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Car Bomb Attack Kills 4 in Iraq

Aired March 29, 2003 - 05:28   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to CENTCOM in Doha, Qatar, and our Tom Mintier for more on that. Tom, what have you learned?
TOM MINTIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We heard from a press conference just a while ago that they would ambush coalition forces. Now apparently one of those ambushes involved a car loaded with explosives. This was supposedly in Najaf, and this was in the 3rd Infantry Division area. Apparently a roadblock security checkpoint was set up on the highway. CENTCOM confirms that there were casualties after this car was exploded on the road. They say there were two people in the car.

Associated Press and the "Jerusalem Post" are reporting that five American soldiers were killed. CENTCOM not offering any confirmations except that there were casualties. So we'll have to wait and see if there is any update later this afternoon here at CENTCOM headquarters at the briefing. But, as it stands now, a suicide bomber apparently detonated a vehicle on the highway near Najaf at an American Third Infantry Division checkpoint, and killing apparently two people in the car, and according to the Associated Press and Jerusalem Post, five American Soldiers at that military checkpoint. We hope to have more details later this afternoon on that. Daryn?

KAGAN: And Tom, that next CENTCOM briefing, that's about an hour and a half away from now?

MINTIER: Yes, it's about an hour and a half. We've been told that Brigadier General Vincent Brooks will do the briefing, and it's possible that he may be joined by someone else, usually that's a hint that General Franks may come to the briefing but we'll have to wait and see who walks about behind the curtain.

KAGAN: All right. We will definitely look forward to that. In about an hour and a half from now in the Doha Qatar, the next CENTCOM briefing, you will definitely see that live here on CNN.

One other quick note, Bob Franken in his report mentioned exactly where he is. We want to just let you that we, of course, are sensitive to not giving away any kind of important information and the U.S. military had cleared Bob to give that information as part of his report.

With that, we're going to take a quick break. Much more coverage coming up after this.

Let's go ahead and give you an update on the war. Beginning with an hour ago Central Command saying that a car bomb exploded today at a U.S. military check point in the central Iraqi city of Najaf. It happened at a checkpoint that was operated by the Army's 3rd Infantry Division. Officials say there are casualties possibly including U.S. military personnel.

Baghdad has been pounded for the eighth night in a row. The Iraqi Information Ministry building was struck by a huge blast last night. Meanwhile Iraqi hospital officials say 52 civilians were killed in an air strike on a residential neighborhood earlier today. The U.S. says that strike cannot be confirmed until a battle assessment is completed.

The cleanup is underway at a Kuwait City mall that was hit by a missile. One mall worker suffered minor injuries in the blast. Kuwaiti officials say it appears that the missile was a Chinese-made Seersucker which Iraq has adapted and renamed the Faw.

In the latest attempt to secure the southern city of Nasiriya, U.S. Marines today launched a daybreak attack against Iraqi resistance. Reports from the scene indicate that a number of Iraqi tanks have been destroyed. One U.S. colonel says that Marines are very close to controlling Nasiriya.

Military officials say the 101st Airborne successfully flew a convoy of helicopters deep into Iraqi territory, some night scope video showing some of the 200 aircraft that ferried the troops from Kuwait. Two of the choppers made hard landings leaving one pilot with a broken leg.

Iraq says that at least 52 people were killed in a crowded Baghdad marketplace in coalition bombing. Once again, a hospital manager saying that dozens more people were injured. U.S. Central Command says it is looking into that report.

It is a very busy morning on the war front. Coming up this hour, reactions to the Baghdad blast. Civilians are killed and an office building is targeted. Plus, we take you live to the front lines in the battle for Nasiriya. U.S. Marines there launched an attack at the crack of dawn and how to get the humanitarian aid to the Iraqis who need it the most. We're going to talk to a representative for UNICEF, the United Nations' Children's Fund.


KAGAN: Good morning and welcome back. You are looking at a live picture of downtown Baghdad as Operation Iraqi Freedom enters day 10. I'm Daryn Kagan in Kuwait City.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: And from Atlanta, CNN headquarters, I'm Anderson Cooper. Thanks for joining us.

It is - let's see. It's 5:35 A.M. here on the east coast, 1:35 P.M. You are looking right now at some live pictures of Basra, these from Abu Dhabi TV. You can see smoke in the distance. It looks like civilians walking down the road heading toward the camera where some soldiers and photographers await. Of course, we have heard earlier from a British spokesman about an hour or so, an hour and a half ago, who said and I quote, "Targeting an irradiation of the Baath Party in the Basra providence" is now the main focus of British coalition forces in that region and he repeated it twice for emphasis. The British at this point ring the city.

There have been reports of Baath militia firing on Iraqi civilians and significantly several hours ago there was an air strike by coalition jets targeting a building, a two story building, that was said - it was believed to have some 200 of these militia fighters inside the building having some sort of a meeting. Precision guided weaponry; precision guided missiles entered the building. It was a delayed fuse. They exploded once inside the building destroying the building. No casualty report on how many of those what was believed to be 200 fighters inside that building. We're waiting on that still. These are live pictures. Again, you see British forces maintaining that ring around the city of Basra where the battles continues and will most likely all day long.

Time now for an early briefing on stories that will be news later on today. Let's take a look. U.S. Central Command is going to give its daily news briefing one and a half hours from now at seven A.M. Eastern, a little less than one and a half hours. As always, CNN will bring it to you live.

Americans are again planning to take to the streets to voice their opinions about the war. There'll be anti-war protests as well as rallies for the troops in cities across the country. We'll be covering that.

And it is family day at Fort Campbell Kentucky. With the 101st Airborne Division deep in Iraq, members of the families back at the base are hoping to ease tensions with a little family fun. We'll try to cover that for you as well.

Now let's go to the map, give you a visual sense of where some of the hot spots are inside Iraq at this moment. First, in central Iraq, Najaf is where that car bomb attack took place that we just told you about. We're going to keep you updated on that. We'll also take you to Nasiriya for an update on the new fighting there, intense fighting over the last several days. We have Art Harris there. We're going to go to him in a little while and in northern Iraq we're going to check in with our Jane Arraf who is with U.S. troops setting up shop at Harir Airfield.

Let's go back to Kuwait City and Daryn Kagan right now. Daryn ...

KAGAN: Anderson, thank you very much. A chance now to get some updated military information and joined once again by Group Captain John Fines with the Royal Air Force joining us just about this time everyday. It is morning here, Saturday morning in Kuwait City.

Captain, good to have you with us again. I'm not sure if you're up on this but I just need to ask you because our audience is concerned about the situation at Najaf and the suicide bomber. Do you have any new information on that?

GROUP CAPTAIN JOHN FINES, ROYAL AIR FORCE: All I've heard is that a car apparently (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was blown up (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

KAGAN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) CENTCOM briefing is going to happen in about an hour and 15 minutes to get more on that.

Let's move onto Umm Qasr. This is a situation that is improving for the British, trying to get this incredible amount of aid into Iraq.

FINES: Yes and it's working very well. The first ship is in. It's being unloaded and we're giving out the aid. What's interesting for us at the moment in Basra is the reports we're getting from there. There's no real urgency at the moment. They do have enough food. The water is only working at 40 percent but that's adequate and we're going to improve it so it's giving us that chance to get the aid moving in.

KAGAN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) news today of yet another British soldier who's been killed and this time by friendly fire.

FINES: We're aware of an incident where a British soldier is actually missing I think rather than killed. We're investigating it. There's a possibility of friendly fire but at the moment nothing is certain.

KAGAN: And what about the concern that we had here in Kuwait City with the missile actually landing at the Sharq Mall, a missile that was not detected because it came in so low?

FINES: Yes. Particularly disappointing because again Saddam is targeting a civilian area. As you're aware, we only target just military targets and try and reduce the risk to civilians. He's doing just the opposite. So one has arrived.

KAGAN: I want to focus on your area of expertise and that is the Royal Air Force. The weather just seems to improve and get better day by day. How does that effect your end of the military?

FINES: It makes things a lot easier. We can operate in poor weather and we've done so throughout the campaign when required but I was out at one of our bases yesterday talking to pilots as they went to Montanbat (ph). I can see as much as I need to from here that there's a lot of targets down there and they're working hard.

KAGAN: Captain John Fines of the Royal Air Force, thanks for stopping by again sir. I always appreciate your information.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: All right. Daryn, in our efforts to cover all parts of Iraq, we're going to go right now to in northern Iraq where we have two of our best correspondents, Jane Arraf who is at Harir Airfield where we saw those dramatic pictures in the last 24 or more hours now of airborne units jumping in, establishing that air base. Also, we have Brent Sadler on the line. He is closer to the border with Saddam regime controlled Iraq. We're going to go to both of them. First, let's start off with Brent Sadler. Brent, what's the latest where you are?

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks Anderson. A number of developments in this area along the northern front. First of all, I can tell you that air activity continues here. It has been since the beginning of the attack on Iraq. I think the heaviest period of intense air strike activity in areas around Kirkuk and Mosul since all this began. Just before coming on air I could hear a very distant crump of explosions in the direction of Mosul and we also saw, perhaps we can take a look at pictures, for the first time in the blue skies here today very good weather, vapor trails from allied coalition aircraft, very high altitude going about their business.

Also, today we've been able to seize a high feature behind our location here at Kalak, a high bluff of land on top of which there are Iraqi positions and we could use our long lens to take a look at what was going on up there. We could see some damage to buildings and dots of Iraqi troops still moving around on that hill at the same time as their was continued air strike activity. Now this last 24 hour period, as I say, has been intensely busy not just around Mosul but also around the oil capital, the hub of Kirkuk and we've seen many, many heavy explosions around that area and in Mosul for this 24 hour period. Now there has been another important development on the ground.

CNN's Ben Wedeman can now confirm that the Iraqis have moved out, made a tactical retreat it seems from a second position in the past 24 hours along the northern front. Now Ben has just been on the line to me from Kustoppa (ph) and tells me that he's moved forward about five miles with Kurdish fighters on the ground toward Kirkuk on the main road to that direction. Very important, this a second abandonment of Iraqi positions in the past 24 hours since Kevin Sites reporting from Chamchamal that there was another apparent tactical retreat by Iraqi forces towards Kirkuk. So two very important developments on the ground here.

Back to you Anderson.

COOPER: Certainly, Brent, I'll be checking with Jane Arraf for the latest developments at that air base Harir Airfield northern Iraq. Jane, what's the latest?

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Anderson, the sound of war planes are reminding us why this base that's rising up behind us is here and this is the beginning of what could be a base for a northern front if one develops. Now we've been seeing soldiers coming in and out. Members of the 173rd Airborne who dropped in in that dramatic airlift just three days ago. Now they've found out around the perimeter they're securing the area and they're also trying to make it as officials here say more livable. According to the Public Affairs Officer, Major Rob Gowan, what they intend to do is to keep building up forces.

MAJOR ROBERT GOWAN, PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICER, 173RD AIRBORNE BRIGADE: We're continuing to develop what we have here and that is a lodgment where we can bring in aircraft, supplies, more soldiers, more combat power. It may become a forward operating base but it depends on other people's decisions that are much higher than where I am right now.

ARRAF: Now the reason that that's always in some doubt is that this wasn't according to plan. The plan of course was to bring in tens of thousands of soldiers from the high tech fourth infantry in through Turkey. Now when that fell through the airborne division came in but there is still some doubt as to whether they will move out from here to places like Kirkuk and Mosul. Some British defense officials suggesting that perhaps the intention could be just to reinforce British forces with the aim to prevent them from moving forward themselves. The worst possible scenario since that would essentially mean according to most people that Turkey could get involved.

Anderson ...

COOPER: All right. Jane Arraf, we will check in with you later to see the latest developments. Thanks very much both of you, Jane Arraf and Brent Sadler both in northern Iraq.

We're going to move a little bit south. When we come back from the break we're going to check in with Jason Bellini who is with the U.S. Marines somewhere in south or central Iraq. We'll be right back.


KAGAN: A couple of items to touch base with you here. First of all, getting word from the Pentagon, they have indeed confirmed that four bodies of U.S. military have been found near Nasiriya. That's all they're saying right now. However, we do expect the next CENTCOM briefing to begin in about an hour and 15 minutes from now at a Doha, Qatar. We'll get more information now out of that news coming out of Nasiriya. Once again, four bodies of U.S. military found near Nasiriya.

Right now we want to check in with our Jason Bellini. He is with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and he joins us now via videophone. Jason, hello.

JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Daryn. Right now I want to introduce you to Sergeant Michael Delery (ph). He and I have been talking here and we were discussing the changing mood here among the Marines of Gulf company. Tell me a little about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, basically we just found out from our CO that we've got a mission coming up. Every mission we do is real but the Marines are now just prepping ourselves. We're getting ready to go do what we've been training to do this whole time and we're all just basically happy to be a part of history, making history. So everybody in American can rest assured that the Marines are on the job.

BELLINI: You've got some tough stuff ahead. You've been hearing the news about some Marines who are running into trouble near Nasiriya. Can you tell me are people nervous? Are fellow Marines feeling nervous right now? Are you talking about this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's natural. For us, we're going to be nervous but as soon as the gunfire starts and it's right back to training like we're in a regular training evolution. This is what we trained to do and we're going to do it.

BELLINI: You're telling me that you have a daughter and a son. Is that correct?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I have a little girl and a little boy and that kind of makes it harder because there's a lot of Marines out here that have families and we're just worried about - we've been hearing about how Saddam likes to use women and children and fronts or whatever for his men to advance but our company is ready to take on whatever.

BELLINI: And you're telling me that you sometimes think about them when you're out there behind your machine gun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think about it. I mean it's natural. Everybody's going to think about it. If you see a little kid or a woman a shot but it happens everyday in the U.S. So I mean we're dealing with it.

BELLINI: Sergeant Michael Delery (ph), thanks so much for taking a few minutes to talk to us.

Daryn, back to you.

KAGAN: Jason, as much as you can tell if we heard Sergeant Delery (ph) talk about that this expeditionary unit is ready to do what they've been trained to do, how much can you tell us exactly what they have been trained to do?

BELLINI: I'm sorry, one more time Daryn.

KAGAN: How much can you tell us what this Marine unit has been trained to do?

BELLINI: Well, this is an infantry unit, Daryn, and so they're trained in fighting down and dirty and they've been dealing with skirmishes. This was the - this was the unit that took Umm Qasr and they ran into some problems in the early days.

It's tougher than they were told it was likely to be when things started and we've been also getting news that things are going to get tougher that there's some very tough missions ahead, some things that need to be do - that they're going to need to do that they need to prepare themselves for.

Yesterday their commander told them we're not expletiving (ph) around anymore, meaning they've got some business that's not going to be easy, not going to be fun and they need to be very serious about it. Sorry I can't be more specific than that right now, Daryn.

KAGAN: That's all right. That's all right, completely understandable. Jason Bellini joined us live with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Thank you so much. We're going to get much more on this breaking news at the Pentagon that we told you just before we went to Jason about the four bodies of U.S. military found near Nasiriya. We're going to take a break. When we come back we'll go live to the Pentagon to get more details. Stay with us.


COOPER: Well, there has been a lot of activity all morning long that we have been bringing to you from our embedded correspondents all over Iraq, northern Iraq. In particular we've been talking to Art Harris a lot who is in and around Nasiriya where there has been incredibly fierce fighting I think it's fair to say over the last several days. In fact, senior Marines have told CNN they believe it is the fiercest fighting the Marines have been engaged in since the Vietnam War.

Quite extraordinary and apparently the situation at this moment from the latest information we have from Art Harris that Marines say they have secured, are in control, of the north part of the city as well as the south part of the city and they are - have actually in the last several hours undertaken an operation trying to solidify their control over the entire city. It remains to be seen what the latest is on that. We hope to talk to Art Harris a little bit later on.

But the Pentagon has also confirmed that four bodies of U.S. military personnel have been found in Nasiriya. For more on that we go to the Pentagon live and Kathleen Koch. Kathleen ...

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is very sad news obviously, Anderson, and it's got to have a lot of families around the U.S. very worried right now. No identities yet on these four sets of remains. The Pentagon is only saying that they are believed to be U.S. service members. Now of course, everyone goes back to the images of those soldiers that were aired on Iraqi television after they were captured, the soldiers from the 507th Maintenance Unit that their convoy went astray in the Nasiriya area. No idea if these are those soldiers but obviously the Pentagon being very careful right now, only saying that the remains will be flown very soon to the United States for final identification.

COOPER: Kathleen, there has been more sad news this morning, startling news I suppose to some. You know, in this war that has seen civilians used as human shields, that has seen soldiers dressed as farmers and hospitals taken over by militia fighters, reports this morning of an apparent suicide bombing in Najaf. Do you have anything new on that?

KOCH: Well, the Pentagon here confirming what we're hearing also from CENTCOM that this attack did occur. It occurred early this morning and though obviously very tragic attack, it is not something that the Pentagon was totally unprepared for. There had been signals sent. There had been warnings that this type of tactic might be tried. The Iraqi foreign minister earlier this month in a television interview claimed that they had trained "tens of thousands of suicide attackers to mount" just the kind of attack and I don't know if you recall Osama Bin Laden last month in an audio tape that was broadcast on Arab radio, he also urged Iraqis to mount this type of suicide attack against the American forces if an invasion occurred.

It is though, Anderson, the type of thing that you're much more familiar with seeing in the west bank in the Gaza Strip, the type of attacks mounted by Palestinian militants against Israeli forces but obviously now something that U.S. forces are going to have to be on the watch for.

COOPER: And just to clarify, CENTCOM has confirmed there has been some sort of incident, they haven't really given a casualty figure at all. The casualty figure that is out there is from the Associated Press and they have quoted a Captain Andrew Wallace (ph) who said that the victims were part of the Army's 1st Brigade 3rd Infantry Division and that apparently according to this report a taxi stopped close to a military checkpoint. The driver waved for help. A number of soldiers, five soldiers, approached the car and it exploded.

Apparently Captain Andrew Wallace (ph) told the Associated Press television this on Saturday. No word yet on exactly when it happened but obviously this is a story we will be following throughout the day and one as you said, I suppose military planners weren't necessarily surprised but nevertheless it is hard to hear.

Kathleen Koch, I appreciate you joining us at the Pentagon. Thanks very much.

We have a CENTCOM briefing coming up in about an hour and five minutes. That's at 7 a.m. Eastern time. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, perhaps others will be speaking. We will of course carry that live. We'll be right back.

Well, Captain Cook (ph) just reported from the Pentagon, confirming four bodies of U.S. military personnel have been found in Nasiriya where there is fierce fighting been going on for several days.

Of course, the goal in war is to accomplish the mission, get out alive, unhurt, return home. Of course, it does not always happen that way.

Yesterday several wounded soldiers returned to the United States. Just this morning we saw some more pictures of wounded being sent to Ramstein, Germany. They are - the wounded who returned to the United States are being treated at the Walter Reed Army Hospital, in Ramstein they're being treated at the Landstuhl Medical Center.


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