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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Slow and Steady on Northern Front

Aired April 7, 2003 - 04:52   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL COSTELLO, ANCHOR: We want to head to northern Iraq and Jane Arraf. She's been sitting on a ridge somewhere east of the town of Mosul.
And Jane, I wanted to ask you first off, could you hear those reports and the guest he had with him?

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sorry, Carol, we've got a bit of trouble in the audio. Could you just ask that again?

COSTELLO: Certainly can. Could you hear Bill Hemmer's report and the guest he had with him?

ARRAF: Well, I just heard Marie Colvin talking about Ahmed Chalabi being airlifted to Iraq to start an Iraqi force, which is quite extraordinary, here, certainly as well. I mean, the Kurds obviously had belief that they would have a key position and that, it's an interesting development.

COSTELLO: Yes. I was just wondering how the Kurds -- what the Kurds would think of that, this Iraqi opposition army that's now coming together.

ARRAF: Well, because the Kurds had an interesting moment here. You can probably see on this hill, Carol, that it's an interesting mix here. We've got a small group of U.S. special forces who are holding this ridge. Now this ridge is just before a key intersection, pretty well halfway between those major cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. Most of the people on this ridge are Kurdish fighters, Peshmerga; "those who defy death" is what the name means.

And they have really wanted a role in this battle. They haven't received as much of a role as they thought they would. They have not been armed, despite they say, promises by the U.S. to arm them. It's mostly because Turkey has objected.

Now this force that's shaping up in the south of Iraq, of Iraqi exiles, is an interesting development but not taken very seriously here, it has to be said. Particularly because there is a (UNINTELLIGIBLE), an opposition leader, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmed Chalabi, who has pretty well been sidelined in terms of Iraqi opposition figures.

Obviously, the U.S. is working very closely with the military here as well as political leaders, Kurdish political leaders. And the Iraqi opposition has always been very diverse, very fragmented. That's part of the problem. But it would be interesting to see how this shapes up. Any force that's headed, even politically, by this opposition leader who has lately been sidelined from the Iraqi opposition that is made up primarily, so far, of Kurds and Shiah leaders -- Carol.

COSTELLO: I understand. And just a quick update as to what's happening now on the battle?

ARRAF: Well, what we're seeing now is, on this part of the frontline and it's fairly typical, actually. It sort of represents the slow and steady advance that U.S. special forces have been making along the front line all along here in northern Iraq.

Now this is particularly interesting. Yesterday there was an intense day-long battle after a group of special forces on a ridge further ahead of here were confronted by Iraqi tanks in an offensive position. It's relatively rare around here. Now they responded with a day of barrages of anti-tank missiles and air strikes, and they believe they took out 10 tanks.

Now right now, what's happening is that they've sent a reconnaissance party further along the road, on a further ridge down there, but it's a very hazy day and they're not entirely sure what lies just beyond that haze, whether the Iraqis do have the power to come back and pose a threat, or whether they're safe. And they're still holding this ridge.

They intend to go forward, certainly, but they're still waiting to see what happens.

In other parts of the north, yesterday we saw near Dohuk (ph), near the Turkish border, at least two towns that have been held by Iraqi forces that were taken by U.S. special forces with the Kurdish fighters.

But still, it really is very slow and steady and there is intentionally no major push towards Kirkuk and Mosul so far -- Carol.

COSTELLO: I understand. Jane Arraf, reporting from the northern front.

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