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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Coalition Tanks Roll into Central Baghdad

Aired April 9, 2003 - 08:50   ET

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And, Bill, we're going to bring Martin Savidge into our coverage now, who I'm told has just rolled beyond this Tahriya Square, otherwise known as Liberation Square, which we have learned this morning is in honor of the Baath Party revolution that brought Saddam Hussein into power.
Martin, where -- are you allowed to tell us exactly where you are and what you're looking at right now?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, we're traveling on the east side of the Tigris, coming up to the city from the east, driving into the heart of the city, heading toward the area of where all of the embassies are, and I believe also in the area of where Baghdad University. We would also be coming close to the Palestine Hotel.

As we have driven down the streets here, there are lots of people out, as you know. All of the stores are closed, for the most part. People, throngs of people, gathering at intersections, just watching this heavily armed convoy of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines rolling by. Most of them seem very jubilant to see it, waving, blowing kisses, shouting out whatever limited English they may know, waving flags, waving clothing, and generally in a very strong, happy mood to see this convoy which is not the way it has been for the last three weeks. Some wave white flags, some wave flowers, but they all are out here to watch as this military convoy rolls by. The Marines, not taking any chances, are not slowing. There are tanks in the lead, tanks in the rear, and armored personnel carriers with Marines, guns pointed out all the way up.

That doesn't deter the population, though. They are out waving, gesturing and, apparently, pleased to see the Marines -- Paula.

ZAHN: Martin, we're also told that there are thousands...

SAVIDGE: I should mention that.

ZAHN: What was that we just heard?

SAVIDGE: There is still artillery falling. There is still artillery falling in the area, Paula. That's the second round we've heard go off. We're not sure where it's coming from. But that is the second explosion we've encountered while driving in here. We've now come up against another convoy. The Marines are getting out. They're warning the crowd to get back. We see them assuming their force position here, their force protection position here as they stop. We're not sure why we have stopped. But it came just after we had an explosion off to our left. They are trying to warn people to stay back. Of course the people would like to come forward.

This is a very dangerous time for a convoy. They are not going to have a crowd surround them, no matter how friendly or jubilant it may be. Once again, we keep pushing on.

ZAHN: Martin, we are going to get right back to you, because I think that's a very important point you've just made. Even though the majority of Iraqi forces have now given up, what coalition forces have to deal with is the kind of fire that you've just witnessed twice I believe in the last 10 minutes, indiscriminate fire coming from snipers, we are told are well-armed and well-placed.

Let's check in with Corporal Steven Harris. He's with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines.

Corporal Harris, are you allowed to tell us where you are, and if you are, tell us what you're seeing.

CPL. STEVEN HARRIS: Yes, I'm right in front of the Palestinian Hotel.

ZAHN: And that is a hotel yesterday where two journalists lost their lives. Tell us a little bit about what you see from where you're standing right now.

HARRIS: Where I'm standing? Around the Liberation Courtyard, the Palestine Courtyard.

ZAHN: And describe to us what you see. We've been looking at pictures not far from where you're standing of U.S. tanks rolling in to the central square. We have seen dozens of Iraqis waving white T- shirts, waving flags, waving to the Marines that have come into town. What have you seen?

HARRIS: Ohm, I think this is great. This is what the Iraqi people have been waiting on for 30 years.

ZAHN: How many Iraqis do you see on the street right now? We saw a flood of people walking in front of the hotel just about 10 minutes ago. How many people are outside now? And how many American troops do you think you're looking at?

HARRIS: They've started taking control of all that, and we're kind of just letting the press do their thing.

ZAHN: The concerning thing to Martin Savidge, who is, I understand it, is not too far from where you are in central Baghdad, is the convoy he is rolling into town with has just witnessed a couple of rounds of sniper fire. Have you seen anything or heard anything from where you are?

All right, I think we just lost Corporal Steven Harris.

Martin Savidge, let's bring you back into the conversation right now. Now, we are watching a number of U.S. forces walking up to what appears to be a government building with a huge poster of Saddam Hussein outside. Describe to us what has happened in the last couple of minutes since we left you.

SAVIDGE: Gunfire.

OK, we are here, Paula. We are -- as the convoy was moving, we've now run into apparently some opposition up front. There is a sound of explosions, heavy gunfire, heavy machine gunfire, we're now moving obviously in a different direction. The Marines apparently changing their strategy somewhat. We're not clear exactly what they're doing, but we're now in tow with the Marines. So the Marines have decided to change in some way, moving very quickly here.

You see Marines on the street now, at the ready, weapons pointed, deploying here. It's very difficult to understand exactly what they may have run into, how much fire was incoming, how much was outgoing. But there were a number of explosions and the forward momentum we were (UNINTELLIGIBLE) has now stopped. We've reversed and gone in the opposite direction. We're trying to figure out exactly what's happening.

ZAHN: And, Martin, as we stay with you, we're going to share with us audience now some of the observations of some reporters on the scene in various parts of central Baghdad, saying that many parts of the Iraqi capital had a roughed into nothing short of anarchy. Obviously, emotions running high as civilians mostly in the poorer neighborhoods of Saddam City on the east side broke into government buildings, tore down images of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and hauled off with looted furniture, fixtures and office supplies. It's interesting, Martin, that you're talking about the change in tactics for the Marine...

SAVIDGE: Can you hear the gunfire?

ZAHN: We can. Can you tell where it's coming from?

SAVIDGE: No. It's coming from down the street. We see tanks on the bridge. Perhaps we could focus down the road. You'll see tanks have taken a position on the bridge of this roadway we are on. I can't tell you what roadway we are on, because we're a little disoriented now with the change of tactics.

An armored personnel carrier now also pushing up on that same position there. And we are trying to ascertain. It appears that the gunfire is coming from a collection of buildings that are off to our left. There is also smoke coming from that area. So we don't know if that's the result of artillery or where that is really coming from. You can see the Marines now on the move.

Whoops! Hold it! Now, we're being dragged.

Cable up?

ZAHN: Yes, we can.

SAVIDGE: Cable up?

Can you hear us? ZAHN: Martin, yes, carry on. We can hear you.

SAVIDGE: OK. We're -- sorry for that, Paula, but the vehicle -- we are -- we are actually being towed. Yes, we're OK, but we're being towed by a vehicle that now that we've come out of fire is in a haste to get out of here, and dragged us with it, and we were outside the vehicle as we were dragged. There's more fire coming. And I think -- oh, we're all right. We're just being dragged over some very heavy terrain. We'll try and get you an image again as soon as we can. There's more heavy fire. You can hear the pop and bang. We're not sure if it's mortars, but there it is. We'll try and get back.

Hang on again!

Right. We're going to talks here a moment just we can get out and give you a better image. The gunfire is definitely coming from the left of us. We're trying to sort out the cables at the same time we're trying to talk to you. We don't want to get separated from the vehicle, like we just did and get dragged again.

You can hear the gunfire going off. There is an intense sound of fire up forward now. It's uncertain who is firing or exactly what triggered this altercation -- if it was the presence of convoy if it was the position where we were at. As we get dragged more.

There is -- I can't tell if that's cannon fire, tank fire. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) missiles are standing by. It appears that as this is some sort of canvas of a government buildings or something that we are at. You can tell by the long fence. It's a wide open area.

But it appears to be an area where not everyone is happy to see the presence of the U.S. military forces here. The Marines are continuing to open fire. That sounds like tank fire. I'm trying to step out somewhat. If you can -- and -- we've got to pull ourselves together.

That's all right, master sergeant.

So we've come to a stop, and we're trying to figure out exactly who is firing and why.

Are you still there with us?

ZAHN: We are, Martin. You had just described before you stopped, seeing a collection of buildings off to your left. Can you get a better view now of where you think the shots were coming from?

SAVIDGE: Yes, I don't hear. We've had so many cables ripped out.

OK, we're moving. OK, more fire.

We don't know if you can still hear us, because we can't hear you.

Right. You can hear the Marines shouting. There is more fire. It's not confused. What they are doing is organizing their lines of defenses here. They were obvious -- their lines of defense are basically to protect the convoy and deploy as they move. That sounds like more tank fire or more missile fire. This appears to be...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another round going off!

SAVIDGE: We're being warned. Hang on. About small arms fire coming at our position. We'll try to get out, take a look. The tanks are still poised. You can see on that overpass, Marines are being advised to keep their eyes on both sides of the street. Just because they are engaged from one side does not mean that they cannot be engaged -- it's M-16 fire now starting.

It could also be a heavier machine gunfire. Marines trying to deploy in a herringbone fashion so that they are protected from all sides, as well as front and rear.

I wish I could tell you what facility it is that we are at. It appears to be some sort of complex, and a complex that has embedded opposition of some sort. There is smoke coming from some of the buildings.

We can hear now a lot of gunfire coming from another direction. This may be other units, other Marine units, closing from a different direction. We can't see it, we can only hear it, and watch the Marines as they react to it.

To be honest, this was not the exact reception we anticipated. That was a tow, I believe, going off. There's a lot of smoke and dust now, and fire, as you can hear, at a far cry from the jubilant crowds we left just, hard to imagine, two blocks away.

The Marines, again, are moving forward here on this side down here. Sounds like the tanks are opening up with their heavy machine guns. We haven't seen anything, but certainly it is close.

We are going to try to give you a better view of what we can here. We also have another photographer in the top of an APC, which is right beside us. and that is Scott McWiny (ph), also with CNN. And we wait.

There are no people on the street, other than Marines, that we can see. There's no one here celebrating, and certainly no crowds of any sort. It is hard to imagine -- I can't remember if there was anybody here on the street, as they have sensed trouble. We turned down the street, and there was no one here.

The Marines are now moving forward on to this property and pushing forward. They're also going to probably go through with an APC, the armored personnel carrier, with more gunfire, and try to push forward. That's their main fighting element, is the APC. It's through the perimeter and pushing up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get this thing fixed and get it off of me. You're not going in there.

SAVIDGE: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE; I can't tell you guys, through that little hole...

SAVIDGE: Continues to be a lot of heavy machine gunfire now, coming from the direction of the bridge.

And we are moving forward. You might have to disconnect us from him, because if he's going...

ZAHN: I think we just broken off our contact with Martin Savidge. We're going to stay with these pictures. For those of you just joining us, Martin Savidge describing what the Marines have encountered in a two-block area. They have gone from Iraqis coming out and openly welcoming the Marines, coming into town, to what you have just witnessed live with us on television as they come up the east side of the Tigress River.

Martin describing a lot of gunfire coming from, first of all, a group of buildings off to his left, and then he said he heard more gunfire from another direction, and maybe he thought those were other Marine units closing in from another direction.

At one point, he described hearing tow missiles going off, and hearing tanks opening up with heavy machine gunfire.

Martin, I think you're back with us. We're just going to let you -- I know you can't hear me, but we're going to let you describe what you're seeing right now.

SAVIDGE: You can see the armored personnel carriers maneuvering. When the cover fire provided by the tanks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go! Let's go!

SAVIDGE: Looks like we're going in.

So we climb the curb.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A little rough.

SAVIDGE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get in, Marty.

SAVIDGE: Get in.

There is a mortar team setting up.

You can see -- you've got to drop us.

ZAHN: We lost, Marty.

Now we're back to central square in downtown Baghdad. Martin Savidge, just describing the intensity of the kind of gunfire that the Marines are being subjected to.

The extraordinary thing we've witnessed this morning is contrasting what you're looking at now in Tahriya Square, also known as Liberation Square, with what he has just seen in two-block area, where the Marines have come under fire.

At one point, Marty said he heard what he thought was a tow missile going off, tanks opening up with heavy machine guns. He couldn't tell from his position exactly where the gunfire was coming from. And this doesn't match with the picture you're seeing right now. But he said, as they rolled into the east side of Baghdad, from the east side of the Tigress River, he saw a collection of buildings off to the left. He thought at one point he was looking at some embassies and then what appeared to be some government buildings. Not sure exactly who was firing the shots.

But the biggest concern right now, of course, is the fact that there doesn't seem to be any organized opposition, but just as menacing are the snipers that are dispersed throughout downtown Baghdad. We are told they are well armed and well placed.

Now we have seen spontaneous celebrations break out in Baghdad today with Iraqi citizens walking up to coalition troops, waving white T-shirts, waving white flags, honking horns.

In other parts of the city, there are descriptions coming in from reporters of total anarchy, Iraqis walking off with government property from various government buildings, the Olympic building, walking off with furniture, ashtrays, other souvenirs. But what you have seen over the last 20 minutes or so I think gives us all a very good idea of what the Pentagon warned us about yesterday. And these are these continuing pockets of resistance that coalition forces will face. And as you could hear from Martin Savidge's report, the fire so indiscriminate at times, it's very difficult to tell where it is coming from.

Now to make it perfectly clear, Martin said at one point some of the gunfire he was hearing could very well have been coming from another direction with other Marines closing in on the area.

Let's bring Bill back into the discussion here in Kuwait City.

Bill, what we have just seen on TV and these contrasts is absolutely extraordinary. Signs of...

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, completely, Paula.

ZAHN: Signs of jubilation to our and outright firing.

HEMMER: Yes, listening to Marty's report, he's with the Marines. I don't know his exact location, but we do know the Marines are coming from the east, and the Army is essentially coming from the west. On these pictures of the square looking outside the Palestine Hotel, Marty is probably a couple miles, a couple kilometers to the east of that central square. I think what it points out is the same thing that General Brooks said today at CENTCOM, when he said, there's still work to be done, and he was talking about the north in Tikrit, but he was talking about these -- and again, it almost sounds like a cliche, Christiane, but these pockets of resistance that will continue to pop up in Baghdad. And the question is, how long will they persist? Is this a 24-hour deal, or is this something that could go on for days? Right now, we don't know.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't. But it does seem to be waning. Everybody's cautioning it's not over. What seems to have happened this incursion, as you can see, if you look at wide shots there. There are rows and lines of these armored vehicles, some tanks, Humvees, dismounted Marines, and the tip of the spear, if you like, came in unopposed, and as so often happens as the rear sort of brings up the end of the column they sometimes come under fire. And it probably isn't as organized or coherent as a proper counterattack, but it's opportunistic firing, and that's what we've heard, and we've heard the Marines return fire. Martin in a very vivid description of what was going on there.

HEMMER: Corporal Steve Harris is with us by way of telephone, the United States Marines.

Sir, can you hear me okay? Bill Hemmer down in Kuwait.

HARRIS: Yes, I can.

HEMMER: Tell us about where you are as best you can and what's happening in that location.

HARRIS: Well, I'm just right outside the Palestinian Resort Hotel, and I'm about maybe 100 feet from the statue of Saddam Hussein, who all the people are throwing shoes at. And right now, it seems like the area's under control by the Marines, just letting the press do their thing.

HEMMER: Corporal, why did the Marines and the U.S. military, along with the Army there, why did you decide to go to this location today?

HARRIS: Well, we started -- we thought we were going to encounter a lot of resistance all the way up here, but we didn't get any. So we just kept pushing and kept pushing until we reached this area.

It was like I said, we thought we were going to encounter a lot of resistance, but we never did.

HEMMER: There are reports of some firing in other parts of Baghdad. In fact, Marty Savidge, who's embedded with another unit of the Marines is reporting on that very thing just a few minutes ago. How much have you encountered, and I'm not sure how long you've been in this city, but perhaps you can give us an idea based on time and how resistance you have come across.

HARRIS: We've been in the city for about four days now. And last time we encountered 120-millimeter mortars or higher, and a few of the pockets of resistance, but it hadn't been all that bad, compared to what we were encountering when we first came in.

HEMMER: Corporal, I don't know if you know much about the news over the past 24 hours, but yesterday, at this time, three journalists, including two who were working inside the Palestine Hotel, were killed on duty. Is that part of the reason you went there today?

HARRIS: To be honest, it could have been. I'm not going to lie and say I know that one for sure.

HEMMER: All right, Corporal Steven Harris, United States Marine Corps, central Baghdad, thanks for talking to us. And as soon as we make more contact with other members of your unit, we will bring it to you.

Corporal, are you still there, by the way?

HARRIS: Yes, I am.

HEMMER: Tell us, on a personal level, you've been fighting this war for three weeks, not a huge amount of time, but 21 days getting to Baghdad makes you feel how?

HARRIS: Makes me feels excited for me and the Iraqi people, just to liberate them. This is great.

HEMMER: Thank you, corporal.

Earlier we saw an image here of Iraqis while we were talking with Martin Savidge.

Christiane, many times in situations of history like these you get those indelible moments. It's possible we had one when these Iraqis went after the base, the pedestal of that statue, ripping off what looked like to be some sort of gilded placard on the front.

AMANPOUR: It did indeed, and that's the ubiquitous statue of Saddam Hussein. And you know, in many of these instances, the troops themselves brought them down, both the British troops, and in some cases, the American troops, in order to try to break the psychological hold that this larger than life character has had over the people for so many years now. And you know, people would say, wouldn't it be better if the people brought it down themselves? And now you can see them being given the chance to do what they can do these images. We have seen this morning posters and paintings have been ripped down.

I don't know whether -- what pictures are going out to the U.S. right now, because we're looking at some specific pictures, but there was an incredible moment a few minutes ago when a father with three of his children, who looked like an upper middle class guy, came out and stood and watched the Marines there in front of the Palestine Hotel. There, for the first time, you saw a quiet family not looting, not doing anything, but looking in amazement and wonder at what's going on in the middle of their city.

HEMMER: What a world they've woken up to today in Baghdad, huh? It looks the military right now has been greeted by more journalists than Iraqis at this point, but that's the part of the city where the international journalists have been housed for going back...

AMANPOUR: Months.

HEMMER: Many, many months, you're right -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thank you, you two.

We're going to bring Martin Savidge back into our conversation now, who we can confirm is with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines near Baghdad University.

Martin, what are you seeing now? And have you encountered any sniper fire since our last contact?

SAVIDGE: We're way beyond sniper fire, Paula. This is all-out complete engagement here. We've got mortar fire, heavy machine guns. Fires are now burning on the campus. This is Baghdad University, and it is warfare on this campus at this moment.

You can hear the heavy machine guns of the armored personnel carriers. They appear to be focused on some lower-level building close to their right and also towards the center. There's mortar fire that is also accompanying this, and you can see black smoke now beginning to rise from a number of the buildings. There's an explosion. Roaring fire now starting to come out from one building off on the left.

And that sounds like a missile or tank fire, heavy machine gun, and I think we'll just get down for a second. It should be pointed out that, at the same time this is all taking place, our vehicle was dragged through the wall of the campus. And now sits in the middle of this battle feel with its wheeled collapsed and our engineer under the hood trying to get the engine started again so we can at least be mobile and not sitting ducks. But we'll continue to try to bring this to you as best we can.

The Marine infantry are on the move, this is one of the ways that they deal with situations like this. Of course you have your armor that is placed around, but it is the infantry, the boots on the ground, that have to go in and root out whatever opposing force may be embedded in buildings. It will come down to perhaps room-to-room searching now.

Now it's paused for a moment, with only a few shots.

There is a heavier boom coming, could be artillery being brought to bear, or that could be just artillery in the area.

But once again, you can see that the black smoke is starting to envelop the campus here, as well as the gunfire.

We're OK for the moment, although the precarious nature of the vehicle is something to be worried about, especially in our position and with darkness going to be coming. But you can see the Marines are spread out in front of us. There are also Marine units that are on the side, in blocking positions, and -- I'm sorry, I'm just chuckling over the fate of our engine here which is not sounding good -- and they are being held in reserve, as the forward elements directly in front of us attempt to move up and get into position.

Some of the side APCs opening up as well in support, providing cover fire.

ZAHN: I think we've lost Martin Savidge's audio, but we still have the picture. For those of you just joining us, Martin describing the Marines coming up to Baghdad University. That's not the shot you're looking at now, but he just described an all-out complete engagement. He called it warfare at this campus. He said it appeared as though a lot of fire was coming from the lower level of one of those buildings. He described hearing tank fire, heavy machine gunfire, and the more concerning thing to us is he happens to be in a vehicle that is broken down. He even described the engine being worked on as he was filing this report.

So we are going to establish contact with him, and obviously not put him in any position where he'd be any more vulnerable than he is right now.

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