Martin Savidge: Marines move with relative ease
CENTRAL IRAQ (CNN) -- CNN Correspondent Martin Savidge is traveling with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, in central Iraq as the U.S. Marines move north toward Baghdad.
Savidge discussed the military activity Thursday with CNN Anchor Paula Zahn.
SAVIDGE: The U.S. Marines have secured the key city of Kut. Kut is located on the Tigris River. It is one of the last rivers you're going to be crossing before you get toward Baghdad.
It's a very ancient and a very crucial city because of its geographic location. The military also thought it could have been a key city when it came to some sort of fight with the Republican Guard. It was the Baghdad Division of the Republican Guard that was headquartered in this particular region.
However, [there are] no indications of heavy fighting, but certainly if you take a look over here, there [are] all the indications of a clear U.S. military Marine buildup already in this particular area.
We are beyond Kut now, continuing to push north. We are to the east, southeast of Baghdad. ... There is a very large military presence in this region now.
As we drove up this road, we did pass by burned-out Iraqi tanks, also burned-out Iraqi armored personnel carriers that would appear to be artillery positions and trucks and ammunition that were blown up. This may have come as a result of the early barrage of artillery that came from the Marines [Thursday] morning, and then the ground units moved in.
There was another burst of artillery coming from the Marines, and then things got quiet. It was an indication that if there was a fight, it was short. And if there was any kind of cleanup operation required militarily, the Marines were capable of handling with their own units, such as the mobile missiles in the back of Humvees and armored personnel carriers.
ZAHN: You were talking about the whole issue of what kind of resistance you've met so far in reports indicating that the Iraqi military leadership has called the Republican Guard back into Baghdad.
SAVIDGE: Well, this is something that is also being talked about here. Obviously, they expected more of a fight than they had received. The Marines are always prepared for the hardest fight, just in case it doesn't necessarily go that way. It's always a bonus.
They did expect more of a fight than they got here in Kut. Could it be that the forces that were here were degraded because of airstrikes and artillery? Maybe. Could it be they went to Iran? That remains to be seen, or could they have gone back to Baghdad? Basically, we have three options there. You can take your pick at this particular point.
What we obviously will do is continue to push on to Baghdad. The Marines are going at that time from the east side, and you've got the Army going up from the west side. I'm not a statistician, and I'm not giving away a plan here, but it would look like an encirclement or at least an attempt to try to enclose around much of Baghdad.
ZAHN: A general warned [Wednesday] that the closer coalition troops get to the core of the Iraqi regime, the greater the likelihood of weapons of mass destruction potentially being used. What is it then the Marines are prepared for?
SAVIDGE: Well, the Marines [on Wednesday], as we began to move all of the way up through here, we were told they boarded their various vehicles to go to MOPP 2 [Mission Oriented Protective Posture]. We've always had the chem-suits on, had [them] on since the very first day of the ground offensive. MOPP 2 means we put on the rubber boots. The next step after that would be of course face mask and then finally gloves.
So there was another indication passed to us [Wednesday] night. We don't know what triggered that -- whether there was specific intelligence or whether there was something that military forces had seen -- but there was a new warning issued to all of the troops: "Make sure you're prepared. Make sure your gear is ready. Make sure it's very close at hand."
So far though no one has had to go further than MOPP 2, which is the way we're dressed now.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details.