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Palace Raid is Symbolic Show of Force

Aired April 7, 2003 - 04:38   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, ANCHOR: Let's head back to Kuwait City and Bill.
BILL HEMMER, ANCHOR: All right, Carol. Clearly, the headline today is again on Baghdad, with this strong move of U.S. forces into the center of that town earlier today.

The Brits are now saying that Basra is in most of their control right now. Perhaps a few areas still have not been seized by the Brits. But there is a clear question right now as to what's happening in the northern part of Iraq.

What's happening in the town of Tikrit, which is the ancestral homeland of Saddam Hussein; what's happening in the town of Mosul, where Jane Arraf was reporting about an hour ago. We know there is fighting that is ongoing, but how much fighting still lays ahead. Perhaps Centcom will clarify that when they brief down in Qatar in about 20 minutes from now. And again, we will carry that live for you as we have now for about three weeks running.

In the meantime, back to the Pentagon and Kathleen Koch for what's happening and what's underway there. Kathleen, good morning again.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You took the words right out of my mouth, because the Pentagon has said from the start that when it came to the battle for Baghdad, that the toughest fighting lay ahead. And they are saying again this is not the final battle, that this is, again, an armed raid into the heart of Baghdad. And in many ways, largely serving a very symbolic purpose.

Though we are hearing these reports that some U.S. lives have been lost in this very bold foray into the heart of Baghdad, and no confirmation yet from the Pentagon on just how many or the circumstances.

This raid, unlike the previous two, went right into downtown Baghdad. And it was very carefully orchestrated to be within direct line of sight, direct view of some pre-positioned international television cameras. A spokesman, a Captain Frank Thorpe, a spokesman for Centcom, said, quote, "This will give the first real view of U.S. forces moving through the city."

Obviously, an effort on the part of the U.S. to counter the continuing Iraqi claims that the U.S. forces were not only nowhere near Baghdad but they didn't control the airport. And then you saw the quote that Rym Brahimi ran earlier, the videotape of the Iraqi information minister, saying again U.S. forces are not in Baghdad, that Baghdad is safe and secure and great.

But U.S. sources here, military sources at the Pentagon, are saying, quote, "We are dominating the battlefield. This sends a powerful message to the remnants of the regime that we can go where we want, when we want."

And that had been the message in previous days, as the Iraqis effort at shutting down the borders of the capital in the nighttime hours from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m., imposing a curfew to -- again, which the U.S. military basically scoffed, pointing out that, you know, an Iraqi soldier with a truck is going to be no match for tanks and for armored fighting vehicles as they try to come into the city.

The U.S. saying it would operate where it wanted, when it wanted, as it wanted, despite this curfew.

Again, symbolism very important. The U.S. has from the start, as Rym pointed out, been targeting the presidential palaces of Saddam Hussein from the air, believing they are valid military targets, that they're used in many cases for command and control. So they wanted not only to take them out from the air but then to go in on the ground today and show U.S. forces walking in these palaces.

An official here saying, quote, "It can't be anything but alarming to see a U.S. brigade commander standing in the compound of a presidential palace in Baghdad. We call this action a show of force."

The question is now how long will these U.S. forces stay in downtown Baghdad. Perhaps we'll find out more on that from the upcoming Centcom briefing.

But a pretty extraordinary day, that despite what a spokesman for Centcom said earlier this morning. Captain Thorpe, again, saying this is just another day when clearly it's far from it, Bill.

HEMMER: Yes, clearly far from it. Indeed, you're right, Kathleen. You hear Jeff Hune (ph). The question went to him about 30 minutes ago as to the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein, the whereabouts of his two sons. How are they addressing that question right now at the Pentagon?

KOCH: Well, at the Pentagon they have said over recent days when these questions come up, is Saddam Hussein alive or dead? Is that really him in these videotapes? And the U.S. military is saying, well, that's not really important but what is important is that day- by-day, hour-by-hour, he's increasingly losing control of his forces.

Some of the top commanders here at the Pentagon saying if he is, indeed, in command of Iraqi forces, then he's giving them some pretty bad advice because the U.S. has been surprised to see the very poor quality of the fighting on the part of the Iraqis. The lack of any very cohesive, concerted and really effective resistance -- Bill.

HEMMER: Kathleen, thanks. Kathleen Koch at the Pentagon and watching things from there.


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