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Explosion in Iraqi Green Zone

Aired January 29, 2005 - 13:15   ET


RUDI BAKHTIAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back, everyone. This breaking news to tell you about.

Word of fatalities now as a result of an explosion in the green zone. An explosion occurring near the U.S. Embassy in the green zone in Baghdad.

We have our Anderson Cooper standing by to give us the latest details.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rudi, a U.S. military spokesman has confirmed that two Americans have been killed in indirect fire attack on the U.S. Embassy in the green zone. They're not clear if this was a mortar or a rocket at this point but two U.S. personnel, one military personnel was killed, as well as one U.S. civilian personnel. There have also been a number of people wounded. We don't have an exact count on that. And at this point it is believe that among those wounded are U.S. personnel. But, again, the exact number and the exact status of those injuries we do not know.

A U.S. military spokesman just confirming a short time ago two U.S. personnel have been killed. It used to be a relatively routine occurrence, almost a daily occurrence, having some sort of indirect fire on the green zone, mortars or rockets. In recent days, as insurgents have increased their attacks on polling stations and targeting Iraqi security forces, those attacks have lessened. But now in this period of just several hours before the polls open here in Iraq has come an attack of indirect fire, is what they are calling it, on the green zone, hitting near or at the U.S. Embassy there.

We are awaiting reports on those injuries, on those wounded, to see what the status of them is. To try to get an accurate number of it. But, at this point, we have confirmed two U.S. military personnel - two U.S. personnel, one military and one civilian, have been killed.


BAKHTIAR: Anderson, the green zone is a heavily fortified area, isn't it, in the central part of Baghdad, where the U.S. troops are located? Am I correct?

COOPER: Yes, you are correct. It is extraordinarily heavily fortified. It's in the center of Baghdad. And it's not only where the U.S. Embassy is, where U.S. military personnel are based, but it is also where a lot of Iraqi government offices are based, Prime Minister Allawi's office is based. So it is really sort of the heart of U.S. efforts here, as well as Iraqi government efforts here. So it is a prime target for insurgents.

But as you said, it is so heavily fortified, it is literally a walled off part of the city and it is a very large part of the city. Anyone actually trying to enter physically has to go through a series of checkpoints, a number of checkpoints, in which their bodies are searched by hand, in which they go through metal detectors, in which their bags are searched, in which any item in their bags is searched. They have bomb sniffing dogs there. They have a number of devices there to try to detect any sort of chemicals or any sort of explosive devices. So the chances of anyone actually entering the green zone with some sort of a device is minimized by those security concerns.

Also, the chance of getting any kind of car bomb actually inside the green zone is very limited. Getting a car into the green zone is a very difficult thing indeed. There have been a number of suicide attacks against some of the checkpoints on the outer rim of the green zone. And there are sort of cordons and various rings of the security layer outside the green zone.

So the easiest way, perhaps, for insurgents to try to strike at government offices or American offices is by using rockets, is by using mortars. And because there are parts of Baghdad in which the insurgents can operate and can set up a mortar station very quickly, they are able to lob shells in, they are able to target the green zone, although it is actually difficult to sort of target a particular building. A lot of it is just, as the U.S. military spokesman calls, indirect fire. And it's believed, at this point, that is what has struck at the U.S. Embassy, killing two American personnel and wounding a number of others.


BAKHTIAR: How disheartening is this, Anderson, that amid this stepped up security, this happened just hours away from one of the most historic moments in Iraq?

COOPER: Well, I think it's not a great surprise to anyone here who has been here or anywhere else in Iraq. I mean, the U.S. commander in charge of security for Baghdad said several days ago he fears some sort of large scale, dramatic, significant attack, either in the days leading up to the vote or on the day of the vote itself. And, as you said, it's just a few hours from now. It is not a great surprise that there has been this either mortar or rocket attack on the green zone.

There have been a number of explosions in Baghdad and you constantly hear gunfire. Just probably five minutes ago I heard some rounds being fired off in the street. At a certain point, you know, it is just part of daily life here. The question is, will there be a significant attack when the polls open? So many people here believe, so many Iraqis will probably, obviously, have concerns about coming out to the polls and may Sunday morning, when they wake up, kind of look out the window, try to get a sense, a read of how secure their neighborhood is. Many of these polling stations are spread out throughout the city, so they're in just about every neighborhood. They're in schools. Of course, they are a prime target for insurgents to attack but Iraqi security forces and military personnel, U.S. military personnel, are doing everything they can at this point to try to make it as secure as possible. And a lot will depend on when Iraqis wake up in the morning, when they stick their heads out the window, is their street safe? Do they think they can go to the polls? That will most likely determine whether or not they do go and vote in this historic election.


BAKHTIAR: For those of you who are just joining us, we want to update you on this breaking story out of Iraq. We're talking with Anderson Cooper, who is live there.

An explosion occurred Saturday near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad's heavily fortified green zone, killing two U.S. personnel. This breaking news out of Iraq. And Anderson and I talking about the situation there.

Anderson, if you will, let's talk about the fliers that have been divvied out in different parts of Iraq. To me, some of them sound horrific, threats of following people home after they vote and beheading them, beheading their children. How bad have these threats gotten? And have they gotten to the Iraqi people?

COOPER: Yes, the insurgents and terrorist groups have been handing out fliers for quite some time now. We've seen a number of them this week. I saw one flier from the city of Kirkuk that were handed out. There have been reports of a number of flyers being handed out right here in Baghdad. One of the fliers here in Baghdad said, anyone who votes, that insurgents will wash the streets of Baghdad with their blood of anyone who dares to vote. A statement this weekend accredit Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, basically declared war on these elections, saying that - basically declaring war on democracy, saying democracy - any government in which the people have the say, the majority rules, is something which they abhor. And that, I think, statement really delineated lines pretty clearly between those who want democracy here in Iraq and those who abhor any notion of democracy, whether it be here in Iraq, in the United States or anywhere around the world.

The insurgents have been making threats. They have carried through a number of those threats. And the question remains, how many Iraqis will be scared away from going to the polls. And no one can really tell you for sure what is going to happen in several hours. This is a unique situation to say the least. This is an election in which many of the candidates were not even revealed, didn't even name themselves. Their names were not publicly talked about, written about, printed until just 48 hours ago. So many Iraqis haven't even known who exactly the candidates are. A number of the candidates have not wanted to actually show their faces in public for fear of their own security. Very understandable fears.

So security, of course, is the number one concern of people here. And that goes for people who may be going to these polling stations. Will Iraqis come out and vote? That is the $1 million question and we're going to have to wait and see on that until early tomorrow morning.

BAKHTIAR: While we have you with us, Anderson, and while you brought up the issue of polling stations, let's talk about how confusing it has been for the Iraqi people, in terms of they don't know - some of them didn't even know that they weren't trying to pick a president in this round.

COOPER: Yes. I mean there's confusion in any country any time during and election. I mean certainly we've seen that in the United States. Here the confusion is amplified by a number of things. I mean, the security situation, as I said, makes it difficult for candidates - I mean you don't see large scale candidate rallies. That, of course, would just be a magnet for insurgents to blow people up. You do see a number of campaign posters and there are advertising on TV. Though with the electrical shortages, not everyone watching TV all day long, like we do in the states. So campaign posters are sort of the most physical presence that there is an election taking place.

Now, of course, you have this huge security cordon which has descended, which has sort of wrapped Baghdad. There are roadblocks. There are checkpoints, even more than normal. But there is a lot of confusion. As you said, a number of Iraqis polled thought they were going to voting for who was to be president, who was to be the next prime minister. That is not the case.

This is an election for a 275 seat national assembly. That national assembly will then be writing a constitution. They will also be forming a three-person presidential committee. That presidential committee will pick a prime minister. It is confusing for anyone, whether you are here or overseas following this thing. But when it boils down to is people going to the polls, that is the bottom line tomorrow morning. Will they go to the polls? And will they check off the candidate they want and feel safe enough to return home.

As you said, insurgents have threatened to kill people at all steps along this process, as they're going to the polls, at the polls, and on their way home from the polls. So there is a lot of fear here and a lot of questions about how many people will turn out. There is a lot of interest. There's a lot of excitement. And in some parts of the country, there is enough security and safety to guarantee a lot of people will come out. The question is, in the four provinces, which are the hardest hit by insurgent violence, what is turnout going to be like in those areas. Baghdad, of course, being one of those provinces.

BAKHTIAR: For the majority, you're saying that people will be getting out and voting, correct?

COOPER: Also, Rudi, I'll answer your question in a second. I should also just tell you what we've just learned that the indirect fire attack on the U.S. Embassy hit near the southern part of the embassy. At this point we still don't know if it was mortar attack or rocket fire but we have just gotten word that it hit near the southern part of the embassy in the green zone, in the palace area.

To answer your question, yes. I mean, the question how many people will turn out here in Baghdad is open. Other parts of the country, though, a U.S. military personnel, I talked to General Casey (ph) the other day, and he likes to point out that of the 18 provinces in Iraq, 14 of them have relatively low levels of insurgent activity. What they tend not to point out is that the four provinces which do have high level of insurgent activity is where a good bulk of the population lives. But there are many provinces where attacks are in the single digits every day and where people will probably feel much more secure to go to the pols. In particularly, in the north, in the Kurdish areas, there is very little insurgent activity, almost none in some areas, and there voter turnout is expected to be very, very high indeed.


BAKHTIAR: Anderson, have you had a chance to get out and talk to the Iraqi people? Do you feel, as we feel here in the states when we talk to Iraqi people here, the pride and the joy of actually being allowed to, after 50 years, to go out and vote?

COOPER: There is a lot of excitement, I think, about this election. A lot of anticipation. And that cuts both ways. There's also a lot of fear. But there is certainly a lot of attention being paid to this election here in Iraq. It is a historic event and you get that sense wherever you go.

I don't know if you can hear, right now there's a helicopter - probably a U.S. military helicopter passing overhead. Again, this is just another sign of the security situation here. You hear this more and more, helicopters, U.S. fighter jets passing overhead, trying to make sure that the streets of Baghdad are as secure as possible heading to this vote. So it's an interesting time to be in Baghdad, I can tell you that.


BAKHTIAR: And we are, for those of you just joining us right now, we are covering a breaking story out of Baghdad for you.

We are just hours away from one of the most historic moments in Iraqi history, amid violence, amid threats of blood baths here. Now a mortar attack that occurred on Saturday near the U.S. Embassy, killing two U.S. personnel.

Again, an explosion occurring Saturday near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad's heavily fortified green zone, as CNN has confirmed this, and also two fatalities, U.S. fatalities. Anderson, we talked about this earlier, the issue of this happening in the green zone, which is heavily fortified. You were talking about you coming and going through that, how difficult it was. Tell us a little bit more about that.

COOPER: Yes, any time you enter the green zone, I mean, I think unless you've been here, it's hard to sort of describe how big a zone this is. I mean, it's sort of like a little city unto itself. It's where the Iraqi government buildings are, where Prime Minister Allawi's office is, where the U.S. Embassy is. It used to be pretty much a domain of the coalition provisional authority back before the June 30th handover of power here. It is now the seat of the Iraqi government. It is also the seat of the largest U.S. Embassy in the world.

And it is basically a walled city within the city of Baghdad. And there are certain entrance points. And those entrance points, of course, are heavily guarded by various layers. You have Iraqi security forces on the outer layers. And then, as you move inward, you have U.S. security forces and private U.S. contractors. And there are a number of checkpoints you go through. And just when you've gone through one checkpoint and you think you're cleared, you walk 100 yards and, lo and behold, there's another checkpoint and you go through the whole procedure over again. You're searched again and again and again. And that is, you know, there have been infiltrations of insurgents into the green zone in the past. They're doing everything they can to try to make it as a secure environment as they can.

But I can tell you, I mean, I was in the green zone eight months ago or so and the atmosphere was, you know, you would even seen a U.S. military person out jogging and running around. You do not see that as much any more. People walk around completely ready for action, helmets on, rifles at the ready wherever they go. U.S. military personnel, even within the green zone, are known that they should expect some sort of attack at any moment. It was a relatively routine occurrence to have mortar fire, to have rocket fire, to have what the U.S. military spokesman calls an indirect fire coming into the green zone and that was a daily occurrence.

As the insurgents have focused increasingly on polling stations, on attacking Iraqi National Guard troops and Iraqi police officers, trying to intimidate Iraqis from supporting this government, from supporting the notion of democracy, you have seen less and less mortar fire, less and less rocket fire into the green zone. But it does happen, as we have just seen a short time ago. And a hit on the southern part of the U.S. Embassy complex. Two U.S. personnel dead, one military, one civilian, and a number of wounded.

And, Rudi, I should just again say, we do not know at this point how many personnel have been wounded. We are told there are a number of Americans among the wounded. We don't know how severe those injuries are and we don't have an exact number. We are trying to get some sort of clarification on that and we're trying to get more details. But this happened just a short time ago and the information is still coming in. Rudi, you hear these explosions, you hear these shots ringing out. There were just some shots while I was talking to you. After awhile you sort of stop paying attention to them unless they suddenly sound like they're very close. Then I can tell you, they get your attention mighty quick. But it is not a great surprise there has been this attack coming up to these elections. And, sadly, I think most people here in Iraq expect even more attacks throughout this next 24- hour period.

BAKHTIAR: Well, I don't know what it must feel like, Anderson, to be right there in the middle of things but you got your first glimpse of it as you were landing in Baghdad. In fact, we had an incredible piece to share with everyone about your first moments in Baghdad. Let's take a look.


COOPER, (voice over): The flight to Baghdad starts off like any other flight. You fly high above the clouds, endless stretches of sand far below. It's only when you're right above Baghdad you realize this is not a normal flight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The final part of our decent will be from overhead the airfield in a spiral fashion. It may feel a little uncomfortable on the body but nevertheless it's due to safety and security reasons.

COOPER: The plane turns sharply, spiraling downward, a corkscrew landing to avoid taking fire, throw the insurgents know the maneuver. Not everything goes as planned, however. Suddenly fighter jets appear underneath. There's fighting at the airport. It's too dangerous to land.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are returning back to Amman and we will take it from there, depending on how long the military operations lasts in Baghdad.

COOPER: The next day, another flight, the plane finally gets permission to land.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, we will shortly be landing in Baghdad International Airport. Kindly return to your seats, and make sure your seatbelts are securely fastened and your seats are in the upright position.

COOPER: The road into town from Baghdad's airport is considered one of the most dangerous roads in the world. You drive fast, constantly aware of people passing by, cars getting too close, buildings insurgent spotters could use to target your car. Sometimes, however, you simply get stuck.

We're stuck in a traffic jam, it seems. And something like a traffic jam, which is such an ordinary occurrence, all of a sudden that's a security threat because someone could just come up alongside the vehicle, another car could just slam right into you. You're sort of a sitting duck. Election posters are all around. It's too dangerous for candidates to appear in person. Some days you wake and don't want to go outside. You ask yourself, do I need to take my vest? Do I need to wear my helmet? The answer is almost always yes. Even if you don't go out, you can't escape the violence. All day long, e-mails from Iraqis, from soldiers, from people you don't even know, a steady stream of death and progress, suicide attacks, schools built, police killed, insurgents caught, shrapnel and bullets, bombs and ballots. At times, it all seems surreal.

In the green zone, a young soldier drives an SUV. For the moment, the music makes it feel like home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep your head low and just have a good trip.

COOPER: All right. Thanks.

Hitching a ride on a chopper, you rise above the dirt and dust, fly low, shaken by the power of American might, the rotors slicing the morning air. In Iraq, Americans rule the sky, but on the streets, it's another matter.

On a night patrol, an American platoon checks up on Iraqi soldiers. Riding along in a pitch black humvee, you can't help but admire these guys. Reporters can leave, fly home when they're done. These guys are stuck for the long haul. Night and day, day and night, they work round the clock, countless patrols, no end in sight.

Outside a polling station, an Iraqi national guardsman masked and alone stares out into the darkness. Gunshots echo in the street. Police look like insurgents, insurgents dressed like police. The nights and days in Baghdad seem very long, indeed.

Anderson cooper, CNN, Baghdad.


BAKHTIAR: And this breaking story we've been talking about out of Iraq. Two Americans, a U.S. service member and a civilian, were killed Saturday night in an explosion at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad in the fortified area, the green zone.

Again, we're hearing that six others have been wounded. The attack happening around 8:00 p.m. noon Eastern Time on the eve of Iraqi elections, amid heavy security across the Iraqi capital.

We have General Shepperd, our CNN military analyst, joining us right now.

General Shepperd, help us, if you will, understand, the green zone, heavily fortified by the U.S. military. Has it been penetrated?

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): We don't know. It could be that this is an explosion that came from within. Somebody taking it in like happened earlier this month in Northern Iraq. But it's most likely that this was a mortar that was lobbed in. That's what's being reported right now. It's really easy to get a mortar tube in the vicinity somewhere. You can put it in a car. You can put it in a taxi. You can put it in a bus. You can put it in a donkey cart. And we've seen all that.

You and I - I could train to you to hit something within 100 or 200 yards in about 15 minutes. You carry a small tube in, you set it up, you point it toward the area, you drop in a projectile, it fires off, you drop the tube and you run away. It's real easy to get close because these things can be done from within about a mile of the green zone. So it's very unlikely the zone itself has been penetrated. Lobbed in from the outside. Very inaccurate. A lucky hit and it happens all the time in downtown Baghdad.

BAKHTIAR: And we have Anderson Cooper standing by in Iraq.

Anderson, what are you hearing in terms of how the green zone was attacked?

COOPER: Yes, and at this point I should just say you mentioned that six wounded figure. That is an initial report coming out of the Pentagon. So at that point - and we don't know how many of those were U.S. personnel. We have confirmed two U.S. personnel have been killed, one a military personnel, the other a civilian at the embassy.

This embassy location, though, predominantly Americans working there. It is very difficult to get in. Even once you are inside the green zone, there's a whole nother layer of security procedures to get into this embassy complex. So many U.S. personnel there, as well as coalition personnel going on.

But what Don Shepperd was saying is exactly true. I mean, setting up a mortar position, a handful of guy can do it. Two people can do it. And it can be done and is done literally on the streets in Baghdad. There are places in Baghdad, in the Yafa Street area, where insurgents can just get out of their car, set this thing up, and yell allah achbar (ph) and fire some mortars. And we have seen that happening in the past.

It is a pretty routine occurrence. And it is pretty much hit or miss literally. They don't care too much where they are firing these mortars. The point is to spread fear, to spread intimidation. Who they hit, where they hit doesn't really matter to them as much as just making some sort of impact literally because terrorism and insurgency is all about fear and intimidation. That's how they succeed and that's what they go for.

SHEPPERD: Yes, Anderson, Don Shepperd here.

I'm just wondering if you can tell if it's a rocket or a mortar. I've been under rocket mortar attacks a lot of times and the rocket is a much, much louder explosion. You can hear the whoosh when it comes in. You can't hear that from mortar. So are they confirming it was a mortar attack or is there still some question about that?

COOPER: Yes, they have not confirmed - the military spokesman has said that it was indirect fire, which means, as you know, either mortar or rocket. But at this point - OK, actually now I'm just being told they have now said it was for sure a rocket, not a mortar. So that is some new information that we are getting. And we are getting also two dead and four injured, all of them American. So that is the new number. We had heard the initial report, as I said from the Pentagon, was six. We are now hearing it was four injured in this attack. All of them American. And the two dead, as we have said before, were American. So there is a little bit of a downgrading on the injury figures, which is, of course, some good news there, Don.

SHEPPERD: In just talking to Rudi here, a rocket attack is a big deal. I've come under rocket attack many times. It's normally 122 millimeters, which is a big shell, if you will. About a six inch shell. It's harder to do than rockets because it's much heavier. That's the good news, is it's harder to do. The bad news is, it has much more range. You can do that from three to five miles away. They're still notoriously inaccurate. But when you're in the area, you hear this loud whoosh and then a huge explosion, it digs a very, very deep hole and can do a lot of damage. So if it hits anywhere in the vicinity of personnel, it could be very, very destructive and likely will kill or injure many.

BAKHTIAR: And it's been very hard for U.S. troops and Iraqi troops to get the mortar attacks under control, correct?

SHEPPERD: Yes. The problem with the mortar attacks is they have - for them, they have to be closer to do it. And so you get security good close to your green zone. The problem is, with these larger weapons that have greater range, you have to spread the security further out, which is harder, it takes more troops.

So, again, the further out you get, the less accurate you are. This is probably a very lucky shot that it even hit the green zone and very unlucky that it hit the vicinity of people.

BAKHTIAR: General Shepperd, if you will, stand by with us for just a moment. And Anderson also in Iraq, if you could stand by with us as well.

Let's go to the White House where Dana Bash is and see what she's reporting out of there.

Dana, what can you tell us?


Well, we haven't heard very much from this building in terms what have the president may or may not know at this point about this blast and the state of affairs at this time in Baghdad. What we do know from our Andrea Koppel talking to a senior official at the State Department is that there, they are also saying that they believe that two have been killed in this blast. They don't know whether it was caused by a rocket or mortar attack and that several more were wounded. You heard Anderson talking about the latest is that perhaps four were wounded. Emergency personnel have responded. And they have also been given the all clear, that is, again, from Andrea Koppel reporting from a senior State Department official. They are now, as you can imagine, trying to assess the situation.

Now, here, at the White House, President Bush is here this weekend. He generally goes away to Camp David for the weekend but this is a weekend that is, they understand here, very important for him to be here this morning. He took a bike ride and he is back here at the White House. He also had some of his regular briefings and he is being kept apprised of whatever happens by his national security adviser, Steve Hadley.

But, again, Rudi, we do not know whether or not he has been informed of this particular blast.


BAKHTIAR: All right. Dana Bash at the White House. I'm sure you'll let us know when he is informed.

BASH: Absolutely.

BAKHTIAR: Thank you.

General Shepperd, you had another point to make.

SHEPPERD: Yes. We're all attuned to these elections. And I think the obvious question in people's mind, does this mean something for the election? I wouldn't make too much of this attack, despite the fact it's a tragedy anyone is killed or wounded. The fact that they have lobbed a rocket or a mortar into the green zone, because it's election day, this happens all the time. It happens all over Iraq. We see it all the time. And as Paula Zahn, Alex Quaid's (ph) special on Thursday, we saw doctors operating under mortar attack up in the Ballad (ph) hospitals up there. So don't make too much of this attack, even though it is tragic.

BAKHTIAR: What measures are the U.S. military, along with the Iraqi troops, going to take right now as a response to this?

SHEPPERD: Well, in response to this, they're going to try to find out where it came from. There's counter mortar radars that will try to find out where it came from, locate it, send troops out there to see if they can find anything in the area. Very unlikely they'll find anything. The people that did it will be gone. They might find the rocket tubes.

But what they're doing is preparing for the polling tomorrow and they're getting ready. The Iraqi forces are getting ready to protect those polling places. The U.S. is getting ready to respond. It's going to be a very active day.

BAKHTIAR: Is Anderson still standing by in Iraq?


COOPER: Yes, Rudi.

I want to add - I wan to jump in and just add some things on to what General Shepperd said.

Two things. One, he's absolutely right. We should not be blowing this out of proportion in any measure. It is a relatively routine occurrence, especially in the past, not so much these last few days but a relatively routine occurrence nevertheless for shells to land inside the green zone. It is a prime target for insurgents and just about everybody has expected some sort of significant attack to occur within the days before this election or on the day of the election. And even in the weeks and months after this election. This is a tragedy for everyone who is involved in this, and especially for the families of those people who have been killed and wounded, but it is not going to stop this process. It is not a great surprise. It's a significant story because it is happening on the eve of this election. But it is not a great surprise to anyone here.

And another point General Shepperd was making about the difficulty of targeting these mortar attackers. You've got to remember, these are insurgents. These are terrorists who are taking out mortar position in the middle of a neighborhood in Baghdad. The U.S. military can zero in on where the mortars are coming from. They can do a very good job of triangulating and honing in where the shots are coming from.

The problem is, in responding to those shots, the U.S. could easily lob shells in to take out the mortar position but they can't do that for very obvious reasons. This is in literally a Baghdad street, a Baghdad neighborhood, and civilian casualties would be too great. So in order to take out that mortar position, even if it is a fixed position, they have to go in on the ground in Bradley (ph) vehicles, in armored humvees, and attack with U.S. personnel. There is a great risk in doing that any time they do. They routinely do it but it takes a great effort. It is not as simple as, even though they could just take out the mortar position, they're not able to do that because they don't want a large number of civilian casualties.


BAKHTIAR: General Shepperd, you're nodding your hand.

SHEPPERD: Anderson's right on the mark. In other words, counter mortar radars can locate where it came from. But even when they know where it came from, they can bracket that area, but you bracket the area with explosions and kill innocent civilians. And then it's counter productive. And it also takes in the neighborhood, it can be done in a few seconds when you're under attack and already but it takes a few minutes. So it's not something that you're going to do. You're not going to return fire. At best you can do is exactly what Anderson described.

BAKHTIAR: How are U.S. troops and Iraqi troops actually filtering out the insurgents? They wear civilian clothing. They look like civilians. How do they zero in on them?

SHEPPERD: Well, it's very difficult and it's done in two ways. First of all, through intelligence. In other words, you try to interdict these people through offensive operations. A lot of those have been going on in a runup to these elections. They will go right on up until the election day, if you will, trying to sort these people out. And based on intelligence to the people they've captured and interrogated, for instance, the three high ranking al-Zarqawis that they caught earlier this month in Baghdad. So they're finding out that information.

The other way is in search operations, you catch people at roadblocks, you catch people with things. And the problem is, when you catch them with explosives, they can blow them up in your face. So it's very dangerous. You have to be very, very careful.

BAKHTIAR: The capturing of Zarqawi's three top deputies, how big of a deal is that?

SHEPPERD: Well, it's a big deal because they probably have been very close to Zarqawi. They knew where he was and where he operated at least when they met with him. They probably don't know where he is now. But you can bet that they were aggressively interrogated for information on all they have. And not only these three Zarqawi but they lead them to the lower ranking figures. And you usually get your best information from the lower ranking people because those people will break much more easily, just like a police investigation.

BAKHTIAR: All right. General Don Shepperd here with me in Atlanta. Anderson Cooper in Iraq.

Thank you both. Please stand by.

We are going to be covering this story of you of a bombing near the U.S. Embassy in the green zone in Baghdad.

We will take a short break and be back in a moment. Stay with us.


BAKHTIAR: And we are covering this breaking news out of Iraq.

Just minutes ago an explosion near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, in the green zone. One U.S. military personnel has died, one U.S. civilian has died. There have been a number of casualties. We're hearing between four and six.

Our Anderson Cooper is standing by there in Iraq.

Anderson, what's the latest?

COOPER: Rudi, the U.S. Embassy spokesman has said that four Americans have been injured. Earlier an initial report out of the Pentagon had put the number at six. But now an embassy spokesman here saying four U.S. personnel, all of them injured. Two, as you said, have been killed. One military, one civilian.

At this point, the spokesman is saying that it was a rocket attack that which hit the southern portion of the embassy in the embassy complex around a former presidential palace. The green zone, of course, is an enormous area. It's four square miles. It is literally a city unto itself. A city within the very center of Baghdad itself.

A heavily fortified, as you have said, just getting in there. For an individual to get in there with some sort of explosive device or a vehicle to get in there with some sort of mobile explosive device, is a very difficult thing to do. And it has happened in the past, an individual entering there, but it has not happened any time lately. So rocket fire, mortar fire is the most likely way for insurgents to try to strike, symbolically at the very least, at the United States, at the Iraqi government, all of which have their bases inside that green zone.

And as we've been talking about this morning, it is very easy for insurgents to set up a mortar position, to set up a rocket position. They can do it very quickly. They can literally step out of their vehicle, set it up with two people and fire a few rockets, fire some mortars, get back in their vehicle and take off. And they can do this just about anywhere in Baghdad. It is a very difficult thing to stop.

And it is a very difficult thing to respond to. Very unlikely that the U.S. military would respond directly to a mortar attack like this, even though they can pinpoint the location, the area it came from, to directly respond would require just lobbing some shells. And, of course, because these are residential areas, the U.S. military is unwilling to do that. They simply don't want to get a large number of civilian casualties just to take out a mortar position. So they continue to just take the hits.

It is no great surprise, and I really don't want to overplay this at all. It is a terrible thing but it is a routine thing here, I'm sorry to say. And certainly something to be expected, I think, by all personnel here on the ground that in the hours and the days coming up to this election, and we are just a few hours away from the start of voting here in Baghdad and all through Iraq, it is not a great surprise that there has been this attack. And I'm sorry to say, it is likely that there will be other attacks. I mean routinely, just a few moments ago, some shots rang out a few blocks behind me. This is a routine thing. This is life in Baghdad and everyone here knows what to expect.


BAKHTIAR: Well, it is also the green zone where U.S. occupation authorities are living and working. And we've got this to tell you as well. U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte and other senior staff who work in the main embassy in the green zone were in a different part of the green zone when the explosion occurred.

I want to turn now to General Don Shepperd, who is with us, to discuss this more.

Let's talk a little bit about the difference between rockets and mortars.

SHEPPERD: OK. Think of rockets as a big projectile and think of mortars as a small projectile. If you take a look at this pencil, just think of that as a metal tube. For a mortar, it would be maybe in the neighborhood of around three feet long and around three and a half inches around. You set that up with tripods on the side and then you simply drop the projectile, the explosive projectile in. When the projectile goes down in the tube, it hits a firing pin and fires the projection out.

The range for a mortar, somewhere around a mile. Again, the distance that it goes depends upon the angle of the tube itself. So if you and I are sitting here and we want to hit something that's a long way away, we put it at a very low angle and we lob it out. The problem is, very inaccurate. If you want to hit something close, you rotate it up to near the vertical and it will go up and down and hit.

Now the way to get accurate with mortars is you put a forward observer out there and you fire around. The forward observer says it hit 150 yards long. If it hits 150 yards long, you elevate it more, so it comes closer. And he talks you in. But, of course, without a forward observer and firing multiple shots, you don't get very good accuracy.

If a rocket is a much bigger projectile. Think of this pencil as a tube about five feet long and think of it as about six inches around. Much heavier, around almost 100 pounds. And there are multiple ways of firing rockets. You can fire one. You can fire six out of multiple launcher tubes. But the range of these, three to five miles. And a very, very big projectile. Think of it as a small bomb going off next to you, as opposed to a hand grenade going off.

A mortar, when it hits near you, you hear a very loud pop and shrapnel and all. A rocket, you hear a huge explosion, a whoosh when it's coming in. You hear a huge explosion and it throws out big shrapnel in all directions. Both of them very, very dangerous. It's lucky if they hit you. It's a golden bebe, as we call it, and it something that happens all the time in downtown Baghdad. BAKHTIAR: In a few hours, when polls open, what is going to be the biggest challenge for U.S. and Iraqi troops trying to secure these regions?

SHEPPERD: Yes, first of all, keeping the insurgents away. You need to keep them away from the polls. They can be snipers. They can be suicide bombers. They can be rockets and mortars. We'll probably see all of that, Rudi.

BAKHTIAR: All right. General Don Shepperd with me here in Atlanta. And also Anderson Cooper standing by in Baghdad.

Thank you both.

A quick recap of what's going on for those of you just joining us.

Minutes ago an explosion occurred in the heavily fortified green zone, in the central part of Baghdad, near the U.S. Embassy. It killed two U.S. people. One military personnel, one U.S. civilian. Two U.S. dead. And also four others injured is what we are hearing right now. Of course, these figures, unfortunately, may grow. We will bring you the latest as we get the information.

Let's take a break right now. We'll be right back.



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