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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

War in Iraq: War Under Way

Aired March 30, 2003 - 06:30   ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon from Kuwait City. I'm Daryn Kagan.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning to you, Daryn. Good morning, everyone from CNN's global headquarters in Atlanta. I'm Anderson Cooper. We have a lot to cover in our remaining half hour. Let's first go to the map to show you where coalition ground forces are inside Iraq right now as far as we know. As the blue arrows indicate, they are working their way toward Baghdad.

But right now, there is fighting in places like Basra, and Nasiriya. Art Harris just talked about that. Meanwhile in northern Iraq, new coalition air strikes that hit targets in Mosul and other cities in the region. Stay with us. We're going to keep you updated on all the hot spots over the next couple of minutes.

Time now for an early briefing on stories that will be news later today.

President Bush returns to the White House today. He spent the weekend at the presidential retreat at Camp David. He led a video conference with his war counsel there. The next war briefing from U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar, scheduled to take place in about 20 minutes at 7:00 Eastern time, 7:00 a.m. Eastern time. General Tommy Franks will be speaking at this one. You'll want to catch it. CNN plans live coverage.

And more war rallies on tap today. Rallies for and against military action in Iraq will take place this afternoon in Philadelphia.

U.S. Marines in Iraq seem to have two simultaneous missions right now. One, seek and destroy Iraqi paramilitary forces loyal to Saddam Hussein. The other, win over, fight end to end skeptical Iraqis.

CNN's Martin Savidge is with the 1st Battalion of the 7th Marines. He had a chance to see this dual mission in action today -- Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, neither one of those jobs is really a very easy one for the Marines. Of course, they're trained. They're professional, but still, it is difficult under the circumstances under which they have to work. Because this all changed. They went from being basically a fighting force now to then a security force that had a patrol up and down the supply lines to make sure that the vital supplies could get through to the front. Well, they've gotten tired of just playing police officer, trying to wait until their attack. Now they've become proactive. And to do that in this region, they are fanning out into the nearby villages and towns, seeking out and if need be, destroying the paramilitary units or Fedayeen that have been striking out against U.S. military forces.

We went along this morning, beginning before daylight with one team, as they went in with their armored personnel carriers. Marines also coming in from the other side on foot. It was a tense time arriving in this village. They were not sure or not if there could be paramilitary units working there. They had their suspicions.

But when they went into town, they don't just kick in the doors and start looking for people. Instead, they try to win over hearts and minds. And to do that, they look for the village elders or the sheik that may be in charge in this particular village. They found him and had a long talk with him. They came to an understanding, a belief that he said all of the paramilitary units that had been in the area had already left. There was nobody there. And instead of being a search and destroy mission, it suddenly turned into a humanitarian mission because what they found, the Marines, is that this community had been completely sealed off.

They don't have electricity, but one thing they need is water. The water pumping station a short distance away, reportedly have been shut down by Iraqi soldiers. And their children were now becoming sick because they were drinking out of ditches and trenches or wherever they could find water. So the U.S. Marines saw the opportunity and they jumped in. And what they are going to do now is go to that pumping station and get the water turned on.

Why would they go to all this trouble? Because they realize that if they can restore the confidence of the people, if they can have the people on their side, then it will be an easier fight trying to get all the way up to Baghdad.

And to give you an interesting point of view here, Anderson, as these soldiers were or Marines in this case were going in, one team accidentally made a forced entry into a home, kicked down the door. The officers immediately said stop that. The village is okay and we want you to apologize for kicking in the door. This what the Marine commander told his Marines. Apologize for kicking in the door and also fix that door and get it back in shape.

So it shows you they're trying to be the kinder, gentler Marines, while still dealing with a very aggressive force -- Anderson?

COOPER: Yes, Martin, I mean in trying to figure out that line between protecting yourself from some of the tactics that we have been seeing over the last 10 days or so, and yet getting the job done, it's got to be an extraordinarily difficult thing. If you will sort of take us into -- I mean, you know, when you see these pictures, it's so easy to focus on the high text often and the technology of this war. And sort of what it is like being on the ground, I think, often gets lost. Take us, if you will, what it's like being on that patrol? It is hot and there is the -- so much unknown and so much confusion. It's got to just be extraordinarily difficult. If you can, try to describe it.

SAVIDGE: Well, it is -- actually, they plan it very carefully. This operation on this particular village had been planned the day before. They had planned that they would have units outside of this village well before daylight. And that is Marines on foot. And then what they were going to do is sweep in from another side with the Marines in the armored personnel carriers.

Now the obvious intention there is that they're going to hear the rumbling of the APCs. They see the Marines coming from one direction. And we're talking about the paramilitary units, if they were there. They might decide to try to flee out the back way. Well, of course, there were Marines on foot already in place and set in so that they would have been perfectly in place to ambush the units if they came up. That wasn't the case.

It's carefully planned. They go in with translators. There are a number of Marines that are in the unit that speak and understand Arabic. And they have a loud speaker system that addresses to the people there, trying to explain in their own language what is going on. Because imagine you've got these monstrous vehicles coming in, strangers that no one has seen before, and perhaps most in this community have no idea that there's a war going on or who is supposedly good and who is supposedly the enemy.

So all of this dichotomy is at work as the Marines go in. Eventually though, it ended not with gunfire, but with smiles on both sides -- Anderson?

COOPER: So much responsibility in the hands of, you know, the Marines and the soldiers and the airmen. It is extraordinary responsibility. Martin Savidge, appreciate you joining us. Thanks very much.

Let's check in with Daryn now, who's in Kuwait City -- Daryn?

KAGAN: Yes, Anderson, I think we've been on the air just about five hours now. It was some hours ago that we checked in with Ben Wedeman in Kalak, and when we did, he was hearing explosions in the distance. Before we go off the air, I want to have a chance to go ahead and check with him once again. So Ben, what's the latest with Kalak in northern Iraq?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Daryn. Well actually, for the last hour or so, we've been hearing a lot of air activity overhead. We've been seeing planes going in various directions and hearing some distant explosions.

Now it appears that there's some bombing going on to the south of us, where we've told there is an Iraqi Army base. Also to the west of us, where there is the city of Mosul, as well as to the north of Mosul as well, where we've heard that there's been fairly intense bombing of Iraqi army frontline positions. Now here in Kalak, it's been several hours since we've seen any bombs fall. What we did see was mid morning, essentially, about four bombs falling on the ridgeline behind me. Now this is a continuation of what's been going on now for almost 48 hours, a fairly intense round of air activity with bombing in a variety of areas. Now we had a chance this morning or this afternoon -- earlier this afternoon to go take a closer look. We got about as close as you can get to the Iraqi positions without getting fired upon. And we saw several areas, spots, four spots essentially, where the bombs had fallen. And they've fallen about 60 to 70 feet below the top of the Iraqi emplacements, the ridge line where they've dug in quite deep.

So it's not clear what has been hit, if anything really. Or it's just a case of Iraq's being rearranged on the mountainside. We've also seen -- we've also been able to come back with pictures of those Iraqi soldiers on the ridgeline, still out in the open. When they don't hear the airplanes, they feel quite free and secure and safe enough to walk around as if really nothing's going on.

So like I said, a lot of air activity, but it's not quite sure whether it's having the desired impact as far as the coalition is concerned -- Daryn?

KAGAN: All right, Ben Wedeman in northern Iraq. Thank you for that update. Right now we want to get some military expertise in here. For that, we turn to our military desk, Renay San Miguel and General Shepperd.

Gentlemen, hello from Kuwait City.

RENAY SAN MIGUEL, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning to you, Daryn. We are joined by our military analyst, CNN military analyst retired Air Force Major General Don Shepperd. Good morning to you.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Good morning.

SAN MIGUEL: Let's start with the northern part, where Ben Wedeman is reporting up there near Kalak. The coalition kind of consolidating its gains and also putting in some more people on the ground.

SHEPPERD: Yes, indeed up here. The 173rd continues to be reinforced at the airfield of Harir, which we see in the last couple of days. In this area named Kalak, just south of Mosul, the Republican Guard, Nebequennezer (ph) division up in this area. They're in trenches. They're in fortifications. They're being bombed by B-52s in anticipation of weakening the Republican Guard everywhere across the country.

SAN MIGUEL: Okay, then we go down south to Basra here, where there is more pitched battles. British Royal Marine commandos getting into the action there.

SHEPPERD: Yes, this is Belfast-like what's going on down there. The British are running in on the same type of problems that they encountered in Belfast, where everybody looks the same. You can't tell the good guys from the bad guys. And they're having to clear the clear the city piece by piece, gain intelligence, and then go in and really seek out the people, house to house if you will. They are not putting the city under siege from the standpoint of bombing it. They are trying to clear sections of it. And there's still lots of fighting going on.

SAN MIGUEL: And some success of capturing some key paramilitary leaders, according to British military officials. Nasiriya, when they write the book about this particular war, Nasiriya's going to get an awfully long chapter?

SHEPPERD: It really is. You ask Marines or -- this is a city around 500,000. The U.S. Marines are having a tough time clearing this whole area. It's a mini Basra, if you will. There are reports that the Marines have moved on passed Nasiriya to Alcute (ph), but still lots going on. And all of these rear areas to clean up and secure these long supply lines that go from Kuwait, all the way up right now to the Karbala area, almost 300 miles.

SAN MIGUEL: And then as you see from our last little icon there, Baghdad getting a lot of bombing, surface to air missile sites, paramilitary training headquarters. You know, more command and control.

SHEPPERD: Yes, and the living quarters of the government officials there, this is going to continue for a long time. They're going to slowly wear down the Republican Guard. They're going to slowly wear down Baghdad before they move in.

SAN MIGUEL: General, we appreciate your insight as always. We'll be back to you later on this morning.

SHEPPERD: Okay.

SAN MIGUEL: Back to you.

KAGAN: Renay, general, thank so much. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, a special report from our Christiane Amanpour. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well coalition forces are in control of the Iraq port city of Umm Qasr, but as they patrol the streets, they find that they have not yet won the trust of the local people.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Umm Qasr is a dilapidated little town. At the marketplace, there's not much more than tomatoes, onions, and a lot of flies and opinions.

"Saddam Hussein is our president," says this woman. "We love him, but we're scared of him."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She said I love Saddam Hussein. AMANPOUR: In fact, Ali, and anti Saddam exile returning home with the U.S. Army says these women don't dare speak out against Saddam Hussein just yet.

These people don't believe that the Americans can or will get rid of Saddam Hussein?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we've been hearing that everyday that we've been here. And part of our job and our free Iraqi forces are helping us to convince the people that we will stay until Saddam is gone.

AMANPOUR: As part of Army civil affairs, Colonel David Blackledge and his team interact with the people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice to meet you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice to meet you. How old are you?

AMANPOUR: They're trying to gain valuable information and their trust. But it's a hard sell. This is Iraq's Shi'ite heartland. And memories are deep and bitter. They'll not easily forget what they consider America's great betrayal during the Gulf War 12 years ago. People gather around U.S. soldiers and they tell us they are looking forward to a new Iraq, one without fear of Saddam's reign of terror.

"I want my freedom," says this man. "I don't want food or water. I just want my freedom."

A sign of the dangers still lurking here, these two men who flagged down the American Humvee and asked to surrender. We can't show their faces because they've been taken as prisoners of war. But they say they are Saddam's Fedayeen militias, sent down from Baghdad on pain of execution. Their mission? To conduct suicide attacks against American and British troops. But giving themselves up to these Americans, they said they didn't to die for Saddam Hussein.

(on camera): Removing the image and the influence of Saddam Hussein is a main objective for the Americans and the British in this part of Iraq. And they hope by first stabilizing Umm Qasr, word will then spread northward and have an effect on Basra and beyond.

(voice-over): In fact, the British sent 11 of these Challenger tanks into Basra to crush Saddam's statue in the center. Meantime, a steady stream of civilians continues to leave. It's a portrait of war with thick, black smoke billowing from the city they leave behind. Some are surrendering to the British forces. And some of the men want to go back after bringing out their families. And to the question the British asked everyday, when will the people rise up? The answer many give us, the day they know Saddam is dead.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN, near Basra in southern Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: We have some breaking news to report. And these are very early reports, we should stress. A civilian drove a white pick- up truck into a line of soldiers queuing up at a PX, this in Kuwait City. They were lining up apparently at a PX or a military store at Camp Udairi. And shots were fired. This according to very early reports. This is the camp that U.S. soldiers are based at.

Let me just repeat this, because it is literally just coming in. Early reports say a civilian in Kuwait City drove a white pick-up truck into a line of U.S. soldiers queuing up at a PX, which is a military store. Shots were fired. We have no more information at this time. It is at Camp Udairi in Kuwait.

Joining me now, retired Major General?

SHEPPERD: You bet.

COOPER: Major Air Force Major General Don Shepperd. A surprise, not a surprise?

SHEPPERD: Not a surprise. Something we're going to have to get used to. In fact, we've had several terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Kuwait. We've had I think it was a total of four people, as I remember, killed, Anderson. This is something we're going to have to get used to. It's part of this war. And I'm very surprised it hasn't happened in the United States as well.

COOPER: And this of course coming just, you know, a day or so after reports of this suicide bombing in Najaf. How do you defend against something like this? I mean, again, these are very early reports. And if you're just joining us, just reminding viewers early reports at Camp Udairi in Kuwait. A civilian apparently drove a white pick-up truck into a line of soldiers who are queuing up at a PX. Shots were fired. That's all we know.

SHEPPERD: Yes, what you do is you be really careful, especially at all the checkpoints we are clearing vehicles. You can't allow a bunch of soldiers to come up and we look in the windows of a car that's stops. You've got to be extremely careful in clearing your real lines. What is really taken place here is of course they are employing terrorism as a tool of war. It's asymmetric warfare. And the Iraqis know they cannot take the United States on, force on force against our military. And so they're employing all of the other tactics.

The other thing that's happening is, it's very clear that the people in the southern cities remember that the U.S. abandoned them after the last war. They were encouraged them to rise up. They rose up in Basra and also in Karbala. And they got hammered. They got hammered big time. So they're going to change sides at some point, but people are saying it's going to be after Saddam is dead and they're sure he's no longer in control.

COOPER: A few hours ago, a BBC I believe an interview with the BBC, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Myers was saying that the U.S. military will be able to adapt to this kind of warfare that is going on. He's actually going to be on Wolf Blitzer's "LATE EDITION" later today. And you keep hearing from military personnel about well, we need to do force protection. And we need to just sort of redouble our efforts of force protection. That term, what does it mean? How do they do it?

SHEPPERD: Yes, well force protection really started at the Khobar Towers incident. And that's when that term was actually coined. The idea was that you've got to look at everything you do to protect your troops, not just where they're housed, but how close the housing is to roads where terrorists might terrorists might employ bombs and trucks and that type of thing. So a commander's responsibility is to take care of his troops wherever they are and make sure that they are housed properly, that they're trained properly, and clearing civilians, working checkpoints and this type of thing.

It's something that's got to be in the back of your mind at all times that you are never safe and you can never trust any civilian, even though you want to win their hearts and minds. It's tough business, Anderson.

COOPER: I remember when I was in Kabul over this past summer, I was watching some Special Forces guys who went out jogging. They were jogging with their M-16s, I imagine they were, over their shoulders. So always carrying that weapon. And this report, this early report apparently soldiers queuing up at a PX,I guess this will be looked at as, you know, was there a road next to the PX? How -- what sort of access did a vehicle have to the PX?

SHEPPERD: Yes, exactly. It means you've got to keep vehicles away from buildings, that type of thing. This is for the British particularly in Basra, this is Belfast all over again. It's the same type of problems they ran into in clearing Belfast, where you've got people with explosives, you've got people with bombs. You can put a mine in a road overnight. So this is something that the U.S. forces are going to have to live with. And it's really, really dangerous.

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