CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
War in Iraq: Live From the Frontlines
Aired April 1, 2003 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: Live from the front lines, the time line that created today's headlines.
7:00 a.m. Dohar, Qatar, the U.S. military says it's investigating the deadly shooting of Iraqi civilians.
BRIG. GEN. VINCENT BROOKS, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: No one is killing more Iraqis right now than the regime.
ANNOUNCER: Were the Iraqis using them as human shields?
11:00 a.m., Basra, a stunning array of flares lights up the skies over Iraq's second biggest city. What were coalition forces looking for in the darkness of Basra?
12:00 Noon, Baghdad, a message from President Saddam Hussein delivered by one of his ministers, so how come Hussein didn't read the statement himself?
1:00 p.m., Jordan, three missing American journalists found alive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I speak for everyone that we're all incredibly grateful.
ANNOUNCER: What happened to them during their weeklong ordeal?
All the day's pivotal moments in perspective LIVE FROM THE FRONT LINES, Day 14, from Kuwait City, Wolf Blitzer, from New York, Paula Zahn.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening. Welcome. You're looking at live picture of Baghdad right now, 8:00 Eastern time just before dawn, 5:00 a.m. in the Iraqi capital after another night punctuated by the familiar blast of bombs falling outside and inside the city.
Reuters confirming that one of Saddam Hussein's presidential complexes hit, a place that not only housed some of the Republican Guard offices but the offices of his son Qusay as well. It is not the first time this compound has been hit. It has been pounded for several days.
I'm Paula Zahn in New York. Thanks so much for joining us tonight. I'm joined by my colleague Wolf Blitzer who's standing by in Kuwait City tonight. Good evening, Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, Paula.
Over the next hour we're going to show our viewers exactly how Day 14 of the war in Iraq has unfolded and we'll show it precisely as it happened.
Plus, in our second half hour, the mystery that deepened today, where is Iraqi President Saddam Hussein? Is he dead? If he's wounded is he still in control? We'll talk to the man who wrote the book on Saddam Hussein.
And, if you think Saddam Hussein's death would be the death of his regime, think again. Bill Schneider will take us inside the Iraqi organization that perfected Saddam's tactics before his rise to power -- Paula.
ZAHN: Thanks so much, Wolf.
First, we want to bring you up to date on some of the latest developments on the ground in Iraq. Within the last hour, U.S. Central Command announced the successful rescue of a soldier missing in action in Iraq.
It was 19-year-old Private First Class Jessica Lynch who, as we mentioned, had been designated as missing for more than a week after an ambush near Nasiriya. According to her family she is now in a coalition hospital.
And, early Wednesday Iraqi time, U.S. Marines battling for Nasiriya switched tactics, no longer just responding to ambushes, the 15th Artillery went on the offensive to root out paramilitary units loyal to Baghdad targeting the headquarters there of Saddam's party and calling in new air strikes.
We'll have more on that later about an even bigger shift in strategy, Baghdad, but also tonight CNN's Harris Whitbeck reports that a U.S. Navy F-14 crashed in southwest Iraq today. Both pilots bailed out. Both were rescued.
Let's go to Jason Bellini who's standing by near Nasiriya with an update on what is going on at these early hours of the morning Iraq time. Jason, thanks for joining us. What's the latest?
JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Paula. Paula, now that CENTCOM has announced the rescue of a POW we can tell you that that rescue effort by Marine Special Forces was concurrent to the offensive operation. The Marines we're with are involved in -- who are still involved with now.
This operation done in conjunction to distract attention from the area across the river where the rescue operation was taking place but this operation itself designed to go into the city and to remove Saddam loyalists from this area of the city.
They're using helicopter gun ships, tanks, infantry, Marines, hitting specific targets and, as you just reported, they've hit the Ba'ath Party headquarters as one of their initial targets as well, we're told, as the residence of a Saddam loyalist, one of Saddam's cronies as they call him -- Paula.
ZAHN: All right, Jason come back to a point you were making earlier about the Marine Special Forces. You say the rescue of the soldier missing in action was concurrent with some of this activity in and around Nasiriya. Are you telling me there was a connection between the two actions here?
BELLINI: That's correct, Paula. You probably hear helicopters flying overhead right now in part of this operation. They were using -- hope you can still hear me. Paula, can you still hear me?
ZAHN: I can hear you, yes.
BELLINI: OK. Yes, that's correct. Again, the design of this operation was to allow the presence, allow the very visible presence (unintelligible) we are now. They used artillery. They used mortar rounds, bombs that were dropped overhead. Helicopters were putting on a light show by firing to various locations in the city.
So, I imagine there are very few people who didn't lose a little bit of sleep tonight living in this area. It was a very loud, very large assault that went on tonight and again they did that at about -- at exactly the same time as this rescue effort, the successful rescue effort was underway -- Paula.
ZAHN: Jason Bellini, thanks so much for that update.
Wolf, we're going to go back to you and I think probably what we need to try to do is clear up some of this confusion over the status of Jessica Lynch. At one point there was a lot of speculation that she was a prisoner of war.
But I guess, Wolf, what we're most comfortable saying that she was a soldier missing in action. She happened to be with that team that took a bad turn in and around Nasiriya. Her father has been contacted. He has told CNN that she was indeed transferred to a coalition controlled facility.
BLITZER: A dramatic rescue operation indeed, Paula, and let's get specific with that 507th Maintenance Company that went astray on March 23rd outside Nasiriya and apparently got all of them, all of the members of that company into some serious trouble.
According to the Pentagon, two members of the 507th are now listed as killed, dead, killed in action. Five were listed as prisoners of war. Presumably those are the five that were seen on Al- Jazeera and Iraqi television and they were specifically questioned by Iraqi interrogators on television. Eight others, including 19-year- old Private First Class Jessica Lynch, listed as missing in action, Jessica Lynch now having been successfully rescued by those Special Operations.
A little bit of background about her. She was 19 years old. She joined the military right out of high school in part because her brother was in the military and also in part because she didn't think she was going to find a job in West Virginia. Jessica Lynch now back in the control of the U.S. military.
Let's move on now. Right now, we want to begin our look at how Day 14, namely today, of the war has unfolded. Today's briefing by the U.S. Central Command outside of Doha, Qatar was significant.
That was at 7:00 a.m. Eastern, and on the top of the agenda was the Iraqi accusation that U.S. forces had in effect murdered seven innocent Iraqi civilians. Much of the Arab world has expressed outrage about the incident which occurred Monday at a checkpoint near Najaf.
The Central Command says the Iraqi vehicle ignored repeated warnings to stop but as CNN's Tom Mintier reports that hasn't put the issue to rest.
TOM MINTIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The issue of checkpoints have been high on the military's agenda here at Central Command and high on the press list of questions as well, this since an event that occurred on Saturday when a suicide bomber approached the 3rd Infantry Division checkpoint on a highway in Iraq. The man got out of the car, waved his arms, and the soldiers came forward only to have an explosion detonate and four U.S. soldiers were killed.
There was another incident that occurred in the last 24 hours where somebody came forward according to the CENTCOM officials at a checkpoint also in the same area. According to CENTCOM there were warning shots fired and shots fired to try to disable the vehicle, and according to CENTCOM then shots fired into the center of the vehicle that killed seven passengers. When they opened it, it was only women and children, according to CENTCOM officials.
(voice-over): That has caused them to question whether their rules of operation are correct, not specifically the rules of engagement but how they deal with civilian vehicles at checkpoints. CENTCOM officials are saying that these people are pushed into going forward saying that the paramilitaries are forcing them into confrontations at the checkpoints.
BROOKS: I certainly can't presuppose what decisions are being made or what decisions were made by the people in that vehicle. What we do know is that we've been broadcasting now for a good period of time, since about the 17th of February, 24 hours a day on five different frequencies and consistent throughout that time have been messages that say avoid coalition troops. Avoid the places where combat is going to occur.
MINTIER (on camera): In an apparent effort to once again put forward the fact that they are operating in a precision manner, they showed several examples of bombing of tanks, a weapons storage facility just outside of Baghdad, and a fuel truck also in Iraq that were hit by coalition forces, this apparently to point up the fact that they are able to fire with precision.
There has also been the accusation that meals have been hard to come by in the field. We had a background briefing with a senior CENTCOM official who says that that shouldn't be a problem, that there are 480,000 meals available to people on the ground in Iraq every day.
Tom Mintier, CNN at CENTCOM Headquarters, Doha, Qatar.
ZAHN: And in the eleven o'clock hour today there were signs of change to come in Iraq. Military officials tell CNN coalition forces on the ground in Iraq are getting a battle plan that suggests the focus of the war will soon turn to Baghdad.
CNN's Walt Rodgers reporting from the ranks of the Army's 3-7th Cav reports there are signs more and more troops will be deployed for a possible siege on the Iraqi capital as reinforcements are brought in to replace the troops now engaged in fighting along the Euphrates south of Baghdad, all of which shines an intense light on the news CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr broke in our eleven o'clock hour.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: General Tommy Franks, head of the Central Command, has been given authority to decide when to proceed on into Baghdad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: The Pentagon and Department of Defense put a good deal of effort today in defending the strategies and tactics of the U.S. war plan to date.
To tell us about that and what today's green light means for the war, we've got CNN Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre with us tonight. Good evening, Jamie. You have three or four stories you can tell us about tonight.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula...
ZAHN: You can start wherever you want.
MCINTYRE: Well, despite the Pentagon's effort to keep the focus on how well they thought the war was going, they kept getting bogged down in a war of words over whether the Pentagon had sent enough ground troops to get the job done. Today, the Pentagon insisted that the answer to that criticism would come in results on the battlefield.
MCINTYRE (voice-over): Now that news reports quoting U.S. Army officers on the front lines are fueling the perception the U.S. sent too few troops to Iraq. Frustration at the Pentagon has reached the boiling point. GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: My view of those reports and since I don't know who you're quoting, who the individuals are, is that they're bogus.
MCINTYRE: Reporters were asking about a front page "New York Times" story that quotes an unnamed colonel as saying of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, "He wanted to fight this war on the cheap." Before Rumsfeld could respond, his top military adviser jumped to his defense.
MYERS: It is not helpful to have those kind of comments come out when we got troops in combat because first of all they're false. They're absolutely wrong. They bear no resemblance to the truth and it's just, it's just harmful to our troops that are out there fighting very bravely, very courageously.
MCINTYRE: Rumsfeld says that while he had input, the war plan is the creation of General Tommy Franks, the U.S. Central Commander, but that everyone in the chain of command signed off on it.
DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Nobody should go out of here with any idea that I or anyone else are distancing themselves from that plan because I am not.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're the boss, though.
RUMSFELD: Well, I'm the boss but I'm not the person who designs war plans.
MCINTYRE: Rumsfeld tried to keep the focus on the progress the U.S. is making in degrading the Republican Guard divisions blocking the way to Baghdad, saying they've been so badly weakened Iraq has had to reinforce them with troops from the north.
RUMSFELD: They're being attacked from the air. They're being pressured from the ground and in good time they won't be there.
MCINTYRE: All in good time according to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and now Pentagon sources confirming that for some of those troops that time is now. A major ground offensive underway against Republican Guard units in the south, including a major battle we're told near Karbala, and also a separate thrust against Republican Guard troops near Al Kut.
This could be the beginning of what everyone has been calling the battle of Baghdad, a systematic campaign to wipe out the Republican Guard units and topple the regime in Baghdad once and for all -- Paula.
ZAHN: Jamie, before we let you go is there anything else you've learned about this soldier missing in action, Private First Class Jessica Lynch and her return to a coalition facility?
MCINTYRE: Well, most of what we've learned we've learned from our own reporter on the scene, Jason Bellini, who revealed that she was actually apparently in an Iraqi hospital.
Apparently, once her location was discovered a mission was mounted to rescue her, part of other combat operations that were going on at the time. She has been transferred to coalition controlled territory. We don't know her condition. We don't know what she's been through.
We do know that her family was missing her terribly and very hopeful that because of her sort of scrappy personality that she would somehow manage to survive this ordeal and now it appears she has -- Paula.
ZAHN: Thanks so much, Jamie.
And, on the telephone with us right now is Linda Davies, a woman who was very close to Jessica Lynch, happened to be her Kindergarten teacher. Linda, I understand you're just back from Jessica's family's home. Tell us what they've been told and how their daughter is doing.
LINDA DAVIES, LYNCH'S KINDERGARTEN TEACHER: They've been told that she's doing really well and that she'll be calling them later tonight so they're very excited. There's a big party going on, not only at their house but in this whole county. People are blowing horns. Sirens are going off. There's fireworks going off everywhere and everybody's just so thankful for all the prayers around the world for her.
ZAHN: You're giving us all shivers as we listen to you. Do you know anything at all about Jessica's physical condition?
DAVIES: They just have been told that she's fine, that physically she's fine.
ZAHN: Do you have any idea what she's been through?
DAVIES: No. They haven't been told anything else, just those things.
ZAHN: Can you describe to us what happened when the family got the news, how that all came about?
DAVIES: Well, a neighbor that had been close to the family and been taking phone calls for them came over to my house and let me know and we rushed up there and they all sat expectantly waiting for the official news on TV, although they had gotten a call from somebody at the hospital, a general or something at the hospital where Jessica is.
And, then they had gotten a local Army spokesman had come to their house then and officially told them that Jessica had been rescued and then we sat waiting, watching for it on TV, and when we saw her face on TV and it confirmed everything for us, everybody cheered and just lots of hugs and happy times.
ZAHN: In her hometown newspaper Jessica was described as a spunky little blonde girl all of about 5'4" tall, 105 pounds. What do you want the audience to know about her will tonight? DAVIES: That Jessie is something else and we didn't expect anything less from her and as soon as I saw her mother I said Jessie is going to be a teacher.
ZAHN: Well, that's what she wanted to be, right?
ZAHN: I think her father said the only reason she joined the military was to get some of the education and some of the good benefits.
DAVIES: Yes, so I'm looking forward to her being in my spot just like she said she was going to be.
ZAHN: Did you ever see her going in to service?
DAVIES: No. I was surprised that she did go in but she wanted to do some traveling along with getting the benefits for her education later.
ZAHN: And then just a final thought tonight on what Jessica's family has been through as they have waited and waited to just about any news they could get out of government officials.
DAVIES: And it's been good tonight.
ZAHN: Yes, it's been good tonight but it has been a long wait hasn't it?
DAVIES: Yes, it has. Yes, it has.
ZAHN: And how are her parents holding up?
DAVIES: Oh, they're doing great now. They, you know, of course haven't slept much and they don't expect to sleep tonight just because they're so excited and happy and thanking God for bringing their little girl back to them.
ZAHN: Well, thanks for sharing some of the celebration with us this evening. I am happy to hear the whole town is walking around with streamers and all kinds of stuff representing this great news tonight.
ZAHN: Again, Linda Davies, thanks for you time and it will be interesting to see how many years it will be before Jessica is taking over your job in the classroom.
DAVIES: Yes. I'm anxious to have that happen. Thank you.
ZAHN: Apparently, you set a very good example.
DAVIES: Thank you.
ZAHN: Again, thanks for your time and our best to Jessica's family.
In 1991, General Norman Schwarzkopf got a red light halting his march to Baghdad. One of General Schwarzkopf's top briefers at the time during the first Persian Gulf War was Air Force Colonel Mike Turner, who will join us from Denver straight out of the break. We'll be right back.
ZAHN: There's been a lot of analysis of the war plan that is in place, whether there are enough ground troops in place, whether there's enough air power. Well, in 1991 General Norman Schwarzkopf was the one who gave the red light halting his march to Baghdad/
And one of his top briefers at the time, during the first Persian Gulf War, was Air Force Colonel Mike Turner who joins us now from Denver with some insight. Thanks for joining us tonight.
COL. MIKE TURNER, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): My pleasure, Paula.
ZAHN: What's your view? Do the U.S. and its British partners have enough troops on the ground to wage this war?
ZAHN: Especially if there's a move into Baghdad?
TURNER: Well, right now everything's gone great and we appear to be back on track after an adjustment on the battlefield in the early days and as happens in all battles and all operations. Everything appears to be going right on track and we're chugging along right now and things look real good.
My concerns are more based on the reference of Desert Storm, the objectives that we had, the mission that we had and the forces that we had in place during Desert Storm compared to what we have now, a much tougher, more complex, more dangerous mission, and a significantly smaller force.
Things have changed. Theories have changes. Technology has changed and I think whoever said it in the Pentagon, it may have been the chairman this afternoon that this discussion will end with results on the ground is absolutely correct. The key is the battle for Baghdad and really that larger battle has begun with the attack on the Republican Guard which apparently is ongoing.
And, that's absolutely right, results will end this debate and end this discussion once and for all and at this point what is, is, and so I think we need to focus on the job at hand and obviously support the troops in the field and get on with what's going on.
ZAHN: But you also can see that what comes next is much more dangerous than anything encountered in 1991. What is your chief concern?
TURNER: Well, a pitched urban battle in a city of five million people to overthrow a regime when you're fighting the regime at its strength and in its fortress, particularly a regime with a three decade history of the most unbelievable, ruthless behavior we could imagine, is a very, very dangerous proposition. And, the number of unknowns in this battle I would have to say are an order of magnitude over the number of unknowns we had facing the Army in Kuwait.
Now, you know, 20/20 hindsight tells us that Desert Storm seemed like a cake walk. Well, in fact, there was a lot of consternation, a lot of real fear, a lot of unknowns on the battlefield.
We were facing the sixth largest army in the world, the most sophisticated air defense in history, and we thought we'd arrayed a force, and General Schwarzkopf fought hard to get the forces that he needed and with the exception of one moment in the fall of 1990, basically was given a blank check by senior President Bush. Whatever you need is what you get.
And so, to look at this battle now for Baghdad and what we're about to undertake with Baghdad it raises eyebrows in former military circles, certainly that we're doing it with a force this much smaller. That said, everything's on track and everything looks great right now and we'll just to have to wait and see how this battle unfolds.
ZAHN: We need your help in connecting some of the dots tonight. Jamie McIntyre breaking some news at the top of the hour, of our seven o'clock at least, describing a major ground offensive going on particularly involving two Republican Guard units and I know that you have believed that the air campaign against those Republican Guard targets was equally critical. Bring us up to date on how you think this is all coming together?
TURNER: Well, it's actually a microcosm of Phase 3 of Desert Storm. Phase 3 was to reduce the ground forces in and around the Kuwaiti theater of operations to about 50 percent combat effectiveness. So, it was not with a great deal of surprise that we announced today that we believe we've reduced the Medina guard, which I believe is an armored division, to about 50 percent effectiveness.
That's pretty verifiable from gun camera film and from pilot observations and ground troops on the ground. What we're seeing is a reduction of the Republican Guard from the air and it's a lethal process. You just wail away at them in anticipation of the ground offensive so that you really sort of plough the way and ease the burden of the ground troops and that's especially critical.
I was watching earlier with the sortie counts that are going up. They're about the same as the sortie counts during Desert Storm. The difference, of course, being that I would say easily four-fifths of the ordinance that we deployed on the battlefield during Desert Storm was what we call dumb bombs, just iron bombs falling off the airplane, although they were delivered with very precise systems.
That's still the case here. That's still the effect here. But when you have troops congealed and sort of coalesced like these Republican Guard units are, they sure make a choice target for the air power. So, I wasn't surprised to see 500, 600 sorties a day going after these Republican Guard units and they're doing a great job.
ZAHN: Colonel Mike Turner, we always appreciate your insight, particularly since you have that historic reference point having briefed General Norman Schwarzkopf. As always, good to see you, thanks again for spending some time with us this evening, back to Wolf now in Kuwait City -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Paula.
Let's continue our timeline of the day, this Day 14 of the war in Iraq. U.S. forces continue to move into Iraq, not just for fighting but also to support those who are already there.
At 1:00 p.m. Eastern today, a U.S. plane flew into Iraq coming in low to avoid radar contact. CNN's Gary Tuchman has this exclusive look at the crew on their way to a coalition air base.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're looking at troops being transported into Iraq on one of the 18,000 plus sorties that have taken place since this war began.
We're on an HC-130 now. We are flying over Iraq as we speak at an altitude of only 300 feet to avoid Iraqi radar and these men here maintain helicopters. They'll be at the base that has been taken over by the coalition.
With us right now, your name sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sid Penner (ph).
TUCHMAN: Have you been to Iraq yet?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I haven't.
TUCHMAN: You maintain helicopters, correct?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right.
TUCHMAN: Will you be living at this base in Iraq for a while?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to swap out every so often. We won't be staying there permanently yet. We're relieving a crew that's there now and then we'll be relieved by another crew in time to come.
TUCHMAN: Any nerves about going to Iraq and being there for a while?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe a little apprehensive but not too bad, just looking forward to doing what our commander-in-chief's let us have the opportunity to do.
TUCHMAN: You have your body armor. You have your weapons with you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct.
TUCHMAN: Thanks for talking with us. I want to give you a look here. There are also supplies going out on this mission right here, food and water. I'm going to pass you by for a second. It's very rocky on this plane because we're at such a low altitude.
I want to give you a look out the window. We are, as I said, flying at 300 feet which is extremely low and you can actually see the Iraqi desert as we're flying. Take a look at that view. It looks like we're almost in an SUV. That's how low we look. Look, that's the view you get from the wheel of the SUV.
Right here is the load master of this mission. This is Shane Smith (ph). Sergeant I want to ask you a quick question. We're over Iraq by now. This is unbelievably low how low we're flying.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now we're around 200 feet.
TUCHMAN: Two hundred feet right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two to 300 feet.
TUCHMAN: Any nerves? Do you worry at all when you fly this low?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not at all. I like it low.
TUCHMAN: It's interesting isn't it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any fears that we'll see an Iraqi aircraft? There haven't been any up during the war so far.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is a fear?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... all over the place. We just crossed the border.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Shane (ph), for talking with us. We want to take you up to the cockpit now. It'll be a little rocky walking up there, but we'll be able to give you the look. We have to climb these narrow stairs, and you'll see there are five people up here. There's a flight engineer, a navigator, a radio operator, a pilot and a co-pilot. And you'll really get a bird's eye view of what this pilot and co-pilot see.
They have radar up here just in case there are any Iraqi aircraft on the horizon. They said they haven't seen any yet during this war, but they're always visually looking out the window, very busy, to make sure there's no problem. Once we get to Tallil, Iraq, we'll drop off these helicopter maintenance people who will stay up here a while, drop off the food and water, and then return. But right now, we're on our way to Tallil, Iraq, a coalition base that just last week was in Iraqi control.
ZAHN: And an offensive on the city of Nasiriyah marked a change in approach by some U.S. forces. It was 5:00 p.m. Eastern and CNN's Jason Bellini reported that a large nighttime effort was launched targeting Ba'ath Party headquarters and a key Saddam loyalist. The U.S. troops there were trying to deal with the militia problem instead of reacting to ambushes going block to block in the city after militia members.
And as we mentioned at the top of the hour, this has been going on now for the past several hours. So on this 13th day, the fighting continues and renewed questions about Saddam Hussein. As we've seen, the pronouncements, the statement, the TV appearance keep coming, but do they tell us if Saddam Hussein is really alive, wounded or dead?
Still ahead, we'll talk to a journalist who spent years in the Middle East and who has written extensively about Saddam Hussein and his regime. We'll look at the many faces of Saddam Hussein and whether they offer any clues to his condition or his grip on power. We'll be right back.
HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: An awful lot going on tonight as you know. Let's get right to it. An American soldier POW has been rescued. She is Jessica Lynch, a 19-year-old Private First Class from Palestine, West Virginia. CNN's Jason Bellini reports the Marines rescued Lynch from an Iraqi hospital near Nasiriyah. Lynch had been assigned as an Army supply clerk with the 507th Maintenance based in Fort Bliss, Texas.
More huge explosions rock Baghdad tonight. You can see the huge clouds of smoke above the old palace grounds. Today Pentagon officials said the relentless bombing campaign in Baghdad had sufficiently cleared the way for a coalition invasion. They say General Tommy Franks has been given the green light to air order the ground assault when he thinks the time is right.
A speech reported to be from Saddam Hussein was broadcast on Iraqi TV today. Iraq's information minister read the statement, which called for jihad against the U.S.-led aggressors. Many are wondering why the Iraqi president didn't deliver the message himself including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld who says it may be more evidence Hussein was hurt or killed in the opening day air strike.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Where are Iraq's leaders? The night before the coalition began, coalition forces launched a strike on a meeting of Iraq's senior command and control, and they have not been heard from since. The fact that Saddam Hussein did not show up for his televised speech today is interesting. (END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: More American military arrived in the Persian Gulf region today. Four ships carrying equipment for the Army's 4th Infantry Division docked in Kuwait City. Approximately 5,000 soldiers from the Fort Hood Base Contingent are now setting up camp near the Iraqi border.
A group of missing journalists including two from "Newsday" were found alive and unharmed in Jordan today. Matthew McAllester says he and the three others found with him spent seven or eight days in an Iraqi jail, but says they were unhurt. Freelance photographer Molly Bingham of Kentucky and a Danish journalist were also found to be safe.
Good news to report concerning the five passengers who reported SARS-like symptoms on board a flight from Tokyo to San Jose. It turns out none of them have the potentially deadly and highly contagious mystery illness. Even so, the plane's passengers say they've been told health officials will be checking up on them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They told us that they would be calling us in the next 10 to 14 days to see if we're still alive and well, and if we had any symptoms contact our doctors at home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: As live from the front lines continues, the question without an answer so far, is Saddam Hussein dead or alive? We'll look for answers.
Plus, what might happen in a post-Saddam Iraq? And we'll hear from CNN reporters embedded with coalition units in the field. It's all coming up right after this quick break.
BLITZER: We've been following over the past hour and a half, a dramatic development. Official announcement that 19-year-old Private First Class Jessica Lynch of Palestine, West Virginia has been rescued. She had been listed as missing in action.
Joining us now from the Central Command temporary headquarters in Camp As Sayliyah outside Doha, Qatar is Jim Wilkinson. He's an adviser to General Tommy Franks. Jim, thanks for joining us. Talk to us a little bit how this rescue, if you can was achieved.
JIM WILKINSON, DIR. STRATEGIC COMM. CENTCOM: Well, Wolf, I really don't want to go into details. What I'll say is that we've been up all night here. A small group of people knew about this rescue. It was kept to a very small group to preserve operational security. The forces went in, rescued her, I can report happily, that she is - she's alive, she's in coalition control, and her family's been notified, and we're just real happy. I will say that America is a nation that does not leave its heroes behind. There are other heroes out in that field we still want to go get. And so this is -- while it's a success, this makes us even more determined to bring our other brothers home.
BLITZER: Can you tell us where she is right now?
WILKINSON: Don't want to get into her location. I'll say that she's safe in coalition hands and I'm sure happier than where she was.
BLITZER: And General Franks, I assume, personally approved the decision to go ahead and make this announcement literally here in the middle of the night here in the Persian Gulf.
WILKINSON: Yes, Wolf, it's, you know, I think it's 4:30 in the morning here. We were up all night watching this because, as you can imagine, the operation has a lot of interest, and General Franks ordered this operation, and it was a success.
BLITZER: Well, you brought a lot of smiles to a lot of people. Jim Wilkinson, thanks very much for joining us. Paula, back to you.
ZAHN: Thanks, Wolf. As we have reported, the Iraqi government said earlier today that Saddam Hussein would address the nation, but instead of Saddam Hussein himself, another official read a statement attributed to Iraq's leader. That and other events since the beginning of the war lead to a question that so far has defied efforts to come up with a definitive answer, is Iraq's leader dead or alive?
We have seen Saddam Hussein on television several times since the beginning of the war on Iraq or have we?
ZAHN (voice-over): The first strike on Iraq, the decapitation strike was one the Pentagon says was designed to take out Iraqi President Saddam Hussein before the war began.
SADDAM HUSSEIN, IRAQI PRESIDENT: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
ZAHN: But within hours a Saddam Hussein with oversized glasses on showed up on Iraqi TV calling on his forces to fight. Questions began almost immediately whether it really was Saddam or one of his many body doubles. Hours later, Saddam was on Iraqi TV again, this time with his vice president, military commanders and government ministers. But no beret, no glasses. There were questions.
Had Saddam been injured or killed in the initial attack? And were the television appearances taped, shown later to give the Iraqi people the impression he was alive? There was word that the U.S. had intelligence that Saddam had been taken away from his compound on a stretcher after the first strike. The next day Iraqi TV showed more pictures of Saddam this time meeting with his son Qusay and other military advisers. Days later, another meeting -- this time Saddam wearing a heavy overcoat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything we have seen has been taped. So...
ZAHN: But U.S. officials noted every time Saddam was on TV, it was on tape. Iraqi TV showed the Iraqi leader the following day meeting with both his sons again on tape. And that brings us to today's statement attributed to Saddam Hussein, but read on Iraqi TV by Iraq's information minister -- keeping alive the mystery about Saddam Hussein, is he alive or dead?
ZAHN: So U.S. officials including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld say Saddam prepared lots of videos before the war. Mr. Rumsfeld says it's not possible to know for certain if Saddam or his sons are still alive - Wolf.
BLITZER: Paula, trying to figure out the fate of Saddam Hussein has become one of the war's more difficult questions. Why isn't the Pentagon convinced, for example, by his appearances on Iraqi television? For that let's turn to our national security correspondent David Ensor - David.
DAVID ENSOR, CNN NAT'L SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, the basic reason they're not convinced at the Pentagon and the CIA is that there's nothing on those tapes that clearly identifies them as having been recorded since March 19. The president of Iraq has never held up a newspaper and showed the headlines. He's never made reference to something in a specific fashion. And this tape of the information minister released today obviously says nothing about whether Saddam Hussein is alive or not.
I should point out that officials say to me, they don't attach any particular significance to this tape today. They say that during the first Gulf War it was frequently the habit of Saddam Hussein to issue statements to his public, which would be read by other ministers or by anchormen on the Iraqi television network. So, they're not attaching special significance to the fact that he did not read the statement today. But they are saying he has never shown that he's alive since March 19.
Now, he may be injured. He may simply be hiding and feel that it's not safe even to record a videotape at this point for release to the public. But, in the meantime, as I've mentioned before, U.S. officials believe that on March 19, Saddam Hussein was in the leadership bunker that was hit by those bombs that you saw in the videotape just earlier. They don't know whether he was injured or killed or whether he emerged unscathed, but they do believe he was there and they believe at least one of his sons was also -- Wolf.
BLITZER: David Ensor, our national security correspondent. David, thanks very much. Paula, I have to tell you in my conversations with U.S. officials they don't know if he's alive or dead, but they work under the assumption that he is still alive because they assumed that if he were dead, word would get out. You couldn't keep that secret for very long - Paula.
ZAHN: Thanks, Wolf. Well, intelligence analysts aren't the only ones trying to decipher the clues in what has and has not appeared on Iraqi TV. Con Coughlin is not only the author of "Saddam: King of Terror", he is also executive editor of the London's "Sunday Telegraph", which he also served as a correspondent in the Middle East. He joins us from the early hours of the morning from London. Thanks so much for being with us Con. First off, if Saddam is alive, why didn't he show up for the speech today?
CON COUGHLIN, AUTHOR, "SADDAM: KING OF TERROR": I think - well I do think Saddam is still alive and I think Saddam is keeping his head down. Apart from the injuries he suffered in that attack, the biggest shock to Saddam was that his security had been breached by the CIA. They were able to pinpoint precisely where he was and fire 40 cruise missiles at him. Now Saddam since then has really kept his head down, and he dare not make a public appearance because he knows or fears that if he does that again, then more cruise missiles would be targeted at him.
ZAHN: Con, let me ask you this -- what evidence have you seen that would support your case that he is indeed still alive?
COUGHLIN: I think two things actually, Paula. First in the way the war is being conducted. The Iraqi defense is going very much along the lines Saddam set out for the defense of Iraq. Secondly, from what I know of Saddam's immediate circle, if Saddam were dead, then I think we would see some serious fighting within the regime. For example, both his sons think that they are the heirs apparent, but so does Saddam's half-brothers, and there have been significant tensions within the family in the past. And I don't think we'd see the regime holding together as robustly as it is at the moment if Saddam were dead.
ZAHN: All right, Con, I want to you analyze some of the language we heard from that statement that the Iraqi information minister read that we're supposed to believe the words of Saddam Hussein which define the battle in Iraq in religious and pan-Arabic terms. Now this is what the White House had to say about that. Quote - "Saddam is responsible for many, many deaths of Muslim, Iranians and his own people. It's ironic that he's trying to wrap himself in the cloak of Islam now." What's the significance of the language? And that was a quote, by the way, by the president's spokesperson, Ari Fleischer.
COUGHLIN: Yes. Well Paula, he's done this before. He did this during the war with Iraq in the 1980's where he made himself out to be a great Islamic leader. So we shouldn't be surprised that, again, he's doing it today. We also have to bear in mind that we've had these volunteers going to Baghdad from the Al Aqsa Brigade and other Islamic radical groups.
You have to remember that in some areas in the Middle East the Americans are not very popular, and the Islamic radicals would like to unite with Iraqis, and attack the Americans, not so much because they like Saddam, but because they're very anti-American. And Saddam is a smart guy, and he's clearly trying to appeal to this constituency.
ZAHN: Well we always appreciate your perspective, particularly when you're willing to share it with us at the early hours in the morning your time. Thank you, Con, for dropping by.
COUGHLIN: My pleasure, Paula.
ZAHN: Good to see you again.
ZAHN: We're going to continue with more of our look at status of Saddam Hussein on the other side.
Right now, we'll go to the Pentagon for some breaking news from Jamie McIntyre. He now has an update on the status of Jessica Lynch, a soldier missing in action who has been rescued. What have you learned Jamie?
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well apparently Jessica Lynch has been through quite an ordeal. Sources at the Pentagon tell me that she suffered multiple gunshot wounds and was in a hospital, an Iraqi hospital in Nasiriyah, in the condition where it would make very difficult to move her. U.S. Forces became aware of intelligence that she was located at the hospital.
They planned a mission for several days. U.S. Special Forces went in with Marines providing security to rescue her. This hospital, they say, was also used - had other military uses, it was not just a hospital, and they were also looking for other people there, including so-called "Chemical Ali", the commander who has got that nickname because of his -- the Iraqi commander -- because of his association with using chemical weapons against the Kurds back in 1988.
He apparently is still at large. Jessica Lynch, however, was helicoptered out, as I said, she had been shot more than once in the ordeal. Her condition is said to be stable. She is now receiving medical treatment from U.S. authorities, but, again, quite an ordeal for Jessica Lynch since her capture on March 23 by enemy forces in Iraq, in that Iraqi hospital. No telling what exactly she's been through, but again, a dramatic rescue and the search is on for other people, including, as I said, the man nicknamed "Chemical Ali".
ZAHN: Thanks, Jamie McIntyre, and we spoke with Jessica's close friend, a woman who inspired her to someday become a kindergarten teacher and she said the family is celebrating. In fact, her whole town in West Virginia is filled with streamers and people making a lot of noise celebrating her rescue. More on that a little bit later on.
When we come back, what if Saddam Hussein is dead? Will the rest of the regime keel over, or will they follow him because they're just the same as he is? We're going to ask CNN's Bill Schneider whether Hussein's terror could outlast Hussein. Please stay with us. Live from the front lines is coming right back.
BLITZER: Everyday life in Iraq has been tightly controlled by Saddam Hussein and his ruling Ba'ath Party. CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider is in the CNN newsroom in Atlanta and he has a closer look - Bill.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, U.S. intelligence sources say they cannot confirm whether Saddam Hussein is dead or alive. Someone is clearly in control in Iraq, and they're fighting back, because keep this in mind, power in Iraq is concentrated not just in one man, but also in one political party.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Iraq is a police state governed by a totalitarian party. Totalitarian like the fascists and the communists? Exactly. Iraq's ruling Ba'ath Party has roots in the European totalitarianism of the 1930's. The party was founded in 1943 by French educated Arab intellectuals, and as communism and fascism evolved into a culture personality, Stalinism and Nazism, so too Baathism.
Saddam's pictures are everywhere. His arms were models for the cross-sword arches in central Baghdad. The party emerged after World War II as the leading force of radical pan-Arab nationalism. In the 1060's the Ba'ath Party came to power in both Syria and Iraq and stayed in power ever since.
The Ba'ath Party maintains total control of Iraq's political life. Only about 10 percent of Iraqis are members, but the party ruthlessly suppresses all political opposition. In ways Baathism is like Stalin era communism. Ba'ath Party cells reach into every village, neighborhood and factory.
The party controls all media. Elections are for choice of one party, which always wins 100 percent of the vote. In other ways, the Ba'ath Party resembles the Nazis. Hitler had the S.S., Saddam has his Republican Guard. Coalition forces now face a campaign of sabotage and terrorism organized by Baathists, some even willing to become suicide bombers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I decided to do this when I was 13, when I joined the Ba'ath Party.
SCHNEIDER: After the war, the allies may have to undertake a de- Baathification campaign just like the de-Nazification campaign in Germany after World War II.
Coalition forces are now taking aim at Ba'ath Party headquarters all over Iraq. They say they have to get rid of the poisonous political institution that has kept the dictator in power for nearly 25 years - Wolf.
BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much, very interesting - Paula.
ZAHN: Thanks so much, Wolf. Now if the Ba'ath Party's power extends beyond Saddam Hussein as Bill Schneider just pointed out, will removing Saddam be enough to remove the Ba'ath Party from power? I'm joined by Rob Sobhani, adjunct professor of foreign policy at Georgetown University. He joins us from Washington tonight. Thanks so much for being with us.
ROB SOBHANI, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Thanks Paula.
ZAHN: What do you think it would it take to wipe out the Ba'ath Party in Iraq?
SOBHANI: Well certainly, Paula, the head of the party is Saddam Hussein, has been for the past 20 some years, but it goes beyond Saddam Hussein. It has to be his sons; it has to be the close inner circle of Saddam Hussein. The tentacles of the Ba'ath Party, however, do run very deep into Iraqi society. It after all has been the instrument of terror for the past 30 years, and as your report just showed, it will take an intense, intense campaign of de-Baathification to get rid of this shock troop.
ZAHN: So, Professor, what's going to be harder to get rid of, the military part of the party or the political part?
SOBHANI: Paula, the entire apparatus of Saddam Hussein is going to be very difficult to get rid of. For example, he has 400,000 security people. That's an enormous amount of people to round up, identify. This is, indeed, a police state. It is a totalitarian state no different from other totalitarian states throughout history like the Soviet Union. And therefore, a fundamental objective of U.S. policy after Saddam should be to look deep into the bureaucracies, find these people, and identify them, and bring in new blood.
ZAHN: Let me ask you this -- as we watch this war go on, at what point do you think we'll see more Iraqis perceive this war as liberating and not as an invasion? Do you see that happening?
SOBHANI: Paula, I think the legacy of 1991, when we abandoned the Iraqis weighed heavily on the Iraqis who want to come out and cheer for us -- number one. Number two, I think the event that's going to catapult the people out into the street is when they see the dead bodies of Saddam Hussein, his sons and the members of his family. That's when they'll know the apparatus of terror is finally gone. That's when we'll hopefully see Iraqis smiling and see us as liberators finally.
ZAHN: Professor Rob Sobhani of Georgetown University, thanks for your time tonight.
SOBHANI: Thank you.
ZAHN: Appreciate your perspective. Back to Wolf now.
BLITZER: You know, Paula, these past two hours have seen some very dramatic developments, the most dramatic, presumably the most important the rescue of Jessica Lynch, 19 years old and you see how anxious the U.S. military was to show that they go out and leave no one behind, they're going to do whatever they can to find those other POWs and those MIAs as well -- I can assure you that knowing what makes up these men and women at the leadership of the U.S. military.
ZAHN: I know you tried to get some more details about the rescue, and I'm sure there are some dramatic ones that we'll be learning about in the hours to come.
BLITZER: And even as we watch all of this, of course, explosions, huge explosions rock Baghdad, yet once again, I think that's going to be a nightly presumably daily occurrence in the foreseeable future.
ZAHN: Wolf, it's been a pleasure working with you. See you tomorrow night. Larry King is up next with the latest on the war and insights from Walter Cronkite among others. I'm Paula Zahn. Wolf and I both thank you for joining us. I'll be back at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow for "AMERICAN MORNING" and as I said, Wolf and I will be back together tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. Have a good night everybody. Here's a look at the latest headlines right now.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com