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Baghdad Rocked by Explosions Again

Aired March 29, 2003 - 01:30   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Daryn Kagan live in Kuwait City. Here are the latest developments at this hour.
We want to show you a live picture of Baghdad which has been rocked by a series of explosions throughout the morning. On Friday, the Iraqi information ministry in Baghdad was a target of coalition air strikes. A huge blast was heard followed by Iraqi antiaircraft fire and smaller explosions.

Arab media is reporting that 52 civilians were killed in a coalition air raid on the Al Shula neighborhood in Baghdad but the coalition Central Command says it can not confirm that information.

Kuwait City's luck ran out at missile 13. Earlier today, an Iraqi missile landed right here in Kuwait City causing the heavy damage to a shopping mall and injuring two people. CNN identified the missile as a Chinese-made Seersucker. Missile defense systems stopped 12 Iraqi missiles launched at Kuwait.

The suspect in the grenade attack that killed two U.S. Army officers has left the detention facility in Germany but the military won't say where he's headed. The "Stars and Stripes" newspaper reports that Sergeant Asan Akbar is being transferred back to the U.S.

Although fighting continues around Nasiriya, U.S. Marines on Friday recovered the bodies of some of their comrades who were killed earlier this week. Iraqi civilians had buried two Marines but handed over the personal effects of the buried troops. Senior Marines tell CNN the Nasiriya fighting is the most fierce the Marines have faced since Vietnam.

The Halliburton Company, former employer of Vice President Dick Cheney, is not in the running for a multi-million dollar contract to help rebuild Iraq after the war. The U.S. Agency for National Development says that two unidentified firms are still in the running for the $600 million contract. Cheney was Halliburton's CEO from 1995 to 2000.

The State Department is reacting to what it calls credible reports of planned attacks on American interests in Yemen. The threats prompted the State Department to offer free flights home for some of its embassy staff. It also repeated a warning against Americans traveling to Yemen at this time.

And that's a look at the hour's latest developments. Now back to more of the coverage of the war in Iraq with Aaron Brown -- Aaron.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Daryn, thank you very much.

Christiane Amanpour has been meeting with British officials, a briefing with the British officials and Christiane joins us now. Good morning.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Aaron. Indeed, we've had the first briefing of the morning of the general activities, military activities in the British sector around where we are in southern Iraq, and specifically near Basra, Iraq's second biggest town, and an important test of how this war is going to go in terms of liberating the civilians.

Well, all along we've been telling you that the British have been waging a psychological campaign as well because it's not just about heavy fighting they tell us but also about showing who's in charge, trying to win hearts and minds.

So, to the extent, today we're told that about a couple of hours ago the 7th Armored Brigade staged "an aggressive raid" into the middle of Basra with tanks and armored infantry. Their aim was to crush, to knock over, to smash the central statue of Saddam Hussein in the center of the town.

Now, apparently, we have reports that two statues have been taken out. We're not sure whether it's the main one of Saddam Hussein, but the aim we're told here is to psychologically hit at the will of the Baath Party, the ruling party, which maintains its control and dominance over the people so think the British.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Basra remains a flash point. About 2,000 Iraqi civilians tried to leave the city when, say British military spokesmen, Saddam Hussein's loyal militias fired on them and sent many fleeing back inside. The British then fired on the militias.

British forces still trying to disengage the civilians from the regime's political control say this incident suggests the militias are keeping the population from leaving on pain of death. One weapon for winning over the civilians, humanitarian aid, and on Friday the first big supply ship docked in southern Iraq.

(on camera): The British ship, Sir Galahad, has come with 200 tons of aid, its aim not just at relieving humanitarian needs but also sending a powerful psychological and political measure that the British are here, along with the Americans, to liberate the people of Iraq.

(voice-over): Water, food packets, and staples, as well as medical supplies and blankets will be unloaded and slowly distributed to the population. Commanders here acknowledge they have a way to go before convincing the Iraqi people to trust them and the outcome of this war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The civilian population have got very mixed feelings. They're still very nervous. They're a little bit frightened of uniforms. They're not convinced actually that Saddam Hussein is going to be beaten, so they're sort of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at the moment. You'll still see (UNINTELLIGIBLE) around the time but bit by bit they're starting to realize we're here to help and small steps every day but nervous.

AMANPOUR: So, to instill confidence, the British want to look like benefactors, not just bombers. It took about a week to secure the port of Umm Qasr and fight off the Iraqi military resistance. Commanders say the Iraqi regime had sent units from Baghdad to try to defend the port. Since seizing this part of the south, the British say they have rounded up about 3,000 Iraqi prisoners of war.


AMANPOUR: Now, the colonel that we spoke to in charge of the royal marines there at Umm Qasr has also been out and about in the town, and he feels that the people may not bring out the sort of white flags and the welcome until they know for sure that Saddam Hussein is gone.

In any event, you know, we've heard a lot from all individuals and groups involved in this war, whether it be the politicians, the military. We've heard very little from the Iraqi people about what they think. We're going out shortly to try and get a pulse of what people think, how they're feeling, and how they think this war is going -- Aaron.

BROWN: Well, that will be a fascinating day of reporting. How bad do the British believe the humanitarian situation is in Basra?

AMANPOUR: Well, there's a lot of unknowns to be very honest with you. Since they don't have people inside, I mean we had reports earlier that there were intelligence people inside, but we're not getting a full picture from inside.

What we know is that the electricity is sporadic, that it's mostly a problem with the water. They're trying to connect the water and, in fact, they're going to be bringing a pipeline and extending it, the one that comes through Kuwait and they're going to try to start turning on fresh water to the people in this region.

I think a lot of the aid, it is necessary, you know, like 60 percent of the Iraqis have relied for their entire humanitarian needs on the U.N.'s Oil-for-Food Program which has been disrupted since the war started, so a lot of it is needed but, you know, a lot of it is also as psychological and confidence building weapon.

BROWN: They can have all this aid on the ship but it doesn't do any good if they literally can not deliver it to the people in Basra. Is there any -- anybody give you any sense of when they might be able to get it in?

AMANPOUR: Yes. Yes. Well, they're first going to start pushing it out from the points closest, for instance to the town of Umm Qasr and Safwan and further up north, and what they're going to do is take it to the parts of the cities that they control. There's a city south of Basra. To the west of that is controlled by the British and they're going to start pushing it in from the outskirts, the same with Basra, the western outskirts. They have some freedom of movement in there and they're going to start pushing it in and hope that word of mouth reaches the people and that people will, you know, just slowly, slowly, they'll be able to push it ever deeper inside the city. That's the aim.

BROWN: Christiane, I think there's a fascinating day ahead if you're going to get to talk to Iraqi civilians, and we look forward to your reporting on that. Thanks as always Christiane Amanpour with us tonight.

Bob Franken is at a forward Air Force base in Iraq. We've heard from him. It's been a couple of hours. Bob, are you able to hear us?


BROWN: Tell us what's happening.

FRANKEN: Well, at the moment what's happening is the same steady flow of planes coming in, bringing in members of the crews for the various operations, A-10s. Also, planes are coming in and depositing ground troops who are quickly then taken away by truck.

This is an airfield, of course, that had been pretty much abandoned, unused for the last ten years. It was part of the southern no-fly zone which, of course, was prohibited, so there was no activity here. In fact, there is still a lot of debris from Gulf War I.

But, the airfield in back of me is in good shape, the airstrip is, and that's good enough for the U.S. military so they will be using it and using it a lot as a forward air base.

When you come on this base you see the big required poster of Saddam Hussein, but once you get onto the field it becomes clearly a U.S. and coalition base and it's becoming more and more clear.

We're expecting within the next few hours or days the landing of the first A-10, the antitank plane, the one that has been used so extensively to supplement the ground maneuvers that are going on. As I said, ground forces are also operating out of here.

This is a fairly hostile area. Surrounding the base, a few miles away, an awful lot of combat is still going on, what they call red zones. At this base they do feel, however, it is very secure, secure enough that they have been bringing POWs here that have been captured from elsewhere, keeping them here long enough to decide where to take them from here.

One of the spots that they have in mind is a place called Camp Buca (ph) down the road toward Kuwait. That is going to be the POW encampment. They're in the midst of preparing it. The only problem may be the Geneva Convention requirement that it has to be far removed from the combat area. At the moment, it is not far removed from the combat area. This is not far removed from the combat area. As a matter of fact, the combat area is going to become part of this base. It's 150 miles closer to all that combat than the home base, so they're going to be launching a lot of strikes out of here, particularly the A-10 and the search and rescue missions -- Aaron.

BROWN: How many POWs are you talking about there?

FRANKEN: Well, I've seen groups of about 100. Probably several hundred have gone through. Some of them came through last night in the darkness. Of course, they are now numbering in the thousands according to coalition spokesmen but we've seen several hundred. This is just a convenient transit point. It's a very convenient get for the military for the United States and the coalition all together.

BROWN: And, what kind of conditions at this way station, if you will, the POWS, how are they kept? Are they kept outdoors? Are they kept in one of those barbed wire pens?

FRANKEN: They're just seated on the tarmac. When we arrived yesterday, we saw a group of them sitting down on the ground, on the cement ground, surrounded by security forces. They were then taken by trucks and we don't know what the conditions are elsewhere.

I will say that at the camp that's being constructed, it is being constructed in a way that there's a large berm, a large pile of dirt which will surround the area where the POWs are kept. The main reason for that is so they have no view whatsoever of the actual operation of the camp. They're obviously kept isolated.

BROWN: Bob, thank you, Bob Franken at a forward air base in central Iraq covering a couple of topics.

General, I promised you 30 seconds to finish the thought we were talking about before on the size of the force. Why don't we do that and then we'll take the break.

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK, (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, basically the idea is to get the facts out on this thing. I mean as we said you have -- the commander will make his plan. He will argue for the force. We don't know what that plan is. We're not inside his head and I support the commander, just trying to get the facts out on this thing because it is becoming a subject of a lot of media attention.

BROWN: And what I said to you is sometimes simply reporting the facts will get you criticism. People will take that as criticism.

CLARK: That's a hazard of the job.

BROWN: But you're not criticizing the plan. You're just saying here's what it is.

CLARK: Here's what it is.

BROWN: Okay, I believe you.

CLARK: It gets judged by its effectiveness not by its components, not by the size but does it work. That's the way you assess a plan.

BROWN: And we're only I guess nine days into it.

CLARK: Yes, we're just at the start of this thing.

BROWN: And it's very early to be judging its effectiveness.

CLARK: Right.

BROWN: We'll take a break. Our coverage continues in a moment.


BROWN: I guess we say this every night that American networks are not the only place you'll find wall-to-wall coverage of the war in Iraq. The message that gets out on one network often is, in fact, different stories. Different stories take on different importance depending on the audience and we've asked Bruce Burkhardt just to survey the world to see how the story is being reported.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you're watching our continuing coverage of the war in Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we continue our extensive coverage of the war on Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our continuing coverage of the war in Iraq.

BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you want to get away from all the war coverage, it will take more than getting out of the country. It's virtually everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Unintelligible).

BURKHARDT: This is a newscast from Chile, and if we've noticed a common thread how this war is reported outside the U.S., it's the greater attention paid to the story in Baghdad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Unintelligible).

BURKHARDT: Translation, the population has adapted to the severe living constraints. Some supermarkets and restaurants are staying open until 6:00 p.m.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Unintelligible).

BURKHARDT: That's not to say that everything is taken at face value. Here they're reporting Iraqi claims that the U.S. has dropped cluster bombs on civilians but followed quickly by the disclaimer that they have no independent confirmation of that claim. But others, like this English language newscast out of China, tend to pass along Iraqi pronouncements without comment. This is their report on a press conference with the Iraqi information minister.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And Baghdad has not ruled out the possibility that Americans will use weapons of mass destruction. I also have added the U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is going mad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Unintelligible).

BURKHARDT: The use of retired generals to comment on the battle is not unique to American coverage. This is Nile TV out of Egypt. It's true that Iraqi soldiers outnumber the U.S. forces but this is not the point. Weaponry is what counts here.

Finally this from Channel News Asia, out of Hong Kong, a nifty graphic that shows better than anything else I've seen a rendition showing the incredible detail of Saddam's bunkers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the blast doors lead to decontamination rooms.

BURKHARDT: Bruce Burkhardt CNN Atlanta.


BROWN: General, does it surprise you -- obviously it doesn't surprise you that Americans are interested. Their sons and daughters are there. Does it surprise you how much interest there seems to be in Asia and across Europe?

CLARK: No, no it doesn't.

BROWN: Because it's America?

CLARK: It's because it's America and because this is representative of a new America. This is an America that is (UNINTELLIGIBLE). This is an America that's assertive. This is an America that in a French term is a hyper power. It is able to impose its will around the world. It's the big dog and so everybody wonders.

BROWN: But is it that they're watching to see because they might be -- I don't -- that they might be in some way impacted by the big dog, whatever their position is?

CLARK: Everybody in the world is impacted by the United States in one way or another. We have so much influence in our economic terms, in what we do in the United Nations, in the G8 group and the World Trade Organization. We're enormously significant in the lives of people in countries around the world.

BROWN: And do you think that there is at some level certainly in no sense is the United States ever the underdog, going and rooting for the underdog. Are they wishing that there was some balance on the United States around the world do you think?

CLARK: Some do, some don't. I mean one of the attractions of the United Nations for a lot of these people is they say oh, well the United States is part of the United Nations and we have a vote and there's international law and so forth.

And so, the fact is that whenever we have to take actions that the United Nations doesn't explicitly endorse, it does send a certain degree of tremor through many countries around the world.

There are others who are traditionally adversarial to the United States. They wouldn't mind seeing U.S. power taken down a notch or two. But, even among those who don't feel that way, they're interested in this. They want to see what we're doing. It affects their economy, their investment decisions.

BROWN: Everything.

CLARK: Everything.

BROWN: It seems like a long time ago now that there were -- that other news was being reported around the world and that when you opened your newspaper or turned on your TV it had nothing to do with a war or maybe it was simply a discussion of when would the war start.

We asked Beth Nissen to take a look at some of the stories that you haven't seen.


BETH NISSEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): News of the war has pushed so many stories to the margins of the nation's newspapers and off network newscasts, international stories like this one, the worrisome global spread of a mysterious illness from China through Asia to Canada and the United States, what's called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome that killed 50 people worldwide. One thousand four hundred others are infected. Public health officials do not yet know its cause or an effective treatment.

There were developments in several stories that dominated the news just a little more than a week ago. There were new rounds of angry finger pointing in the case of Elizabeth Smart, with accusations from several quarters that law enforcement officials ignored information that might have helped recover the 15-year-old sooner. She was found nine months after being abducted from her bedroom in Salt Lake City.

And, in Washington, the Amber Alert Bill stalled in Congress despite a written plea from Elizabeth Smart and her parents for quick passage.

In the rape scandal that has rocked the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, four school officials resigned as part of a sweeping attempt to change what was terms a boy's club climate at the school. The Air Force has documented 56 sexual assault cases at the academy in the last decade. Many were reportedly mishandled or ignored. The continuing investigation into the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia has further examined the shuttle's left wing and foam insulation on fuel tanks. Top NASA officials floated suggestions that future shuttle flights have smaller crews or no crews at all.

Four and a half years after Swiss Air Flight 111 crashed off the coast of Nova Scotia killing all 229 people on board, a final report found that an electrical short circuit, mostly like in the in-flight entertainment system, had started the fire that led to the crash.

There were developments in several crime stories that held the nation captive recently. Actor Robert Blake, released on bail two weeks ago, returned to court and pleaded not guilty in the May, 2001 murder of his wife.

Stories from the battle front supplanted local crime stories too. In Woodbridge, New Jersey, a 10-year-old boy was charged with luring a 3-year-old boy from a local library, then molesting him, beating him with a baseball bat and leaving him to die in a storm drain.

And news on the war in Iraq pulled national attention away from another very tense part of the world, North Korea. Both the U.S. and Japan stepped up efforts with spy planes and spy satellites to monitor North Korea's missile program and suspected nuclear weapons program. Just days ago former Defense Secretary William (UNINTELLIGIBLE) called North Korea the most dangerous spot in the world today.

Beth Nissen CNN, New York.


BROWN: The news of the week condensed to about two and a half minutes. We'll take a break. Our coverage continues in just a moment.


BROWN: It is Saturday morning in Baghdad and everyone now getting a look at some of the damage that was done overnight.

The city was rocked by a huge explosion and now there is some tape coming in in what was hit and what the damage was and what it looks like. There was a sense that what the coalition was going after was the information ministry or at least the regime's ability to communicate to its own people.

This has gone on for about three days. There was an attack on Iraqi TV, state run TV, and then the last couple of nights the feeling was that they were going after the information ministry, but you can see -- we see some damage certainly but that building still stands, satellite dish is still up there, and the pictures are still coming out.

So, so far at least there has been the coalition if it was its intent to cut Baghdad off from its own people and from the world, it hasn't done that. General, I've got about a minute. Why allow, if you're the war planner why allow them the Iraqis to continue to send their stuff out and why in a sense allow foreign media in there to keep filing, keep filing out? Wouldn't you want to shut that down? Might you want to shut that down?

CLARK: Well, I think it will be shut down eventually, Aaron. I think it's just a question of time and doing it. The way the plan has unfolded is that they were communicating secretly to some of the Iraqi generals. They were trying to use a degree of persuasion.


CLARK: They were trying to avoid impacting the civilian infrastructure. You know, ultimately the way the lights went out in Serbia and the way the television got cut off in Serbia is we ended up attacking the electric power supply. So, it wasn't just that the Serbs couldn't broadcast, nobody could receive it.

BROWN: General, thank you for your work today, Carol and Anderson by in a minute. We'll see you again tomorrow evening, Saturday evening I guess that would be, and we leave you with some of the images of the day. Have a good Saturday across the country. Goodnight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A group of civilians, mainly women and children, approximately 1,000 in number massing on the Basra side of the bridge that's just up the road behind me. Two or 300 made the move across the bridge and at that time they started being shelled by Iraqi forces.

CASSANDRA NELSON, SPOKESWOMAN FOR MERCY CORPS: You have to understand that they've been almost 100 percent reliant upon government rations for their food at least 60 percent of the population. And so, the idea that suddenly that has been cut off from them I think is making the population very nervous.

LT. COL. TREVOR JONES: What we've had here today is an enemy prisoner of war that was brought in from a forward operation that's going on. He had multiple injuries to his left knee, right shoulder, left wrist, multiple lacerations. It looks like it was probably some sort of blast rather than a gunshot wound. So, he was fairly stable when he came in. What we've done is we just stabilized him with the fractures, given him something for the pain, and then sent him on his way back down to the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm nervous I'm in the country. You know what I'm saying. I really don't know about (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I feel safe as long as I got these guys I feel safe, but everybody out here is nervous, you know what I'm saying.



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