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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

British Military Officials Say Port City of Umm Qasr Secure

Aired March 26, 2003 - 04:33   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And here's what's happening at this hour, the latest developments in the war against Iraq.
After -- excuse me. After a fierce battle with Iraqi forces, British military officials say the port city of Umm Qasr is now secure. Here's the pictures from Tuesday. British forces walking through the streets.

It is Iraq's only Persian Gulf port, very significant. Coalition forces plan to bring humanitarian aid into Iraq through the port. A British general just a short while said he believes that will be -- start happening Thursday.

Iraqi television moved on to the coalition target list. The Pentagon confirms a Tomahawk cruise missile struck the building this morning. The programming was knocked off the air for a few hours. We just saw satellite Iraqi TV back on the air.

One senior U.S. official says Iraqi TV has always been a target, but, until now, it was seen as beneficial to leave it up and running. No word on what's going to happen now that it is back on the air, at least satellite TV.

In northern Iraq where Iraqi forces face Kurdish fighters, coalition air strikes have targeted some of the Iraqi command bunkers. CNN's Kevin Sites is in the Kurdish-controlled area and reports seeing at least six air strikes on the Iraqi positions this morning. We have been bringing that to you live all morning long.

And we have reports of a massive uprising by the civilian population in Basra against the Iraqi regime. Now that is according to British military officials at Central Command. Iraqi officials deny the report. We'll get you more as we get it. It could be very significant, however.

The Pentagon says coalition forces killed as many as 300 Iraqis Tuesday in a battle in the Euphrates Valley east of Najaf. Coalition forces reported no casualties, but some combat vehicles were lost.

Iraqi forces disabled two U.S. M1A1 Abrams tanks on Tuesday. An officer with the Army's 7th Cavalry tells CNN no soldiers were hurt in the attacks. That's a graphic of the M1A1 Abrams.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And let's update you on the action we've been seeing this morning. We want to take you to the Kurdish part of Iraq, northern Iraq, and Brent Sadler who is in Kalak.

And, Brent, you heard the air strikes that were actually happening not far from you.

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Carol. No aircraft activity in the past few hours.

But, early on today, as my colleague Kevin Sites is reporting, a significant change in what we've been seeing since the war began on Iraq, consists of air strikes, air activity overhead on the northern front.

Now that change in tactics, if you like, in this area has coincided with calls from Iraq's main opposition groups that the U.S. should start acknowledging that the Iraqi opposition could play a higher-profile role in trying to defeat Saddam Hussein's forces, not least by helping foment opposition's popular uprisings in some of the main cities, particularly Basra.

We know there's a popular uprising going on there and perhaps in other cities, the key northern ones being Kirkuk and Mosul.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SADLER (voice-over): In northern Iraq, a growing sense of frustration among Iraq's armed opposition groups. Their leaders meeting in the Kurdish stronghold of Salahuddin, some 250 miles north of Baghdad.

Praise around this table for stunning coalition advances on the battlefield, but sharp criticism, too. American-led planning, they claim, is failing to make the most of what they have to offer.

And a message for President George W. Bush.

JALAL TALABANI, PATRIOTIC UNION KURDISTAN: I hope that he will understand the importance of the Iraqi opposition very soon and order for full cooperation of, of course, with Iraqi who are in a position to end the war as soon as possible.

SADLER: In other words, opposition groups, including these Kurds, awaiting a call to arms. Their leaders insisting it's a mistake for American and British troops to fight dying remnants of Iraq's regime alone.

AHMAD CHALABI, IRAQI NATIONAL CONGRESS: There are forces in the South. There are people in the cities who are ready to move forward. The Americans make an appeal to people to stay at home.

The job of dealing with Saddam's thugs who are now attacking American troops in the South is not for American forces. It is for the Iraqi people and for the forces led by the leadership of the opposition.

SADLER: In the first open sign the U.S. Central Command may be listening, a Marine Corps general has begun leading efforts to help coordinate activity, particularly along this this largely inactive northern front. Quiet now, but that could change. HOSHAR ZABARI, KDP SPOKESMAN: I think you need to bring more pressure from all directions, and that's why this front is needed, because it goes to the heart of Saddam Hussein regime.

SADLER: And could lead to the final collapse of his command and control.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SADLER: Now what we're seeing on the ground here is that, despite the opposition groups that you've heard there complaining about Iraqi is not being involved in the fight for liberation of Iraq as a whole, the Kurdish forces in this area that they control are very much coordinating and liaisoning with U.S. special forces that are on the ground here.

Those U.S. special forces are being slowly increased in strength. We understand they're flying into an air strip in covert deployments at nighttime and really putting more forward air controllers into the -- if you like, the line of battle, possibly why we're seeing these air strikes on these front-line positions over the past several hours.

Also, the Kurds working with special forces on the means to encourage Iraqi defections among the three Army corps, about 120,000 men behind the lines in Saddam Hussein's controlled area. The officers there, 60 percent or 70 percent of them, it's thought by Kurdish intelligence, to be really diehard Saddam Hussein loyalists.

So, while you've got the opposition complaining on the one hand, you do have the key involvement already on the ground here with U.S. special-force personnel in an attempt to soften up target and to really pull the rug from under the command and control structure of Saddam Hussein on his side of the lines behind me.

Back to you, Carol.

COSTELLO: Brent, I'm just curious. If the Kurds do join the fight, who would command them and how would they be integrated into the coalition?

SADLER: Well, already the Kurds have said that they've put their entire peshmurger (ph) -- that translates into those who face death -- their peshmurger (ph) forces under the command and control of the U.S. military.

We saw now a U.S. Marine Corps general is leading the coordination between the Kurds and U.S. Central Command on several fronts, not least to try and put pressure on this northern front, also to perhaps use the Kurds, if these lines collapse under any increased bombing, that the Kurds under U.S. Command could move into Kirkuk and Mosul, which, of course, they know very well.

They've got their own eyes and ears inside those cities through their own opposition supporters still inside those two major towns. So you've got that going on the one hand. And I think it's really interesting, Carol, to point out now that we do expect to see Turkish forces, if we are to believe what the Turkish military is saying, coming into up to about 20 kilometers, 13 miles into northern Iraq.

The Kurds have been saying and still say they will oppose such an intervention, as they call it, but you might see in the final analysis a kind of balance -- an uneasy balance perhaps -- between the Turks putting themselves in here under U.S. coordination, the Kurds under the wing, the umbrella of the United States Central Command which already has an American general on the ground, perhaps be able to balance out those conflicting interests between the Turks and the Kurds and also to be able to create the kind of situation here where we can stabilize this area, use the forces for pressure on Saddam Hussein, and really in the end -- in the end game perhaps, push from these areas in the North, if sufficient U.S. personnel come on the ground with the kind of heavy equipment needed, push through those northern towns, and really put a nutcracker movement on Baghdad. That perhaps what's we might see.

Back to you, Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Brent Sadler reporting live from Kalak in northern Iraq.

COOPER: All right. We're going to check in with Bob Franken who is at an air base near the Iraqi border.

Bob, what's the latest?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, I figured we get it right here later. The latest is this.

At this air base near the Iraq border, about a third of the flights had to be canceled in the 24-hour reporting period. That was the last one. Instead of 300 or so that they were going to have, it was around the 200 mark. We know why.

The weather has just been awful. The sandstorms, wind, rain. It has really had a big effect, particularly from here, because this is the air base that is, to a large degree, supporting the ground troops, and the ground troops, of course, have been affected both by the weather and the fact that they oftentimes were not able to get the original planned air support.

Now a lot of things have been affected. We were part of a group yesterday that was heading to a newly captured Iraqi air base in the country, but there were very serious hostilities. So the ground movement had to be stopped.

Now the reason for the ground movement: because the weather had made flying up there prohibitive. In fact, for a variety reasons, they weren't able to fly in. So we were -- we had to come back. Enemy fire made it impossible for us to go forward.

So the weather is affecting everything. It's expected, Anderson, to continue for the next day or so, and it is one of the things -- even with all the high tech that the United States military has, the weather is something that you can only do so much about -- Anderson.

COOPER: Bob, it's my understanding that, on Tuesday, coalition aircraft flew about 1,500 sorties. Do you have -- and I also was sort of led to believe that about half of those were targeting the elite -- or so-called elite Republican Guard units. Is that still the case? Is that -- are we going to see more and more of that sort of close air support being called in?

FRANKEN: Well, the close air support is what they do here, and, as the ground forces engage and right prior to when they engage the Republican Guard unit, that's what you'll get here.

This particular air base is noted mostly for its collection of A10s. By now, you know that that those are the Warthogs, they call them, the anti-attack weapons. They have really a devastating effect on the ground.

So they will get a lot of activity here as the Republican Guard is being targeted, along with any other troops that are needed that the United States is taking on.

COOPER: And I should just note that the A10 Warthogs that Bob just mentioned -- Walter Rodgers yesterday had told us that in that-- the various incidents that he and the 7th Cavalry have been engaged in -- they have called in close air support from A10 Warthogs. Don't know if they came from Bob's base or not, but just one more -- one more note on the close air support.

Bob Franken, thanks very much -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. I believe we're taking a break now. Is that correct? We're going to a break. We'll be back with much more for you. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Four forty-five Eastern Time. Welcome back to our coverage on the war on Iraq. We went ahead live to Washington right now to check i our with our White House Correspondent Dana Bash.

The president has a busy schedule today, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He sure does, Carol. Today, for the second day in a row, we're going to see the president meeting with his troops, the commander in chief with his troops.

The president is really using the bully pulpit to show and to say, to really make the case, that, despite the fact that we are seeing some casualties on the battlefield, prisoners of war, sandstorms, he is intentionally making the case out there that there is progress being made in the war.

And, yesterday, at the Pentagon, he made a statement that -- we're likely to hear at least similar things today -- saying that the U.S. coalition is going strong and has so far been very successful on the war front.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're fighting an enemy that knows no rules of law, that will wear civilian uniforms, that are will to kill in order to continue the reign of fear of Saddam Hussein, but we're fighting them with bravery and courage. We cannot know the duration of this war, yet we know its outcome. We will prevail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Later today, we will see more images of the president with the troops. He is going to -- going to go down to Tampa, Florida. This will be his first domestic travel outside of the Washington area in more than a month.

Now Tampa, Florida, is -- in Tampa, Florida, is the home of Central Command, and that is where General Tommy Franks generally hangs his hat. He, of course, is directing the war for the United States, but he is now doing that in region in Doha, Qatar.

But the president is going to go down and meet with some of the brass at Central Command in Tampa, Florida. He's going to have lunch with the troops, and, of course, make a speech once again.

Now, tonight, he is going to have another very important meeting. He is going to meet with his top ally in this effort, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The two men will meet at Camp David beginning tonight to discuss war strategy, of course.

But they are also, we are told, by both U.S. and British sources going to talk about reconstruction plans, what to do, how to deal with the post-war Iraq. That is going to be on the top of the agenda, certainly for Prime Minister Tony Blair, and also for President Bush.

Prime Minister Tony Blair made very clear yesterday that he wants a post-war Iraq to be sort of governed by and involved with the United Nations. That is something that we are told he is going to press the president to deal with, to try to go through the U.N.

So a very busy day ahead for the president. It's a very busy couple of days ahead for the president, as we see a lot more of him these days than we have over the past week, certainly since the war started -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes. I was wondering about that. You probably watched the Pentagon briefing yesterday. It was rather contentious when reporters were asking the question of this Shock and Awe campaign and saying it doesn't shock and awe as much as expected, and perhaps the president didn't prepare the American people properly for this war on Iraq.

BASH: Well, you know, when you ask administration officials about that -- and, as you said, you heard it at the Pentagon briefing, and you even heard it at the White House briefing yesterday. They are -- say very much that they believe that the president and all of his top aides did prepare America for it, and they say that they believe that -- that they made very clear that -- what war is, and you heard Secretary Rumsfeld, as you said, yesterday making it clear that anybody who thought that this would be a cake walk doesn't understand what war means.

But -- but, again, some Democrats particularly have been pointing to remarks that Vice President Dick Cheney made -- I think it was last Sunday -- saying that they -- he believed that this could be a short event and perhaps the Republican Guard would fall pretty quickly.

So there sort of have been mixed comments perhaps, but the administration is making very clear that they believe that they have always made the case that war is a long process, and, certainly, since at least last Saturday -- I think that was day three of the war -- the president used his radio address to make clear that he wanted Americans to realize that this could be a very long process and a dangerous one.

COSTELLO: Certainly so.

Dana Bash reporting live from Washington this morning.

COOPER: And, you know, Dana reporting that British Prime Minister Tony Blair is going to be coming to meet with the president.

Yesterday, Blair was telling reporters he was thinking that some Iraqis were not for publicly coming forward and speaking up and taking to the streets against these irregular forces because in the past, in 1991, in Basra, for instance, when the -- when some of the Shia did uprise, they weren't supported by outside forces, and he gave a message to -- to those Iraqis.

Today, he said, "My message" -- yesterday, he said, "My message to them today is that this time we will not let you down, Saddam and his regime will be removed, Iraq will have a better future ahead." That was British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

COSTELLO: And perhaps they're listening because what's going on in Basra right now -- at least we have reports of Iraqi people revolting against Saddam Hussein's forces there.

COOPER: That's right. British military officials telling reporters that, in Basra, there is some sort of an uprising. It's a little bit confusing at this point, not clear how big it is, exactly who is involved.

Bbut it seems that there is some sort of uprising by some of the Shia population there against these irregular forces, which, as we've been reporting over the last 24 hours or so, have retreated back into the city and are trying to blend with the civilian population and, some say, use them as human shields essentially and draw coalition forces into some sort of street fighting.

That doesn't seem to be happening. There seems to be some sort of an uprising. So perhaps some good news for coalition forces coming out of Basra.

And we will be following that in the next 24 hours or so.

Let's get more right now on the day's major developments on the war in Iraq.

CNN's Miles O'Brien has our recap.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Recapping developments in the past few hours.

1:55 p.m. Eastern Time, 11 U.S. troops injured in Iraq arrive for treatment at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

4:50 p.m., U.S. authorities said Marines seized a hospital in Nasiriyah and captured nearly 170 Iraqi soldiers who had been staging military operations from the facility. They also confiscated 3,000 chemical protection suits.

5:33 p.m., Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr reports what may be the biggest ground-to-ground battle so far in the war under way south of Baghdad. Early reports indicate there may be 150 to 200 Iraqi casualties happening near the City of Karbala. No reports yet of coalition forces killed or wounded.

6:10 p.m. Eastern, more details are emerging about an uprising in the southern city of Basra. British pool reporter Richard Gaisford, embedded with the United Kingdom troops, reports Shia residents are clashing with Iraqi soldiers. A missile strike was called in that destroyed Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party headquarters.

6:14, Gary Tuchman says tropical storm force winds and heavy rains have limited the number of U.S. sorties flown from an air base where he's embedded near the Iraqi border.

8:55 p.m. Eastern, 4:55 a.m. in Iraq, several explosions are heard in Baghdad, and smoke is seen rising from Iraqi TV buildings and the ministry of information. Pentagon sources confirm Iraqi TV was the target of a coalition strike. Iraqi TV's satellite signal becomes intermittent, and the station's domestic land signal is off the air.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And we should point out -- an update on that -- Iraqi television is now back on the air. At least Iraqi satellite television. We showed you some of the broadcasts that they were seeing at this moment just a little while ago, and broadcasting resumed just a few hours ago, we are told.

Let's take a short break. We'll be right back. More on the war on Iraq.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COSTELLO: And some positive news for coalition forces this morning. The port city of Umm Qasr now completely under control of coalition forces, and, also, the waters around Umm Qasr cleared of mines so that those humanitarian ships can come in and start delivering humanitarian aid into the people -- humanitarian aid into Iraq for the Iraqi people.

COOPER: Yes, the British official telling a reporter just a short time ago that they hope that by Thursday is when the first shipment of aid will actually come in, said there are still some -- perhaps one or two people here and there -- small pockets of resistance.

But, by and large, the city is secure. That the word that came out just a couple of hours from British officials.

COSTELLO: And, of course, a lot of humanitarian aid waiting to be delivered in Kuwait. That's, of course, where Daryn Kagan is now.

Good morning, Daryn.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Or, actually, good afternoon. By this point, it's almost 1:00 in the afternoon here in Kuwait City on Wednesday.

You mentioned humanitarian aid. There is a lot of it in this country, stockpiled and waiting to get across the border, as you mentioned, waiting for it to be safe because it's been frustrating for the folks trying to get that to totem.

Let's take a look at that, and then we'll have an interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN (voice-over): With fighting intensifying around Basra, humanitarian officials worried about a crisis worsening in Iraq's second largest city: 1.7-million people without electricity and clean water. The fighting makes it impossible for aid to get in, and that makes the United Nations Secretary General angry.

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL: And I think a city that size cannot afford to go without electricity or water for long. Apart from the water aspect, you can imagine what it does to sanitation.

KAGAN: Two hundred thirty kilometers, or about 140 miles, south of Basra, the volunteers of the Kuwait Red Crescent hope the opportunity to move help across the border will come soon.

The supplies are all donated, but they won't go anywhere until the U.S. military and the Kuwaiti government determine its safe to cross into Iraq, frustration shared by aid organizations across the region.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We also have to go through the security issue and make sure that even if we have the things on the truck ready to go, they will only go when we know that the convoy is safe. KAGAN: While they wait for that green light, the Kuwaiti Red Crescent volunteers load not only supplies but good wishes to the people who are supposed to be their enemies to the North.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This sign shows it's from Kuwait. "We dedicate this food from the Kuwaiti people to our brothers in Iraq." The Iraqi people are suffering, and they are human beings. So we are helping our brothers and sisters there. Nothing more, nothing less.

KAGAN: Compassion from Kuwaitis who remember what it means to be desperate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: And for more on this, we have with us right now the public health minister of Kuwait, Dr. Mohammed Al-Jarallah.

Dr. Jarallah, thank you for being with us. Pleasure to have you.

What's you -- what is the latest you're hearing on when, in fact, this humanitarian aid will be to go through Kuwait into Iraq?

DR. MOHAMMED AL-JARALLAH, KUWAITI MINISTER OF HEALTH: Well, we -- as I mentioned, we have already sent them yesterday. This convoy consists of eight trucks and four ambulances, carrying around 12 tons of medical aid. It is now stalled in what we call administrative area on the Kuwaiti border.

KAGAN: Right on the border. When will it be able to cross the border?

(CROSSTALK)

JARALLAH: ... by tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, we'll get the clearance from the coalition to let -- to give us the green light for -- to continue our mission inside the Iraqi -- across the Iraqi border.

KAGAN: I think people around the world -- I think, certainly, back in the United States -- are fascinated with the idea that even after what happened 12 years ago, how Iraq came and invaded your country, and all the death and devastation, the pain that it caused, the Kuwaiti people still have in their hearts to help the Iraqi people.

JARALLAH: Well, I think this is a very natural reaction, and we do have the very good feeling for the Iraqi people. We know that they are suffering a lot, like we have suffered in the past for the -- for the dark seven months we were invaded by the Iraqi regime.

The Iraqi people -- they are suffering until now for decades by this -- by this dictator, and I think we have -- we should help them by all means. That's why you know that we have now an emergency state in the medical stores in Kuwait City so as to make -- to push as much as we could from -- for medical aids for the liberated in Iraq, of course, with the help of the coalition and American people there. KAGAN: To get it. So, as soon as you get the green light, you're ready to go.

JARALLAH: Oh, yes.

KAGAN: We wish you well.

JARALLAH: I'm completely -- I mean we are sending the Iraqi people the food, medical aids, clean water, and they are -- and the regime are sending us rockets, missiles to the Kuwaiti cities.

KAGAN: A sad irony, indeed, but also safe here in Kuwait City.

Dr. Al-Jarallah, thank you so much. We wish you good luck when you do get the green light to go across the border.

JARALLAH: Thank you.

KAGAN: That's going to do it from here in Kuwait City. I'm going to step out. Bill Hemmer will step in for the next hour, and -- I think the next six or seven hours, working the long shift here in Kuwait City, but happy to do it.

Carol, back to you in Atlanta.

COSTELLO: All right. Thanks so much.

Daryn Kagan, live from Kuwait.

We're going to take a short break, and then we'll begin our next hour. You stick around.

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