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U.S. Marines Say They Shot, Killed Iraqi Man at Checkpoint

Aired April 1, 2003 - 03:00   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. Marines say they shot and killed an Iraqi man (UNINTELLIGIBLE) checkpoint in southern Iraq. It happened along a highway to Shatra that is near Nasiriyah. "Reuters' quote the Marine as saying that he thought it was a suicide bomber, but the truck was not loaded and the man was not armed or in uniform. A passenger in the truck was badly injured.
At least seven people were killed, two others wounded when U.S. soldiers fired on a van at a checkpoint near Najaf. All of those in the van were women and children. U.S. Central Command said the soldiers motioned for the van to stop, but they were ignored by the driver.

Najaf was the scene of a suicide bombing on Saturday. Four U.S. soldiers were killed in that blast and the Iraqi vice president did warn that there would be more suicide bombings.

Fighting continues around the south central cities of Najaf and Nasiriyah. U.S. officials say that 50 Iraqi soldiers and 100 members of a paramilitary group have been captured in the area. Ryan Chilcote is embedded with the 101st Airborne. He reports that the division seized an airfield near Najaf that will be used by military transport planes.

In the past 24 hours, coalition planes have flown more than 2,000 sorties including 800 site missions. Our Bob Franken is embedded at an air base near the Iraqi border and he reports the activity has about doubled the average amount during the war so far. Most of the site missions have been targeted divisions of the Republican Guard.

Less than two hours ago, the sires were sounding. They were sounding right here in Kuwait City, warning of an incoming missile. That missile, though, never made it here to Kuwait. The Kuwait Air Force tells us that it sought the Iraqi missile down with a Patriot missile and did that inside of Iraqi air space.

State-run Iraqi television showed video of Saddam Hussein and his two sons on Monday. The network says the tape of Uday and Qusay with their father is new. It's the first time the three have been seen together since the war began. A Pentagon official said they don't know whether Saddam and his sons survived the war's opening strike.

A pickup truck with cans of gasoline crashed into the wall of the British embassy in Tehran, Iran. The car burst into flames, but it's not known at this point if the fire began before or after it hit the wall near the embassy gate. British officials say that at the moment it does not appear to be a terrorist act. Coming up this hour in CNN's coverage of the war of Iraq, rescue at sea. We're going to show you a close call for two Navy pilots who are assigned to the USS Constellation. Also we're live with the latest from the northern fronts where U.S. warplanes continue to pound Iraqi troops who are hidden in the hills.

We're also live from the front lines. We're going to get the latest on the ongoing battle from our team of CNN reporters who are embedded with coalition troops. For now, though, Anderson, back to you.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Moving forward, still moving forward. The coalition forces continue to find themselves in fierce fights far from Baghdad. Good morning. It is 3:00 a.m. at CNN's World Headquarters here in Atlanta, noon in Baghdad where Operation Iraqi Freedom is now going on day 13.

Good morning. I'm Anderson Cooper. Thanks for being with us. We begin the hour with the latest on the coalition advance toward Baghdad. After taking a strategic bridge in central Iraq, U.S. forces are awaiting orders to move on Al Hilla south of Baghdad. Our own Walter Rodgers is embedded with the 3-7th Calvary. Walter, what's the latest where you are?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello Anderson. We are now showing you live pictures of Captain Clay Lyle (ph). He is the commander of Apache Troop U.S. Army 7th Calvary. Captain Lyle is giving his soldiers, his non commissioned officers and his officers, an Apache troop, the battle plan as they expect it to unfold over the next several days. Increasingly, it's becoming more and more clear that the end game, the focus of the end game in all of the allied military maneuvers is going to be Baghdad and one begins to wonder if all those other units, which were surrounded earlier are, in fact, going to the other cities, which were surrounded like An Najaf, Al Samawah (ph), Al Hilla, whether indeed there will be a siege on those cities. The reason being that it now appears that all the U.S. forces, the momentum for them is going to be building up on Baghdad.

Again, with those cities perhaps remaining simply surrounded in the rear. As the buildup continues here, so does the sense of superstition among some of the soldiers. They know they're going to be pushing towards Baghdad sometime in the not too distant future, especially with rear guard units like the 4th Infantry Division moving in.

I was speaking with some soldiers this morning, each of them seems to carry his own talisman, his own good luck symbol. Many of them won't tell you what it is. Sergeant Matthew Chase (ph), however, of Long Island carries a love letter from his wife inside his helmet. Many soldiers carry photographs of their wives and children inside their helmets. One soldier says he carries a Red Dog beer bottle cap inside his vehicle. That's his good luck charm. Other soldiers carry bibles, of course, and crucifixes.

Bad luck out here for the soldiers seems to be as diverse as those you ask. One thing you never do, according to the soldiers, is you never eat M&Ms or apricots on top of a tank toric. That's the worst of bad luck. Another thing, they say, is after you realign the 120-milimeter barrel on your tank, you never, ever, ever touch the tank barrel before it fires again -- all sorts of superstition. Another superstition we're seeing here is that the gun barrels have to match the disposition of the crew inside.

For example, there's one gun over there, which is called I believe antique four. That's because the commander, Sergeant Paul Whitley (ph), he's an older fellow, he says others have to have names, which match it. One of the barrels is aces over kings. That means it's a crew, which takes a high degree of risk. But again, very interesting to see the superstition that these soldiers accumulate for themselves both good luck and bad luck symbols as they prepare for a push, a final push on Baghdad in the coming weeks - Anderson.

COOPER: Walter, since you mentioned that, I was just reading this book by Anthony Swofford called "Jarhead". He was a Marine sniper during the last Gulf War, and he writes a lot about those superstitions, those good luck charms and in the Marine sniper case it was you're not allowed to - no sniper will let anyone else look through the scope of their rifle and you're never allowed to touch a sniper's camouflage outfit. That all being part of that superstition.

Walter, let me ask you, how much - the information that the troops, that the 7th Calvary troops that you are with are getting on the battlefield. Do they have a sense of what is going on around them, whatever the cities may - you know, what other groups are engaged in elsewhere? Do they have a sense of the big picture?

RODGERS: Yes, that's part of the briefing we showed you just a few minutes ago when Captain Lyle (ph) was briefing his other officers and his non commissioned officers - that is the sergeants. Everyone here knows what their objective is. They're seeing the map. The Army has shown us the map. We know exactly what is going to unfold on the battlefield. That is to the extent that the hostile forces, the Iraqis don't try to veto it, but we know all the objectives at this point, and again, as I say, the momentum is building for a push on Baghdad. It will come in the coming weeks, particularly as 4th Infantry Division forces move up from where they presently are in Kuwait.

They relieve such units as the 82nd Airborne, 101st Airborne, which are surrounding the Iraqi cities along the Euphrates to the south of us. Again, it's very interesting and this is surmise on my part. This is not official Army information, but as I look and see what's unfolding, it appears that increasingly more and more troops, U.S. Army troops particularly, are going to be freed up for a siege on Baghdad in the coming days and weeks and the cities which are still under Republican Guard control in the south will remain so. The Army does not want to, that is the political planners in Washington, don't want the kinds of huge casualties, the enormous bloodletting that would be required if they had to go fight in those cities. So what they'll probably do, again, my surmise is they're just going to leave those cities surrounded and then continue a troop buildup north of us towards Baghdad and that big push towards Baghdad is going to be the final phase of the war - Anderson. COOPER: All right Walter Rodgers with the 7th Calvary, appreciate it. It's always good to talk to you. We're going to have more now on other coalition forces fighting elsewhere in Iraq. The U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division has secured an airfield outside Najaf. It'll be used for military transport planes. Najaf, of course, the site of that suicide bombing on Saturday that killed four soldiers.

Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division are in the area around Najaf. British forces say they control the western part of Basra now and on the northern front line, Kurdish fighters say about 1,000 Iraqi forces have surrendered so far. There is a lot going on. As we said and we heard from John Bodine (ph) - Mark Bodine (ph) I should say, just a short time ago, British forces now saying they are in some sort of control of the western side of the city of Basra. Large amounts of water now being pumped into the region, but there is still a lot of work to be done before the city of Basra is anywhere close to being secured.

U.S. soldiers fired on a van that failed to stop at a military checkpoint on Monday. The van carried 13 women and children and seven were killed. U.S. military officials say they are investigating. The incident happened near Najaf, as I mentioned, about 20 miles from Saturday, a suicide car bombing that killed four U.S. soldiers.

A Pentagon statement says the vehicle was fired on after the driver ignored shouted orders and ignored a warning shot. But a story in this morning's "Washington Post" from a reporter embedded with the 3rd Infantry Division suggests a warning shot was never fired. It is - seems unclear at this point and as we said, military officials say they are investigating.

Now for more on the U.S. military response to the van attack, CNN's Chris Plante joins us from the Pentagon - Chris.

CHRIS PLANTE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Hi Anderson. Not a lot in the way of official response from the Pentagon other than the statement that you just cited. Generally speaking, though, this is kind of situation - pardon me - the kind of situation that they certainly seek to avoid. They said going into this conflict that one of their central priorities was to avoid civilian casualties, given in particular that they plan on being there for quite some time.

The U.S. is laying some of the blame for this, at least, at the feet of the Iraqis because of some of the tactics they have adopted and a U.S. spokesman at the Central Command in Doha, Qatar had this to say about it today.


JAMES WILKINSON, CENTCOM: This is a sad and tragic incident, and it is really terrible that innocent people have died. I will point out that this is a byproduct -- the new security measures we've had to put in place are a byproduct of the regime's tactics of terrorism. They have now called for terrorist attacks, both in the United States and the United Kingdom. They continue to, as the report said just before, they continue to attack their own citizens who try to flee, and so, it's a sad and tragic incident. It's unfortunate that it had to happen, but also it's incidents like this of the fault of the regime.


PLANTE: It is, of course, a very difficult circumstance given a number of the tactics that the Iraqi forces have adopted, pulling back into urban areas, which is a method that's sure to involve civilian casualties, if the coalition forces attack them there. A number of the forces are confronting Americans in the field also dressed as civilians. We see some videotape on our air today of casualties in hospitals. The Iraqis say that they're civilian casualties and then we see their troops in the field, they're dressed as civilians. It makes it very difficult for the troops - Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, it certainly does and Chris, I'm sure you saw - there was a fascinating article in "The Washington Post" about what is going on inside the city of Najaf, which is close to where this suicide bombing was on Saturday and apparently, according to this "Washington Post" article quoting U.S. military officials, a lot of the Iraqi irregular forces inside the city have actually basically encamp themselves next to one of the holiest sights for Shiite Muslims. The - according to "The Washington Post" it's the Tomb of Ali, the son-in-law of the prophet Mohammed. So not only are they using, apparently, according to this report, schools and hospitals and the like as headquarters, they're now using this very holy sight to many in Iraq. So obviously...


COOPER: ... that will complicate the situation a lot more.

PLANTE: Really, a very common tactic. We've seen it for quite some time - those of us who have watched the military activity around Iraq. The U.S. in patrolling the no-fly zones runs into this problem or has run into this problem for years, putting missiles next to mosques, next to schools, next to hospitals. We saw an example several days ago when U.S. forces were taking fire from a hospital in southern Iraq and when they eventually took the hospital over, which was flying the flag of the Red Crescent, which is a violation of the Geneva Convention, they found chemical weapon suits, munitions, and even a tank inside this hospital. Long history of the Iraqis doing this sort of thing. It was also seen quite honestly in the Kosovo conflict, the Belgrade government did the same thing putting weapons next to tanks and homes in residential areas in an effort to dare them to strike these sites and inflict civilian casualties -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, and ultimately in the Kosovo conflict, non successful. Chris Plante, thanks very much, appreciate it, from the Pentagon. Let's go back to Daryn Kagan in Kuwait City - Daryn.

KAGAN: Anderson, we're going to focus on news coming out of Baghdad now and there was a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the air war over Baghdad. It ended with dawn. "Reuters" reports that there were two explosions hitting the southern outskirts of the capital. The blast followed a three-hour break in Baghdad bombing.

Sources say the U.S.-led air campaign targeted a presidential palace area in Baghdad on Monday night. Pentagon officials also say the air war is having a direct impact on Republican Guard divisions around that city. There is other news coming out of Baghdad and for that we want to bring in our Rym Brahimi, who was posted there for a long time before the Iraqi government kicked her and the rest of our crew out. She is standing by in Amman, Jordan.

Rym, hello to you. First I'd like to talk about this video that was seen on Iraqi-state television that shows Saddam Hussein and his two sons. What kind of significance can you give to that?

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very interesting, Daryn, that video because of the timing more than anything else. This video of President Saddam Hussein and his two sons, Qusay and Uday Saddam Hussein came at a moment when one, the Pentagon was suggesting that maybe those two sons had fled the country, was saying if I were the Iraqi people I would wonder where my president is. So it could be a sign that the Iraqis have been closely monitoring what is being said in the West.

Secondly, it also came out at a moment when after the TV signal was knocked off the air by U.S. forces, U.S.-led forces. It was knocked off the air on the domestic channel for a few hours and then when it came back up again, when it came up with the picture of the president and his two sons. A bit of a way, maybe for the leadership to say we're still around and no matter what you try to do and also, obviously, a clear indication to the people of Iraq that they're still around - Daryn.

KAGAN: Of course, there's always the same questions over the last couple of weeks now when we do see this new videotape of Saddam Hussein coming out and this time with his sons. It's on tape. When was it taped? What is the significance of the timing of that? And why have we not seen Saddam Hussein go live on Iraqi television?

BRAHIMI: Well, as you say, always the same questions. It's very difficult to say when it would have been taped. I would say in all honesty impossible really to assess that from where we're standing. That said, why isn't he live? Though, the president actually hasn't made any public appearances in a long time, even since the 1991 Gulf War. Well, maybe he made a few public appearances, but you could count them on the hands of one finger, Daryn. In recent - in the recent year or so that I've spent in Iraq, well he's never made any speech live on Iraqi TV. Every single speech marking the anniversary of the resolution, the anniversary of the end of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) those speeches have been pretaped, so it's not so much a surprise. Of course, there is a lot of secrecy around the movements of the president and none of his appearances live or public really - Daryn.

KAGAN: Rum Brahimi, thanks for putting that into context for us. We appreciate that report from Amman, Jordan. We're going to take a break from here in Kuwait City. Much more ahead from here, as well as with Anderson Cooper back in Atlanta. Right now quick break. We're back after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)




COOPER: We've been talking a lot this morning about what has been going on in southeastern Iraq, as well as central Iraq and Baghdad. We want to look at the north of Iraq now. We want to go to a Kurdish-control territory near Kalak and our own Ben Wedeman, who has been there since the beginning of this conflict. Ben, what's the latest where you are?

We just lost Ben's audio, so we'll try to go back to him shortly. What we know not having talked to Ben, but we know that there has been sporadic, what was described as sporadic, but intense air attacks on Monday near the northern city of Mosul. Obviously, a very oil rich city and a city that is very important ultimately to be captured by coalition forces. And apparently, 13 Iraqi soldiers were said to have abandoned their post and surrendered to Kurdish fighters inside the Kurdish control zone.

There was reports of saying that they were describing what it was like to be underneath this bombardment that has been going on in the north assuming it simply became too much for them and they crossed over to Kurdish-control territory and gave themselves up. So we're going to try to re-establish contact with Ben Wedeman, who's near Kalak as soon as we can.

Moving on though, the British military is playing mind games with some of the Iraqi forces around Basra. We're going back now down to southeast Iraq. CNN's Christiane Amanpour explains the rules.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A mobile radio station in southern Iraq -- British Army psychological warfare operation aimed principally now at Basra.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My fellow soldiers, the Saddam Hussein regime is in its final days.

AMANPOUR: Frustrated by the lack of the expected uprising in the city, the British Army says they are now stepping up transmissions, hoping to turn the people and the tide of this war.


AMANPOUR: There's Jennifer Lopez and other western music for the youngsters and traditional Arab music and in between there are these messages.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got to control their information flow, what they're receiving. Firstly, primarily to stop what they're getting out of Baghdad.

AMANPOUR: There is also the ongoing leaflet dropped over Basra. This is the most important message the British are trying to sell right now.

(on camera): This is the entrance to the city of Basra and the British admit they don't know the effect their psy-ops are having inside the city. They admit they're shooting a little blind right now and they acknowledge that Saddam Hussein has a highly accomplished propaganda machine.

(voice-over): And it still works well. The regime continues to inspire such terror that these people leaving the city didn't want to talk on camera. But many say they do get the leaflet and the radio messages, but they say what they need is food, water, and rest bite (ph) from the bombing. Some told us Saddam's party loyalists still control the city.

With the firefight echoing in their ears, some told us they and everyone they know want to see Saddam gone, but until then, they'll remain silent. Al Jazeera Arab television sent out pictures of the wounded in Basra's hospital and people told us that civilians are being hurt in the artillery and tank duals between the British and Iraqi forces inside. The British want to deliver humanitarian aid to Basra to improve their chances of winning people's confidence, but so far, they're having to settle for the towns that they've already secured on the outskirts.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN, near Basra in southern Iraq.


COOPER: We believe we've re-established contact with Ben Wedeman who is in northern Iraq in the border post of Kalak and he has the latest on the northern air war. Ben, what's the scene where you are?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well actually, the air war, Anderson, seems to be taking something of a break. It was not - basically the last time we saw any aircraft above us was some time yesterday afternoon or in the early evening. Since then, it's been very quite, but before that, we did see fairly intense bombing of this area of front line positions of the Iraqi Army along a fairly long stretch of the Iraqi front line. And yesterday we had a chance to meet with five deserters from the Iraqi Army. They told us that they had been under very heavy air bombardment by coalition forces for six days - six days and six nights. They were unable to get any sleep. They were exhausted. They were terrified having seen many of their comrades killed and wounded in the bombardment. They said that many of their colleagues would have liked to run away, but they're afraid because there are government execution squads - that's the term they used - operating behind the front lines killing anybody who tries to run away.

Now, one thing we have noticed in this area is to the south of here in the direction of a town called Al Gurar (ph), there seems to be movement of Peshmerga troops in that area. In fact, about an hour ago, we tried to follow them in that direction and were stopped by Kurdish forces. Normally the Kurds are very enthusiastic about having the western media in this area. They're always welcoming us to go up to their front line positions. On this occasion, not the case. We've heard from local villagers that they have seen truckloads of U.S. troops heading in that direction. So, may be that this front to the south of us is about to heat up even more - Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Ben Wedeman in northern Iraq. Thanks very much. I'll talk probably to you in the next hour or so as well. I think we're going to go to a short break and when we do, we'll come right back.



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