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War in Iraq:

Aired April 6, 2003 - 06:30   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Bill Hemmer back here live in Kuwait City. Latest developments at this hour, 6:30 back on the East Coast of the U.S. A BBC correspondent in northern Iraq witnessing an air strike by a U.S. war plane on a U.S.-Kurdish convoy in the northern part of the country. John Simson, the reporter, says he himself was wounded, and says at least 10 people killed. A senior Kurdish leader may have also been among the casualties.
Information not confirmed by us yet, but we do expect it to come up today at the briefing at Central Command. That briefing scheduled to happen in about 30 minutes, but we are told it might be delayed just a bit. We'll keep a close track on it from Qatar.

Walt Rodgers of CNN says U.S. battlefield commanders in Baghdad are pursuing a divide and conquer strategy. Elements of the 3rd Infantry made more forays deep into the capitol today. Walt says it appears their goal is to scout out the city, then dismember it into zones that will eventually be controlled by the coalition forces.

U.S. Special Forces in Basra uncovered and destroyed a stash of Iraqi weapons outside the city. Coalition forces have found large caches of ammunition and weapons almost everywhere they look, we're told. Sometimes simply abandoned, sometimes it appears secreted away for fighters to retrieve and come back a bit later.

The Pentagon says the skies over Baghdad now patrolled constantly, 24/7, we're told. It's called urban close air support, designed over by cover for ground forces. They scout out the capitol. The Pentagon says aircraft are outfitted with special ordnance, meant to minimize civilian casualties.

National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice due to arrive in Moscow today for talks with top officials there, trying to ease relations strained by differences over Iraq. She's scheduled to meet with Russian foreign ministry officials, as well as the President Vladimir Putin.

A Finnish employee of the United Nations died today in Beijing, China of SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. So far, health officials say there have been 2,416 cases in 18 different countries worldwide. Of those cases, 89 people have died.

Back to the war right now. Coming up this hour, we continue to follow developments in Iraq. U.S. troops re-entering Baghdad, a second day of recon missions there. Also ahead, help is said to be on the way. In the southern port city of Umm Qasr, where residents there said to be in desperate need of food and water. And they are gone, but not forgotten. A tribute to the U.S. troops killed in action to date.

All right, Sunday morning again back in the U.S. Welcome back to our coverage. I'm Bill Hemmer live again in Kuwait City. Carol, good to see you again.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you or good afternoon to you, Bill. I'm Carol Costello at CNN's global headquarters in Atlanta.

Today is Sunday, April 6th, 2:33 p.m. in Baghdad. You're taking a live look at it right now. This picture looks peaceful, but it certainly has not been peaceful in other areas of Baghdad, as loud explosions again heard this morning.

Also, this according to a BBC reporter, a U.S. war plane mistakenly dropped a bomb on American-Kurdish convoy in northern Iraq. CNN's James Martone is on the phone from northern Iraq. You're at a hospital, I believe in Erbil. What are you seeing there?

JAMES MARTONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What I'm seeing is in front of this hospital, lots of -- many have people crowded now. It's sort of -- it's confusing as to exactly what has happened. We've listened to the BBC report. It appears to be accurate.

What we're hearing from a BBC employee here on the ground is that there was some what they're calling friendly fire that several BBC people might even be missing. The correspondent John Simson is in the hospital that I'm standing in front of, the emergency surgical center for war victims, it's called. That's in Erbil, as you said. And also, there's a senior Kurdish military official who has been wounded, Wagi Bazen (ph). He was also wounded.

Again, these are unofficial sources. It's been difficult. No entry at this point into the hospital, but we're being told that a KDP, that is the Kurdish faction that rules this part of northern Iraq, will be coming out to give us more information. Interestingly, well, most of the unofficial sources have said that it was friendly fire, meaning there would have been a U.S. airplane that accidentally dropped a bomb on the -- on coalition U.S. troops working alongside Kurdish troops.

A U.S. soldier just exited the hospital. And when asked if indeed that was the case, he said if there was at the time of the accident, as he put it, there was Iraqi artillery coming as well. The implication there that it might not necessarily have been friendly fire. Back to you.

COSTELLO: James, I know things are rather confusing there right now because this just happened, but do you know of the number of American casualties and if -- or if any American troops are dead?

MARTONE: I do not know that. And again, the question posed to the soldier, the U.S. soldier who came out, said he cannot confirm even if there are U.S. soldiers in this hospital. The thought is having spoken to people who have heard from people who are on the scene, is that their worst than U.S. casualties, but again, unofficial sources second hand. At this point, it would be difficult to say for sure, but I think that the presence of a U.S. soldier exiting the hospital, looking rather I would say more than fatigued, very nervous, would imply perhaps that have been U.S. among the wounded. Back to you.

COSTELLO: OK, I didn't hear the last part of your transmission, but I understand the Iraqi information minister is speaking on Iraqi television. Can we go to him right now? We can go to him right now. Let's listen in.

MOHAMMED SAEED AL-SAHAF, IRAQI INFORMATION MINISTER: (through translator) ...of the enemy bastards. Two planes have been shot down, type Apaches. Type Apache in the village of Ebetmeen (ph) to the south of Baghdad between the Selman (ph) and the area of Ismayeh (ph). Third, three or more personnel carriers have been destroyed and five tanks were also destroyed of the American enemy on these sites of Baghdad, on the quick ways, where the U.S. forces were using the troops by the -- Saddam's Fedayeen.

Also, four -- two tanks were destroyed and three armored personnel carriers to the -- in the Dofsahut (ph) by the Kutz (ph) army. And more information I got from south of Iraq. Two tanks have been destroyed in the district of Ovporna (ph) in El Basra. You notice from the operations of destroying the enemies and giving the -- his -- I would like to explain to you what happened and what's the way now, the methods of fighting and after the airport. When I explain to you how we have destroyed the force in Iraq and pushed them outside the airport, our forces continued after they failed -- foiled to be a -- the invasion or the offensive by the Ermin (ph) when yesterday morning, it tried to infiltrate to the airport -- to the city through the airport.

He went back from all -- it retreated actually from all the sites, back, all the other areas. It went back. But our forces with their estimation left him -- left the enemy -- left them some sites. They left them directions to go to the Saddam's Airport -- they left it open for him -- for the enemy, so that when the shelling was very, very severe, on the enemy, it would go back 30 (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and other areas. And when our fire would be less -- it will come back in intervals to advance, try to maneuver and to be there in some areas here and there. And they show, in fact, their forces, the troops just propaganda.

This was exactly how it was, exactly how it happened. It was destroyed, in fact, the enemy. Back -- it was bent back and it retreated. When our forces stopped, in fact shelling, it would come back again, trying to come closer. And that's because our forces left the way to the airport open. That's when the shelling was stopped. The enemy tried to be there in -- around the area of the airport, just to show and to show how pictures actually for propaganda, for forced propaganda. I'm telling you this exactly -- show exactly what happened after it was just defeated in the end. And when it was -- went back, actually and through (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And how it came just to those areas in only small intervals, come closer to the airport of the area, just be shown, to be pictures in fact, and to show daily propaganda, they thought propaganda. And that was exactly what happened yesterday.

They had pictures of those places, well, those times when he had just been near, show it to the agencies. I'm telling you these details, which is part of our forces who -- and I shouldn't say, but I'm telling you this just because let's keep the credibility of what we're saying, in fact.

So when I asked that fill that has been shown by the Americans, it was correct just to show what is the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what do the American enemy's tactics in the airport? It was destroyed in the airport, and went back. And the shelling continued against it. When the shelling was stopped, it would come back, just a few places. And actually, the armed forces have left the way open, the world open for it in a way to war -- attrition effect.

(in English): I will brief in English also, in order to -- because the colleagues are trying to understand (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I have -- first I have mentioned the casualties we have in (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And I'd say it in English also, for our colleagues in foreign media.

Yesterday night, we have struck, we have strike the enemy with missile strikes around the area of Saddam International Airport and in Kuwait on the way to Selman (ph) Park, on Kuwait, district and the -- our units, military units from the Republican Guard still thrusting the enemy and chasing it.

In the area of Saddam International Airport, and the casualties are as the following. We have destroyed six tanks and we have rendered useless another 10 of the enemy tanks. And we have killed 50, 5-0 of soldiers. We have shut down two Apache helicopters in the village at Termin (ph), nationalization, the -- meaning at the -- I mean, village, South of Baghdad, near the cross road of Selman (ph) Park, and the Smyre (ph) District. We have destroyed three personnel armor carriers and five tanks on the outskirts of Baghdad, near the highways, approaching Baghdad.

Those five tanks had been destroyed by the Fedayeen. And also, one shuttle had been destroyed. Also, two tanks, not bulldozers. Shuttle. Shuttle. Yes, they call it -- yes, yes. Excavator, you call it escavator. And also, they call it shuttle. Also, two tanks had been destroyed and three personnel armed carriers in Jefesaha (ph) area south of Baghdad by the Al Kutz (ph) army.

Two tanks had been destroyed in Al Corna (ph) district in Basra. I explained also in Arabic some details which we have noticed closely. We have observed closely since we push them out of Saddam International Airport yesterday. The continuation of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) showed that when crushed them in the airport, and they repeated back out of the airport, we continued bombarding them, bombing them with missiles and heavy artillery. They withdraw deeper in Aburey (ph) and out of it.

When we stopped pounding them, they pushed forward some of their units in certain intervals of time, in certain periods of time to the front, to the area of Saddam International Airport only for the sake of propaganda and just hollow, empty -- it has no military significance, only to show that they are in the airport area.

So this is a situation. Whenever we attack them, they retreat to the back. And when we pound them with missiles and heavy artillery, they retreat even deeper. When we stop bombarding them, they pushed some of their units forward and our armed forces had left the direction, the corridor the direction, the way towards Saddam International Airport open to them.

Because in this way, a good aggression to the enemy can be achieved there. So whenever we -- our armed forces stop pounding them, they pushed their units forward near the area of the -- of Saddam Airport for propaganda purposes, as you have seen yesterday have been shown in Al-Jazeera and other -- had been distributed. They said by American news agency. I think it had been distributed by the Americans directly.

And I replied to that. I said this is not in the airport. Now I am explaining their tactics to you because this had been observed closely by our side. We pushed them. They ran away through the back. We pounding them. They disappeared in the back. When we stopped pounding them, they pushed some of their units towards Saddam International Airport.

We noticed that those units only for be filmed and for propaganda, or anti propaganda purposes. In order to be accurate when we report to you, therefore I am explaining to you all these details.

Yesterday, they have also committed several crimes.

(through translator) A number of Iraqi cities. And I'll give you some examples and facts, not all the examples. They pounded Baghdad in the new Baghdad -- they also shelled a residential area. They hit five citizens. One of them was martyred, was killed. And nine houses have been destroyed. They also shelled the telephone center. Also in Termin (ph), the governor of Termin (ph) turned north. They shelled the neighborhood of Aldazeea (ph) and Kirkuk, which is a residential neighborhood, where many people were in fact -- were killed.

Also, with cluster bombs they...

COSTELLO: We're going to jump out of this right now, the Iraqi information minister. You just heard him say that coalition forces shelled residential areas. Of course, we don't know if that's true or not. He also had some words to say about the airport and the control or lack thereof of coalition forces, but he did say that a number of tanks were destroyed and a number of armored vehicles destroyed. And he said there were at least 50 coalition deaths. Again, no confirmation of that right now. We're going to throw it to Kuwait City and Bill.

HEMMER: Carol, we're tracking the story right now inside of Iraq, near the Syrian border. Not quite sure exactly where, but the information we have is that a group of Russian envoys, including the Russian ambassador to Iraq, apparently came under attack. From whom, we're not quite sure. And what the result of it is we do not know either, but Jill Dougherty, our Moscow bureau chief has been working her sources back in the Russian capitol.

Jill, do you know much more than we do regarding at this point?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, we do not know whether or not there are injured. We believe that there are, but foreign ministry cannot confirm that. And they can't confirm any numbers, if there were any. But we can tell you that the U.S. embassy here in Moscow says that the U.S. ambassador immediately was summoned to the foreign ministry and that right now, they are looking into who might have carried out this attack.

The Russian embassy had already taken out most of its people quite a long time ago. But this small group was still there, including the ambassador up until the last minute. Then they announced, in fact yesterday they were going to pull them out. And apparently as they moved toward the Syrian border, they were attacked.

HEMMER: And Jill, as we look at this, and I really want to respect the lack of information we have right now, but do we know if it was just bombs from the air? Was it bullets from the ground? Or do we know?

DOUGHERTY: Bill, we have no idea at this point.

HEMMER: Yes, also, what would these envoys be doing in Baghdad? Did you have anything on your front there as to whether or not the Russians were trying to work out some sort of negotiation with the high ranking members of the Iraqi government still left in Baghdad? Was that a possibility?

DOUGHERTY: Well, Bill, it's important to note that these, as we understand it, are diplomatic personnel who work permanently in the embassy, that were being taken out. This was not, at least as far as we understand, any type of special mission. This was the ambassador and other personnel. They had gone down to kind of like a skeleton crew. And then those were being pulled out.

So this was not a special group trying to work any deals or anything like that. They had announced, in fact, yesterday from the foreign ministry that because of safety concerns, precisely because of safety concerns, they were going to pull out everybody they possibly could.

HEMMER: Okay, Jill, thanks. Jill Dougherty, our Moscow bureau chief, working the story again from the Russian capitol. Perhaps we will learn more again when Central Command conducts is briefing. We anticipate that at 7:00 a.m. Eastern time, which is about five minutes from now. And when it happens live at Central Command headquarters down in Qatar, certainly we'll have it for you.

In the meantime, there are a number of developments throughout the battlefield again today. Exclusively and especially in the Iraqi capitol of Baghdad. We'll get to all of that and more when our coverage continues right after this -- Carol?

COSTELLO: Well, Bill, you were talking about incidents that happened today. One of them in northern Iraq, there was a friendly fire incident where a U.S. war plane apparently dropped a bomb on a convoy, which included American troops and also Kurdish forces. Want to go to northern Iraq right now and check in with Brent Sadler to see if he knows anything more about this.

Good morning, Brent.

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Yes, we're picking up reports from northern Iraq about this so-called blue on blue, this friendly fire incident. It's still too early to put the pieces together. We do know from a BBC report from the scene that there have been casualties, that there was a collection of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, including a senior member of the Kurdish regional government, it seems and Special Forces moving in a convoy southwest of Biehl (ph). Not going to comment too much about that, but I can give you some background because I've been seeing a lot of activity, increased activity of cooperation between Peshmerga ground forces, those Iraqi Kurds, and U.S. Special Forces, really moving in very many places across the northern front. And it seems what happened in that friendly incident we're reporting, it was the same sort of thing as we've been seeing in this area.

I want to take you back to the hours of darkness last night. I was actually out and can bring you these exclusive pictures of what it was like to join U.S. Special Forces and Iraqi-Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, coordinating it to call U.S. air strikes against Iraqi frontline positions.

Now they were calling in F-15 strike Eagle aircraft from aircraft carriers stationed in the eastern Mediterranean, blasting Iraqi positions. Very many heavy blasts during the hours of darkness, as forward air controllers from the Special Forces working very hard on their calculations and their coordinations, to make sure that they were doing precision bombing against Iraqi positions.

If we come in today, I can tell you we're hearing aircraft activity overhead right now, even though it is overcast. We've heard many, many explosions going on in this southeastern sector of the northern front over this past few hours.

And if I can just go back to explain to you how things are happening on the ground, these forward air controllers are really working in small groups in various positions, trying to bring in those air strikes to punish and destroy these Iraqi positions on the frontlines. The front is moving. Iraqis are abandoning positions. Iraqis pulling back. And then perhaps some artillery fire, some fire fighting going on. So there is a movement of lines. And when this happens, that puts friendly forces perhaps at greater risk from the kind of friendly fire that we have seen.

In fact, we're seeing perhaps something on the ridge over there, maybe a blast coming in. Not quite sure. But indeed, in terms of a general thoughts about this, just to tell you that U.S. naval forces say about a quarter of Iraq's fighting ability has been seriously crippled over this past few days.

Back to you, Carol.

COSTELLO: Thanks for the update. Brent Sadler reporting live from northern Iraq.

Let's get back to Kuwait City and Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Carol, quickly back to Jason Bellini, embedded with the Marines 15th MEU, near the town of Nasiriya. I believe you might still be in the town, actually.

Jason, good afternoon. What do you have this hour?

JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Bill. That's right, I'm still in Nasiriya. And here, we hear the periodic rounds of gunfire. But overall, this city right now has civilians walking around, going about their daily business. The streets are actually fairly crowded. We see people with carts of food wandering around. More often, though, we are seeing people with large trailers that are filled with stuff that they have looted. And that's become a very big concern here. There's no real controlling authority in this city at this point. There are no police working. There are no real government officials. And that's allowed people the freedom to say whatever they want.

We were on the street and people came up to us and while I was with the Marines that we were embedded with. And they talked about how happy they were that the U.S. was here. These are just a few individuals who were saying down with Saddam. And they showed me a Iraqi dinar with the face of Saddam Hussein on it. And they made this notion to their throat, "He's dead or that they hoped that he is dead." At least that was the indication.

So it feels a little bit like Kosovo after the Serbs left. I know you were there as well, Bill. And where it's setting in for the people here the feeling that they are now free to go about and do whatever they want in this city -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Jason thanks. Jason Bellini embedded with the U.S. Marines. We'll check back in a bit later today. Centcom's going to brief any moment. We'll get you there live. Our coverage continues right after this.


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