CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Free Iraqis to Fight With the Coalition
Aired April 7, 2003 - 04:48 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL COSTELLO, ANCHOR: Let's head back to Kuwait City and Bill.
BILL HEMMER, ANCHOR: All right, Carol, thanks. We're going to get back to Nasiriyah, the town in south central Iraq.
There's a reporter on the phone by the name of Marie Colvin. She works for the "Sunday Times." And she had been airlifted earlier in the week, or possibly even today, I'm not quite sure just yet; we'll find out from her in a moment, with a group known as Free Iraqi Forces. We had heard about this organization at the end of last week.
And Marie, if you can hear me by way of telephone, a brief outline. What is this group all about?
MARIE COLVIN, "SUNDAY TIMES:" It's the -- It's newly formed, Free Iraqi Forces, FIF. It's the -- it's an Iraqi opposition army, the only Iraqi opposition army that's Arab. Because of course, you know, you have the two Kurdish armies up in the north. No one wants them to come into central Iraq because, you know, the tensions between the Iraqis -- the Arabs and the Kurds.
It's led by Ahmed Chalabi, the leader, not even a political leader, leader of the Iraqi National Congress. He's now here; there's several hundred Iraqi opposition soldiers coming in by American airlifts every night. They plan to take the battle to Saddam.
HEMMER: Yes, well, what is the intent of this group? Where are they headed?
COLVIN: Kind of -- A rather austere base at the moment, a bombed and deserted Iraqi army base. They're heading next to Nasiriyah, probably tomorrow. The ultimate goal is Baghdad.
There's two wings here. This is not just a combat army. They're working within the American war plan. And the military aim is essentially to kind of work alongside. They have an extensive network in all the cities here, so to help get rid of the opposition that the American forces are facing. As you know, even in cities they've already taken, they're getting shot at by the Saddam Fedayeen.
They know these people; root them out. And eventually for the...
HEMMER: Marie, just give me a better description of the people that you're with. Are these Iraqi exiles, are they Iraqi Americans? Are they Sunni? Are they Shiah? How do they break down? COLVIN: Well, it's about half and half. They've very carefully done the mix, because you know the controversy. I'd say about 50 percent are Iraqi exiles; about 50 percent are Iraqis who've come over. One of the units here is led by an Iraqi Republican Guard captain who just came over about a week ago.
There's Sunni and Shiah. There's quite a few Shiah, because their, of course, targets are in the south here, and they're very much trying to get the local people and more of the Iraqi army to come over.
HEMMER: Yes. And also, Marie, at full strength how large would this group be, then, in Iraq?
COLVIN: Right now, the base I'm at, we've got 700 here. As I said, a couple hundred more coming in every night. The number's expected within the next week to be up to 3,000. That's people who've already been recruited, trained. I mean, everyone here has a weapon and is in uniform.
They -- what they hope is to get some of these, you know, Iraqi army people coming over, or they hope the ranks will fill. At the moment, enlisted, you know, names on the list at 3,000.
HEMMER: So this is the base, then? This is the foundation for the future military in Iraq, once the war's over?
COLVIN: Well, that's very much Ahmed Chalabi's goal, who's leading this force, is to form the nucleus of an Iraqi army that is not Ba'athi, that you know, has nothing to do -- no agreements with the Ba'ath Party.
Equally, they have a political goal. They want to be, you know, Chalabi obviously, a leading opposition politician, eventually you know, be a nucleus of an Iraqi government, interim government, and once the elections come, the nucleus of the Iraqi government.
HEMMER: All right, Marie. Thanks for checking in. Marie Colvin on the telephone, a writer with the "Sunday Times," with this group known as Free Iraqi Forces. As she indicated, could be several thousand strong in a matter of days, landing now in Nasiriyah. And eventually, as she says, they hope to make their way to Baghdad.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com