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Trek to Tikrit

Aired April 13, 2003 - 06:06   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: It was a dangerous trek to Tikrit earlier today for our Brent Sadler and a CNN convoy. Things started out very quietly, but boy, did that change in a heartbeat. The convoy came under a hail of machine gun fire from Saddam loyalists, and here's what happened next.

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): We're just approaching the southern gate, that archway in front of you that's square, with the dome on the top. That is the southern entrance to Tikrit, and I can tell you, that is a very different place to places like Kirkuk, Mosul and obviously, Baghdad. This a tribal heartland. They have prospered well under the years of Saddam Hussein's rule. They basically were paid off for their support.

You are seeing people moving and not knowing who's in control or what's going on. The fact that we're so close to Tikrit and we're seeing, you know, destroyed or abandoned military equipment, leaves me to perhaps believe that Tikrit can't be that heavily defended, maybe remnants, maybe elements, maybe danger, but no real substantial organizational defense.

This is where you'd see a checkpoint if there was going to be one for Tikrit. These are the two arches for the northern entrance. You'll see here the two arches there. You've got the Saddam Hussein ubiquitous poster. Unmarked in the center. Two guard posts side by side, and obviously nobody here. This under normal circumstances would have been checking cars, would have had people here seven by 24.

I always had a great sense of relief as a journalist leaving those kind of gateways. I would always cast a look over my shoulder, be thankful that I was leaving Iraq and looking at Saddam Hussein as I was going down the road away, then to drive through one of those unmanned gateways right now. In Tikrit, the very, very heart of Saddam Hussein's loyalist stronghold, to me is a personally dramatic moment.

It seems that Tikrit, Tikrit's armed forces, the so-called last stand, has simply gone away. We're three, four miles, I guess, from the center of Tikrit. This would have been a well defended position, dug outs, APCs, all the way along this area. No troops. They've gone.

Now, this is a new entrance, a new base, right slap bang next door to the other one. You only have to go maybe a half a mile, and then there is this entrance further down. This one may have more importance, given that it's got a very huge bronze statue there of Saddam Hussein.

And this now seems to be another level of security, so I think you can tell by the buildings, looking at the Republican Guard triangle on the top, look at that, 100 percent.

So where -- I don't know which section it is of the Republican Guard, but where are they? Where are the men who were part of this unit, and where are their machines? I get the sense that this unit, or this brigade, or section of a regiment, left here intact. Went with its vehicles. There are no, in contrast to the other barracks, no artillery here, no tanks, no armored personnel carriers. Everything has moved, but destruction certainly at this Republican Guard headquarters.

So we'll stop some cars and I'll try to get some information about what's going on.


They're saying that Saddam Hussein is hallah (ph) in Tikrit, which means finished.

All right, this is a road block. We don't know who they are. Going. Little bit uncertain here. They're waving us on. Let's see who they are. It seems to be OK. No guns drawn. We're going to stop.

All right, they're saying don't film. Put the camera down. I can tell you that the man we spoke to said though you can't film here without the permission of the governor, the governor of Iraq, the governor of Tikrit, rather. So we've gathered a lot of interest and we figured it's prudent to leave here. They're telling us there are still coalition bombings, but certainly this city is still under control of Saddam Hussein loyalists. They told us to go to the governor's office of the local Baath Party, to get permission to film. Can you believe that.

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

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 -- OK, we just ran a checkpoint. We've come under automatic machine gun fire. We've blown through the checkpoint. They've 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.

Another vehicle coming up behind.


We're still moving along. Under fire again. A lot of fire here. A lot of fire. Pistol fire. That's pistol fire coming at us. To recap what happened there, we turned, they invited us into Tikrit. We went in, and then things, as you saw, not surprisingly, perhaps, got out of hand. So we're moving out of Tikrit now.

As a front line war reporter, it's the first time I have ever, ever come under such close, deliberate fire.


COSTELLO: And Brent Sadler is doing OK, but that gunfire blew up the back window of one of the SUVs that the CNN crew was driving, and we understand one CNN crew member was hit by flying glass and he has a head wound, but we understand he's going to be OK as well.


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