPERD: Basically, ricin is a biological agent, is what it amounts to, yes.

O'BRIEN: OK. All right, let's move on. The next chemical agent that we want to tell you about is mustard gas, which he used...

SHEPPERD: Mustard gas. This is a blister agent, a blister agent.

O'BRIEN: Right, used in the Iran-Iraq war.

SHEPPERD: Think of it as World War I, used in the Iran-Iraq war as well.


O'BRIEN: Sometimes it can be fatal, right?

SHEPPERD: Yes, indeed.

O'BRIEN: And, finally, one that perhaps could more likely. We don't know. It was used on the Kurds, we know, 15 years ago this month, V.X.

SHEPPERD: Yes. This is one that they are most likely to employ on the Iraqi side, V.X. They also have tabun and sarin, but this is one we would likely see.

O'BRIEN: All right, that's it for now. Don Shepperd, thanks very much. Grim details, but good explanation on how that might come into play. Let's hope it doesn't.


O'BRIEN: All right, let's send it back to Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Miles and General Shepperd. Pretty awful stuff we're hearing about. Let's pray it's never used.

Still to come: protests abroad. Anti war rallies draw more demonstrators to the streets of cities around the world.


WOODRUFF: There have been protests around the world ever since this war got under way. More protests overseas actually turned violent in several places today, including Sydney, Australia. And protesters in several cities burned American flags.

CNN's Tony Campion reports.


TONY CAMPION, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The most violent anti-war protests yet. Australian police arrested 45 this Wednesday, as civil disorder erupted. Thousands demonstrated in Sydney. There were also rowdy protests in Brisbane, Melbourne, and Perth, citizens unhappy with Australia's decision to send 2,000 troops to fight alongside coalition forces -- similar scenes in South Korea, where public demonstrations often turn violent.

Police detained 30 students who tried to break into the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. And this man dressed as George Bush and wielding an imitation machine gun took on a symbol of America. Firefighters brought him down. He was led away. In predominantly Muslim Bangladesh, protesters tried to break through barricades around the U.S. Embassy in the capital of Dhaka. And in the Philippines, local tribes people rallied near the U.S. Embassy in Manila, burning the stars and stripes. Police kept demonstrators some 200 meters from the embassy itself.

In the world's largest Muslim nation, Indonesia, a peaceful protest march chose the British Embassy as its destination, though posters marked an apparently bloodthirsty U.S. leader, all this after more protests across India on Tuesday. They've been growing in momentum there, ever since war broke out.

Tony Campion, CNN.


WOODRUFF: Those protests fairly violent around the globe today.

Well, here in the United States, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said that the live battlefield reports are offering just slices of the war in Iraq. Many Americans know that, but, still, they are putting those slices together to shape their opinions and their emotions.

Our Candy Crowley checks in on the mood across this country.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It has been a full week, 24/7 television, blanket coverage in the papers. The fortunes of war have played out, good, bad, ugly, fearful, courageous, inexplicable. And inside Carmine's Restaurant in Tampa, bartender has heard changes on the home front as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think a lot of people now realize that this is the real thing. People have lost their lives. And now we have some POWs as well. Yes, not as enthused, I guess, as we were a week ago.

CROWLEY: Fifteen hundred miles west, you can hear Florida's echo at a flower sharp in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought it would be a little more quicker, a little more swift. I thought it would end by now, just like down, just go in and come out and that's it.

CROWLEY: Reality has come to call. Just last weekend, 53 percent of Americans said the war was going very well; 37 percent said moderately well. Monday and Tuesday, the very-well category dropped 19 points. Most Americans now assess the war as going moderately well. No analysis needed -- the reason is evident at the newsstand, no farther away than the remote control.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This week, I guess I got a little worried because what's happening as they get closer to Baghdad. I think everything that's happening with soldiers captured -- they got some of our soldiers. And that's the thing that really got to me. I really started worrying then.

CROWLEY: At Veterans Barber Shop near the base at Fort Stewart, Georgia, they think the changing mood is not so much impatience as naivete.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of them thought it would be just be a picnic. But a war is never a picnic. Any time you got a war, you got casualties. You can count on that.

CROWLEY: Still, despite the painful images of the real cost of war, a large majority of Americans, 68 percent, believe the situation in Iraq is worth going to war for. That's a 25 percent jump from pre- war days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. Otherwise, it just opens the door to more terrorists. And we've got to protect our own country. It's not about oil. It's not about anything other than protecting America.


CROWLEY: High support for the war and the president reflect the natural tendency of Americans to support their government in crisis times. Pollsters call that the rally effect, which, so far, reality has failed to touch -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And, Candy, history shows that reality has an effect at what point?

CROWLEY: Well, over time. I think it shows that three years into Vietnam is when you really started seeing those things turn. It's hard to tell whether it's going to be duration or what actually the specific acts and what happens.

WOODRUFF: OK, Candy Crowley, with a look across the country, thanks very much.

And that wraps up our coverage this hour.


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