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ICRC Visits Iraqi Hospital

Aired April 2, 2003 - 02:30   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Looking at a live shot right now of Baghdad -- there was of course, more bombings there overnight -- around 4:00 a.m. a number of explosions heard -- lasted for about a half an hour -- 4:00 a.m. Baghdad time, I should say.
We're going to check in with Rym Brahimi, who's monitoring events in Baghdad from Amman, Jordan. Rym, good morning.

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Anderson. Well indeed, another heavy night of bombing. It started, as you mentioned, around 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. and let up about 10:00 or 11:00 p.m., as it does usually. People I spoke to who were there said that they heard the sound of missiles flying through the city in several areas very, very loudly. They said it was actually quite impressive, and you could really hear the very loud sound of missiles.

Of course the people -- the sights that seem to have been their targets -- or the areas targeted -- one of them is the Republican Palace in the center of Baghdad, as well as another series of sights, including a few government buildings.

Now the ICRC, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Anderson, is reporting something interesting. They sent some doctors to the southern city of Al Hillah -- it's not quite down south -- it's only about an hour's drive south from the Iraqi capital. Doctors were able, for the first time, to go to the hospital there. It's a small hospital that can only take 280 people.

But what they saw there, they said, was indescribable. They said there were hundreds of wounded, mainly women and children; and then in a place in that hospital as well -- hundreds of corpses that seemed to have been there for at least 48 hours in a very bad state -- some of them dismembered.

So that's something that we're going to try and bring you more updates on because it's not clear what caused the deaths and the casualties in that hospital.

Now the Iraqi officials have been extremely keen to portray these battles as between the United States and Britain who are trying to invade their country. The Information Minister yesterday came on TV -- he was supposed to talk -- he was supposed to introduce President Saddam Hussein; and instead he actually read the address of President Saddam Hussein -- significantly the president himself didn't come on TV.

He's portrayed this war as a war of religion, calling people to fight for religion, for Islam, and fight a jihad. Now that was not what Tariq Aziz, the Deputy Prime Minister, who's actually a Christian, said. He tried to distance himself from the religious conflict talk. Here's how he put it.


TARIQ AZIZ, IRAQI DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: We do not want to have to become a religious struggle. This is between independence and imperialism. Britain has historically had this history in the area, and ignorant Bush thinks that he's a superpower and he can control Iraq, and the region, and oil; and therefore the world.


BRAHIMI: So there you have it, Anderson -- various government officials coming, portraying this war, if you will, in a variety of ways -- one, a jihad -- another one, a battle between imperialists and people who are being invaded -- Anderson.

COOPER: Rym, just a couple questions -- the ICRC -- so they were allowed to visit this hospital by Iraqi officials; but am I correct in believing they still have not been allowed to visit the 7 Americans held as POWs?

BRAHIMI: Well Anderson, they're still working on that finally. They were allowed after a while, actually -- even the hospital they visited, it took them a while to be able to go down south from Baghdad; and this is the first time since the beginning of the war 14 days ago that they were able to do that.

With regard to the POWs, this is something that they have been negotiating; but you know, Anderson, negotiations about POWs that the Red Cross conducts with governments are usually extremely secretive negotiations; and it would be very, very rare indeed when these things come out. We'll likely know much later, and obviously, the first people concerned will be the first to know -- Anderson.

COOPER: Absolutely. Now there was also some good news on the number of journalists -- the handful of journalists and, I believe, one peace activist -- self-described peace activist -- who they apparently were released and found in Jordan? What's the update on them?

BRAHIMI: Absolutely. This is a group of three journalists and one peace activist, so four people all in all who've gone missing since March the 25th in Baghdad -- they'd gone missing from their hotel. Now two of them were journalists for "Newsday"; one of them was Molly Bingham, a photographer, who used to be, I think, Al Gore's photographer, if I'm correct; and one of them is a Danish peace activist who is also a photographer.

Now they said they didn't know on what charges they were held. They showed up on the border with Jordan finally last night, and they're in the Jordanian capital now. They said that they were held for 8 days in a prison known as Abu Ghraib (ph) prison. It's a very huge complex -- a very big prison near the airport in Baghdad. They said the conditions were very tough, but they were not mistreated and they were not harmed physically -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Well it's good to have them safe and sound. Rym Brahimi; live in Amman, Jordan -- thanks, we'll check in with you in a little while.

Let's go to my colleague, Daryn Kagan, for a look at the latest stories at this hour.

KAGAN: And here's a look at those latest headlines -- beginning with the Pentagon, which said that U.S. forces have begun a major offensive against Republic Guard troops southwest of Baghdad.

Two battles are underway -- one against the Medina division near Karbala; another aimed at the Baghdad division at the Tigris River near the city of Kut.

Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre reports that these moves by U.S. troops are seen as the beginning of the battle for Baghdad. Routes by Karbala and Kut are seen as major entry ports into the capital city.

A rescue operation by U.S. Special Forces and the Marines resulted in the return of Army Private Jessica Lynch. The 19-year-old had been taken prisoner during the ambush of the 507th Maintenance Unit on March 23. Five others from her Unit are still being held prisoner. Lynch is now back in a coalition hospital; she's recovering from multiple gunshot wounds.

The Associated Press reports that British military engineers have restored power to the post at Umm Qasr, paving the way for the harbor to be opened for aid shipment. One British aid ship came into port last week, but other shipments will wait until better security is established. Umm Qasr is running on generator power, meanwhile. About 75 percent of the lights in that port city are back on.

Four missing journalists have turned up in Jordan. This is what we just heard from Rym Brahimi. This follows a release from a Baghdad prison.

"Newsday"'s Matt McAllister, photographer (UNINTELLIGIBLE) reported that they were taken from the hotel and interrogated in a Baghdad prison.

Freelance photographer, Molly Bingham; a Danish photographer; also arrived safely in Jordan after their release.

An American Airlines flight from Tokyo to California was stopped on the tarmac when several passengers reported symptoms of SARS. Three were hospitalized but later released, after doctors found they in fact did not have the disease. Officials at the CDC say they are 90 percent sure they have found the virus that causes SARS. Sixty-two deaths worldwide have been blamed on the illness.

And we're just getting this word here into CNN that the World Health Organization is guarding against and warning against all non- essential travel to Hong Kong -- a city that has been particularly hard hit by SARS.

And with that we'll toss it back to Atlanta, at Anderson.

COOPER: Daryn, thanks very much. As Daryn well knows, over this time of the morning there are so many of our embedded correspondents calling in. It really allows us to get a good sense of what is going on in different pockets on the battlefield.

We are pleased that Diana Muriel, an embedded reporter in southern Iraq can join us right now. She is traveling with the legendary British Desert Rats. Diana, what's the latest where you are?

DIANA MURIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Anderson, the artillery bombardment from the area south of Basra, which I'm standing, this plane -- the British forces (UNINTELLIGIBLE). That continues -- that went on last night -- it happened early this morning in the early hours of the morning. And last night we saw about three large fires burning in Basra (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to the north of this location.

In the meantime the British are also trying to secure the area on which they're camped -- the various villages and the key town, Al Zubayr. Al Zubayr has proved a trouble spot in recent days. There have been (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with local militia, Fedayeen loyal to Uday Hussein, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) working for the Baath Party. There have been exchanges with machine guns firing, various attacks (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the early evening.

That all seems to have come under control -- so confident are the British and so they are now going on patrol inside the town of Al Zubayr, with berets only and without wearing their armored vests and other safety equipment. They are taking their weapons with them, of course; but the hard hats are off. And that is in a bid to demonstrate to the people of Al Zubayr that the British really -- their intention is to help them as much as possible.

And with regards to that the Lieutenant Colonel, Mike Riddell- Webster, who's in charge of the Black Watch 1st Battalion -- he went out into the streets yesterday in Al Zubayr to talk to the people, to try and find out what it was that they needed the most -- and that seems to be water. And they have now located the processing plant -- the water (UNINTELLIGIBLE) plant, which they had been unable to find, going through varying intelligence reports; and they are now switching that back on with the help of engineers from the International Red Cross. I understand the rift of water now coming through the main supply into Al Zubayr. There are 35,000 people in that town who've been relying only on six tankers of water each day, provided by the British (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It's now getting very hot here, and there have been many problems with people trying to get water. You drive around, Anderson -- the cry goes out from the children and from others, shouting water, water -- they're desperate for water. And that supply should now be reconnected.

They also need electricity -- that's the next thing on the British agenda in this district; and they are also trying to help out with the various clinics and medical facilities here. They've discovered a stash of medicines, which was in the headquarters building of the Baath Party, which they've now released to local doctors. There are engineers from the British (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they're going down to start generators in various local facilities, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) arrived today, they're packing the medicines with ice to try and keep them cool. But clearly as the temperatures rise that is going to become less and less effective and they're going to get the generators started later today. Anderson?

COOPER: All right, Diana Muriel; appreciate it. You're embedded with the legendary British Desert Rats. We'll check in with you a little bit later on. Let's go back to Daryn Kagan in Kuwait. Daryn?

KAGAN: Anderson, a chance now, to get more on the British end of this war -- British military spokesman, Captain Al Lockwood is joining us. He is live at CENTCOM headquarters in Doha, Qatar. Captain, good morning. Thanks for joining us.


KAGAN: We're getting a sense from our embedded reporter that clearly something is happening -- that troops are on the move in central Iraq -- perhaps making a move toward Baghdad. Can you tell us anything about that, sir?

LOCKWOOD: All I can tell you is from (UNINTELLIGIBLE) reporting that we believe that U.S. units have moved up during the night. They've captured several strategic bridges, and they're moving in the general direction of those Iraqi forces that are left defending south of Baghdad.

KAGAN: But is it fair to say, sir, that the battles of Baghdad have begun?

LOCKWOOD: No, I think that's a little premature. Let's say that we're moving against forces which are still some distance from Baghdad; and yes, we're moving in the direction of the final objective. But at this stage it's probably a little premature to say that the battle of Baghdad has begun.

We need to oversee -- move coalition forces in, take out resistance that has been building, and get another step on our route to the final objective.

KAGAN: It's clear that the battle for Basra in the south, Iraq's second largest city, has been underway for quite a few days, with the British being in primary control down there. What is the latest from Basra?

LOCKWOOD: Well it -- Basra itself has been relatively quiet. We're still getting the pockets of resistance from the paramilitary and Baath Party militia attacking the British troops. But they are obviously being dealt with as and when they declare their presence.

What is significant, though, is that they local population is beginning to provide us with valuable information of where these militia are headquartering -- where they -- and identifying people who are -- have been associated and have been part of the ruling regime in the past. The confidence of the local people is increasing. The flow of humanitarian aid is increasing day by day. We now have over 150 tons -- that's UK tons -- of humanitarian aid into southern Iraq in the last 12 days. We have fresh water now piped into southern Iraq. Our troops are patrolling in berets and not in steel helmets. The confidence of the people is being achieved. And significantly, the local Iraqi population...

KAGAN: Captain -- Captain -- let me just -- I'm sorry, we have a satellite delay here, so it's a little hard to jump in; but I just did want to ask you -- this is the second time you mentioned that the confidence of the Iraqi people -- the local Iraqi people near Basra seems to be increasing. What signs have you seen -- what kind of evidence do you have of that, please?

LOCKWOOD: Well they're coming out to aid points now. They're obviously talking to us; and as I said before, they're providing us with valuable information of the paramilitaries and the Baath Party militia that have been oppressing them for so long.

KAGAN: One final question here on the aid -- you were able to get one ship into the port of Umm Qasr -- the Sir Galahad had hundreds of tons of aid supplies -- and now trying to get that to the Iraqi people. But clearly you're going to need to get a lot more ships in there to help all the millions of people that do need the help. What is the status on Umm Qasr -- on the port and getting more ships and more aid into that area?

LOCKWOOD: Certainly I can report that operations are almost complete now, not only on achieving full capability of the port, but also in clearing the mines that are in the channels leading up to it. Aid is increasing day by day. We have fresh water flowing into the region now; and more probably the Iraqi civilians are coming back to work in the port itself to assist us with the operation.

KAGAN: Captain Al Lockwood, thank you for your time, sir; and for putting up with our satellite delay as we had our conversation between Kuwait City and Doha, Qatar -- appreciate it. We're going to take a break here and we'll be back after this.


COOPER: There's a lot of activity on the ground in Iraq to talk about. The top story we have been talking about this hour -- this movement of two prongs of U.S. forces against Republican Guard positions south of Baghdad. Some have been saying that the battle for Baghdad seems to have begun. U.S. senior military officials told CNN on Tuesday that Iraqi -- that U.S. forces are going to go after divisions, they believe, of Republican Guard one at a time. One official was quoted as saying "the goal is to punch here, punch there, and then go get it." So it's not a sense of U.S. troops entering Baghdad in the next couple of hours. This is a systematic battle against individual Republican Guard units. I want to check in with our Chris Plante who is at the Pentagon. There's a lot to talk about this morning -- a lot happening. Chris, what's the latest?

CHRIS PLANTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Anderson. The Army's 3rd Infantry Division near Karbala is taking on the Medina Division of the Republican Guard, which is considered to be the best equipped, the best trained -- probably the most serious of the six Republican Guard divisions that are surrounding Baghdad now. It's not clear how far in they have gone so far, but Karbala -- 40 -- 50 miles south and west of Baghdad -- apparently very serious combat taking place there -- this coming after several days of aerial bombardment of the Medina Division there.

Also to the south and east of Baghdad we have the 1st Marine Division taking on what's known as the Baghdad Division of the Republican Guard -- and again, one of the heavier, better equipped units of the Republican Guard. It's not clear that this is really the battle for Baghdad proper, as the British Captain was just saying. It is certainly the precursor. First before going into Baghdad, the mission of the military is to tear apart the Republican Guard Divisions -- again, most loyal to Saddam Hussein. And they are guarding the gates -- the entrances to Baghdad.

The Medina Division, in particular, has been pounded with air power in the last few days to the point where Baghdad has been sending reinforcements from other Divisions north of the city down to join the Medina, in an effort to hold that front together, there. Anderson?

COOPER: And military planners had always said that they wanted those Divisions at under 50 percent capacity, or around 50 percent capacity before any sort of offensive action would begin. I assume, even with these other Republican Guard units coming further south, coming from their northern positions, they must be at a level that military planners think is okay.

I want to ask you, though, about chemical weapons. There have been a lot of talk about this red line -- that if U.S. forces cross this red line somewhere around Baghdad -- that might be a trigger for chemical weapons to be used, if indeed they do have them.

PLANTE: That's right. There were U.S. Intelligence reports early on in the conflict that orders had been sent out to Republican Guard Divisions in the field and to some other senior commanders, that if the coalition forces were to cross an invisible line around Baghdad, nobody as far as I'm aware, is entirely sure where that line is; but there is a trip wire apparently out there, according to U.S. Intelligence reports; and if and when the coalition forces cross that line, there are apparently orders in the pipeline for the forces to unleash chemical weapons on them.

Now U.S. forces are aware of this; they're prepared for it; they do have the chemical gear to keep them safe in a chemical environment. Some of the vehicles, including tanks, are specifically designed to operate in a chemical or biological environment. But certainly it's still a matter of great concern; and the civilian population around there, probably not equipped with chemical equipment -- it could be a very unpleasant situation.

The U.S. has also, in radio broadcast and in leaflets, suggested to the forces there that they not use them. If they are captured after the war they will be tried as war criminals, according to the U.S. radio broadcasts and leafleting. So it's something that's being taken very seriously; it's a threat that's been hanging out there; and it's one of the main reasons for launching this attack on Iraq in the first place.

COOPER: Chris, I'm being told we just have some new video in. I'm told it shows some fighting in and around Karbala. I have not seen it, so this is the first time you and I are both seeing it.

No, we don't see much fighting -- see the smoke on the horizon.

Talk a little bit, if you can -- we talked to Carl Penhaul a little bit earlier, who talked about the Karbala gap -- the importance of this region. And I guess there are two -- the two main areas where the fighting is apparently going on in Karbala, as well as Kut -- I guess those are the two main, sort of roads to Baghdad.

PLANTE: Right, exactly. These are the two gateways into Baghdad from the south. It's where the bulk of the U.S. and British forces are positioned for the final thrust into Baghdad. There are key bridges across the rivers there; and if that doesn't work out -- we understand now that a couple of those key bridges have already been taken.

We have not independently confirmed that here at the Pentagon; but reports from embedded reporters in the field there indicate that some of these bridges have been taken. These would be very key bridges for the continuing military operation there. And if all else fails, quite honestly, these units -- the Marine 1st Division and the 3rd Infantry Division of the Army -- bring their own bridges along with them. So if that turns into a problem they build their own.

COOPER: And just as a reminder to our viewers -- when you hear the term "battle for Baghdad" may be beginning -- again, it's not a question of U.S. troops about to be entering the streets of Baghdad. This is really a systematic approach, we're hearing from so many different people telling CNN -- the military sources.

PLANTE: That's right.

COOPER: Very systematically -- as they described, a punch here, a punch there -- before trying to move on further.

PLANTE: Right. And of course the key to getting into Baghdad is first taking out the Republican Guard Divisions, which are protecting the city. Once the Republican Guard Divisions have been disabled sufficiently, then Baghdad finds itself to some extent, defenseless; and that's the objective here.

So you can also expect continued air power to be applied to the Divisions there. As the ground defensive continues you'll see Apache attack helicopters; you'll see A-10 Warthogs, which are low-level attack planes. So that certainly continues, even as the ground action takes place.

COOPER: All right, Chris Plante; thanks very much. We'll check in with you later.

Let's take a short break; and Daryn Kagan and myself will be right back.


KAGAN: As the troops fight on in Iraq, it is memories and thoughts of home that is keeping many of them going and fueling them on -- also letters home. One man thinks that these letters are important, and he's saving them for posterity. Our Jeanne Meserve has his story.


ANDREW CARROLL, LEGACY PROJECT: I've called these letters pages out of our national autobiography.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 75,000 pieces of war correspondence from the Nation's first conflict to its present one, collected by the Legacy Project. Some of the letters tear the soul, like the farewell written by a World War II POW on the back of photos of himself and his family.

CARROLL: Mommy and Dad, it's pretty hard to check out this way without a fighting chance, but we can't all live forever. Loving and waiting for you in the world beyond, your son, Lieutenant Tommy Kennedy.

MESERVE: Andrew Carroll, the force behind this project, values the mundane accounts of everyday life and hardship on the battle front and the home front; but there are important items, too -- a letter from George Herbert Walker Bush, after he was shot down in World War II . Teddy Roosevelt reflects on the death of his son -- Colin Powell's condolences on the death of someone else's son.

Then there is the letter penned on Hitler's stationery by a young staff sergeant, contrasting the opulence of the Furor's apartment with a just-liberated concentration camp.

CARROLL: This is the historical record -- these are the eyewitnesses to these events; so that no one can ever say; oh this didn't happen, or it wasn't like that. This tells us it happened -- and in a very immediate and quite graphic way.

MESERVE: The common theme in letters from every war -- I am okay; don't worry. The most common phrase -- I love you.

Love was a complication in World War II when victory mail -- dubbed V-Mail -- was put through machines and transferred to film for easier shipment to the front.

CARROLL: When they first started doing these, a lot of women would kiss the envelopes with, you know, lipstick; just the way they do with love letters. And so as they were going through the processing machine, the lipstick would build up and it would jam the machines. So they (UNINTELLIGIBLE) public service announcements, saying please don't kiss your letters. And it was called the Scarlet Scourge.

MESERVE: Then, V-Mail -- today e-mail. Carroll says electronic communications tend not to be as thoughtful as letters, but there are gems -- like the letter written to seven-year old Connor by his Dad in Bosnia. "No toy stores here" he writes. So he sends a flag flown over his camp, in honor of Connor's birthday. "This flag represents America and makes me proud each time I see it", he writes.

CARROLL: They're sort of timeless, because whether you're going off with a musket or an M-16, and no matter how big or how small the war is, whether it's D-Day or A-Day, which we just had, it's everything to you -- this is life and death.

MESERVE: E-mails and letters from Iraq are just beginning to trickle into the Legacy Project. One of Andrew Carroll's great regrets is that these will not be the last -- that the letters will keep coming as long as the wars do.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.



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