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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Special Edition: Operation Iraqi Freedom

Aired April 13, 2003 - 12:00   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's noon in Washington, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 5:00 p.m. in London, 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for this special LATE EDITION. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting live from Doha, Qatar, the temporary headquarters of the U.S. Central Command.
You're watching CNN's live coverage of Operation Iraqi Freedom. We'll get to all of the latest developments, the release of seven -- the rescue of seven American POWs, and my special interview with General Tommy Franks in just a moment. But first, let's go to CNN's Heidi Collins in the CNN news room for a quick check of all the late- breaking developments at this hour.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: The families of these seven POWs -- former POWs, that is -- of course have been waiting anxiously for this moment. Some of them may have seen the developments unfold exclusively via videophone in Iraq.

CNN's Bob Franken was there on the scene when word of their recovery first was made known. Bob Franken is joining us now live.

Bob, walk us through precisely what happened.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we were told several hours ago that the Marines had been freed and just routinely asked if they would be landing where we were and were told yes, but there could be no video shot.

Well, we were able to convince them that was not the thing to do, so our cinematographer, CNN cinematographer Jerry Simons, shot the remarkable pictures as the first jubilant five of them, the ones who were in better health, got off their CH-46 helicopter and bounded -- literally bounded -- to their ambulances, fists thrust in the air, just huge grins on their faces.

On the second helicopter were the two who were not in as good a shape, but they were in better shape than a lot of people might have thought. There have been reports two had gotten gunshot wounds. And they were able to walk, albeit slowly, to their ambulances.

Shoshana Johnson looked like she had some sort of ankle injury. The other one had something comparable. And as I said, it was clear that they were not in any life-threatening situation but were not as well off as the first five. But everybody was extremely, extremely happy, including the Marines on this base, which is about 65 miles south of Iraq. They literally lined the area from the helicopter pad to where they were put on the C-130 to go to Kuwait, lined it and cheered them as they went past. It was a very proud moment here.

And then, of course, the story came out that they had held somewhere north of Samarra (OFF-MIKE) officers deserted. Just enlisted men in charge. The enlisted men decided that they would try and surrender. The effect of their surrender, by running into a Marine light armored division on the road between Samarra and Tikrit, which is, of course, the site now of some very heavy military action. The Iraqis surrendered their POWs to the Marine unit and, in fact, were taken prisoner themselves. They are still being questioned, we're told, by intelligence officials.

But of course, that surrender meant the immediate liberation of people who had no idea what the rest of their lives would be like. And now, as we can see from that video, they are extremely happy to be back to freedom -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bob, the original word that the U.S. military, the Marines got on the whereabouts of these seven, do we know precisely how that came about?

FRANKEN: Oh, they were, in effect, handed to them by the Iraqis, who were looking to surrender and were looking to turn over the prisoners that they had.

So the word came from the 3rd Light Armored Division that this had happened, and it spread very quickly. Here at this Marine base, I was told well before it became announced -- of course, on an embargoed basis -- that the information had come out. And then, as I said, we were told that they would probably be coming here before they went to Kuwait.

BLITZER: All right. CNN's Bob Franken, one of our embedded correspondents. He was on the scene when those seven former POWs were finally handed over to the U.S. marines.

Bob Franken, thanks very much for that good report.

CNN's Ryan Chilcote is now joining us live from southern Baghdad -- the southern outskirts or actually part of the city of Baghdad.

I understand, Ryan, some firefight going on right now?

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Well, four soldiers, according to initial reports, injured in a firefight. It's actually being described as an ambush on U.S. soldiers from the 101st Airborne about 10 miles south of Baghdad proper in the city of Al Mahmudiyah.

It's just along Highway 8, I understand, that this ambush took place, as the soldiers were clearing some buildings, perhaps a police station, just west of Highway 8. An eyewitness that was there less than an hour ago said he saw some MediVac planes, UG-60 Blackhawk helicopters that are designated to be MediVac helicopters, flying around the area, descending, obviously, to pick up those soldiers.

So, obviously, a very fluid situation. But according to initial reports, four soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division injured, perhaps in an ambush, while clearing parts of Al Mahmudiyah, a city just 10 miles south of Baghdad proper -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ryan, did you say -- forgive me if I missed it -- that this little city, this little town near Baghdad, near the southern outskirts of Baghdad, is near the Baghdad International Airport, which of course is under the control of the U.S. military?

CHILCOTE: Well, this area of south of the ring road that travels around Baghdad, like I said, about 10 miles. So I think that would put it about 20 miles southeast of Baghdad International Airport.

It is a place, I think it is fair to say, Wolf, where the U.S. does not have a constant presence. In fact, there is no question that that's what these soldiers were doing. Just like the 101st has been doing here in Baghdad proper and really throughout a lot of the cities that the 3rd Infantry Division has rolled through with their tanks, they've been going in street by street and clearly important objectives.

According to initial information, this ambush took place while they were clearing a police station. A police station would definitely in the military's eyes that would qualify as an important place to check out, at least check out with soldiers, as the military puts it, boots on the ground.

But as far as its relation to Baghdad International Airport, I'm just shooting from the hip here, but I would say it's about 20 miles southeast.

BLITZER: All right, Ryan Chilcote with the latest, an ambush apparently, a firefight south of Baghdad, underscoring once again this war is not yet over. There are still pockets of resistance as we've been hearing throughout these past several days. Still too early to declare victory by the U.S. and coalition forces.

We're watching several major developments unfold right now, including, of course, the recovery of those seven American POWs.

When we come back, earlier today, just a little while ago, I spend time at Camp As Sayliyah with the commander of Operation Iraqi Freedom, General Tommy Franks. My special interview with him when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special LATE EDITION. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Doha, Qatar, home of the U.S. Central Command. We're continuing to get very, very joyful reaction from relatives, loved ones of those seven former American POWs, rescued, recovered earlier today in Iraq.

One of those former POWs, Army Support Specialist Edgar Hernandez. Just a little while ago we heard from his brother, Joel Hernandez.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOEL HERNANDEZ, BROTHER OF FORMER POW: I have this feeling, you know. They invited me to go out today but -- in the morning, but I just, I don't know, I just told them I have stuff to do and I didn't know it was going to happen today, you know, but I had that big feeling in my heart, you know, and it happened.

My mom, she, I was asleep and then she just grabbed me in the morning, and I was like, "Oh, what's going on?" And she's like, "Oh, they found your brother." And we were just real happy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was your reaction, bro?

HERNANDEZ: Oh, man, I just, I was so happy, man. Just told my mom, "You see? I told you he was going to come back."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the feeling, bro?

HERNANDEZ: It's just, can't explain the feeling, man. You can't really, there's no words that you can -- you know, like, there's not a word that can describe how good I feel right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sounds good, man. And when was the first time you found out?

HERNANDEZ: This morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What were you doing?

HERNANDEZ: I was asleep. My mom woke us up and she was like, they called me, this lady called me right now and she said that she saw it in the news that they had found some missing prisoners, and among those prisoners was my brother.

We didn't know for sure, but later on we found out, and then later on they came from the Army and they told us for sure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A very happy Joel Hernandez, the brother of Edgar Hernandez, the U.S. soldier from the 507th Maintenance Company based at Fort Bliss. He and other members of that company, captured on March 23rd, recovered today, just a couple of hours ago, in Iraq.

We're getting joyous reaction from all of the loved ones, members of the families of these seven former POWs, now all of them back in Kuwait City, beginning the long journey back to the United States. I was over at Camp As Sayliyah here in Qatar just a few hours ago and had a chance to speak with the commander of Operation Iraqi Freedom, General Tommy Franks.

We spoke about a wide range of issues, including the rescued POWs. He was clearly elated. He was only getting word himself as we sat down, but we continued to discuss other issues, including the course of the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's go through the battlefield first. We'll get into some of the others issue.

TOMMY FRANKS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Sure.

BLITZER: Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's ancestral hometown.

FRANKS: Right.

BLITZER: Is it over there?

FRANKS: I wouldn't say it's over, but I will say we have American forces in Tikrit right now.

BLITZER: And is there any resistance -- organized military resistance?

FRANKS: When last I checked, this force was moving on Tikrit and there -- and there was not any resistance.

BLITZER: What does that say to you, the Republican Guard, the Special Republican Guard, the special security organizations, all of Saddam Hussein's military and police have crumbled?

FRANKS: One would like to think that, but I think we would be premature to say, "Well, gosh, it's all done, it's all -- it's all finished."

And so what we need to do is we need to complete -- well, let me say it this way. There are several things we know. We know that the army has been destroyed. The Iraqi army has been destroyed. We know that there is no regime command and control in existence right now. We know that there are pockets of, I've heard them referred to as everything from paramilitary to death squad to Fedayeen Saddam, we know that there are pockets of that. We also know that there are pockets of foreigners in Iraq who have decided to fight to their last breath.

And so until we have a sense that we have all of that under control, then we probably will not characterize the initial military phase as having been completed and the regime totally gone.

BLITZER: When you say foreigners, what do you mean by that?

FRANKS: From a number of countries, Syria, as well as a number of others. We have found and identified fighters from these countries, and they have come in as mercenaries. They have been paid by the Iraqis. We have seen recruiting material that has been passed out in a number of countries. People have signed up. They have been coming in over the last several months in to Iraq, and they're employed as everything from suicide bombers to small-group hit squads.

BLITZER: Is the Syrian government behind this?

FRANKS: Oh, my goodness, I -- that's not for me to -- not for me to say. I simply can identify the -- I can identify the nationality of the people, but I wouldn't associate it with government sponsorship.

BLITZER: The word the other day was they found a lot of these suicide vests.

FRANKS: Yes, I think 300 yesterday.

BLITZER: And they had explosives and timing devices.

FRANKS: That's correct, and steel balls.

BLITZER: And where did they come from?

FRANKS: I don't know yet, don't know yet. But it's an amazing thing when you walk in a school -- you know, one of the things that we're doing right now is getting the power back on, getting -- you know, establishing water and all of that. And when you go in a school and you look around and what you find is 300 suicide vests, it's a rather -- it's a rather shocking event.

So I'm not sure of the origin yet, but we'll find out.

BLITZER: The battlefield -- we were talking about Tikrit. Is that the remaining pocket, the most significant military challenge that you face on the battlefield?

FRANKS: If you associate military challenge with only the population centers, then this is the last of the major population centers that we know we want to control.

But you know as well as I do that Iraq's a large country, and so there are lots of places in this country where we have not physically had our soldiers. And I think that's understandable, given the fact that we've only been at this about three weeks.

BLITZER: So...

FRANKS: We will go to all of them, Wolf.

BLITZER: There was no last stand from Saddam Hussein?

FRANKS: Absolutely not.

BLITZER: Where is Saddam Hussein?

FRANKS: I don't know, he's either dead or he's running a lot.

BLITZER: What's your hunch right now?

FRANKS: My boss doesn't permit me to have hunches, Wolf. He'll simply be alive until I can confirm he's dead.

BLITZER: Are you looking for his DNA at that crater in Baghdad?

FRANKS: The appropriate people with the appropriate forensics are doing checks you would find appropriate in each of the places where we think we may have killed regime leadership.

BLITZER: Do you have DNA of Saddam Hussein and his sons?

FRANKS: Oh, of course. Of course.

BLITZER: You do?

FRANKS: Of course.

BLITZER: So you'll be able to confirm...

FRANKS: Of course.

BLITZER: ... make a positive confirmation if in fact he was in that building?

FRANKS: Well, unless the remains were removed. I mean, one wouldn't ever want to say for sure 100 percent, you know, you can do anything. But what you -- but what you should know is that we have the forensic capability to chase these things down, and we'll chase them down, every one of them, all the way.

BLITZER: Weapons of mass destruction, so far there have been some initial tests that show perhaps positive.

FRANKS: Right.

BLITZER: But as of this moment, as we speak right now, have you found any?

FRANKS: Two thousand, 3,000, well, we -- I have not found any that I have absolutely satisfied myself are weapon of mass destruction, you know, materials.

But you're talking about 2,000 and 3,000 perhaps distinct places in this country where we know we're going to go and investigate each one of them. We may have, on a given day, somewhere between five and 10 or 15 site exploitations ongoing in a 24-hour period of time.

In each one of these cases, we will take products, do testing and so forth. And in some cases, that testing will take actually maybe as long as this war has been going on up to this point.

And so what we need to do, Wolf, is we need to have a very clear sense of expectation on this. The first thing that we wanted to do was fight this war. And I think we're reasonably well satisfied with where we see that right now. But we have a number of actions that have to go on in this country before we're going to say, OK, we've achieved what we wanted, which is to permit the Iraqi people to have a government of their choice, so that they can reap the riches of this country.

BLITZER: On the weapons of mass destruction, so far there have been some initial positives. Have they turned out to be false positives, or are you still in the midst of investigating some of the initial warheads and other evidence that you may have come across?

FRANKS: Wolf, the answer is yes. It's yes to both. We have...

BLITZER: False positives?

FRANKS: We have seen false positives, and we have -- and we are also continuing the evaluation of a whole range of other weapon systems to be sure that they either are or are not WMD-related.

BLITZER: Are you surprised that almost a month into this war you haven't come across some really hard evidence, what the inspectors used to call...

FRANKS: No.

BLITZER: ... the smoking gun?

FRANKS: Not surprised at all. Let me ask you a question, are you surprised that this regime, after everything that was said about it, has no army, has no navy, and has no air force today?

BLITZER: I'll ask the questions. You give the answers.

(LAUGHTER)

FRANKS: I think it's the same thing. I think we could be surprised or perhaps not be surprised.

I am not surprised, because I think, as we said from the very beginning, some things in this effort will happen simultaneously and some things will happen sequentially. The full exploitation of this whole issue of weapons of mass destruction is something that is going to be sequential behind the security of all these sites that we need to get into.

BLITZER: Are you ready to declare a victory today?

FRANKS: Would you define "victory" for me?

BLITZER: Well, victory as mission accomplished, has the Saddam Hussein regime been destroyed?

FRANKS: Under that definition, you know, one could get inclined; but that isn't the definition that we use, Wolf. We believe that there are a number of military objectives in this country. One of them, to be sure, is to remove the regime, and we believe that this regime is no longer in charge. In fact, it is an ex-regime.

On the other hand, to be absolutely sure that we have control of all of the weapons of mass destruction in this country, oh, my goodness, as you said yourself, we're certainly not near the conclusion of that one. And you work through an entire range of finding associations with terrorism.

Then one goes to an end-state where Iraqi people have a government that is able to function in a way the Iraqi people want it to function.

And so, no, I wouldn't say -- I wouldn't say we're there. I would say that we're going to be committed to this effort, as the president has said, as Don Rumsfeld has said for a foreseeable -- you know, for a considerable period of time in the future.

BLITZER: It seems like the biggest problem -- one of the biggest problems right now is the looting, the fires, the chaos that has developed in Baghdad and other major urban centers.

FRANKS: Sure.

BLITZER: You command warriors, not police officers. What are you going to do about that?

FRANKS: I think you'll find, Wolf, that there are fewer -- that there is less looting and there are fewer fires today than yesterday. And I believe that that trend line will continue over the foreseeable future.

What we have found -- and I could give you -- let me just use the example of Al Basra. One of the cities that we moved -- you know, the second-largest city in Iraq, that we moved into...

BLITZER: The British took charge of...

FRANKS: That the British took charge of. Well, we went through the same cycle of looting, fires and so forth.

Well, look at it -- I mean, this was like, within the last 10 days. And we look at it today -- what do we see?

We see the people in that town coming back to work. We see the local leaders and the tribes around that city wanting to become part of the solution. We see the cooperation -- and it sort of goes an and on and on. We see commerce beginning in the town.

And I think that's what we're going to see all across Iraq, to include -- in Baghdad.

BLITZER: So, when will it be calm enough for you, General Tommy Franks, to go into Baghdad?

FRANKS: It won't be long.

BLITZER: Next few days? FRANKS: Probably.

BLITZER: You'll take a whole group with you, just fly into the airport, go into the city? What will you do?

FRANKS: I'm not sure, Wolf. Not sure.

BLITZER: But when you go into Baghdad, that will be a symbolic moment.

FRANKS: It'll be symbolic only if we choose to make it symbolic.

Actually, my view is that a commander goes where he can see the eyes of the people who are doing the hard work. And as you know, last week I went to An Najaf, and I went to Al Kut, and I went to other places inside Iraq. And I did that because I wanted to see how the operation was going.

And so, I'm not -- I'm not looking to have a victory parade in downtown Baghdad. I'm not looking to make some sort of a statement. But I am looking to have the best appreciation of what's going on in that country that I can have -- because it's my responsibility to do that.

BLITZER: Let me tell you about a Washington Post story -- you may or may not have seen it -- that said that you went -- you started the ground war a day earlier than some had wanted. And...

FRANKS: Did it say who had wanted?

BLITZER: It said Special Operations forces had wanted to wait another day to try to convince the Iraqi leadership to surrender. And if they would have surrendered, would have caused less pain.

FRANKS: Right.

BLITZER: That decision to go a day earlier, the commanders and officials said, sparked a roiling argument within the military's elite Special Operation units about whether the start disrupted a surrender plan. Some officers say -- and this is according to today's Washington post --

FRANKS: Right.

BLITZER: "The course of the war would have been far smoother, with fewer casualties, had they been allowed to bring the surrender appeal to fruition."

FRANKS: Right. Wolf, I -- Wolf, I hadn't read the article. I can tell you that whoever wrote it was not involved in the planning of this, was not involved in the execution of the operation, and I can provide virtually 100 percent assurance that anyone named or alluded to in that argument was also not involved in the planning and not involved in the execution -- without a doubt.

BLITZER: The war would have been over even more quickly had the Turkish government let the 4th Infantry Division come in from the north?

FRANKS: Secretary Rumsfeld said something to me one time during planning that was really, really true and really, really important.

Someone speculated that certain things would be possible if we introduced forces through Turkey and so forth. And that if forces were not introduced through Turkey, certain other things would obviously happen.

Don Rumsfeld said, that's not exactly necessarily true. What we know is that if forces are not introduced through Turkey, there will be more variables in this equation than there will be if forces are introduced.

Wolf, that's a very powerful insight. As it has turned out, the forces that we introduced up into northern Iraq have been absolutely ample to the task.

BLITZER: Was this easier or harder for you than you thought it would be?

FRANKS: I actually hadn't thought about it in those terms. I think each time a military man looks at an operation, we'll think about it either in terms of time or in terms of the conditions.

Now, if -- it's possible to say, well, it took less time than I thought it would take, or it took more time than I thought it would take, but actually I haven't looked at it that way.

What I've looked at is -- the way I've looked at it is to say, we know we need to set a certain number of conditions, one after another, in order to get to the instate that we want to get to. So each time you've heard me say that we are on plan, that's what I'm talking about. We see that the next condition in line has been established, and therefore, we'll take the next action, if that makes sense to you. So actually no surprises.

BLITZER: We're quickly running out of time, but what was the worst moment for you personally in this war?

FRANKS: I think the commander at any level, Wolf, has a terrible moment anytime we find out that another soldier, sailor, airman has been lost in a war. And so a lot of bad moments throughout the course of this. Maybe it's always been that way in history.

Someone made a comment to me the other day that said, you know, we've had amazingly few casualties. And I said, well, I don't know how we can say that. The perfect plan spends no treasure and has no casualties. We have spent treasure and we have had casualties. I believe that we -- that we ought to all recognize that if you're a mom, a dad, a husband, a wife of someone lost in a war, the casualties have not been low. And so moment to moment, the times that are the worst are when we confirm that we've had people killed in this war.

BLITZER: And finally, General, what's next for you?

FRANKS: Oh, gosh, I don't know. That's up to the secretary and the president.

BLITZER: You're going to stay in the Army for a while?

FRANKS: Well, that's up to the secretary and the president.

BLITZER: Thanks for joining us.

FRANKS: Wolf, thanks a lot. It's an honor to be with you.

BLITZER: My pleasure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The commander of Operation Iraqi Freedom, General Tommy franks, speaking to me earlier today at Camp As Sayliyah, the temporary headquarters of the Central Command. We spoke just as he was getting word that those seven American POWs had been recovered, had been rescued. And I have to tell you, he couldn't have been happier.

We have much more coverage of the way in Iraq coming up. But we're going to take a short break.

When we come back, we will check all of the late-breaking developments with CNN's Heidi Collins in the news room.

Then we will go live to Baghdad to speak with our Christiane Amanpour, and our Brent Sadler who was in Tikrit earlier today. Had a harrowing ordeal, but remarkable story to tell.

All of that coming up. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: This note to our viewers: The president of the United States has just returned to the White House from Camp David. He has arrived. He's spoken with reporters. We're getting videotape of that.

Once we get it in house, we'll bring it to you, to our viewers, the president reacting to the very, very encouraging news, of course, that those seven American prisoners of war have now been recovered.

We'll go to the White House very soon. In the meantime, we want to go to Baghdad, where the situation in parts of the city clearly still chaotic, but in other parts some sense of normality returning.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour is joining us now live from the Iraqi capital -- Christiane.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a little bit of everything here in Baghdad today.

Around about noontime, there was quite a bold show by a small group of people, but nonetheless they were Saddam Hussein loyalists, who came out in front of the Palestine Hotel, which, as you know, is where the media is encamped, and where there is a Marine checkpoint, and quite a lot of Marine presence. And they were shouting, "Down, down Bush!" They were complaining. They said that they didn't want foreigners in their country.

But in any event, as I said, it was small, it was noisy, it lasted for quite a while, but it didn't take on anything other than shouting. There was no violence, and the crowd dispersed.

Also, in some parts of town, there was continued looting, particularly around ministry buildings, people going out, taking the remnants of whatever they could find, and, you know, it's not just ministry buildings either. We've seen the national museum, the theater, all sorts of cultural places as well have been looted, much to the despair of the intellectuals and the curators, who are really looking at the loss of their treasures with some heartbreak.

But in other parts of town there is beginning to be some kind of organized attempt to clear up, to sort of try to patrol the streets. Some sort of neighborhood watches are being sort of impromptu organized, in various parts of town, and, even though most shops and businesses are still closed, for fear of the looters, there are small shops opening, for instance, bread shops, a couple of restaurants here and there in town.

So, in some parts of town, there is an attempt to try to get hold of the situation.

Now, we're also being told, by a Marine here today, one of the senior ones told me that about 150 of the Iraqi police are going to be put onto the streets tomorrow, to try to go with the Marines and to help patrol the streets. So, attempts are being made to restore some kind of order.

One of the biggest problems people are frustrated about, of course, is still the lack of electricity, and a lot of the basic amenities -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Christiane, anyone saying when those amenities will be returned, for example, electricity? Water, I assume, is in decent shape, but maybe it's not. Any sense when those kinds of day-to-day life requirements will be restored?

AMANPOUR: It's the big question that everybody wants to have answered, and they can't understand why. We understand that a group of American Army engineers are meant to be coming to help restore some of the electricity.

But, of course, that affects the water, as well, the water pumping, the sewage pumping and all of that. So it is a big issue for the people here, and it does carry the risk of sort of taking the bloom off the rose, if you like, because people have nowhere else to look and so they're looking to the Americans and they're saying, "Well, why don't you help us?" But, as I say, they're trying, they're telling us it's a transitional period, and say they're going to try. But every time we ask, either Iraqis or the Americans, they sort of fling up their hands in despair and say, "Well, we're trying the best we can."

BLITZER: Christiane, when I spoke with General Franks a couple hours ago he thought that the looting situation was improving, in other words, it was going down as opposed to a few days ago.

From what you can tell, and I recognize you haven't been out and about throughout all of Baghdad, but from what you can tell and what you're hearing is he right? Does it seem to be getting a little bit better?

AMANPOUR: Well, we have been out and about across wide swaths of the city, and not just myself but my colleagues, as well, and not just from this network but from many others and, of course, many newspapers.

And so we have seen this enormous, widespread looting. Now, in some parts of town it does continue, and in others, basically, it's sort of calming down mostly because everything is taken.

You know, they've gone back to sort of various ministries and taken sort of the remnants of various things, but perhaps it is in some areas calming a little bit and, as I say, people are trying to clear up.

But, as I say, people have been quite stunned by the few days of lawlessness here, and it's really given them quite a shock. Because, as you can imagine, they lived not only in a police state, but one that sort of controlled at least that kind of security, and they were quite worried about how this would transpire and everybody worried for their own livelihoods, staying at home, trying to protect their homes and whatever they could.

So we are hoping that it will taper off and there will be some more police, for instance, on the streets in the next few days.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour, reporting from Baghdad, thanks, Christiane. We'll be checking back with you next hour, as well.

Meanwhile our Brent Sadler is in the northern part of Iraq, but earlier today he was in Tikrit, the home town, the ancestral home town of Saddam Hussein, went through quite an ordeal. He's now back in Irbil, in northern Iraq.

Brent, tell our viewers precisely what happened.

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, let's start the day first of all by telling you what's happening now in Tikrit. We understand that the U.S. Marine Corps has begun an armored move against Tikrit.

Die-hard loyalists of Saddam Hussein still resisting, according to the latest reports, in Saddam Hussein's former stronghold. Now, what I can tell you about the hours before that Marine advance began, we were able to get into, first of all, the outskirts of Tikrit.

And even as the U.S. armor was moving northwards, we were inside the, as I say, the outer layers of Tikrit, two or three miles from the center of the city to begin with, and were able to get inside very recently destroyed warehousing and abandoned units of the Iraqi army.

First of all, hopefully some video here now of a massive warehouse complex. To give you an idea of the scale involved, we're talking as far as my eyes could see on all points of the compass in terms of the size of these complexes.

And these warehouses filled with armor, some of it serviceable, much of it not serviceable, which would underline the fact that Iraq's fighting capability had been seriously undermined over 12 years of sanctions, not to mention, of course, the three weeks at least of coalition bombing against targets around Tikrit.

Now, we were also able to move from that area of heavy coalition bombing to a deserted unit of the much talked about Republican Guard. This so-called elite fighting force of Saddam Hussein when he was in power in Baghdad.

Now, this Republican Guard headquarters was noticeably different from the other barracks we had been to. In other barracks, abandoned armor, armored personnel carriers, serviceable tanks just left behind, abandoned in haste, it seems.

But in this Republican Guard complex the fighting vehicles were actually missing. They had been moved from their dugouts. We don't know where they had been moved to, but at the time I was certainly calculating it was possible they had been put into the battle somewhere.

Embedded journalists with the U.S. Marine Corps say that five Republican Guard tanks have been engaged and destroyed in the assault against Tikrit before nightfall here, so possible Republican Guards from that empty barracks were involved in those battles with U.S. forces.

Now, we got into the center of the town. It wasn't very long. We were waved through a checkpoint by neither hostile nor friendly Iraqis, but clearly the city was still under the control of Saddam Hussein's loyalists.

In fact, we were told to go and get permission from the local governor to get permission to film with our camera. How incredible was that?

And then we decided it was time to leave, prudent to leave. We turned our vehicles. And then we came under fire, and this is what happened. Let's just take you through it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SADLER: Live, out of Tikrit.

So, let's just recap as we go through here. That Tikrit, no coalition forces. Tikrit, no fighting. Checkpoint.

(GUNFIRE)

OK, that's gunfire. OK, we've just come under attack. Under attack. We're OK. We're OK. Under fire. That confirms our worst fears.

If you're with us, are you with us, Anderson? OK, we've just run a checkpoint. We have come under automatic machine-gun fire. We've blown through the checkpoint, and they tried to stop us. And our armed guard pulled his machine gun, his automatic machine gun and opened fire to get us through there.

I think that's as far as we're going to push it today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SADLER: Now, several hours after that, Wolf, we had confirmation that the U.S. Marine Corps had advanced on Tikrit, was on the outskirts of Tikrit and had made contact with hostile forces.

This is the aftermath. This is one of the two vehicles that we got out of that very dramatic and dangerous situation. And this took at least six AK-47 assault rifle shots to the back of the vehicle there.

The other vehicle that I was traveling in was also hit with lighter-caliber pistol fire and one AK-47 round. Incredibly everybody got out in one piece. A driver slightly injured. And one of our staff had a round clip the edge of her bulletproof vest, her armor.

So, quite a dramatic end to this day. Back to you, Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: I must say, Brent, when you were coming under fire, you were remarkably cool under those circumstances. How concerned were you that this gunfire was getting very, very close to you and your colleagues?

SADLER: Well, concerned that there was a lot of it, Wolf. These were -- you just saw a snapshot of it in that clip. There was more fire than that, at least 100, maybe more, rounds, coming from both sides of the road.

It was gunfire let off with deadly intent. This wasn't warning shots. This was aimed to kill. And you know under those circumstances, panic doesn't help anybody.

And the driver took some pretty remarkable -- put some remarkable driving skill -- dodging, swerving. You can't dodge a bullet, obviously. But certainly, the gods were with us as we got out of there.

BLITZER: And Brent, when I spoke with General Franks a little while ago here at the Central Command headquarters outside of Doha, Qatar, he said that formal military organized resistance doesn't seem to exist anymore in Tikrit. Although there are pockets of resistance, irregular paramilitary, whatever, it still sounds like a pretty dangerous place, to simply roam around Tikrit. Is that fair?

SADLER: In the early stages of the outskirts of Tikrit, that figures in with what General Franks is saying, that the conventional force, the Republican Guard -- perhaps all of it or most of it -- disintegrated. Certainly, the regular army abandoned machines that still had their bullets in them and their hatches open, where the men appear to have just run away.

We saw soldiers also moving away. We were not to know, of course, that coalition forces at the moments or the hours we were in Tikrit were also moving northwards. And I think it just goes to show that even though we came under fire, I got no impression, from what we could see in the center of Tikrit, that they were preparing to repel the kind of armored advance that the U.S. was mustering at that time.

But, certainly, it was expected, I think, from our assessments on the ground, that any real organized resistance to the weight, supremacy of U.S. forces was not likely to last very long. And what you had in there were pockets of resistance, Saddam Hussein loyalists, really uncertain as to what their fate was going to be. Bearing in mind that these loyalists -- this town in particular, Saddam Hussein's ancestral birthplace, this area -- profited much from the many, many years of Saddam Hussein's rule.

BLITZER: Brent Sadler, thank God you and your colleagues are OK. We're really happy, and all of our viewers are about that, as well.

Brent Sadler and his team doing excellent work for us, very courageous work, as you can just see.

Thanks very much, Brent. Thanks for that report. We will get back to you of course throughout our coverage.

We can't stress enough how important Tikrit has been. If there was going to be a last stand from Saddam Hussein and his organized military, everyone expected it would be in this town. The people here have been richly rewarded by his leadership over these decades. That does not appear to have been the case. Indeed, General Tommy Franks saying, there has been no last stand on the part of Saddam Hussein.

We have much more coverage coming up, including the dramatic recovery of those seven American POWs earlier today, within the past few hours in Iraq. They're back in Kuwait City now. We'll check in and see how they're doing.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to say hi to my mom and my dad, all of my family and friends and especially to Harvard Business School class of 2000. Semper Fi.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: U.S. troops happy today, a little bit happier than they were the other day, especially because seven American POWs have been rescued. They have been recovered.

We're getting this word in from Kuwait City now, our colleague CNN Radio John Bisney reporting that all seven of those POWs, two Apache helicopter pilots, the others from the 507th Maintenance Company, all seven have now been released from that military hospital in Kuwait City near the airport, the international airport in Kuwait City. Only three of them, we're told by John Bisney, have been treated.

In other words, all of them appear to be in very, very good shape. That will make their families, their loved ones, indeed, it will make all Americans very happy when they hear that.

Once again, all seven of those American POWs have now been released from the hospital in Kuwait City. Only tree of them required any significant treatment.

We're going to check back with John Bisney and go back again to Kuwait City and get some more information and check all of the other late breaking developments. An important day today.

This special LATE EDITION will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUMSFELD: They're in good shape. Two have gunshot wounds. And rather than try to characterize them as having been POWs or MIAs or what units they come from, that'll be known soon enough. And you've got to appreciate the -- oh, the feelings of all the families who have prisoners of war and MIAs, that this is the best way to handle it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now, here's what Secretary Rumsfeld said happened, how they happened upon these prisoners of war. He says that some Iraqis came up to U.S. military troops and said, "We have the seven, they're just ahead here. Go ahead and get them," and "We did," said Rumsfeld. Indeed, they walked away with those seven prisoners of war, now back in U.S. custody -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Patty Davis at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

We're going to continue to check the progress of these seven. Our John Bisney of CNN Radio reporting from Kuwait City all seven now have been released from the hospital. Three of them required treatment, the others did not.

Patty Davis, thanks very much. We have much more coverage coming up. We're going to check the latest developments and then begin the second hour of our special LATE EDITION.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting live from Doha, Qatar, home of the U.S. Central Command, at least for now.

CNN's John Bisney of CNN's Radio standing by in Kuwait City. He has new information on the condition of those seven freed American POWs.

John, tell us what's the latest?

JOHN BISNEY, CNN RADIO: Wolf, I just spoke with the chief nurse here, Lieutenant Colonel Ruth Lee (ph) of the Army. She told us that she saw three of the POWs for about a total of 20 minutes. The other four required no medical attention whatsoever.

She said their condition was great. They were in good spirits. The three that she saw only had what she described as minor injuries. She had no contact with the other four. But these three did receive a little bit of medical treatment. She wouldn't go into much detail.

She said that they were joking around a little bit. They did not look as though they were in bad shape at all -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We had heard, John, that of the seven, three required treatment in the hospital, but four others didn't, and all seven had now been released from the hospital. Is that what you're hearing as well?

BISNEY: That's correct. All seven have now left our location here in Kuwait. We have not been told where they are headed. But the four apparently said they were fine, did not require any contact with medical personnel whatsoever. And even those that did, they were just briefly seen and were released without any more difficulties.

BLITZER: (OFF-MIKE) because we heard the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld say in Washington earlier in the day apparently that two of them did suffer from gunshot wounds. So I guess it means -- did the nurse suggest that they had been treated for those gunshot wounds while they were under Iraqi custody?

BISNEY: Well, we specifically asked that question, but she would not go into any detail about that. We're aware of those reports. But she was not willing to say exactly what sort of condition they may have received or may not have received.

All she would say is that all seven of them were in good spirits, and after the very brief medical treatment that they received here, they were all seven essentially good to go.

BLITZER: Well, that's encouraging words. CNN Radio's John Bisney reporting for us live from Kuwait City.

Once again, all seven of those American POWs have now been released from a military hospital in Kuwait City. Only three of them actually required some treatment.

We're going to go back to the White House now. The president of the United States is back from Camp David, where he spent the weekend. He arrived on Marine One just a little while ago and then spoke out about the release, the surrender actually, the recovery of those seven American POWs.

The president obviously elated as he got word as other senior U.S. officials as they all got word of this seven recovery -- the recovery of the seven American POWs. President Bush at the White House, deciding to go ahead and share his views with reporters. Let's listen in.

(LIVE EVENT)

BLITZER: President Bush clearly elated, clearly thrilled by the recovery of those seven American POWs just a few hours ago in Iraq. They're now back in Kuwait. Three of them were treated formally at a Kuwait military hospital, a U.S. hospital in Kuwait. All seven have now been released. There's going to be a debriefing process. We don't know what their next move is, where they're going, because eventually they'll be reunited, of course, with their loved ones back in the United States.

But let's get a little bit more reaction now to the release of these seven American POWs.

Susan Candiotti is joining us. She's in Georgia. Whitney Casey is joining us. She's in New Jersey. They've been speaking with relatives, loved ones of those POWs.

We're going to go to them in just a moment, but first let's go to CNN's Bob Franken. He was there for us on the scene when those seven American POWs were recovered by U.S. Marines.

Bob, give us the background.

FRANKEN: Well, Wolf, you can imagine the jubilation that someone would feel who has just gotten his freedom back, just a short time before feeling despair about not knowing if he had any life whatsoever. That was what you saw as the helicopters landed at this Marine air base, which is about 65 miles south of Baghdad.

The first five got off their helicopter. They were all in excellent health, went running off the helicopter to their vehicles, hands pumping in the air. Only one of them had any sign of injury. His arm was in a cast -- in a sling, not a cast, whatsoever, but he was obviously in very good spirits, and not in any pain.

Then, the other two got off the other helicopter. Their injuries were a little bit more serious than -- they were the ones who had some bandages on, including Shoshana Johnson, the specialist, she had an ankle injury, and then one other of the soldiers from the United States Army.

So, the one with the sling on his arm and those two were the ones, in all probability, who were treated in Kuwait City.

Now, we've gotten identification of all seven of them, and they are: Army Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Young and Army Chief Warrant Officer David Williams. They would be the members of the Apache helicopter crews. Then, from the 507th Maintenance, we would have: Sergeant James Riley; as I said, Specialist Shoshana Johnson; Private First Class Patrick Miller; Specialist Joseph Hudson; and Specialist Edgar Hernandez.

So, the identities have now come out. We've been told -- the version from the Marines was that they were being held north of Samarra, and the unit that was holding them saw its officers desert. So some of the underlings who were left decided they wanted to surrender, so they went in search of a way to do this. There is some conflict now about how it is that they approached a Marine division that was coming up the road between Samarra and Tikrit, which is of course where so much fighting is going on now.

In any case, the surrender was effected, the POWs were turned over, and they were very, very quickly brought to this location by helicopter, where they had a very jubilant reception from members of the Marine Corps, who applauded them as they were removed from their helicopters to their C-130, and they were immediately taken to Kuwait City, and the process toward freedom -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bob, I assume that it created a great moment for those Marines who helped in this rescue, in this recovery, and their morale, if it had been down at all, probably skyrocketed when seeing those seven POWs. Give us a little bit of the flavor of the moment.

FRANKEN: Well, everybody at this base, from the highest commander to -- the brigadier general we've dealt with an awful lot -- to the lowliest private -- I use the word "lowliest" in quotes -- everybody was just thrilled to death. As I said, on the tarmac, as the seven were taken by ambulance -- probably unnecessary, but ambulance to their plane, which was just maybe 100 yards from where the helicopters had landed, there was a line, and the Marines applauded them, and, wherever you went today, people were saying, isn't that great? The officers were just thrilled to death. They were coming up. They were patting each other on the back. They were just delighted. It was a real morale-booster. As you can imagine, it's been a morale-booster here, and it's been a morale-booster throughout the United States.

BLITZER: A huge story today breaking earlier in the day, CNN's Bob Franken was there on the scene for us when those seven American POWs were finally recovered safe and, we're happy to say, sound.

Bob Franken, thanks very much for all your good reporting.

Let's get some more reaction now to this dramatic development. We want to bring in our Susan Candiotti. She is joining us now from Georgia. She's been spending some time with some of the family members of one of those rescued American POWs.

And our Whitney Casey is in New Jersey, having spent some time with another one.

Let's go to Susan first. Tell us where you are, who you are with, Susan and how happy they must be?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they are delighted, to say the very least. I'm with the family of pilot Ronald Young here in Lithia Springs, Georgia. And it has been an incredible journey for this family, one that started back on March 24th, when television actually gave them visual proof that their son was being held as a POW. And now once again, TV has given them the joyous news that their son has been rescued by the Marines.

All of this started early this morning when one of the Young's daughter-in-law with news that something might be happening. Here is Young's father, Ronald Young, Sr.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD YOUNG SR., FATHER OF RELEASED POW: I was laying on the couch and my daughter-in-law called me and she said there's some breaking news on the POWs. And she said, you know -- told me a few things there. And then some lady called from another place. And then the phones started ringing. So I went in and turned the TV on and it was beginning to get into those kind of things.

So I woke Kaye up. And I was just ecstatic because they said, you know, they found the POWs.

And then later on they said they didn't know whether there was six of them or seven of them. And then they said they didn't whether it was MIAs or POWs. And I kind of sank down a little bit because you know, I'm glad to see them get anybody out of there.

CANDIOTTI: You were just wondering what to think exactly.

R. YOUNG: Yes. But I was just ecstatic when I found out it was my son and the POWs that he was with.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: And then about two hours later, I was with the Youngs inside their home when they again got visual confirmation that their son indeed had been rescued by the Marines. And the first pictures they saw were very, very fuzzy. It's funny how that works, because even though they were not clear, they were not good enough for these parents to recognize that this indeed was their son.

Here is Ronald Young's mother, Kaye Young.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE YOUNG, MOTHER OF RELEASED POW: Every time they showed the picture I would have my head turned. And they would keep saying, "watch." And see the one in the blue pajamas. So we watched and at first I couldn't tell. There he is again. I could not tell. And then when they showed that close- up one of him running and grinning, I knew that smile. You know, the smile is his.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: And not long after that we also happened to be there just as the family received official notification in person from Chief Warrant Officer Samuel Johnson of Fort McPherson.

Here's that moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(APPLAUSE)

CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER SAMUEL JOHNSON: On behalf of the secretary (ph) I'm here to let you know that your son has been rescued (ph).

I'm glad for you.

R. YOUNG: I saw him on TV and I said, "That's him."

JOHNSON: IT's a good day.

R. YOUNG: Man, I tell you what.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: What a moment. Of course, it's been quite a couple of weeks and they've been remembering their son in so many ways, including this prison or war bracelet made for them by a local jeweler. It has his name on it and the date that he was declared a prisoner of war.

But this family has also been receiving cards and letters, phone calls from all over the country. Now of course, all they're waiting for is to hear his voice. And what is the first thing that Ronald Young, Sr., plans on saying to his son?

Well, in his words, something like, "Don't scare me like that ever again."

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Susan, are they getting any indication from the military when they might be reunited with their son, Chief Young?

CANDIOTTI: I'm afraid not, although the person who has been in touch with them left and said that he will call them or come back here again to tell them. At this point, the family just simply anxious to get a phone call from him is they can. But certainly the stand ready to go wherever they need to go to see their soon just as soon as they can.

BLITZER: I assume there will be some sort of formal debriefing of all seven of these POWs, former POWs. And at that point, once they've gone through the debriefing presumably, they'll be reunited.

But we'll wait and see. The good news is they are all now freed. And they're no longer even in the hospital. They've been released from the hospital in Kuwait City.

Susan Candiotti, we'll be checking back with you as well. You may want to congratulate that Young family on our behalf of course.

Whitney Casey is with another family. She's joining us now from New Jersey. Whitney, which family are you with? And how thrilled are they?

WHITNEY CASEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very thrilled. I'm with Sergeant James Riley's family, and I'm standing right in front of his house here in south New Jersey.

This is where James Riley grew up. He came here from New Zealand with his family when he was 10 years old. He went to high school here in South Jersey, and he painted this house yellow -- that's what parents say. Now it's painted with joy with this news.

I'm just going to show you a little bit around their neighborhood only because this is probably what family members of all the seven POWs are going through. Lot of media trucks here, as you can see down the street. This is a tiny little neighborhood.

And so this family has been some what bombarded at times. We were -- right when they came out this morning to tell us how elated they were, we were all right up there in their face. And they have gotten a little bit used to it, because we have been here for quite a while.

I'm just going to show you a little bit more. You can see American flags around here and yellow ribbons. They have got a lot of support from their community.

This morning, the family got the news at about 7 this morning. They woke up. They went to church because they didn't know if it was indeed their son James.

But then there was an Army person that came over, a representative came over, and told them, indeed, it was James.

Well they haven't seen James since he left for Fort Bliss in July. They haven't talked with him since he left for theater in February.

So today, to hear this news, they were so elated, but they wanted to see the video of him. So, we brought them over from inside their house over to our truck right here. And we had some of that video, that exclusive video, that Bob Franken fed down earlier this morning.

And they were sitting in this truck. And they were looking with such intent on the screens, if we could run some of the video of them. I don't know -- we may be in it. But they were looking at the screen to see if they could see James. And it was so amazing to see both of their faces. They kept looking. We were scrolling through it very slowly. And, as you know, it's videophone video, so it's not the greatest video. But when Jane saw her son, Jane Riley saw her son, she saw the outline of her son. She said, "I know that's my son."

And the father was a bit skeptical. He has always been a bit skeptical throughout this whole thing. But he did say, yes, that did look like my son. They were thrilled just to see the video.

And they wanted to thank Bob Franken, also, for that video, and the crew that was with him that brought that. Because that was really the first time they had seen their son since the horrible video that they saw -- in fact, the family did not watch that video but the father did. He said he watched that Iraqi state video over the Internet because the rest of their family is in New Zealand, and they were seeing that video. So the father said he wanted to see it.

So it was so much better to see him alive and happy. Seemingly happy. And they can't wait to get him home.

But I will also tell you here, there is a bit of anxiety with this great news. Because just about three weeks ago, one of their family members died.

James' sister, 29-year-old Mary Riley, died here. She had been in a coma when James left to go over to theater. And he knew that she was sick.

But, let's just quickly take a listen to what the family had to say earlier when they saw the video.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hang in there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hang in and pray. And have faith.

WHITNEY CASEY: You guys went to church this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

CASEY: So your faith paid off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Paid off for everybody.

CASEY: Thank God.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, not for everybody. But for the seven that have come home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And hopefully, it will still work for the MIAs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CASEY: Now the family does plan on talking to their son and telling him about his sister's death.

But they also say they're just so elated. So it's euphoria here today. And they plan on -- when he gets back, they said that he's got some work to do on the house here.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Whitney, when you say the dad was skeptical, had they given up hope? Had he given up hope over these, what, three weeks since the 507th Maintenance Company was ambushed near Nasiriyah and Sergeant Riley was taken POW along with the others?

CASEY: Well, Wolf, he said he watched that video because he really wanted to see his son's face. He wanted to see the countenance. Because he thought that he knew if he saw his son's face during that video, that he knew if he would survive.

So, if that answers your question. I think he was a little bit concerned for his son. But he also knew that the amount of stubbornness his son had -- and in this case, that was helpful. So, he said that's probably what got him through all of this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Whitney Casey with an elated -- with a very happy family in New Jersey.

Let's go to Texas now. That's where CNN's Ed Lavendera is standing by, in El Paso. That's the hometown of Shoshana Johnson, one of the other POWs -- former POWs -- now a free woman. Ed tell us what the reaction in El Paso is.

ED LAVENDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was three weeks ago we met the Johnson family. They had just heard the news. Claude Johnson told me back then that he had woken up that Sunday morning of March 23rd, the day the 507th Maintenance Company had been ambushed in Nasiriyah, as you mentioned.

He had been flipping around on TV, looking for cartoons for his grandchild -- grandchildren to watch, and that's when he first learned the news of what happened to Shoshana Johnson.

This morning, I talked to him -- several family members, several times in there, they've been glued to the TV once again, this time for the much happier news. If you take a look behind me, this is her parents' home. "Bring Shoshana Home," says the sign. Another sign here, across the street, says: "Shana, you are our hero."

So, clearly elation here at the Johnson home this morning. They haven't spoken publicly, but a little while ago a family spokesperson came out to kind of capture the family's emotion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ELSIE MORGAN: We, the Johnson family, received official confirmation today that our daughter, Shoshana Johnson, is safe and alive.

Quote, from Claude Johnson (ph), "We are ecstatic that not only she is safe, but all the POWs are back in the U.S., in the U.S.'s hands. We thank God for watching over them. We are very grateful for all the worldwide prayers."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAVENDERA: And perhaps the most passionate and poignant way to see just how excited the family is, when a family friend arrived here this morning, an old Army buddy of Claude Johnson (ph) -- Claude Johnson (ph) is a veteran of the Gulf War, and you can see the excitement as a family friend pulled up here this morning to congratulate them about the news.

Shoshana's sister Nicki (ph) is also a captain in the U.S. Army, and, when we spoke with them several weeks ago, when all this news was first breaking, you know, they were very collected, very calm, and seemed to have very clear thoughts about everything that was going on, but they did say, you know, when they're outside of the way of the cameras, that it had become very emotional for them, but this is a family that was very proud of Shoshana and was very confident that she would be able to pull through what she had been going through the last three weeks, and I think they've counted a lot on that military experience to pull them through this.

Remember, here in El Paso two days ago there was a memorial service for the other nine soldiers of the 507th Maintenance Company. The Johnson family showed up at that as well, and clearly a very different emotion.

But one person at that memorial service, Wolf, told me on Friday that they didn't want to go through that again, they did want to celebrate a homecoming, and at least that wish is coming very much true.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: We're simply thrilled for Shoshana Johnson and her family.

One quick question, Ed, before I let you go. I don't know if you know the answer to this, but, if you don't, you can certainly find out for us. You may or may not know this. Shoshana is a Hebrew name which means "rose". How did Shoshana Johnson get that name?

LAVENDERA: I'm not exactly sure of that, Wolf. Mr. Johnson is from Panama, and I'm not exactly sure about the other connections as to how all that has come about. So, I wish I could fill you in, but I can't.

BLITZER: I'm getting flooded with e-mail from our viewers around the world who want to know how Shoshana Johnson wound up with a Hebrew name, the first name being Shoshana. You'll find out for us, and you'll let us know.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And then we'll respond to all those e-mailers.

Ed Lavendera is joining us from El Paso, another very happy family.

We're going to have a special program tonight -- CNN will have a special, 8:00 p.m. tonight, a special on the rescue of the POWs, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 p.m. on the West Coast. You will want to watch this one-hour special.

Stay with us. Much more coverage coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: We got much more news coming up, including the latest reaction to the rescued -- the recovered POWs, all freed, all in good shape, out of the hospital in Kuwait City right now.

But first, let's go to Baghdad. There is developments unfolding in the Iraqi capital. Christiane Amanpour is standing by live there -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Well, Wolf, what's developing is that they're trying to get police out onto the streets. And they may be doing that as early as tomorrow -- local police, to try to calm some of the disorder that we have been seeing over the last several days.

There is still some looting going on as people keep going off to these government ministries, and indeed to all sorts of places. The national museum, the archaeological museum, the cinema and theater places.

And basically, all sorts of places, including, for instance, a music school. Just anything and everything that people have been able to get their hands on, they have done so.

But as I say, there are attempts to try to put an end to these few days of chaos and disorder.

Now, in the mosques today, there was another interesting appeal from the imams, who have been amongst the first to broadcast within their communities appeals for calm and an end to the thieving.

Today, though, in the mosque there was quite a lot of anti- American chanting. It was "Down with America," "Down with Zionism" and appeals to have an Islamic state and an Islamic rule here.

So that -- an interesting development. It is limited to only a couple of mosques right now.

There were bigger meetings in other parts of town. The Americans have called, and indeed, exile groups have called, for groups of civil servants to get together, including people like teachers, engineers, policemen -- all sorts of people -- to try to come together with some kind of group idea of how to have some kind of interim authority here, and to get this place up and running and back on its feet again.

Meantime, people, they are expressing frustration. They're basically saying, "Look, we didn't want Saddam, but we don't want disorder. We want our peace. We want our freedom and security, but we also want law and order, electricity and water." And those things, they don't have quite yet.

So, everybody hoping that that will be soon to come to this city and to other cities around this country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Christiane, so, is there some progress in bringing some of those civil servants, let's call them, civil servants, police officers, firefighters, others back to work, to work together with the U.S. military, to try to restore some sort of better order in the Iraqi capital?

AMANPOUR: It's an ongoing struggle to do that. The Marines telling us that they -- every day trying to call more people. They'd tried to sort of get some sort of police patrols off and running today. But it was a pretty spotty affair. And nothing really came of it.

They're going to try again tomorrow. They say they have about 150 local police that they'll try to put back on the streets. They're going to try to get the electrical workers, at least one power plant to come back. The hospital workers, at one of the hospitals that they have secured and that had been looted.

So they're trying slowly, slowly to do it.

BLITZER: Finally, Christiane, before I let you go, the whole issue of the irregulars, the paramilitaries, the so-called "Fedayeen Saddam," do you still see an extensive presence of these young men carrying Kalashnikovs, AK-47s roaming around Baghdad?

AMANPOUR: Well, it's not really roaming around. You never really see them in these gangs, it's more like sort of shooting out of buildings and in dark alleyways and that kind of thing.

Although certainly they are still around, not only in the city, but on the road out of this city as well.

Colleagues who are going up to Tikrit today said that they saw them manning check points and other things. So, they haven't yet been fully neutralized. And that of course is going to be yet another challenge, and hopefully that will happen in the not-too-distant future.

BLITZER: CNN's Christiane Amanpour, live in Baghdad for us, we'll be checking back with her as well. Thanks, Christiane, very much. CNN's Ryan Chilcote is just south of Baghdad, where he's reporting that there was a fire fight just a little while ago, a fire fight.

Ryan, I take it you heard, you saw. Tell us what happened.

CHILCOTE: Well, Wolf, four American soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division were wounded in action in the town of Al-Mahmudiyah. Al-Mahmudiyah is a small town about ten miles, just ten miles south of Baghdad off of Highway 8, the main artery that runs from south to north into the Iraqi capital. These soldiers were wounded in an apparent ambush as they were taking part in an operation to clear some buildings in that city, including, I am told, a police station.

Some eyewitnesses that traveled through the town about three hours ago report seeing a flurry of activity inside of it, including one medevac helicopter escorted by two helicopter gunships, all from the 101st Airborne, hovering over the western side of the town -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ryan Chilcote, he's been embedded with the 101st Airborne Division from Day One of this war. Be careful over there, the southern outskirts of Baghdad, clearly still a dangerous situation. Ryan Chilcote reporting.

We're going to take a quick break. Much more coverage on our special LATE EDITION coming up. We're standing by to speak with Ahmed Chalabi, one of the Iraqi opposition leaders.

But first we'll go to northern Iraq to find out what's happening there, dramatic developments, we can tell you right now. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(AUDIO GAP)

AHMAD CHALABI, LEADER, IRAQI NATIONAL CONGRESS: ... very well, very soon here. Sent now a team into Umm Qasr and to Basra, and they're going to come to Nasiriyah soon. We will have electricity within 48 hours, I expect (UNINTELLIGIBLE). So things generally became better.

BLITZER: What about this town meeting that the U.S. Central Command has scheduled for Tuesday in Nasiriyah, bringing together Iraqis of various ethnic, religious, political orientations to try to come to some sort of new consensus? I assume you will participate. Tell us what your expectations are.

CHALABI: I will send a representative to this meeting. The meeting is called by the U.S. to give their vision of the interim Iraqi authority. It will be a one-day meeting. And the U.S. will present its vision, and there will be a statement after the meeting.

BLITZER: Will this be a real opportunity for dialogue between the various Iraqi groups who might be represented? Or is this sort of a pre-packaged plan to try to come up with some sort of statement?

CHALABI: It is a U.S. meeting, called meeting, for the purpose of presenting the vision that the U.S. has of the interim Iraqi authority.

BLITZER: Well, what is your vision? What needs to be done right now in order to begin the transition from Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party rule, the ironclad rule that he had, to a new free and democratic Iraq? What needs to be done within the next few weeks?

CHALABI: We need to stop the disorder and the looting, and this can be done by deploying Free Iraqi Forces in Baghdad and in other Iraqi cities. We need to go forward with our (UNINTELLIGIBLE) program. We need to restore basic services and public safety in the cities and the towns in Iraq.

It is understandable that, after the collapse of a totalitarian regime which has (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Iraqi society and destroyed civil society in Iraq, there will be outbursts.

However, this is very, very unfortunate. We are very sad, for example, that the Iraqi archaeological museum was looted through an organized theft yesterday. And 5,000 years of Iraqi history are in danger of being lost because of this.

The looting must stop. Disorder must stop. And we must restore order quickly. And I believe that can be done by deploying the Free Iraqi Forces and in full cooperation with the United States. And we expect to go to Baghdad in full cooperation with the United States very, very soon.

BLITZER: But when you speak about the Free Iraqi Forces, we've been told there are only a few hundred of those Free Iraqi Forces, whether part of your group or another group. How many of these troops, Iraqi troops, the so-called Free Iraqi Forces, are there?

CHALABI: We have over 1,200 Free Iraqi Forces now in the south and the north and in the center of the country. We can expand them to several thousand very quickly. And we can have those forces operating.

They have done very successful work here in the town of Shattwa (ph), where they found a very large cache of arms, including French shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles. They found detonators for suicide bombings. They found many, many thousand of rounds of ammunition and also heavy machine guns. They also captured several Fedayeen Saddam, and they identified the grave of a U.S. Marine, which the body was removed from the grave a week ago. They interviewed the doctor who buried him, and U.S. forces were able to identify the dead Marine.

Also they reassured the citizens that Saddam's rule is over and that the Ba'ath Party will not come back. They restored the hospital service and they started the police responsibilities (ph). So it was a successful operation. And they've been doing this now for two days. I think they are ready to move forward and (UNINTELLIGIBLE). BLITZER: Mr. Chalabi, we only have time for one final question. When I spoke with you earlier in the week, a few days ago, you thought you had some indication that Saddam Hussein might still be alive just north of Baghdad. What's your latest information?

CHALABI: We think that Saddam Hussein is still alive and still in that general area. Many of his people are with him. His son Qusay is there. And -- but many, many of the Ba'athist leaders, including from very senior commanders of the Republican Guard, have fled to Syria. They are there now, and some of them are in touch with us.

I think that we must do what we can to capture as many of the leaders of the Ba'ath Party and the Republican Guards and the intelligence (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Saddam will not have full information about the weapon caches.

Imagine a town like Shattwa (ph), which is a small town, us finding such a huge cache of arms and information. Imagine what is there in other larger towns and cities in Iraq. I think that we will do (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BLITZER: Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, now in Nasiriyah, in the southern part of Iraq. Thanks very much for joining us.

CNN, of course, will cover that meeting on Tuesday in Nasiriyah, being organized by the U.S. government, the U.S. military specifically, a so-called town meeting to try to bring together various Iraqi groups to discuss the future of that country.

Ahmed Chalabi, thanks very much.

Earlier today I had a chance to speak with General Tommy Franks, the commander of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He's the Central commander. He's here in Doha, Qatar. We spoke about Tikrit. That's the ancestral home town of Saddam Hussein. Now that's where many had been bracing for the last battle. He suggested there is no battle underway in Tikrit right now. Effectively the Iraqi military there, including the Republican Guard have given up.

In the meantime Brent Sadler and his crew, his colleagues, moved toward Tikrit, actually got into the city earlier today, but they came under machine gun fire.

Brent Sadler is joining us now live from Irbil with a little bit more about that harrowing, harrowing ordeal -- Brent.

SADLER: Yes, thanks, Wolf.

Just to tell what happened today, and it really fits in with what General Franks was telling you about U.S. Marine moves towards Tikrit. Now I don't have any eyeball confirmation, but I suspect the Marines have moved into areas on the outskirts of the city, perhaps two or three miles away. No military confirmation -- this is just my assessment -- in an area where I was before the Marines got into their assault positions. Now we can show you some of the video of abandoned military warehouses, abandoned armor, massive military complexes. Remember Wolf, this is Tikrit, the outskirts of Tikrit, the very heart of the defenses that have really kept the backbone of the Saddam Hussein regime in power for so long internally -- the Republican Guard and the army itself. And these would be supposedly some of the best equipped units in the Iraqi army. And we've seen today massive destruction as a result of coalition bombing, coalition bombing at the beginning of the campaign and coalition bombing in the past 24 hours.

We did see and hear some of that.

Now also I went into a Republican Guard tank regiment and it was interesting to note inside this headquarters, that all of the pictures of Saddam Hussein were intact. There were statues that had been untouched. And more importantly though, from the military perspective, none of the fighting equipment were there. There were no military personnel in any of these vast military complexes, but in the Republican Guard, the actual fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, tanks, artillery, those sort of pieces weren't there.

And it was interesting to hear from embedded journalists several hours later that the coalition forces have taken out five Republican Guard tanks, moving towards Marine positions.

So perhaps this was the armor that was missing from that base. Now we got inside Tikrit itself for about 15 minutes. Certainly there were armed guards in there, soldiers it seemed wearing military fatigues, armed with nothing more than AK-47 machine guns, but certainly a lot of lambasting of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a lot of people complaining about destruction. And really, Saddam Hussein's diehard, this is the heart of the tribal areas that have supported Saddam Hussien for many, many years throughout his rule. Been well- paid and prospered as a result of that connection. Tikrit, of course, Saddam Hussein's birthplace.

And it was when we were leaving the city -- we felt it was prudent. We could feel hostilities rising, we turned around after making an assessment and came under gunfire. This is what we recorded at the time we left Tikrit earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SADLER: Back out of the town, that was a gunshot. Back out of town. And getting out of here. We have some gunfire. I don't know if it's warning shots.

But stay with us as we move our way following live fire here, out of Tikrit. So let's just recap as we go through here that Tikrit, no coalition forces. Tikrit, no fighting. A checkpoint.

OK, that's gun fire. OK, we're just under attack. Under attack.

We're OK. We're OK.

Under fire. That confirms our worst fears. If you're with us -- are you with us Anderson?

SADLER: OK, we have just run a checkpoint. We have come under automatic machine gunfire. We've blown through the checkpoint, and they tried to stop us. And our armed guard pulled his machine gun, his automatic machine gun, and opened fire to get us through there. I think that's as far as we are going to push it today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SADLER: Indeed those shots, you can see in the vehicle behind me -- two vehicles were hit. And you will see a pattern of shots around the outside.

At least six AK-47, automatic assault rifle shots in the back of this car. Nobody seriously hurt inside the vehicle. One of the bullets clipped the flak jacket of one of our producers, Maria Fleet (ph). She's fine.

But obviously, a very harrowing moment. These shots weren't intended to scare us; they were intended to kill us, as we tried to leave Tikrit.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brent Sadler, thank God you and and your colleagues are OK. Thanks very much for that report.

I want to go back to Baghdad right now. Four of our excellent reporters -- all of them have been embedded with various branches of the U.S. military during the course of this past month, during this war -- are now in Baghdad. I want to get some thoughts from them on what they went through, what they saw and heard.

CNN's Martin Savidge is joining us in Baghdad, Walter Rodgers, Lisa Rose Weaver and Jason Bellini.

First to you, Marty. Give us some thoughts about this whole embedding process that you endured. You obviously did some brilliant work for us.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, thank you, Wolf. I think the embedded process worked very well. There were many things that probably could have worked better.

The one thing that I think felt let down the most was, a lot of the reporting was spontaneous, it was as-the-moment reporting. It was predominantly live, so what you, as the reporter, felt you were missing out on was, perhaps, some of the fabric, some of the deeper quality of reporting that you could have done with a report, say, of a package, rather that live all the time.

But, otherwise, I think it was a great presentation, obviously, of the U.S. military force in action, and how we were able to cover it fairly, honestly with the good and the bad.

So, I think the military learned from it. Obviously, the media learned from it. And overall, it was a good experience.

BLITZER: Walter Rodgers, our viewers in the United States -- indeed around the world -- will probably forever remember the dramatic stories you told when you went in with what you described as "the wall of steel" from the 3-7th Cavalry, as you moved through southern Iraq.

Did this embedding process work well, as far as you are concerned?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I thought is was a brilliant innovation, Wolf. I thought it was absolutely brilliant. Because what it did was bring war in real time into the living rooms of people around the world.

I thought the Army was superb, the way they treated us. We were treated to the commanders' reports -- the commanding generals' reports. We were shown all the maps of the operations before they began. It was -- it was like a kid in a candy store for a reporter.

And every soldier in the unit of the 7th Cavalry was helping you. They were actually giving us information. It was one of the top five stories in my career. And let's rattle some of those off. The attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, the collapse of the old order and rise of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, this war and a private tutorial I had with Chief Justice Earl Warren when he was stepping down. That's a pretty good collection of stories, and this was right up there with it.

BLITZER: This was, Walter, by all accounts the most dangerous assignment.

But I want to move on to Lisa Rose Weaver right now. Lisa, there were some American women journalists who were embedded with the military who knew what was going on firsthand. How did this experience work for you?

LISA ROSE WEAVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well I don't think the fact of being a woman was really in an issue in any sort of negative sense. There is in the military, as a woman, sort of a -- a man factor that you have to get through. Everybody calls you ma'am, before they'll call you by your first name.

But I was in a unit that had a few women -- about 130 people altogether, seven of whom were women. They prided themselves on not being what they called "prissy." These women had grease and dirt on their faces. Their hair remained unwashed for days on end. They hauled and lifted just like the men.

I feel like the military really treated me as a reporter. And a certain amount of honor, if you will, bestowed on me for being a civilian. Their spirits were lifted by the fact that a civilian would have volunteered to be someplace that not all of them -- they admitted to me -- would necessarily have chosen to go on their own account.

There was also a sense that in an environment where it is very difficult to stay in touch with family members, they knew their family had a reporter with them, that their family could click on to CNN.com or watch television and know that the unit that their son or daughters were with, or husbands or wives, was OK.

So, basically people were very thankful that I was there. There was a lot of trust. I also was given no-holds-barred on information. Had access to classified meetings. Was told, really, almost everything that I asked. And nobody watching over my shoulder.

Again, being a woman really didn't factor into it in any negative way. Wolf?

BLITZER: Lisa Rose Weaver, thanks very much.

Jason Bellini, you may have been one the youngest embedded reporters. I remember, last year, you and I were in Jerusalem together. You happened to have been in that marketplace in Jerusalem when there was a suicide bomb attack only yards away from where you were.

I assume, Jason, that was good preparation for what you've had to endure over this past month.

JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, although this has been the most rigorous assignment I've ever had, just physically, and operating out in the desert, using our technological equipment, which is very vulnerable to sand and to dust, and to try to work during the daylight hours, because they don't want to see the light of your computer at night. They yell at you for that.

It was difficult, but also very invigorating the whole time, I think largely because of the fact that you were able to develop a level of intimacy with the people you were covering, you were able to see them in various different -- at various different types of soldiers, in my case, Marines, some who were there because -- we had one person who was there because he lost a relative on 9/11, others didn't know quite why they were there, but they were there to do their job, others were very gung ho and excited by the idea of war. We saw from many different sides, and we didn't have to go through the filter of public relations officers. We could just develop one on one relationships with the people we were covering, and that was very exciting -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jason Bellini, thanks very much for that report. Lisa Rose Weaver, we want to thank you. Marty Savidge of course, Walter Rodgers, four of our embedded correspondents, they did excellent work, very courageous work. I don't think I can underscore enough how dangerous an operation this was for the journalistic community.

Thanks to all of you.

We have much more coverage of the war in Iraq coming up on our special LATE EDITION. We'll check the latest developments as well, right after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were just so thankful. I mean, it's a miracle, and we always said if prayers could bring him home, he'd be here, and they did.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, they did, that's right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All our prayers are answered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Very, very happy loved ones, very happy Americans. Seven American prisoners of war freed earlier today, dramatically released, surrendered by their Iraqi captors. We'll have complete details coming up.

Good afternoon to our viewers in North America. Good evening from here in the Persian Gulf. It's just after 9:00 p.m. in Doha, Qatar, where I am. That's the home of the U.S. Central Command operating in this war, just after 10:00 p.m. in Iraq, where the news is being made this Sunday, April 13th. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

Coming up this hour, on our special LATE EDITION: The sounds of jubilation from families of the prisoners of war found this morning in Iraq. Reaction from their families in the United States, and the latest details on when they'll return to U.S. soil.

Also this hour, the battle heats up in Tikrit. CNN's Brent Sadler on his harrowing journey to Saddam Hussein's home town.

And the former United States ambassador to Syria and Saudi Arabia joins me live here in Doha, Qatar. We'll chat about the growing tensions between the United States and Syria.

Within the past hour, the president of the United States just returned from Camp David, obviously very, very excited, thrilled by the release of those seven American prisoners of war. We'll have his details as well.

Five of those seven, by the way, were captured March 23rd in the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. The other two are the crew of a downed Apache helicopter. That went down the following day, March 23rd. The pictures you're looking at now were shot at an air base south of Baghdad, where the freed Americans landed shortly after Iraqi troops freed them.

CNN's Bob Franken witnessed virtually the whole thing, and he's joining us now live -- Bob.

FRANKEN: Well, Wolf, it was jubilation to an extreme degree, as you might imagine, as the seven, who had no idea what would happen with their lives, suddenly found themselves free, rescued by U.S. Marines in a really bizarre situation. They were taken to this air base where we are, about 65 miles south of Baghdad, taken from their helicopters. Five of them were in virtually perfect health, and were just leaping with joy, throwing their fists in the air. The other two had some injuries which appeared to be relatively minor, but enough to hobble them just a little bit. But apparently they are going to be OK too.

They were taken to their helicopters. By the time that the word had gotten out they were coming, the Marines on this base lined the tarmac, taken from the helicopter to their C-130 that was going to take them to Kuwait, and applauded them as they went past. It was a very emotional moment.

But of course there had just been an intense encounter, just a few hours before, north of Samarra, between Samarra and Tikrit. The Marine unit, the 3rd Light Armor Division, was moving forward.

And there's some varying degrees of what happened. According to one version of this, there was a fire fight with Iraqis who decided to surrender and turn over the prisoners of war. According to another version, these Iraqis were not involved in a fire-fight, but their leaders, their officers had deserted in the days before. And they were looking for a way to surrender. And they came upon this armored division.

And the third version of it has them using a policeman as an intermediary.

In any case, the prisoners of war were turned over to the Marines. The Iraqis themselves were taken as prisoners and are being debriefed. The prisoners of war were returned to this location. Hastily sped away, hastily sped on their way to freedom, that they did not know just hours before that they would ever feel again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bob, the whole mood over there as a result of this recovery of those seven American POWs, obviously as you've told us, very, very excited.

What about -- were there people who were saying, "What about the MIAs?" These were the seven POWs -- they were formerly listed as POWs because their pictures were seen effectively on Iraqi television. All of us remember those gloomy images we saw on Iraqi television. What are they saying, if anything, about the MIAs, the missing in action, those who are still at large?

FRANKEN: They're looking, looking. We're told that at any time, any unit undertakes an operation, one of the first things it does is look at any of the locations that might be places for somebody who is being held, whether he's a POW or somebody who is listed as missing in action. That is just part of the routine. And they say that is going to go on. And they just hope that they have other stories with endings as happy as the one today.

BLITZER: Bob Franken, he was our eyes and our ears earlier today when the dramatic news unfolded early this morning. He was there. If you were watching CNN, you saw this dramatic recovery virtually live on CNN.

Thanks Bob, for all of that good work.

CNN's Patty Davis is over at the Pentagon in Washington. She's following reaction over there -- Patty.

DAVIS: Well, Wolf, Central Command now officially confirming what we had known for hours now through the families of these Americans, that these seven Americans are indeed the former Prisoners of War. Five ambushed with Jessica Lynch March 23rd near Nasiriyah with the 507th maintenance unit.

Two Apache pilots taken from their downed helicopter, captured that same day. Now recently a U.S. Central Command spokesman said that these Americans have not yet been debriefed. The priority was to tend to their injuries.

And here's what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had to say today to reporters here in Washington as he was making the rounds on the Sunday talk shows about the seven Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUMSFELD: Seven Americans have been taken into possession of American forces. And we have their names. And they're all American servicemen. They're in good shape. Two have gunshot wounds. And rather than try to characterize them as having been POWs or MIAs or what units they come from, that will be known soon enough. And you've got to appreciate the feelings of all of the families who have prisoners of war or MIAs, that this is the best way to handle it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAVIS: Now not all good news here at the Pentagon here today. There are still five missing, soldiers, five missing U.S. servicemen in Iraq. They brought that number down to six today. One Lieutenant Nathan D. White, killed in action. He was transferred to the killed in action list. Killed in action in Iraq. He was the pilot of an FA- 18 C Hornet lost over Iraq that day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Patty Davis, joining us live from the Pentagon. Patty, thanks very much.

And as we said, just within the past hour or so the president returned from Camp David to the White House, clearly elated by news that these seven American POWs had been freed.

Let's listen to what the president had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Today is a great day for the families, comrades, loved ones of the seven missing in action. I'm really pleased. For all of those who have been praying for their safety, that they are safe.

We still have missing in action in Iraq. We will continue to look for them. We pray that they too will be safe and free one of these days. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Seven freed American POWs, seven elated American families.

Let's find out how one of them is reacting. CNN's Ed Lavandera is doing us now from El Paso, Texas, the home town of Shoshana Johnson.

Ed, give us the latest.

LAVANDERA: Well, Wolf, this is a town that is experiencing both ends of the emotional spectrum this weekend. Two days ago the memorial services for nine of the soldiers that were killed in action, part of the 507th Maintenance Company. And today the spectacular news for the Johnson family.

Her parents live in the house right behind me. You can see the sign that says, "Bring Shoshana Johnson home." The one here across the street says, "Shoshana is their hero."

And also as people are celebrating this, there is also one of the youngest soldiers in that 507th Maintenance Company, a 19-year-old soldier whose funeral services will start today later on as well.

So that's why I mention the wide gambit of emotion that this town is experiencing.

But, this morning, a old Army buddy of Claude Johnson, Shoshana's father, who's a truck driver, driving here from New Jersey back to El Paso, when he heard the news that Shoshana had been rescued, and he drove up and you can kind of get a sense of just how emotional this has been for this family. Kind of listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We, the Johnson family, received official confirmation today that our daughter, Shoshana Johnson, is safe and alive. Quote from Claude Johnson, "We are ecstatic that not only she is safe, but all the POWs are back in the U.S.'s hands. We thank God for watching over them. We are very grateful for all the worldwide prayers."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAVANDERA: Claude Johnson, three weeks ago, when he heard the news that Shoshana Johnson was a prisoner of war -- well, there's the video I was talking about. The family friends showing up here, listening to all the excitement there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm just so happy! I've been praying for her.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LAVANDERA: Now, Claude Johnson, as I was saying, found out about -- that Shoshana Johnson was a prisoner of war three weeks ago. He says that he had turned on the TV that morning, trying to find cartoons for his granddaughter to watch, when he started seeing these images.

And this morning, he's been -- the family's been glued to the TV, watching a very different outcome. And an outcome here that they very much wanted to see come true.

And Wolf, you asked me just a little while ago about Shoshana's name. We did that homework that you requested for us. Shoshana's aunt is named Shoshana, coming from the Hebrew name, which means "rose." And that's why they picked it, because it was an aunt's name. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks for doing your homework for us, Ed Lavandera. Our man on the scene. Did, by the way, Ed, did anybody get any indication from the military yet, over at the Johnson residence, when they might be reunited with Shoshana?

LAVANDERA: We haven't gotten any kind of word on when, exactly, that might happen. I think a lot of that is probably still in the works, and the family is still waiting for confirmation for that as well.

BLITZER: All right. Let's get some more reaction. Ed Lavandera joining us from El Paso.

We'll go to Georgia. We'll also go to New Jersey. In Georgia, Susan Candiotti is standing by. She's at the home of one of those relatives of a freed American POW. Our Whitney Casey is in New Jersey at another.

Whitney, let's begin with you. Tell us what's happening there.

CASEY: Well, Wolf, it's not as celebratory as would be expected, as you've heard from some of the other family members, only because this family, over the past three weeks, has been through quite a series of emotion. From this euphoria to quite a great deal of pain, because their youngest daughter, 29-year-old Mary Riley, just recently died, before her brother James, Sergeant James Riley, who was found today, went off to war. She was in a coma here. So she died just about two weeks ago.

They're not sure whether their son knows this yet. But what they're doing is hoping that the military will know when it's proper to tell him, because he may have too much emotional turmoil right now to actually tell him that. But they hope they can actually tell them themselves.

But there was some elation today. They were so happy to hear this, especially in the midst of all that horrible news that they've had.

I've just got to show you behind me. This is the house their house, here. This is the house that, they said, that their son James Riley painted for them. They've lived here since he was 10. They moved from New Zealand. Of course, flags, they have their POW/MIA flag out here.

And American flags, yellow ribbons all over this neighborhood. I'll just show you down the street a little bit, if you can see right here, yellow flags -- I mean, yellow ribbons and flags on trees here. Very small neighborhood, very tight-knit community. And of course, news vehicles here, because right when we heard the news, everybody came here.

And this is what has been happening throughout the time. Anytime there was a blip of information, they -- the news vehicles would come here.

So they know this kind of pressure. So they're a bit staid. I will tell you, when you hear their sound, and what I want to do is set up the sound real quick.

We brought them down into the truck to show them some video that Bob Franken had fed earlier.

It was exclusive video from CNN, and they were elated to see their son. This is actually the first time they've seen their son since July, because he left in February, and they had talked with him on the phone right before he left, but Jane Riley noticed the outline of her son, and she turned to her husband, and she was so excited. She said, "Oh, there he is, there he is," and she can't wait to see him home. She wants to see him in the flesh.

But let's take a listen to what Jane Riley had to say while she was watching this video.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANE RILEY, MOTHER OF EX-POW: I'd feel good even if it wasn't our son, but they've got some people out, because there are a lot of people who aren't going to have the kind of joy we can feel right now, and my heart goes out to them, because I've been there, in the waiting, and I just -- there are an awful lot of kids who are not going to come home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CASEY: Now, James Riley is 31 years old. He is stationed at Fort Bliss, and he hasn't lived at home for about 10 years. He wanted to go to the Gulf War in '91. He was right out of high school then, but he served time in Korea, and then he also was over in Saudi Arabia, but he was very excited about going over to this war. He was ready to serve his country.

So his parents say that he would not like all of this media hype around him, he was just doing his job. They're all very humble here, and very excited to see him back, even in the midst of all of this tragedy that they're going through right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of people love Sergeant James Riley.

Whitney Casey's there in New Jersey for us. Thanks, Whitney, very much. Congratulate that family on our behalf.

Susan Candiotti is in Georgia, Lithia Springs, Georgia. That's where the Apache helicopter pilot Ronald Young lives. She's with the Young family right now -- Susan.

CANDIOTTI: Hi. They're still waiting to hear from Ron Young, Wolf. But there have been a lot of ups and downs over the last almost three weeks. Now finally a day of solid good news that their son is all right.

Moments ago, another phone call from the Army to Ronald Young's father, Ronald Young, Sr.

Mr. Young, please tell us now what the Army is telling you, the latest information about your son?

RONALD YOUNG, SR.: Well, what I understand from the latest information is that he's going to be flown to Qatar, where he's going to stay for a couple of days, I guess, and then they're going to transfer him from there to Walter Reed, and we'll be able to fly over and meet with him there.

CANDIOTTI: That would be Walter Reed Army Hospital?

YOUNG: Right.

CANDIOTTI: Bethesda, Maryland, where of course they're taking care of all of the casualties coming back from the war.

YOUNG: Yes.

CANDIOTTI: Finally, it looks like that will be the place where you will be able to see your son for the first time.

YOUNG: Sure is. I'm looking forward to it too, I can tell you that.

CANDIOTTI: And I know you told us something earlier. The first thing -- or one of the first things you plan on saying to him? What would that be?

YOUNG: Tell him I'm proud of him. And I really do love him. But I'd like for him to, you know, think about doing something a little different.

(LAUGHTER)

YOUNG: For a living.

You know.

CANDIOTTI: You're being good-natured about that.

And then, of course, news about the helicopter.

YOUNG: Yeah.

CANDIOTTI: They weren't shot down. The Army had told you that they had a mechanical problem.

(CROSSTALK)

YOUNG: Well, they said there was speculation that there was a mechanical problem. They weren't definitive about that. So I figure the only two people that really know what actually happened are Ron and David.

And of course, during the debriefing I'm sure they'll let them know what it was.

CANDIOTTI: And we know your wife will want to give him, as she said, a bear hug, and not (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

(CROSSTALK)

YOUNG: Oh yeah, I know. And there was some speculation as to whether or not he'd want to go right back into it again. And they say David Williams is the kind of guy that really would like to get back into it.

But I'm -- if it's up to me, if I got any kind of persuasion ability here at all, I'm going to try to persuade him not to go.

CANDIOTTI: Talk about feelings.

When you got up this morning, you actually were thinking about going in to work when some of these calls first came in.

YOUNG: Yeah.

CANDIOTTI: Who talked some sense into you?

YOUNG: Well, I was setting there -- you know, I came in about 3:00 -- I went to bed about 3:00, laid down on the sofa, and tried to get -- and I couldn't sleep. And then my daughter-in-law called at 5:00. And I talked to her. And she said they had some information about the POWs. And of course...

CANDIOTTI: And you thought about, I better not go in to work?

YOUNG: Well, that's what I thought about. When Kaye (ph) got up, and we started looking at it, it looked hopeful. And then she says, I hope they're not going to have a deal here where they're just telling us that the Red Cross is going to get in. And I thought, well, it might be.

So maybe...

(CROSSTALK)

CANDIOTTI: But it turned out to be good news after all.

YOUNG: Yeah. So I started to call back, mark back up -- I mean, I had the phone down, and I thought, well, maybe I ought to give it a few minutes, anyway. And it turned out to be really good news, it was exceptionally good news, and I'm glad I didn't.

CANDIOTTI: Absolutely. Thank you very much, Mr. Young.

YOUNG: You're welcome.

CANDIOTTI: I want to show a little bit about what it looks like around your house here.

YOUNG: Sure.

CANDIOTTI: As you can see -- thanks so much. All kinds of signs up around the house. All kinds of support, support our troops. And of course the family has been receiving a lot of support.

One of the first things that happened after they initially learned that their son had been captured, the city called and said, what would you like? And the family said, we'd really love to have a flag pole in front of the house. And sure enough, this is what was installed for them. Believe it or not, some inmates from the local jail were allowed out to put this flag pole up for them. Someone donated the American flag. And a complete stranger donated the POW/MIA flag. And there someone came and wrote into the cement at the bottom, at the base of the flag, United we stand, and Ron Young's name.

Well, that's not all. There's something else waiting for him when he comes home. Just around the corner here at the end of the driveway, parked at the end of the driveway, that red pickup truck, that belongs to the pilot, Ron Young. And, of course, it's waiting for him when he comes home. Initially the plan was to sell it. Now they're not exactly sure what they're going to do. But they said, you know, we'll leave that up to Ron.

We were also here at the moment that the Army showed up to officially notify them that their son was no longer a POW, but that in fact he had been rescued. It was a chilling moment. And here's how it went.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On behalf of the Secretary of the Army, I want you to know that your son has been found.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I appreciate it. I appreciate it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm glad to bring you that news.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CANDIOTTI: Of course, as happy as this family is, the Youngs are very mindful of the families of the MIAs and hope and pray now that they, too, will be as happy as the Youngs are and see their loved ones very soon. Back to you, Walt.

BLITZER: Susan, very briefly. Did you say that some of those POWs, or all of those POWs, might be coming here where I am right now, Doha, Qatar, the Central Command headquarters after they leave Kuwait City?

CANDIOTTI: Exactly. That's the headline at the very top of this live report, absolutely. According to the Youngs, they were notified by the Army that in fact their son is on the way to Qatar, or soon will be on the way to Qatar, where you are, Camp Doha, and in fact -- and in fact from there, after they are debriefed, or the debriefing is complete, then they will be sent on to Bethesda, Maryland, to Walter Reed Army Hospital. That is where the family will have the opportunity to see their son for the very first time.

BLITZER: All right. I'm sure General Tommy Franks and the commanders here at the Central Command will give them a very warm reception once they arrive at Camp As Sayliyah here just outside Doha, Qatar, where I am right now.

Susan Candiotti reporting, thanks very much. This important programming note for our viewers tonight. 8:00 p.m. Eastern, CNN will air a special, "The Rescue of the POWs," 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 p.m. on the West Coast. You'll want to watch that.

Much more news of the war in Iraq coming up, including a journey to Tikrit. Before we get to that, though, I want to get a little bit more information now on those seven POWs. As far as we know, they're still in Kuwait City. CNN Radio's John Bisney is there. John, give us the latest. What are you hearing?

BISNEY: Wolf, all seven are in Kuwait City. They were evaluated. Three of them, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Shoshana Johnson, by the chief nurse at this facility, Lieutenant Colonel Ruth Lee of the United States Army.

Lieutenant Colonel Lee told us that the three that she looked at spent about 20 minutes in a hospital tent, that they were in pretty good condition. They had some cuts, they had some bruises. Here's her description of how they looked.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEUTENANT COLONEL RUTH LEE, UNITED STATES ARMY: I wouldn't say that any of them had any big, outstanding injuries that you could pick up just by looking at them.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

LEE: They had pajamas, two-piece pajamas -- a shirt and pants. Kind of striped, I believe they were. Two yellow and one blue.

QUESTION: Is that military? (OFF-MIKE)

LEE: They just -- to stop over, to make sure they were safe for travel, is my understanding.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

LEE: The woman came in on a stretcher. And then she left walking.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

LEE: I don't really know why they had her on a stretcher when she came, but she was able to walk out, so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BISNEY: So Walt, as you see, all of them are on their way, we believe, to Qatar. They were taken away from the Kuwait area by helicopter. They were given Pringles and some Coca-Colas as they left, we were told.

Interestingly, Lieutenant Colonel Lee also said that at least one of them had undergone some sort of medical treatment in Iraq. But she would not say who administered that medical treatment. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Very interesting. They're on their way to Qatar, the Central Command Camp As Sayliyah.

I was there earlier today for that interview with General Franks. There's no doubt that these seven POWs will receive a very warm welcome. And if I know General Franks, he'll want to personally give each and every one of them a bear hug.

That's John Bisney, CNN Radio's reporter in Kuwait City, giving us the latest information. Thanks very much, John.

We have much more coverage of the war in Iraq coming up, including the latest on what's happening in Tikrit. A journey to Tikrit earlier today -- in fact, our Brent Sadler.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(GUNFIRE)

SADLER: OK, that's gunfire. OK, we've just come under attack.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Coming up, Brent will detail his close encounter with gunfire while leaving Saddam Hussein's hometown.

And also coming up, the Kurdish leader, Jalal Talabani. He'll join me live to talk about the future of Iraq. You won't want to miss that. All that coming up as our special LATE EDITION continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: We'll have much more coverage of those seven American POWs, now freed men and women. We'll have details, more details throughout the day as we continue to get reaction to the recovery of those seven American POWs.

But now we want to talk about what's happening in the northern part of Iraq. In northern Iraq, the Kurds, in recent years, have had a virtually autonomous area free from the rule of Saddam Hussein.

But now with the fall of the Iraqi leader from power, a Kurdish leader is hoping more that democracy will spread, not only throughout the north, but throughout all of Iraq.

Jalal Talabani is the founder and the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. He's joining me now live by phone from Sulaymaniyah.

Mr. Talabani, once again, thank you for joining us.

What's the latest, as far as the Kurdish situation in the northern part of Iraq is concerned right now?

JALAL TALABANI, FOUNDER, PATRIOTIC UNION OF KURDISTAN: The Kurdish situation is fine. The Kurdish people is happy, and everyone is feeling that the day of liberation arrived, thanks to the United States and United Kingdom. Iraq was liberated, and all Kurds are looking forward to have a democratic and parliamentarian system there.

BLITZER: As you know, the Kurdish people in the northern part of Iraq were virtually free of Saddam Hussein's rule in recent years. How will the liberation of the rest of Iraq affect what is happening toward the Kurds in the north?

TALABANI: Well, it's affected (UNINTELLIGIBLE) positively because the many parts of Kurdistan was under the control of the Iraqi dictatorship, and Kurdish people were suffering from the Iraqi dictatorship.

Now this dictatorship finished, and the Kurdish people will enjoy full democracy and freedom with other Iraqis. And they will rejoin Iraq to reunite Iraq and to establish a democratic, parliamentarian (UNINTELLIGIBLE) system in Baghdad.

BLITZER: Mr. Talabani, I assume you do not intend to declare some sort of independent Kurdish state in the north? Is that right?

TALABANI: Yes, it's right. We don't want to divide Iraq. On contrary, we want to reunite Iraq, because Iraq actually was divided by dictatorship. We are for having our human and democratic rights within the framework of a democratic Iraq.

BLITZER: So you want to see Iraq remain -- the territory of Iraq remain as it's been, no division, no shift? You just want to see a democratic, reformed Iraq with the Kurdish people part of the Iraqi society? TALABANI: Yes, we want to see Kurdish people with other Iraqis participating in the central government and rebuilding (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Iraq on the basis of democracy, human rights, liberation, and equal rights of citizenship for all Iraqis -- Kurds, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Arabs, Shi'as included.

BLITZER: Do you plan on -- because, as you know, the Turkish government is very concerned, if the Kurds expand their authority, their power throughout other areas of northern Iraq, especially Kirkuk and Mosul, some of the oil-rich areas of northern Iraq, that might encourage the Kurds in northern Iraq to declare an independent state, which the Turkish government would vehemently oppose.

What, if anything, are you doing to reassure the Turkish government?

TALABANI: Well, we have done our best as a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and as a part of Iraqi opposition to convince our brothers in Turkey. And also we reached an agreement with them in the last meeting between Iraqi opposition forces and Turkish authorities with the presence of Americans, with the presence of our friends, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We reached an agreement with them; we are respecting this agreement. The Kurdish forces left Kirkuk, and now control of Kirkuk is in the hands of American forces.

But I'd like to comment that when Iraq will be liberated and there will be a democratic system in Iraq, as an independent country which have its own sovereignty, no one of our neighbors has the right to interfere in internal affairs of Iraq.

BLITZER: Well, are you suggesting that the Turks have been interfering? For example, have there been Turkish forces, supposedly observers, who have gone into northern Iraq during the course of this war?

TALABANI: Well, as observers, we are welcome to observers. We ask them to send their political and diplomatic observers to see the situation by their own eyes and to watch, because there are many rumors which are false. And there are some provocateurs (ph) who trying to make trouble between Kurds and Turkimans (ph), to encourage Turkish authorities to intervene. We like to have our Turkish brothers observe it here to see the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and a sense of reality and to see the situation.

BLITZER: Mr. Talabani, one final question before I let you go. Ansar al-Islam, the terrorist organization which, as all of our viewers by now know, had a base in the northern part of Iraq under the Kurdish area, or not far away from the Kurdish-controlled area. Ansar al-Islam, with ties to al Qaeda.

Has that base, has Ansar al-Islam been destroyed in northern Iraq?

TALABANI: Yes, they were destroyed. Their bases were destroyed and their places were liberated by Peshmerga forces with the support of American special forces. And now the area is liberated from them. No one remains from them. Some groups of them went outside the country, but there are no more groups which can threaten the area.

There are some other Arabs who were arrested days ago coming from several Arab countries in the name of mujahedeen against the Americans. For example, 35 Arabs from different parts of the Arab world, days ago, were arrested by (UNINTELLIGIBLE) forces. When they were asked, they said they are coming to participate in jihad against American forces in Kirkuk.

BLITZER: Jalal Talabani, as usual -- we've spoken before, we've spoken in Washington -- good luck to you. Good luck to the Kurdish people in the northern part of Iraq.

Jalal Talabani joining us live, one of the leaders of the Kurdish people in the northern part of Iraq.

We have much more coming up, especially the relief, the joy, the celebration surrounding the recovery of those seven American POWs.

When we come back we will speak to two influential members of the U.S. Congress, Nick Rahall, Dana Rohrabacher. They're here in Doha, Qatar with me. They'll join me live.

We'll have that and all of the day's other news in the war in Iraq. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the war in Iraq. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting live from Doha, Qatar. That's the home of the U.S. Central Command, at least during this war.

Joining me now, here in Doha, two members of the House of Representatives, influential members: Nick Rahall from West Virginia, a Democrat; Dana Rohrabacher from California, a Republican.

You're both here visiting, trying to understand what's going on.

Congressman Rahall, you were one of those congressmen who went to Iraq before the war, you were opposed to this war. What's your sense right now? How's it going?

REP. NICK RAHALL (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Well, I certainly support our troops, Wolf. They are the true heroes here. And we pray for their safety, success and swift return home. Especially Private First Class Jessica Lynch from Palestine, West Virginia, my home state.

The war in my opinion is going good, and I'm glad to see the successes we are achieving. Regardless of whether I agree with how we got to where we are, we are where we are.

And I think we have a very important opportunity here to show we are truly liberators. We're in a transition period. I hope we do not become occupiers. And I hope that here is a chance where the United States can show that might is not right, but if we use might in the right way, we can allow right to blossom. And that's what I hope... BLITZER: Congressman Rohrabacher, you were one of the great supporters of President Bush throughout this entire -- these months leading up to this war. It's going well, as Congressman Rahall just says, but there's still a lot of things that can go wrong.

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, I not only supported the troops, but I supported the objectives that we gave our troops. And Nick is right, we have a great opportunity now, thanks to our president making the tough political decisions that he had to make to commit our troops here, we now have a chance to change this part of the world, and to show the people here that we do believe in democracy, and we can institute a new era of peace with the strength that we've demonstrated with the use of our troops.

BLITZER: What went through your mind a few hours ago when you heard that those seven POWs had been recovered, they're all safe and sound, and they're probably now on their way here to Qatar to the Central Command headquarters to meet with their commanders?

ROHRABACHER: The first thing that I thought was, well, we've got seven new heroes, thank God.

BLITZER: The country could use those.

Jessica Lynch from Palestine, West Virginia, that was a dramatic development, obviously, your home state. You're off, as you say, to Palestine right now to meet with the new prime minister designate of the Palestinian Authority.

RAHALL: Yes, Wolf. And I believe President Bush when he says he's going to use the success of this Iraq war to get serious and try to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This president showed guts in this Iraqi war, there's no question about it. And as I say, although I didn't agree with the policy that got us where we are, the diplomacy, nevertheless this president showed guts. I hope he can show the same guts now in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

BLITZER: Do you think he's going to take his -- roll up his sleeves and get going on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

ROHRABACHER: I think we have tremendous opportunities to demonstrate to the people of the world that not only are we strong, but we do believe in the fundamentals of justice and peace. And in Palestine, maybe we can now, as we demonstrated that we have the strength to do what we need to do here in Iraq, that we can bring peace to that troubled region with the Israelis and the Palestinians.

BLITZER: One final question. Congressman Rahall, you've been involved in the Middle East covering this, watching this for so many years. The Syrians, there's some concern they're harboring some of these Iraqis. What do you think?

RAHALL: Well, I've seen those reports come out, Wolf, and I'd like to see confirmation, if they are indeed harboring the true criminals in Iraq. That should not be allowed, that's true.

I happen to believe, though, that this is all about controlling Hezbollah. And if we can do that, if we can show the Syrians that there is a way out of this, that they're not next on the firing line, that that can be by allowing...

ROHRABACHER: People are going to have more respect for us now that we've done this. And had we backed down like some of my Democratic colleagues would have had us do, it would have been seen as a sign -- it would have been seen as a sign of weakness.

We can use our strength now to make sure the Syrians are doing what's right. We can use our strength to convince the Palestinians and others to make the compromises -- and the Israelis -- to make the compromises that are necessary to bring peace to this region.

BLITZER: I'll give you the last word.

RAHALL: I can't allow that to go unanswered.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Go ahead, but very quickly.

RAHALL: We were for strengthening the weapons inspectors. They were doing their job. They were a lot better experts than four years ago. They had better equipment. We were for beefing up the inspectors, allowing that process to work.

Nobody has made any apologies for Saddam Hussein. And that's where we Democrats...

BLITZER: All right. We're going to leave it right there. Democratic, Republican, disagreeing on many issues, agreeing on some as well.

Congressman Rahall, Congressman Rohrabacher, good luck to you. Have a safe journey back, wherever you're going. Thanks very much.

Hold on for one second. We're going to take a quick commercial break. When we come back, much more coverage of the war in Iraq. We'll pick up on the whole issue of Syria. Is Syria in the bullseye now of the Bush administration? I'll speak with a former United States ambassador to Syria, Richard Murphy -- he's here in Doha, Qatar -- when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, thanks for joining us.

Bashar Al-Asad, the president of Syria, does he understand, as far as you know, the kind of trouble he might be in if he allows some of these Iraqis to gain some sort of refuge in Syria?

RICHARD MURPHY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SYRIA: I think he does, Wolf. I think that last year when Secretary Powell went to Damascus, it was a time when the border was heating up between Israel and Lebanon, and he wanted -- he leaned on Damascus, in fact, to make sure the Hezbollah didn't get out of control. And they didn't get out of control.

Bashar Al-Asad can understand the situation, there is no questions.

BLITZER: What about these reports that some Iraqis have managed to get across the border into Syria and other reports suggesting that even some of the weapons of mass destruction the Iraqis had may have been transported into Syria?

MURPHY: Well, this story came originally, I think, from an Israeli source. Then General Myers said he had no evidence that there had been any weapons of mass destruction coming from Iraq or going into Iraq, that there was arms trafficking...

BLITZER: Into Syria.

MURPHY: ... into Syria. But there has been trafficking apparently, and trafficking as the build-up to the war went on. And that's what raised the temperature so sharply in Washington, that night goggles and other equipment might be going in, just as our troops were engaged.

BLITZER: The whole issue of -- the whole issue of Syria, its support for Hezbollah, a group the State Department brands as a terrorist organization, that's obviously the source of a lot of these problems.

MURPHY: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) long-standing animous toward Damascus because of support of Hezbollah and hosting radical Palestinian groups in Syria. But, you know, they've never looked at it in the same lens. But they recognize the clear and present dangers today, there's no question.

BLITZER: What's your bottom-line assessment right now of the war in Iraq, the dangers, the opportunities that it's created for the United States?

MURPHY: Well, you're not going to be able to -- in the case of Syria, we're not going to be able to push them into a deal with Israel. I mean, they've got their principles that say they're not going to negotiate about their land. They'll negotiate security. That's what the late President Hafez Assad said just before he died, after he met with Clinton in the year 2000.

But they want to get negotiations started again. They don't want to be left out. But we'd better recognize he's inherited a position of 30-years standing and it's not going to change.

BLITZER: He's got his own problems, Bashar al-Asad?

MURPHY: Yes, yes.

BLITZER: Richard Murphy, a former United States ambassador to Syria, to Saudi Arabia, the former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, you and I go way back. Thanks for joining me here in Doha, Qatar.

MURPHY: Great to be with you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

We have much more coverage coming up of the war in Iraq. Stay with CNN throughout the day. We'll have the latest news headlines.

But when I come back, I'll have some final thoughts on what's going on with General Tommy Franks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar.

I was here in December for a couple of weeks. At that time, the Central Command had what they called an exercise, a war game, called "Internal Luck." It was, in effect, a dress rehearsal for the war, to try to make sure they had all the logistics, all the technical problems ironed out. A lot of it with sophisticated computer technology. Spent some time here at that time.

They discovered, General Franks and his commanders, that there were some serious problems. It's a good thing they had that dress rehearsal for this war, because they worked out a lot of those problems during that exercise.

At the time, I remember the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, came here as well. I spent some time with him.

I notice that there's been some significant changes here since then. That's understandable. At that time, there was no war. Now there's been a war going on for almost a month.

I just spent some time with General Franks. You can see on his face the tension. Certainly, there's pride. Certainly, there's relief that a lot of the worst-case-scenario developments did not materialize.

But there's also agony. Especially when I asked him what was the worst moment for him in this war. And you could see, if you look closely into his eyes, they begin to well up when he spoke of the casualties.

Sure, the casualties have been, on the U.S. and coalition side, they've been relatively modest. But he pointed out correctly, that for every one of those families who lost a loved one -- whether a parent, a brother or sister, a husband or a wife -- every single one of them, the casualties couldn't have been larger, couldn't have been more enormous.

The great pain of being a commander is ordering young men and women into battle knowing that some of them will never return, and that clearly came through when I spoke with General Franks. He's going to be going to Baghdad in the next few days, he says. He doesn't want it to be a victory parade and a triumph, or anything like that, but symbolically, once the commander of Operation Iraqi Freedom shows up in the Iraqi capital, you know that all of those worst-case scenarios that so many people feared would happen certainly did not happen, and that this was, at least the initial stage, the military stage, the battle on the battlefields and all of that, you know that that is basically over, and that they're going to move to the next phase of this war.

Wolf Blitzer, CNN, Camp As Sayliyah, in Qatar.

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