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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

War in Iraq: The Big Picture

Aired April 14, 2003 - 00:02   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Today was a day that brought reminders that the war in Iraq isn't over yet, certainly not. U.S. forces are closing in on Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. And in Baghdad, a dramatic firefight broke out. But it was also a day when cliches happen to be true, miracles do happen, U.S. forces were in the right place at the right time, a day when seven POWs made it out of Iraq alive and smiling.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three weeks since they went missing in action, three weeks of waiting and wondering, the fate of seven American POWs, five from the 507th Maintenance Company and two Army Apache helicopter pilots, were found alive today and they were free.

ANECITA HUDSON, MOTHER OF FREED POW: So I told God, I said, Lord, let my Joseph come home in my birthday or before my birthday, whatever it's going to be. I said please. I said you know just let -- just let my Joseph home, you know. And I'm so glad. Sometimes God is full of surprise I guess.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On behalf of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Army, I want to let you know that your son has been found.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I appreciate it.

COOPER: I didn't matter if you were a parent, a loved one or a four star general, Sunday was a good day.

GEN. TOMMY FRANKS, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I know they're in good shape. And I know they're in our hands and under our control now, and that's very good.

COOPER: CNN's Bob Franken reported live with an exclusive on the scene as the seven soldiers, two with apparent gunshot wounds, were airlifted out of the area.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They were being held somewhere north of Samarra in Iraq when the officers in the unit that was holding them captive deserted. The junior members of that unit decided to help them become free. So they escorted them until they ran into a Marine unit, an armored -- light armored unit that was going up the road and turned them over.

COOPER: All seven have been released from a Kuwaiti hospital and, according to a spokesman, are on their way to Doha, Qatar. LT. COLONEL RUTH LEE, U.S. ARMY: I saw nothing that looked abnormal with any of them. And again, their spirits were great. They were just glad to be back sort of in American soil.

COOPER: It didn't take long for former POW and fellow 507th Maintenance Company soldier Private First Class Jessica Lynch to get word of today's rescue. She continues her recovery at Walter Reed Hospital in the U.S., and her family issued this statement on her behalf.

"Our family joins America in rejoicing over the news in the safe return of seven brave heroes to U.S. custody in Iraq. To the families of these great troops, we'd like to offer you our assurances that they will received the best care imaginable."

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (?): Total abandonment. Absolutely incredible. This is quite remarkable revelations. It seems that Tikrit's armed forces, the so-called last stand, has simply gone away.

COOPER: Other news Sunday, this time out of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, the last city in Iraq not occupied by coalition forces. CNN's Brent Sadler made the long journey into Tikrit and offered this initial report.

SADLER: The fact we're so close to Tikrit and we're seeing, you know, destroyed or abandoned military equipment leads me to perhaps believe that Tikrit can't be that heavily defended.

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

COOPER: It turned out to be a very dangerous journey. As Sadler and his team left Tikrit, they came under fire.

SADLER: We're OK, we're OK.

COOPER: U.S. Marines battled pockets of resistance by Saddam loyalists in Tikrit, air support was sent in to help.

In an interview earlier with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, General Tommy Franks said this about Tikrit.

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And is there any resistance -- organized military resistance?

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

COOPER: A U.S. spokesman told embedded reporters Marines destroyed five manned tanks earlier on the outskirts of the town and engaged in a fierce firefight with an Iraqi infantry unit killing at least 15. Back in Baghdad, the looting continued and there was a late night firefight outside the Palestine Hotel in the center of the city. But as CNN's Christiane Amanpour reported, the fighting and the looting seems to be on a smaller scale. And U.S. troops have set up round- the-clock patrols, with the help, it seems, of some Iraqis.

New information released today about Saddam Hussein. No, he hasn't been found; but if killed, the U.S. says they'll be able to prove it because they have his DNA.

BLITZER: Do you have DNA of Saddam Hussein...

FRANKS: Of course.

BLITZER: ... and his sons?

FRANKS: Of course.

BLITZER: You do?

FRANKS: Of course.

COOPER: And if Saddam is alive, there's a possibility that he and other high-ranking Iraqi leaders may be heading to Syria. Case in point, Saddam Hussein's half brother. Pentagon officials announced today the arrest of Barzan Ibrahim Hasan al-Takriti as he tried to flee to Syria. It is a country the U.S. warns should not become a safe harbor for the Iraqi leadership.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Iraqi -- senior Iraqi people have been moving into Syria and some staying and some transiting. We certainly are hopeful that Syria will not become a haven for war criminals or terrorists.

COOPER: Sunday was a day where the war seemed closer to an end, but General Franks says he is not ready to claim victory just yet. There is still much more to do in Iraq, he says, still four Americans missing. The war goes on.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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