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CNN LIVE TODAY

U.S. Forces Clearing Parts of Najaf

Aired April 2, 2003 - 10:32   ET

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

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: First, though, live to Ryan Chilcote. He's popping up again in Najaf in South Central, Iraq, an, Ryan, I know we watched this large plume of smoke, dark smoke drifting over the city a short time ago, apparently some sort of standoff continues there at a very holy site for the Shiites. And tonight, bring us up to date.
What more do we know now?

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, sure, you mentioned smoke over Baghdad. Smoke over Najaf, those two plumes of smoke still very much there on the horizon of the city. Those plumes of smoke coming from, we understand, some pickup trucks that basically, no better way of putting it, engaged in a drive-by shooting on a U.S. military convoy.

What happened was the U.S. military convoy was going through an intersection while this other convoy of pickup trucks, blue pickup trucks, we know, was going through that same intersection. The blue pickup truck opened fire. Actually I'm going to show you over here in the center of the city, might not be able to see it, but we have what appeared to be flares or maybe some rocket fire going off, still things very active here in the city.

Anyway, back to the this drive-by shooting. This convoy moving through at the same time, opened fire on the U.S. military convoy. That convoy pulled to the side of the road, took a head count. Once they were sure they had everyone there, they returned fire, and they also called in Apache attack helicopters, AH-64 helicopters, basically the gunships of the U.S. Army. They came in, spotted the pickup trucks close to there, and opened fire on them.

And what we saw after that was a series of secondary explosions coming from the pickup trucks, because according to the troops on the ground, they were loaded up with rockets and mortar rounds.

Obviously, once they caught on fire, they continued to explode. And that has created all of that black smoke which continues to cover the city of Najaf.

Now, while the fighting continues in Najaf, in areas where it has quieted down, and U.S. troops are policing the streets, they're getting a very warm reception.

Our cameraman, Craig Valenzo (ph), was out with the military convoy this morning when a spontaneous demonstration broke out. Basically, the convoy had to stop, because they needed to work out some logistics issues. There was a crowd of men standing around the convoy, when they saw it was U.S. troops, they were initially a little apprehensive, curious. But when they realized troops were there, they were not there to harm them, they started to applaud the troops, and it turned into a good old pro-American demonstration right in the middle of Najaf, something that I think even the U.S. military really didn't expect. It came as a big surprise.

So U.S. troops getting a very warm welcome, a very warm reception from the local Shia population.

Now naturally, the Shiites, as you were saying earlier, have no love loss for the Iraqi leader President Saddam Hussein. They have been very repressed by him in the past. And obviously, the presence and now what they believe to be a continuous and a presence that they can count on interest U.S. troops is quite something that they are quite happy to see -- Bill.

HEMMER: Ryan, thanks, Ryan Chilcote, embedded with the 101st Airborne Division in South Central Iraq. Thanks for that.

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