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War in Iraq: 4 U.S. Soldiers Killed in Suicide Bombing

Aired March 30, 2003 - 02:00   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Daryn Kagan live from Kuwait City; let's take a look at the headlines at this hour.
Four U.S. soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing when a man in a taxi motioned the soldiers over to his car and then detonated the explosives. That attack took place at a military checkpoint in the central Iraqi town of Najaf.

Iraq's vice-president said that attacks like that may become commonplace. Saddam Hussein gave medals to the bomber and the Iraqi equivalent of $35,000 to his family.

At least four explosions rocked the residential area in Baghdad. Our Nic Robertson, who was kicked out of Baghdad just after the war started, says the area is known to be where many government officials lived. He also says there were bunkers in that area.

A lot of rallies around the country today, both anti-war and pro- troop rallies. In Patterson, New Jersey, both sides traded barbs as police stood by. There were no arrests there.

In San Francisco demonstrators showed support for the troops by wearing yellow ribbons and waving flags. A group also gathered at city hall for a moment of silence.

In Afghanistan, two U.S. Special Forces soldiers were killed in an attack on their patrol convoy. One other soldier was wounded in the attack, which took place in southern Afghanistan in an area known to be friendly to the Taliban. That convoy was fired on with small arms, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades.

The CDC is now saying that severe acute respiratory disease or SARS, as it is also known, may be more proactive than originally thought. At first, it was believed that SARS is only spread through face-to-face contact with an infected person. But that theory might be wrong.

It is now thought that SARS is airborne and may be able to live for relatively long periods of time on inanimate objects. 54 people worldwide have died from the illness.

Coming up this hour in CNN's coverage of the war in Iraq, guerrilla warfare. Iraqi soldiers are changing their tactics. Will U.S. soldiers have to change theirs to win this war?

With that in mind we'll go live to Centcom Headquarters in Qatar for the latest on the fighting.

Then, later, families at Kentucky's Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne, get an afternoon off from the war.

Now back to our continuing coverage of the war in Iraq.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, it is Sunday, March 30th from CNN's Global Headquarters in Atlanta. I'm Anderson Cooper.

You are looking at British Marines going house to house in southern Iraq where coalition troops are fighting guerrilla style, and also facing the threat of suicide attacks.

It is a difficult and dangerous mission for them.

Good morning. As I said, I'm Anderson Cooper in Atlanta -- Daryn.

KAGAN: I'm Daryn Kagan live in Kuwait City.

Let's do some time checks here -- 2 a.m. on the East Coast of the U.S. -- 10 a.m. here in Kuwait.

Also 10 a.m. in Baghdad, that is where explosions rocked a residential area. I'll have more on that in just a moment.

For now though, Anderson, you take it from here.

COOPER: All right, I hope you stick with us over the next five hours or so. Daryn Kagan and myself will be here reporting all the latest from the battlefield.

Let's get a look right now at some of the latest scenes from the battlefront in Iraq.

This video released by the U.S. Defense Department shows Army Rangers fighting in western Iraq. The Pentagon officials say the attack on an Iraqi commando headquarters was successful.

They say Rangers captured 50 Iraqis, weapons, gas masks, and a large cache of ammunition.

Coalition troops have been keeping up efforts to uproot Iraq's ruling Ba'ath Party in Basra, blowing up Iraqi weapons like this abandoned tank right there.

Meanwhile, firefighters continue their work at the Rumayla oil fields. Centcom says three oil fires are still burning in southern Iraq.

And here's an overview of coalition troop locations, as close as we can tell you.

Forces are deployed along four fronts in southern and central Iraq. The British are holding Basra. U.S. troops are making a three-pronged march toward Baghdad. American troops are still trying to secure Nasiriyah, and the celebrated Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne are in central Iraq, airlifted there by a 200-helicopter convoy north of Baghdad.

An airfield near Kirkuk is now the base for the coalition's northern campaign. We're going to have reports from all those regions over the next several hours here on CNN.

The Pentagon says about a third of the 290,000 troops in the Persian Gulf region are now inside Iraq.

Karl Penhaul is with the Army's 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment somewhere south of Baghdad, and we have him on the phone.

Karl, what's the latest from where you are?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, still the U.S. military are looking over the aftermath of yesterday morning's suicide bomb attack. That was near where I am now, near the town of An Najaf.

From what we understand, from U.S. military spokesman, that attack occurred when Iraqis dressed in civilian clothes -- it's unclear at this stage whether they were troops or civilians sympathizers of the Saddam Hussein regime -- they approached a military checkpoint manned by the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division in a taxi.

Getting close to the checkpoint they then gestured to the soldiers that their taxi was in trouble, that it had mechanical problems.

Four soldiers then approached the taxi and those -- the occupants of that taxi then detonated a large explosion, killing the four soldiers.

The U.S. military spokesman has said that despite these kind of attacks, the first of its kind, we understand that there will be no overall change in strategy. One of the U.S. military spokespeople described it as the desperate act of a dying regime.

Nevertheless, I have heard from commanders here that they're giving strong instructions to their soldiers to beef up routines at military checkpoints, and to be very wary.

On the one hand, what they have to do is -- is -- to balance this context of trying to be friendly with Iraqi civilians, trying to show their face, as Americans say -- trying to show they come as liberators, not as invaders.

But at the same time, U.S. forces also have to protect themselves against these type of suicide attacks or drive by shootings -- Anderson.

COOPER: Karl, what sort of an impact has the suicide bombing in Najaf had among the -- the forces you are with? I mean, you talked about the commanders sort of warning their troops to be ever more vigilant.

But just sort of psychologically, emotionally -- what are people saying?

Do they seem surprised, or, after what they've seen the last several days, will nothing surprise them?

PENHAUL: No, talking to the soldiers, to some of the unit commanders, they do seem quite surprised about the way that the Iraqi military is now fighting this war.

Quite surprised by the way that the Iraqis are breaking down into smaller guerrilla units, smaller squads, dressed in civilian clothes, riding around in SUVs.

It makes it very difficult to track these kind of people, they say, and even this morning at the base where I am, there was an alert because around the perimeters of this base, a civilian SUV was spotted by some of the soldiers that are out there on the perimeters dug into fox holes, always on the alert for this type of thing.

But -- so they with a simple fighting as one of these -- they don't know whether the civilians or whether it is maybe carrying these Iraqi Fedayeen, but again, it keeps them on edge, it keeps them nervous, and certainly, like I say, it has surprised them that the Iraqis are breaking down and fighting in these small civilian units -- Anderson.

COOPER: Karl, I think the last time I talked to you was several days ago, and it was soon after your unit had been involved in their first engagement with I believe a -- they were seeking a Republican Guard forces.

They had come under heavy fire when we had talked; they had landed back at the base and sort of were reassessing things.

How have things changed since then, and how have the -- these irregular forces -- how has it -- or had it -- changed the tactics at all? I mean you're with a helicopter regiment.

I know we can't talk about ongoing operations, so use your judgment on this, but how have the tactics changed, the helicopter regiment has to use?

PENHAUL: I think the view of that attack which was, as you say, on a Republican Guard unit on the Medina Division of the Republican Guard around the city of Karbala has been a reassessment by the pilots themselves about what kind of tactics.

They're trained, obviously, in a broad range of tactics, but they're now looking in the life of their experiences a few days ago of what precise tactics to use because as you'll remember there's a kind of firefight that they -- they went into there -- was a lot of anti- aircraft fire, a lot of unexpected anti-aircraft fire coming from residential areas, possibly military in placement in residential areas, but it nevertheless made it very difficult to distinguish what was a civilians and what was a military target.

Again, part of this overall Iraqi strategy to -- to get involved in guerrilla style tactics. And so, in view of that, the pilots have been assessing that, and that will also impact on what type of weapons they take, and they've been saying that the next time they will spend less time stationary hovering in the air, that they'll use more high energy tactics, that they'll fly fast and possibly lower.

And go harder into targets with 30 millimeter canons, for example, and may not use so many missiles. Those are -- those are all things that are still in review. Final solution not yet reached, but all these kind of tactics are under consideration, Anderson.

COOPER: And I imagine as hard as it is distinguishing guerrilla from civilian on the ground, it can only be harder just trying to do that from the air from a fast-moving helicopter.

Karl Penhaul, appreciate you joining us. We'll try to talk later on this morning.

Let's go to Daryn Kagan in Kuwait City -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Anderson, as the day gets underway here in the Persian Gulf we're going to have a chance to check in with a lot of our embedded and non-embedded reporters.

Want to go to Ben Wedeman now; he is in an area where Iraqi troops have actually pulled back from positions in northern Iraq following more coalition air strikes.

He's joining us now from Kalak, and Ben, I understand you can actually hear some explosions not too far from where you are right now.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Daryn in fact, about minutes ago, a very large bomb dropped right behind me -- well not right behind me, obviously, but on the ridge behind me.

That's the fourth bomb to fall since basically 8:30 this morning, which is just an hour and a half ago.

Now, they're falling on the ridge, which is occupied by Iraqi forces. They are dug in deep over there, but in fact just about ten minutes before this last bomb fell, I was looking through my binoculars at those trenches and actually saw four of those soldiers walking along the ridge.

Now, last night there was also fairly intense bombardment of that area with five very large bombs falling on the ridge.

In fact, as those -- the impact of the bombs knocked some of the plaster off of the ruined building that we're living in here.

Now, as far as the pull back of Iraqi forces go, in fact, here it's expected that they will be pulling back shortly given the intensity of the bombing but in fact they're still holding their positions.

But they have pulled back from several of the areas around the oil rich city of Kirkuk. Now yesterday we were in one of those areas they pulled back from.

It's a stretch of highway about ten miles long between the Kurdish stronghold of Erbil, and the city of Kirkuk, and basically they pulled back in the middle of the night, not a shot was fired.

Now their positions, apparently, had come under some bombing by U.S. aircraft and the assumption is basically they're not retreating out of any -- having been defeated in any way.

Simply, they're pulling back to more defensible positions. Because that stretch of road was very exposed, very easy for coalition aircraft to hit and destroy those positions then it may e they're just pulling back to the cities where as we have seen in the south at least they have a definite advantage when fighting U.S. and British forces.

KAGAN: And so they've pulled back, but it sounds like they're saying that they're fare from the -- they're far from gone from that area?

WEDEMAN: I'm not -- they're not at all gone in fact. In this area, they haven't moved at all. And in those other areas, what they've done, for instance, on the road to Kirkuk they've -- they still hold the heights that over look the valley.

What -- through which this road winds and they -- they haven't -- no prisoners have been taken, for instance. As I said, not a shot has been fired. They have just pulled back to where they can take better cover from coalition bombs and resist more effectively in theory any advance by Kurdish forces or American forces as well -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Ben Wedeman reporting from the northern Iraqi town of Kalak. Thank you, we'll be checking with you throughout the morning and the day -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right Daryn.

Now Iraq says the suicide bombing that killed four U.s. soldiers -- they say it's just a preview of things to come. The incident happened yesterday as we told you at a U.S. military checkpoint near Najaf in southern Iraq.

A man in a taxi beckoned soldiers toward his vehicle. They approached, then he set off a bomb killing four of them and himself.

On state run television, Iraq's vice president praised the attack.


TAHA YASSIN RAMADAN, IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT: this is only the beginning, and you will hear more good news in the coming days. These bastards will be welcomed at the level and in the way they deserve. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Ramadan went on to boast that one Iraqi suicide martyr could kill 5,000 in one mission.

Let's get the Pentagon's perspective on how the war is going. For that we turn to our Kathleen Koch at the Pentagon -- Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, on the subject of that car bombing no word yet from the Pentagon on the identity of the four U.S. soldiers who were killed in that attack Saturday morning.

And here officials see this as an act of desperation. Though not something that was entirely unexpected. The Iraqis had been promising before the war began to train tens of thousands of the citizens to conduct suicide attacks against any invading U.S. forces.

Now, of course, this is going to make things at those checkpoints in Iraq where U.S. forces are positioned very difficult. It will elevate the tension level as you heard earlier -- it's going to make it very difficult to have any sort of interaction between coalition forces and the Iraqi public that the hope to help.

Now the troops in the field of course are going to be taking extra precautions, doing everything they can to prevent another attack like this in an attempt to U.S. calls a violation of the rules of warfare.


COL. TOM BRIGHT, CENTCOM: They have clearly violated the Geneva Conventions and the law of land warfare and the -- some of the activities that is clearly evident to the American public and the international public and so that's why I would call it terrorist activity. I think it's well accepted that the manner in which they're operating is unacceptable and is just certainly it's just not condoned by any -- any international convention that's out there.


KAGAN: Now Iraq is insisting that this will become routine military policy in the region and Iraq's vice president also claimed that Iraq has, quote -- or, that Iraqi citizens, quote, have the right to use any means to attack invading U.S. forces -- Anderson.

COOPER: Kathleen, my understanding with guerrilla warfare tactics is they really only work if -- I mean, they work as a harassment method, but they depend on an overwhelming response from the target and to a certain engender civilian dislike of -- of -- anarchist coalition of the U.S. case coalition forces.

I imagine Pentagon planners are very well aware of that and are trying to sort of calibrate how to respond to -- to this not being able to figure out who is a civilian and who is not, how to respond and yet how not to over respond. KAGAN: Certainly, Anderson. You've put your finger on a very important point here, because it does make it very difficult for the United States has come to this country to oust Saddam Hussein to liberate the populace and it wants to engender trust and friendship with this -- with the Iraqi people but that would be incredibly difficult to do if at every point when they are approached by the Iraqi public they cannot approach them in any close manner, that they will have to be searched head to toe. It's going to make things very difficult.

COOPER: Yes, it certainly is. Kathleen Koch, appreciate it, at the Pentagon. We'll talk to you later.

Let's go to a short break; we'll be right back; we'll have more from the battlefield.


KAGAN: Want to go out and check on Baghdad now. There was more aerial battering of the Iraqi capitol over night. At least one strike was in a residential area.

Our Rym Brahimi has more -- she is in Amman, Jordan.


RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The residents of Baghdad woke up after four explosions again early Sunday morning after a night of heavy bombing on the outskirts of Baghdad which also inside the Iraqi capitol.

The area known as Herada, a residential and commercial area where the Christian minority, most of the Christian minority at any rate lives -- was under fire -- this because of a passivity nearby that seemed to have been targeted by U.S. forces.

Another are that seemed to have been targeted, one near the airport, Saddam International Airport, it's not far from a presidential palace and also a prison.

And then the area where apparently the Fedayeen Saddam or the use who are volunteers who defend President Saddam Hussein with their lives well the area where they've been training seem to have also been targeted as well as another residential area northwest of the Iraqi capitol that seems to house government employees.

Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan spoke to reporters, apparently referring to the suicide bombing that occurred in the city of Najaf only saying that five Americans had been killed there; he praised the suicide bomber, and he said that they would be more such operations to come.

More defiance on the part of Iraq's vice president.

RAMADAN (through translator): They say now some of the action, such as the resistance that the resistance is terrorism. And that the Iraqi people are practicing terrorism, because what they think is that they can come to Iraq and occupy Iraq and they think that the Iraqi people should receive them happily. I tell them that they did not see anything yet.

BRAHIMI: The vice president went on to praise Arab public opinion that's been supporting Iraq throughout this crisis since the beginning of the war.

And, President Saddam Hussein made an appearance on Iraqi TV. The television showing pictures of the president dressed in military outfit along with members of the rule Ba'ath leadership.

Another way for the leadership to indicate to the population of Iraq and the outside world that they're still in charge.

Rym Brahimi, CNN, Amman, Jordan.


COOPER: Rym mentioned it, but should just point out that according to Iraqi TV Saddam Hussein awarded the dead suicide bomber two medals and apparently announced he would give the man's family $100 million dinars, which is about $35,000 U.S. dollars.

Well, moving on now to Umm Qasr in the south, it's ready to become to terminal for relief supplies coming on coalition ships you saw a couple of days ago about -- I think about 30 hours or so ago. The Sir Galahad -- the British Sir Galahad landing with those 200 tons of supplies.

But troops in Umm Qasr are finding that the business of clearing the southern port city is not quite done and in fact it is still very difficult. Take a look at this David Broder report.


DAVID BRODER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): House clearings, Royal Marines style. Troops from 4-2 Commando (ph) task to seek out the last pockets of Iraqi resistance in Umm Qasr going hard to arrest suspected regime sympathizers and search for weapons.

It's not pretty, and there's no please and thank you. But for the Marines, every door potentially hides a gunman and when your life is on the line, manners go out of the window.

The Iraqis arrested look bemused and plead innocence. But with many militias here pretending to surrender only to open fire on their captors later first impressions can be deceptive and lethal.

This patrol did find hidden weapons then and they're unlikely to be the last.

The Marines believe they have a firm hold on Umm Qasr right now but they can't afford to slacken their grip and allow those who are hostile to the coalition forces to regroup and begin again their cycle of violence. The Marines with their snipers have now spread their area of operations north to include the town of Umm Caow (ph). As in Umm Qasr before it, they're here to clear out the opponents to regime change. A man in this vehicle took a pot shot at the commandos. It was a painful and bloody mistake.

MAJ. ROB MACGOWAN, BRITISH ROYAL MARINES: We sent in one of our companies, about 100 men in here this morning, and we took about 12 or 13 prisoners and three or four enemy were injured and they've now been flown out and we're treating them including a man who is almost dead with a gunshot would to the chest. We've now evacuated them out and the enemy now have either fled or they've been captured.

BRODER: The Royal Marines are satisfied they are in control of this small corner of Iraq. Their task now is to keep it that way -- David Broder in southern Iraq.


COOPER: We will have more when we come back.


COOPER: Not sure if you heard President Bush's weekly radio address, but he once again cautions Americans not to expect a speedy end to the war in Iraq.

Let's check in with Chris Burns who is live at the White House with more -- Chris.

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, interesting message in the president's radio address over the weekend. Yes, stressing the positive -- yes, stressing what he called steady advances on the battlefield.

Also, however, saying cautioning the American public that it could take an undetermined amount of time to achieve victory.

Another aspect of the radio address -- in tandem with the Pentagon are new salvos in the propaganda war against the Iraqi regime, which is also launching salvos itself.

We might show you some video from the Pentagon briefing today, showing what it said were past chemical attacks against its own people in past conflicts, this being part of the effort to try to show that the Iraqi regime is brutal against its own people and does have to be toppled in any way possible.

The president also making the same arguments about this conflict.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In areas still under its control, the regime continues its rule by terror. Prisoners of war have been brutalized and executed. Iraqis who refused to fight for the regime are being murdered. An Iraqi woman was hanged for waving at coalition troops.

Some in the Iraqi military have pretended to surrender, then opened fire on coalition forces that showed them mercy. Given the nature of this regime, we expect such war crimes but we will not excuse them. War criminals will be hunted relentlessly and judged severely.


BURNS: This happening the same time as the Iraqi regime is making a lot of press about civilian causalities on its side. You might fast rewind back to a couple of previous conflicts in Kosovo as well as Afghanistan where mounting civilian casualties and the west and the Washington was playing up and emphasizing some of the brutality, alleged atrocities on the other side, so a very interesting strategy here in this propaganda war.

The president having had his usual war briefing by teleconference. He's spending the weekend at Camp David he'll have another such briefing tomorrow -- today -- on Sunday before he comes back to Washington -- Anderson.

COOPER: Chris, my sense is they have not been exactly clear on this but I just want to ask you and see if you have any information on it. You know they are talking about these war crimes and warning Iraqi troops, Iraqi generals not to follow orders that would be -- make them able to be convicted of war crimes.

Have they specified has the administration specified how once this war is over when ever that would be, how they're going to prosecute these war crimes, whether it's going to be an international tribunal, whether it's going to be a U.S. military panel? Have they said?

BURNS: Not to my knowledge; very interesting that you mention that because the United States refused to take part in this international tribunal and international court.

However, there have been tribunal's set up through the United Nations for -- to try people in various conflicts including Rwanda, in the Balkans that were seen going on at The Hague. So that could be a possibility.

Very difficult to say, at this point, exactly how Washington would want to prosecute but obviously they do intend to.

COOPER: And, obviously, the focus right now is on of course getting to that stage, wining the battle as it is.

Chris Burns, thanks, I thought you were at the White House, I said you were at the White House, you're not, you're obviously in Washington but not at the White House. Thank you very much.

BURNS: Just right over there.


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