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Baghdad Curfew in Effect

Aired April 7, 2003 - 20:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM THE FRONT LINES: the timeline behind today's headlines.
Tonight -- how the day unfolded on the war front.


WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One soldier said, quote, nothing goes into that city or out of that city, if they want to live.


ANNOUNCER: Baghdad, a city under siege. Tonight, all the roads out of the Iraqi capital lead to U.S. troops.

A bloody friendly fire incident. In one reporter's words, "a scene from hell."

What exactly happened in northern Iraq?

And U.S. Marines making house calls. Tonight, we'll show you what it takes to root out pockets of resistance.

Plus, the new management makes some changes. The airport formerly know as Saddam International puts out the welcome mat for the Stars and Stripes.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR, LIVE FROM THE FRONT LINES: Good evening. You're looking at a live picture of Baghdad where it is just after 4:00 a.m.

At this hour, there is a curfew in effect, imposed by the Iraqi government. And if any residents were to leave, they would likely run into U.S. troops, who are said to be in control of all of the roads in and out of the city.

Again, thanks for joining us. I'm Paula Zahn in New York. Over the next half hour, we're going to take a look at the timeline that brought us to this point -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN NEWS, KUWAIT CITY: Thanks, Paula. I am Wolf Blitzer in Kuwait City. Also this hour, our question of the day: Were the war critics wrong?

But first, let's start our look back at this day 19 of the war in Iraq. Overnight in Baghdad, Iraqi authorities established a curfew. No civilians will be allowed to travel between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.

Up until now, there had been a fair amount of people moving out of Baghdad, even at night. Thousands of Iraqis fled the Iraqi capital yesterday, looking for relative safety behind U.S. military lines, or heading north, away from the coalition advance -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks, Wolf. Eight a.m. Eastern time in northern Iraq. Let's fast forward a few hours when 18 people are killed, dozens more are injured, in one of the bloodiest incidents of coalition friendly fire since the war began.

ITN's Julian Manyon reports.


JULIAN MANYON, ITN REPORTER, NORTHERN IRAQ: It is another friendly fire disaster. This morning an American bomb destroyed a convoy carrying high officials of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, which have been fighting alongside the Americans on the northern front.

At least 17 Kurdish commanders and their guards were killed, along with an interpreter working for the BBC. More than 40 were injured.

The military chief of the Kurdish KDP, the brother of their leader, Masoud Barzani, was gravely hurt.

Trying to organize a northern front with just a few hundred U.S. special forces troops, and the poorly armed Kurdish Peshmerga guerrillas, was always going to be a high-risk exercise.

The idea was to open the way with heavy, sustained American bombing of Iraqi positions. But today, it all went disastrously wrong.

Even as we filmed the wreckage, U.S. jets were still dropping their bombs nearby. Giant explosions erupted down the road.

Earlier, we had joined another convoy of U.S. special forces troops and Kurdish fighters, as they tried to move south through country abandoned by the Iraqi army.

At first, all was calm. American troops control the operation from a rooftop. Then, as the Kurds advanced again, the Iraqis opened up.

Now we're hearing the boom of Iraqi guns as they fire towards our positions. All morning, the Kurds have been trying to advance. And that was the shell going off.

The Iraqi gunners rapidly found our range. And we took refuge in an abandoned farmhouse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get down. Get down!!

MANYON: We finally managed to get out by car.

Here in the north, Iraqi tanks and guns are still firing, and the American effort is looking a little ragged.

Julian Manyon, ITV News, on the northern front.


ZAHN: A Russian journalist says a Russian convoy bound for Syria from Baghdad today was caught in crossfire between U.S. and Iraqi troops. The reporter says three people were wounded. However, U.S. officials say coalition forces were not in the area at the time.

A spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Moscow says they are talking with Russia about what happened, but it is still unclear who was responsible for the attack -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Paula, moving ahead now to the 9:00 a.m. Eastern time zone, slowly but surely, Baghdad is being cut off from the outside world.

U.S. officials say American troops now control all the roads both in and out of the Iraqi capital. CNN's Walter Rodgers reports.

WALTER RODGERS, CNN NEWS, NEAR BAGHDAD: U.S. Army sources have told CNN that the Iraqi capital of Baghdad is now, "completely encircled."

He went on to tell us that the highways into and out of the city, both at the northeast and southwest, northwest, southeast -- are controlled by the United States Marines and the United States Army.

And one soldier said, "Nothing goes into that city or out of that city, if they want to live."

Now, the same source also told us there was another armed reconnaissance into Baghdad earlier by the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division. Again, armed reconnaissance, looking for Iraqi pockets of resistance.

It may a foray into the city, did not stay, and since has come out. Again, the 7th Cavalry, the unit with which I'm embedded, continually comes under sporadic fire.

CNN has been told that total civilians have approached the Army and explained to the Army that the Fedayeen -- the most militant of Saddam Hussein's troops -- take refuge in Iraqi schools during the day. And then they leave the sanctuary of those schools, come out at night, fire anti-tank missiles, machine guns and sniper fire at the U.S. 7th Cavalry in the darkness.

Again, this is a battle, particularly in the western suburbs, that continues to know no real boundaries nor frontlines.

Walter Rodgers, CNN, with the U.S. 7th Cavalry on the western outskirts of Baghdad.

BLITZER: 10:00 a.m. The outskirts of Baghdad. U.S. Marines are making house calls. They're going door-to-door trying to root out Iraqi resistance.

South of the city, this Marine unit entered a village, calling families out of their homes. U.S. officials say bands of Iraqi irregulars having been using civilian cover to mount hit-and-run attacks, especially after dark.

CNN's Martin Savidge reports these terrified Iraqis were allowed back into their home, after the Marines checked it out -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks, Wolf.

At 11:00 a.m. we got reports that British forces were rolling into Basra. On their way into the southern Iraqi city, British tanks met light resistance from Iraqi forces.

CNN's Diana Muriel looks at a quick action that turned into more.


DIANA MURIEL, CNN NEWS, BASRA: A probe that became the big push. It was the break the British had been looking for. Bombing raids had successfully wiped out senior Baath Party leaders, paving the way for a successful attack.

LT. COL. MIKE REDDELL-WEBSTER, COMMANDER, 1ST BATTALION, "BLACK WATCH": Well, we've been in the shadow of Basra for a number of days, now. And have been probing periodically.

MURIEL: Units attached to the 1st Battalion, the Black Watch, began their assault at first light Sunday, pushing northwards over a bridge to a shanty town district of southern Basra.

Here, Fedayeen loyal to Saddam Hussein fired AK-47s, rocket- propelled grenades and mortars.

They were met by tanks and an artillery bombardment that destroyed a military compound containing Iraqi tanks. It wasn't long before the Iraqi fighters melted away, the British pressing home their advantage into the heart of the city.

Many residents came out to wave. Others looked on bemused as the tanks rolled by.

There was even time to take a sideswipe at Saddam. Specialist armored vehicles from 26 Armored Engineers Squadron destroyed a bronze statue of the Iraqi leader. He offered more resistance than many of his fighters.

By mid-afternoon, the British had secured most of the city.

REDDELL-WEBSTER: I think that the level of resistance was what I hoped it would be. Clearly, we're prepared for more. But it's been possible to break through the, right (ph) across and get into the middle. And that's great.

MURIEL: Now, British forces are fanning out through the city to hold key strategic positions, and maintain the pressure on any Iraqi fighters that may remain.

The battle for Basra may have turned out to be a skirmish, but no one here really believes the fighting is all over.

Diana Muriel, CNN, Basra, southern Iraq.


BLITZER: It could be at least six months before a victorious coalition turns over control of Iraq to the Iraqi people.

Iraq's future was discussed at 11:00 a.m. by the Deputy Defense Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, on the Sunday talk shows.

In the first days after the war ends, the U.S. plans a civilian administration, made up of Americans to run things. It would be headed by retired U.S. Army General Jay Garner.

But Secretary Wolfowitz says, any interim authority is only a bridge to Iraqis being in control of their country.


PAUL WOLFOWITZ, U.S. DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think the right goal is to move as quickly as we can -- not faster than we can, but as quickly as we can -- to a government that is, if I could paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, of the Iraqis, by the Iraqis, for the Iraqis. Not to make them a colonial administration or a U.N. administration, or run in any way by foreigners.


ZAHN: Shortly after that appearance (ph), President Bush was back in the White House working on more strategy at 11:00 a.m. He was expected to spend his day getting ready for a summit meeting in Northern Ireland with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The two leaders will meet on Monday and Tuesday, to review the progress and plans for the war in Iraq, and plans for rebuilding the nation.

They are also expected to touch on the U.N.'s role in reconstruction and re-igniting the Middle East peace process.

When we come back, on LIVE FROM THE FRONT LINES, our look at day 19 of the war continues, as the first U.S. aircraft touches down in Baghdad.

Does this put coalition forces closer to victory?


COL. FRED HUDSON, CHAPLAIN, FORT BLISS: They're grieving. The families who have lost loved ones are grieving. The community grieves with them.


ZAHN: And a small community shaken by the loss of seven of its own is now forced to mourn its dead and come to grips with how they may have died.


ZAHN: Welcome back. We continue now with our look back at day 19, 1:00 p.m. Eastern time.

U.S. flights begin arriving at Baghdad international airport, formerly known as Saddam International.

U.S. Central Command says the first coalition aircraft to touch down was a U.S. C-130 transport plane loaded with more troops and equipment.

Iraqi officials didn't respond immediately to the reported landing. They have consistently said the airport is still in Iraqi hands, and that U.S. troops have easily been defeated there.

So, what does this news mean to the U.S. war campaign?

Miles O'Brien joins us now from CNN Center to take a look. Good evening, Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CENTER: Good evening, Paula. It's a practical matter, and it might be a psychological matter, as well, as it relates to U.S. forces.

This landing of a C-130 could be the beginning of a whole series of aircraft landing at that airport.

Let's turn to one of our military experts, Brigadier General David Grange, Retired, U.S. Army, to talk a little bit about this.

The significance of one C-130 in the grand scheme of things isn't a big deal. But what it portends for future use of that potentially a face (ph) is important.

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: ... bring in. But it's a big deal psychologically to the coalition force to say, we have this airfield. It's in their hands -- our hands -- and we can bring an airplane into it.

So that's what the coalition is trying to say. So it has a psychological impact, as well as, can they get it in or not.

Now, they brought it in at night, using the C-130, a blackout landing, use the night vision goggles. The Air Force has some great pilots trained at this capability, at night, to bring in these type of airplanes.

It was the appropriate airplane for this airfield at this time.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's move in, using our satellite imagery on our and just show you this airport and its significance. You've seen a lot of it lately.

But this airport, we need to point out, is not the only significant airport in Baghdad.

Here's runway 33 right there. That means off to the northeast. And it is a 10,000 foot runway, plenty of capacity there. This could easily become a military base, if the U.S. decided it wanted to do it.

But I want to call your attention to a couple of things that are interesting about this civilian airport. It's laced with anti- aircraft artillery batteries.

General Grange, do you -- this one that we're about to go to is right in the middle of the airport. We can presume it's neutralized.

But there still is a threat all around this airport, isn't there?

GRANGE: That's right, Miles. The airfield is in coalition hands. But it doesn't mean it's totally secure.

It's very difficult to secure a runway this close to enemy lines, which are very fluid, to protect the approach end and the takeoff end of the runway, because that requires going out several miles in either direction, as well as area coverage from, for instance, mortar fire or artillery fire that may impact on a runway, at taxiing aircraft.

So, protection against shoulder-fired missiles, easy to hide. Or mortars that you could fire from a garden behind a house. Or an anti- aircraft weapons system that's hidden in a, let's say a garage in a built-up area around it.

It's very hard to find and -- very similar to Quay Son (ph) in Vietnam, finding stuff in the jungle is very comparable to hiding something in a built-up area.

O'BRIEN: And, quickly, while you were talking, I moved over to this airfield -- Rashid Air Base, a military base -- securing, yet I assume, will be a priority for the Marines in the future.

GRANGE: I believe so. You know, southeast of the city, another key piece of terrain to use to build up forces to launch new attacks, whether they be with attack helicopters or other means, as well as bringing in logistics supplies, for instance, ammunition, or bringing back wounded quickly, down back to the south.

O'BRIEN: All right. General David Grange. Thanks for the insights. Appreciate it, as always.

GRANGE: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Miles. Thanks, General Grange, as well.

So, what's the scene like in Baghdad right now? Now that U.S. troops apparently control the roads in and out of the Iraqi capital, as well as the skies over it.

Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson has been watching from his post in Ruwayshid, Jordan. That's near the Iraqi border.

What's the latest as far as you could tell, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN NEWS, JORDAN: Wolf, there has been some sporadic bombing throughout the night, but not of great intensity, from what we understand.

Perhaps the biggest idea of disconnect that I can give you between what's happening in the center of the city, and what's happening out there at the international airport, I was talking with my source a little earlier in Baghdad.

And I said, did you know the coalition had landed an aircraft out at the airport? And he said, no. He had no idea, was surprised that it had been able to do that.

Why was he surprised? Because he had seen the Iraqi forces on the streets of the city earlier in the day. Surprised because he's seen a large number of Iraqi fighters out there -- Fedayeen fighters, Baath Party fighters, Republican Guard fighters.

Surprised because he's seen the weapons that they have. He knows that they have tanks out there in the west of the city. artillery pieces out there in the west of the city.

But basically, surprised because the aircraft landed. And in the center of the city, no one was any the wiser. They didn't hear it and they didn't see it.

So, perhaps that gives you some sense of how isolated, if you will, the two different views of what's happening in Baghdad are.

On one side you have the view from the coalition side. And in the city, you have a different view. And that's what the residents of the city are seeing. They are aware the coalition forces are there, but perhaps not aware of the strength that they have, and what they are able to do with their fire power at this time.

But certainly, we're told the civilians becoming increasingly concerned about the situation. Why? Because they feel that they're being caught in the crossfire now.

And at the hospitals in Baghdad, increasing numbers of casualties coming in. According to Red Cross at one point in the day, one particular hospital quite close to the west and southwestern area of the city, saying that in any hour, over 100 casualties coming in. They don't characterize whether these are military or civilian casualties. Certainly the pictures in the hospitals do indicate some civilian casualties.

But the civilians, we are told, are saying that the want the conflict to end, that they are very concerned about the situation -- no water, no electricity for the most part -- and very disturbed by the fact that the fighting now right on their doorsteps, if you will.

But again, to emphasize, a big disconnect from the inside to the outside of the city. On the inside, large numbers of fighters who say that they will continue to fight. On the outside, large numbers of coalition forces probing into the city.

But for the people in the center of the city, still disconnected, if you will, from the strategy and ability of the coalition forces at this time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic, what are you hearing about the number of people attempting to leave Baghdad, the refugees. Are there big numbers, modest numbers or only a trickle?

ROBERTSON: I asked that question today. And it seems that there were not a large number of people. At least the sources I talked to had not seen a large number of people leaving the city.

Maybe a lot of people have already left. Certainly, the people I talked to believed that 70 to 80 percent of the civilians, at least in the western parts of the city, the parts closest to Baghdad International Airport, they believe that 70 or 80 percent of those people have left at least that area of the city.

Although, what we understand is, not only are coalition forces ringing the outside of the city, controlling the roads to and from Baghdad, but also, within that, within the city, if you will, there are Iraqi checkpoints. And those checkpoints, at least in the night hours, if you will, those checkpoints not letting people leave the city, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson watching the situation in Iraq for us from along the border. Nic, thanks very much. Paula, back to you.

ZAHN: Thanks, Wolf. Back to our timeline now.

3:00 p.m. Eastern. Fort Bliss in Texas. A church service at the base includes a memorial of sorts for the seven members of the 507th Maintenance Company, killed in the war in Iraq.

A chaplain at Fort Bliss says the days have become long and very difficult for the families there.


COL. FRED HUDSON, CHAPLAIN, FORT BLISS: Those whose family members are POWs are very anxious, awaiting momentarily, day by day, for some news about how their loved one is, what's their condition, how are they being treated and when will they be coming home.

Those who have been informed just the last couple of days of the death of their loved one. Now healing begins as they go through this terrible time of mourning and loss.


ZAHN: Among those stationed at Fort Bliss was 23-year-old Lori Ann Piestewa, the first American woman killed in the war in Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very sad. And when we return, going to door to door in a war zone. The risks and reactions faced by U.S. Marines in central Iraq.

And later, ...

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN NEWS, THE PENTAGON: I'm Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon. With U.S. troops facing significant combat ahead, the challenge is how to avoid unintended civilian casualties.


BLITZER: We pick up on our look at day 19 of the war in the 4:00 hour as coalition forces gain control in more areas inside Iraq.

Troops are concerned about the risk of the enemy unseen, whether a threat from Baath Party members, paramilitary forces or out-of- uniform troops lurks behind a closed door.

CNN's Alessio Vinci looks at U.S. Marines going to door to door, and their encounters with Iraqi civilians.


ALESSIO VINCI, CNN NEWS, CENTRAL IRAQ: Speaking in Arabic, U.S. Sergeant Nasser Manasterli leads a team of Marines approaching a house of civilians in central Iraq, their weapons drawn.

Soldiers or paramilitaries could be anywhere, Marines say. And every precaution is necessary.

Iraqi civilians are at first cautious, because they have been warned American forces are up to no good.

SGT. NASSER MANASTERLI, U.S. MARINE CORPS: You know, we talk to these people in the towns and they say, you know, before we get here, their forces, the Iraqi forces come by and tell them the American military is going to rape your women, steal your clothes, steal your house. They're going to destroy you, they're going to kill you.

VINCI: Most Iraqis seem not to believe it.

In fact, this man even offered Marines dates and bread only minutes after those same Marines were pointing weapons at him.

"It is safe here," says the old man. "I will get you some food."

The relationship between Marines and Iraqi civilians is a complicated one. Most welcome the troops here, but also know they will eventually leave.

So civilians tell Marines they can't help them too much, out of fear of retribution.

MANASTERLI: You know, you go to everybody's house, you're bound to find each house has one or two people killed by Saddam.

VINCI: And while Marines continue their mission here in central Iraq, it does also appear for some of them, the first contacts with civilians is having some impact.

MANASTERLI: You know, I personally was kind of, was skeptical about what were the causes for us actually to come over here.

But now that I am here, and I talk to locals and I see what their lives have been like and what kind of oppression they've been witnessing, you know, the reason is, you know, doesn't really make -- whatever reasons there was that brought us over here, doesn't really matter anymore.

VINCI: Sergeant Manasterli says his unit is telling the Iraqis, Saddam's days are numbered, although it will take a little bit longer for them to believe it.

Alessio Vinci, CNN, with the U.S. Marines in central Iraq.


ZAHN: Now, moving ahead two hours. In the view of the Pentagon, the civilian population of Iraq remains a major obstacle between the U.S. military and the toppling of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre now on what is next in the battle for Baghdad.


UNIDENTIFIED: We've got two doors.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The tears of a terrified girl as wary U.S. Marines hold an Iraqi family at gunpoint illustrate the biggest complication for U.S. troops as they move in on Baghdad -- how to surgically destroy the Iraqi regime without devastating the Iraqi people.

BRIG. GEN. VINCENT BROOKS, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: It is clear at this point that the risk is increasing to the civilian population because of decisions made by regime leaders.

MCINTYRE: The U.S. Central Command says the blue arrows in this reconnaissance photograph point to places in Baghdad where military equipment has been placed next to homes in a residential area to protect it from aerial attack.

And the U.S. accuses Iraqi forces of conducting military operations from the Mother-of-All-Battles Mosque, a sacred site in the northwest section of the city, as well as the Saddam Hospital, both of which are on the U.S. no-strike list.

The U.S. is moving quickly to consolidate its gains, flying supplies into its main operating base at the renamed Baghdad International Airport, while concentrating ground forces and aerial surveillance on the main roads.

GEN. PETER PACE, VICE CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We do control the highways in and out of the city, and do have the capability to interdict, to stop, to attack any Iraqi military forces that might try to either escape or to engage our forces.

MCINTYRE: Pentagon sources say the U.S. will conduct more armored raids in which U.S. tanks and Bradleys roar through the city streets.

The idea is two-fold -- a show of force and a chance to lure Iraqi troops into an overmatched dual.

The Pentagon doesn't know, but estimates its conquest of Baghdad may have killed between 2,000 and 3,000 Iraqi soldiers. And it believes thousands of others have abandoned their weapons and melted into the city.

Sources also the U.S. may launch other forays into Baghdad, if there's a chance to capture or kill Saddam Hussein or any of his inner circle.

BROOKS: We want to attack a specific regime location where a meeting is ongoing, and kill everyone that's in the meeting. We might do that in some cases. That could happen in Baghdad.


MCINTYRE: The U.S. strategy remains to try to isolate the regime in Baghdad, and use surgical pinpoint strikes to try to neutralize it.

The U.S. did take some more territory today, including a presidential palace complex that the U.S. believes was being used as a headquarters by the special Republican Guard -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks so much. Jamie McIntyre reporting for us from the Pentagon tonight.

We conclude our look at the day, day 19 in the "War in Iraq," with this casualty report.

The Pentagon says there are a total of 80 American fatalities, 66 hostile, 14 non-hostile. Eight people are missing in action, and there are seven known prisoners of war. The British Ministry of Defense reports 30 British deaths, 7 hostile, 19 non-hostile, and 2 undetermined. There are an unknown number of missing and no known POWs.

According to state-run Iraqi TV, 420 civilians are dead, about 4,000 injured. Coalition Central Command indicates there are 6,000 Iraqi prisoners -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Paula, the risks of everyday life and the risks of covering a war have taken the life of a journalist covering the fighting in Iraq.

"NBC News" correspondent David Bloom died Sunday, apparently of natural causes, near Baghdad. NBC says Bloom died because of a pulmonary embolism. He had been embedded with the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, near Baghdad. David Bloom, a good friend, a great journalist, a loving father, and a wonderful husband as well, a 10- year veteran of NBC who was only 39 years old -- Paula.

ZAHN: I've never seen the outpouring I've seen today for a fellow journalist. A man, as you said, Wolf, who was very well- respected and very well-liked.

In a moment, a look at what's going on at this hour, and then the voices of protest versus the progress of the war. Has the lightening speed of the coalition advance muted many who were so angry early on?


WHITFIELD: Hello. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in the CNN newsroom. Here's what's happening at this hour.

U.S. Central Command continues to assess the damage and casualties from the daily bombardment of Baghdad, this as U.S. forces sweep deeper into the city. An Iraqi TV appeal said to be from Saddam Hussein urged Iraq's troops to fend off the Americans. The statement also offered $8,000 to anyone who destroys an allied tank, armored personnel carrier or artillery.

Wounded people flooded Baghdad's hospitals during the fire fight. One surgeon says his staff has treated more than 100 people. A true count of civilian injuries is not known, but International Red Cross officials say it could stand at several hundred.

Friendly fire has taken a heavy toll in northern Iraq. A U.S. warplane mistakenly attacked a convoy of Kurdish fighters, killing 18 people and wounding at least 45. U.S. special forces were working with the Kurds and there are unconfirmed reports one U.S. soldier was injured.

A family reunion for rescued American POW Jessica Lynch. Her parents, brother and sister arrived today at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Lynch is at a nearby hospital where she is undergoing medical treatment. Wednesday, U.S. forces rescued Lynch from a hospital in Nasiriya where she was being held. In other news, relief at the gas pump for Americans. The latest surveys show the price of self-serve unleaded regular gas is down an average of more than 6-cents a gallon in just two weeks. The average cost was $1.67 on April 4 and experts expect more price reductions as the war progresses in Iraq.

The deadly mystery illness known as SARS has struck again. In Hong Kong, two more people have died from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and 42 others are infected. Hong Kong warns its hospitals may not be able to cope with the rising number of patients.

More of CNN's coverage "Live from the Frontlines" is ahead, including a look at the progress of the war and whether critics of the war effort were wrong. Also, did the coalition's quick trip to Baghdad serve to silence the dissenters? And the celebrity view of war. The difference it makes depends on who's doing the talking.

Those are the headlines at this hour. More comprehensive coverage of the "War in Iraq" right after this quick break.


ANNOUNCER: Two weeks into the war and the coalition had the upper hand as it tightens its grip on Baghdad. Is the battlefield success turning the hearts and minds of uncertain Americans? Were the critics wrong?

Drumbeats and anti-war chants echo through American streets and world capitols only weeks ago. Now they're all but silent. Have the protesters lost their momentum or are they being stifled? Where have the dissenters gone?

And what about the rest of the world? Are we still hearing from them, or is the coalition winning them over?

In this half-hour, "Live from the Frontlines," were the critics wrong?

ZAHN: Before and since the war in Iraq began, there was intense criticism of the U.S.-led coalition. Critics thought there was a risk of long-drawn out fighting or Iraq turning to the use of chemical or possibly biological weapons.

Others were unhappy the coalition acted without the final approval of the U.N. Security Council. Were the critics wrong?

We begin with our senior political analyst Bill Schneider, looking at the progress of the war and its effect on the debate.

Good evening -- Bill.


And what a difference a week makes. A week of steady military progress has transformed the political environment surrounding this war.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Last week, the air was filled with recriminations and finger-pointing, even inside the Pentagon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Secretary, I'm going to ask you once again about criticism from current and former officers about the flow of forces to the region and also whether there are sufficient forces in Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: That drew a testy response.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEF'S CHAIRMAN: It is not helpful to have those kind of comments come out when we've got troops in combat, because first of all, they're false. They're absolutely wrong. They bear no resemblance to the truth.

SCHNEIDER: Then coalition forces made it to Baghdad with astonishing speed. The Republican Guards ring of steel around Baghdad became a ring of smoke.

Debate over the war has been stifled. You don't quarrel with success, and right now an overwhelming majority of Americans is certain the United States will win, even though Baghdad has not been taken and Saddam Hussein may still be in power and no weapons of mass destruction have been found, and coalition forces have not been greeted with widespread scenes of jubilation.

A national survey last week by "The Los Angeles Times" found evidence that even Democrats are getting on board. 2/3 of Democrats joined with 91 percent of Republicans to express approval of the way President Bush is handling the war in Iraq. 70 percent of Democrats, along with almost all Republicans, support the Bush administration's decision to go to war.

At least one Democrat did choose to quarrel with success. Senator John Kerry, a presidential candidate, said in New Hampshire last week that what the country needs is a regime change in the United States.

Shut up, Republicans explained.


Timing is everything, and right now the timing does not seem right for a political debate over the war -- Paula.

ZAHN: So, Bill, have people really changed their view of the way the war is going?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Paula, yes they have. Just in the past week.

A week ago, only 33 percent of Americans said they thought the war was going very well. That figure has now jumped to 51 percent. In fact, close to 80 percent of Americans say they are certain the U.S. is going to win. That's a huge buildup of optimism, even though most Americans believe Saddam Hussein is still alive.

ZAHN: But, Bill, what happens if the United States does not find any chemical or biological weapons in Iraq?

SCHNEIDER: Well, a week ago it looked like that would be a problem. Only 38 percent of Americans said the war is justified even if the United States does not find conclusive evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.

But now, 58 percent of Americans say it doesn't matter if we find weapons of mass destruction; getting rid of Saddam Hussein is enough of a justification for the war.

ZAHN: And can you figure out from this latest polling just how concerned the American public is about what comes after the war?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Paula, the answer is they're very concerned about that.

We asked people, what do you think will be more difficult for the United States, winning the war or rebuilding Iraq and establishing a new government there. And it's even close. 84 percent said rebuilding Iraq. Only 13 percent said winning the war would be the bigger problem.

Winning wars, Americans know how to do. Nation-building, that's another story.

ZAHN: In today's "Washington Post," Democratic Senator Joe Bidden, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote an op-ed piece, and they talked about the cost of the post-war reconstruction, and they said it would cost anywhere from $20 to $25 billion a year for 10 years to help rebuild and secure Iraq. That is a staggering amount of money, particularly when they said that Iraq will bring in about $16 billion a year of oil income.

What are some of the other challenges the public is concerned about?

SCHNEIDER: Well, that's No. 1: who's going to pay for it -- $25 billion is a lot of money.

If Iraq created this problem, and they have all that oil, why should the United States pay to reconstruct Iraq? And there's a big debate over the role of the United Nations. The State Department and the British say the U.N. should have a major role. The Pentagon and the White House are skeptical.

The United States fought the war without the United Nations, why should the United Nations have control of the outcome?

Well, one answer: because they can help pay for it.

The biggest problem is likely to be the need for tens of thousands of Americans to stay in Iraq and help rebuild the country. Every one of those Americans is a potential target for terrorists. If American administrators start getting picked off in Iraq, a lot of Americans are going to say we're out of there.

ZAHN: Bill, I guess, though, when you look at the numbers that you're sharing with us tonight, it seems pretty obvious if the war continues going on at this pace, the president probably will end up with some pretty high approval ratings.

If he does, what does he do with that political capital?

SCHNEIDER: Well, that's why they call it political capital. You have to spend it or you lose it.

His father had enormous political capital after the first Gulf War, but he didn't spend it, so he lost.

There's already pressure from certain quarters for President Bush to go on from Iraq and try to reshape the entire Middle East. Put pressure, including military pressure, on Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to become democracies. But there's no question what the American people want President Bush to do with his political capital: fix the economy. After all, he has an economic plan, something his father did not have.

This president has proved he can be commander-in-chief of the military, but you know, Americans believe a president is also commander-in-chief of the economy. That's ridiculous; nobody is commander-in-chief of the economy, not even Alan Greenspan. But fairly or unfairly, Americans hold a president responsible for the economy, just like they hold him responsible for what happens in a war.

ZAHN: Bill Schneider, thanks for going through all of those very complicated numbers for us this evening, appreciate it.

We're going to continue now with our question of the day: were the critics wrong?

We are joined by Damu Smith. He is the founder and chairman of Black Voices for Peace. The group was formed in response to the September 11 attacks. It is opposed to the war in Iraq.

Damu, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

DAMU SMITH, BLACK VOICES FOR PEACE: Glad to be here -- Paula.

ZAHN: I wanted to start off by sharing some more statistics that just came out a little over 40 minutes ago from this CNN "USA Today" poll. And 70 percent of Americans said they favor this war.

What do these statistics say either about the strength or the effectiveness of the anti-war movement?

SMITH: Well, first of all, Paula, I want to say that this debate has never been about whether or not the United States would win militarily in Iraq. That has never been in doubt. We are the world's military superpower and military intervention in Iraq was going to mean eventually a U.S. military victory.

The question that we have always raised from the beginning is whether or not this war was justified or necessary for the stated objectives of the administration. If disarmament was the objective, we have always argued that diplomacy, negotiation and the involvement of the international community to solve this crisis was the necessary option.

We could have saved civilian lives in Iraq. We could have saved U.S. -- the lives of U.S. troops who have gone in and risked their lives already.

What we are saying is that millions of people have been in the streets, around the world and in the United States, protesting against this war. What happened to the manifestation of that being documented by the media? It is not true that anti-war protests have waned. Over the past few weeks there have been hundreds of protests. There were 200,000-plus people in New York just a few weeks ago, more than 60,000 people in the streets of Washington just about 10 days ago, and there will be thousands of people in the streets of Washington this coming weekend and on April 26.

So the anti-war movement has not gone anywhere. We will continue to raise the issues that we are raising.

ZAHN: But, Damu, let's come back to the first question I asked, because I think you turned it to talk about the general opposition to war. But you've got these statistics that you can't ignore, when you ask the average American are you in favor of this war, 70 percent just said in this poll tonight they are in favor of it. In fact, another question was asked, and the majority of Americans still favor this war, even if weapons of mass destruction aren't found.

What does that say to you?

SMITH: Well, first of all, I'm not sure how the question was posed when the polling was done.

Paula, look, people in the United States have been consumed with a perspective on the war by CNN, MSNBC and the other networks. It has been a very interesting presentation. The American people have not gotten all of the graphic images about civilian casualties. They don't get a political perspective about the war.

And so I suspect that many Americans who indeed might say they're for the war have been greatly influenced by a very unbalanced presentation that they're getting from the media.

But I would also add, quickly, that when we ask people who we are talking to on a daily basis, who are in the streets, these people say they've never been called by the pollers who are taking these polls.

So I think there's a lot of question about whether or not these polls are really legitimate in light of the fact that so many people have expressed strong opposition to this war, and in light of the fact that the media has provided a very distorted image of what's really happening.

ZAHN: Well, I'm going to stand by what the viewers have seen here on CNN.

But we've just got 15 seconds left. I'm just wondering how much you think American opinions of this war have been effected by our collective 9-11 experience?

SMITH: Oh, I think it's...

ZAHN: And the sense of vulnerability that a lot of Americans feel today in a post-9-11 environment.

SMITH: Well, you know what, I think that Americans are very sensitive to that, but I think Bush quite frankly has lied about the connection between Saddam Hussein and Iraq and 9-11. No evidence has been put forward to prove that there's been any connection, and it was a very clever ploy that the president used to take advantage of that kind of sentiment in the wake of 9-11.

But none of that has been proven true. As bad as Saddam Hussein's regime has been to its people, they've never posed a direct threat to the United States, either in the form of being able to launch missiles here or any other documented evidence that the media or anybody else has been able to produce. That hasn't occurred.

ZAHN: Well, Damu, we appreciate your coming by and maybe the next time we bring you on we'll let you debate a member of the Bush administration. Thank you.

SMITH: I would be very happy to do that.

ZAHN: Really appreciate your time.

Back to Wolf now, in Kuwait City -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, thanks, Paula.

Some of the strongest criticism of the war has come from overseas, so what are they saying now?

When we return, we'll take a look at the international opinion.

Stay with us. CNN's "Live from the Frontlines" continues in one minute.


BLITZER: Continuing with our theme for this half-hour, were the critics wrong? A lot of the criticism of the war has of course come from the international community, especially since the United States and Britain decided to fight this war essentially on their own and without of the United Nations.

We're joined now from Thomas Rielle (ph). For more than 15 years, he's worked as a political pollster in Washington.

Thanks, Mr. Rielle (ph), for joining us.

First of all, Britain. Tony Blair went to war despite the public opinion polls in Britain. Does he look like a hero now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure. Public opinion is changing in two countries. In Great Britain and in the United States.

As Bill just told you, the U.S. public is rallying behind the war. The same is true in Great Britain.

Immediately prior to the start of hostilities 19 days ago, only 38 percent of the public in Great Britain supported Prime Minister Blair's war policies. Almost immediately, that support increased 15 to 20 points and a majority now support it.

BLITZER: Is the opposite true in France and Germany, for example, where the leaders there, Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder, adamantly oppose the United States and Britain?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Something different is going on in France, in Germany, in Italy, in Canada, in Russia. In those countries, people are watching the war, but as spectators. They don't have young men and women fighting the war, so opinion is not changing, it's hardening in those countries.

Eighty percent or more oppose the war in Russia and in France. More than 2/3 oppose the war in Germany and Italy and other countries. And nothing has happened since the shooting started.

BLITZER: I was going to say, what about the economic fallout? Are people worried that since they didn't work with the United States and Britain in going into this war, assuming the United States and Britain win decisively fairly soon, are they worried that they could pay an economic price for not supporting the United States?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right. There is some ambivalence.

In Germany, there's concerns that Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has overplayed the anti-war card and the public in that country would like to see their policies a little closer to the United States.

It doesn't change attitudes and opposition to the war, but there is concern that they'll pay a price for not joining the coalition.

A good example, Wolf...

BLITZER: I don't know, Mr. Rielle (ph), if you can hear me. I think I just lost communications with you.

We're going to take a quick break. I want to thank you for joining us, Thomas Rielle (ph), for that analysis.

We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Celebrities have had their share of things to say about the war in Iraq. A number of well-known people came out to criticize the president, his plans, and the reasons for going to war. Some have suffered because of their views. Others have seen very little backlash.

Our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield looks at why.


JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST (voice-over): When Natalie Maines, lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, told a London audience that they were ashamed President Bush was from Texas, there was no reaction at first. But when her comments were posted on "The Drudge Report" and other Web sites, that's changed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To go on foreign soil and make such a remark like that is an insult.

GREENFIELD: Country music radio stations pulled the CD off the air. There were protest gatherings at which Dixie Chicks CD's were destroyed, and sales of their latest album, "Home," dropped more than 40 percent in a week.

But when singer songwriter Sheryl Crowe posted anti-war sentiments on her Web site, there was no impact at all. Indeed, barely a mention anywhere?

Why? One strong possibility is the difference in audiences. Country music's big strength is in the so-called red states, Southern, western, more conservative. While rock and folk have nurtured protest music, country music is the home of "Oakie from Muskogee" and "God Bless the U.S.A."

One country star, Toby Keith, has harsh words for the Dixie Chicks.

TOBY KEITH, COUNTRY SINGER: She's just got a big mouth and it just gets her in more trouble.

GREENFIELD: Here's actress Susan Sarandon. She was disinvited to a United Way fundraiser. Her political activities made her too controversial for the Florida group.

But what about Martin Sheen, who plays President Bartlet on "The West Wing." He's been arrested dozens of times in peace demonstrations, he's cut an anti-war commercial.

MARTIN SHEEN, ACTOR: Inspections work. War won't.

GREENFIELD: But it's almost impossible to organize a boycott of a television show, and anyway, the president Sheen plays has actually sent troops into foreign countries.

Or, simply more fundamental, this isn't the late-40's or early- 50's. No congressional committee is investigating subversives in Hollywood. And no black list of show business folks with suspect political views.

Today, late night comedians lampoon political leaders, and the press, for that matter, with little fear of retaliation.

JAY LENO, TALK SHOW HOST: Well, today President Bush said we would stay in Iraq for as long as it takes. That's the same policy he had in high school.

GREENFIELD: And even Bill Maher, who was frozen out by ABC after his post-September 11 comments about cowardly American military policy, now has a new home on HBO.

(on camera): In other words, an entertainer's vulnerability to a political backlash really does depend.

For instance, if Bruce Springsteen were to issue a new version of "War" that explicitly attacked President Bush's policy or if Eminem were to issue an anti-war rap, does anyone think their fans would turn against them?

Even when Pearl Jam mocked President Bush last week, only a few dozen people walked out. Raise the same issue about Garth Brooks and his fans, and you'll likely get a very different reaction.

Jeff Greenfield, CNN, New York.


ZAHN: And that wraps it up for Wolf and me. Thanks so much for joining us tonight. I'm Paul Zahn. Good night -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good night, Paula. I'll see you tomorrow. I know you'll be back in the morning. I'll be back later in the day. We'll both be back tomorrow night.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is up next, right after a quick check of the latest headlines.

WHITFIELD: Thanks, Wolf.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield in the CNN newsroom.

Here's what's happening at this hour.

The U.S. Army says U.S. forces have now encircled the Iraqi capitol of Baghdad, a city of 5 million people. And the first U.S. transport plane has landed at the city's main airport, firmly controlled by U.S. forces. At least two more transport planes are on the way.

The wounded continue to flood Baghdad's hospitals, one surgeon saying his staff has treated more than 100 people. A true count of civilian injuries is not known, but International Red Cross officials say it could stand at several hundred. Humanitarian shipments have arrived, but the Iraqi city of Umm Qasr is still in dire need of water and medicine. That's the world from a United Nations official who says Umm Qasr's hospital has a vaccine shortage right now.

President Bush is set to travel to Belfast, Northern Ireland to meet with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. They'll discuss progress in the war and review plans for rebuilding and governing post-war Iraq.

Hong Kong, two more people have died from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and 42 others are infected. So far, the death toll from SARS is 22 in Hong Kong and 89 worldwide.

Continuing coverage of the "War in Iraq" with Larry King, right now.


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