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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Religious, Civic Leaders of Kut Hand Over Control to Marines

Aired April 13, 2003 - 05:19   ET

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

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: There was a major development a few hours ago in Kut. Religious and civic leaders there handed over administrative control of the southern city to the U.S. Marines.
Art Harris is embedded with the Marines. He joins us now live by phone.

Good morning -- Art. Just to get people a clear indication of where Kut is, it's about 105 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Now tell us what's been happening there.

ART HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm in the back of a light- armored vehicle, I'm propped up, riding along a major highway just outside Al Kut, and the Marines have taken control of the city after delicate negotiations between the Marines and civic and religious leaders.

They turned over control of the city to the Marines, and they are now working out details of the government. The Marines have ringed the city, and we are on the way, the unit I'm with, a light-armored reconnaissance, to check out routes into the city.

I just passed a blown-up T-55 Iraqi tank, a blown-up petroleum refueling truck pulling an Iraqi artillery piece, and we are now passing fields outside Al Kut. Traffic is moving freely and peacefully, and people are waving to us thumbs up. The military says the city is peaceful, but they are still prepared.

Back to you.

COSTELLO: And now that the U.S. Marines have taken administrative control in the city, does this mean that they'll work with the Iraqis; that they'll eventually arm these Iraqis to help them patrol the city?

HARRIS: Well, I can tell you this: That right now, they are trained -- U.S.-trained Iraqis who are inside this city using weapons that the military has seized from the Iraqis, and they are patrolling inside the city with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades. These are the so-called Iraqi Freedom Fighters trained by the U.S.

It's unclear how soon a police force will be trained. It will take some time. Unclear how peaceful things are inside the city, if there was a lot of looting. I have not heard that yet, like other places. But the Marines are inside the city, and they are prepared to work with the locals who want to take care of things themselves. That's why the Marines are not going in with a huge force as they have in other cities.

COSTELLO: I...

HARRIS: The -- go ahead.

Back to you.

COSTELLO: I was just going to ask you, because a big concern was that Kut was sort of the center for suicide bombers, for people coming in from other countries and gathering here to launch suicide attacks. Have the Marines seen that?

HARRIS: Absolutely. That was the earlier report a couple of days ago, and there are 2,000 to 3,000 Jordanians, Syrians, people from Sudan, and that was their concern: that they would pop up, launch suicide attacks, either individually or on motorcycles or in vans and trucks. That has not happened yet. They are going to set up very careful checkpoints around the city and make sure they can try to avoid that. That is the only concern they have right now.

But the locals have tried to put out a message to these so-called paramilitaries and outsiders, in the words of John Wayne, as one Marine put it, "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."

Back to you.

COSTELLO: Art Harris, many thanks to you, and you stay safe out there.

Again, the city of Al Kut now under the administrative control of the U.S. Marines, and they are working with the Iraqis to maintain control of that city.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com.

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