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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Kurdish Areas Under Artillery Fire

Aired March 20, 2003 - 03:00   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We've got a bit of breaking news from northern Iraq. Kevin Sites standing by. Kevin what do you have -- Kevin?
KEVIN SITES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi. I'm in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at the border checkpoint. This is Kurdish-controlled territory. Just a few moments ago, two outgoing mortar rounds from the Iraqi position, probably 82-millimeter mortars from the sound of it, about a kilometer away from us.

Now we don't know who they're firing on; we just have seen them outgoing. A puff of black smoke followed by a loud concussion.

Now, there have been reports it has been a very active area over the last few days. PUK, the patriotic union of Kurdistan soldiers that are based here, the Kurds, told us last night that there were 40 Patrician (ph) rockets fired off from this position as well towards the town of Sedan (ph), which is just a little ways from here.

Now these two outgoing rounds are basically just right in front of us, about one kilometer away. However, we did not see where they're impacting, we haven't seen where they're landing, so we're not exactly sure who the Iraqis are firing on at this point. They're not firing on our position, even though this is a PUK fortified position.

COOPER: Well, Kevin, does -- you mentioned that -- earlier -- that the PUK does not anticipate going forward. If that's the case, do they just plan on sitting on their lines as they are now, and waiting for the U.S. to come and somehow facilitating the U.S. or what are their intentions in the coming weeks?

SITES: Well, it's not certain whether they don't plan on going forward. They say at this point, they don't have orders to go forward.

They may wait, you know, as we saw in Afghanistan with the Northern Alliance troops -- wait for the bombing campaign to commence in earnest and when that happens they may go ahead and move towards Tikrit. A lot of Kurds in this area have their ancestral homes there, they would like to return, reclaim their homes and probably will move when they think it's safer. But right now this is a pretty active line.

As we can see they're still Iraqi troops behind us. We saw over the last few days with the tanks pulling back and some of the other troops pulling back that perhaps this line may be moving back to Kirkuk completely that maybe all of the forces were moving back but we've got evidence that that isn't happening right now with these latest two mortar rounds just being fired off.

COOPER: All right Kevin; Kevin Sites live in Northern Iraq, thanks.

Well it is about 3:03 here on the east coast. We're going to look at what's happening at this hour. This is cruise missile being launched last night in what the U.S. called a "decapitation strike" against Baghdad.

42 cruise missiles in bunker buster bombs from F-117s were aimed at Iraq's leaders in what the Pentagon called a "target of opportunity." There is no official word on the outcome of that strike.

But, three hours after the strike, Iraqi TV played a taped speech, and it's important to note it was a taped speech by Saddam Hussein.

Now in the speech, Hussein gave today's date. He also derided President Bush and accused the U.S. of, quote, "shameful crimes against humanity." He concluded by saying Iraq would be victorious.

President Bush addressed the people of the United States minutes after the first Cruise missiles rained down on Baghdad. He said Operation Iraqi Freedom would not be a campaign of half-measures, and he vowed the U.S. will accept no outcome but victory.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And the order to launch that decapitation strike on Baghdad came from President Bush who had a very, very busy day, as you would imagine.

More on this now from CNN's Chris Burns who is standing by in Washington. Hi Chris.

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Heidi -- well, the president having turned in for the night several hours ago. However the president, yes, did have a very busy day as he has in the last few days of this week.

Twice a day he has had these war planning meetings, and it was at the afternoon planning meeting on Wednesday that he did decide that it was time to strike.

He got information from the CIA saying that they had the -- some of the senior Iraqi leadership in the crosshairs -- and that it was time to strike or they would lose that opportunity.

Now it is not exactly clear whether they had Saddam Hussein in the crosshairs, but that is according to some officials, at least at the Pentagon, saying that President Bush decided in the middle of that meeting to go ahead with this, even though the shock and awe strategy had been an overwhelming strike against targets across the country this was seen as sort of a surgical strike to sort of take out some of the senior leadership and perhaps demoralize the military.

Now president Bush also, however, appealing to the Iraqi people. This is a battle of hearts and minds and this is what President Bush had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want Americans and all the world to know that coalition forces will make every effort to spare innocent civilians from harm. A campaign on the harsh terrain of a nation as large as California could be longer and more difficult than some predict. And helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable, and free country will require our sustained commitment. WE come to Iraq with respect for its citizens for their great civilization and for the religious faiths they practice. We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNS: Now what is in play here is how will the U.S.-led forces be received when they arrive in Iraqi cities and also the question of the Arab street beyond Iraq.

That is also a concern of the U.S. administration, those two being addressed by President Bush in that speech but, however, a few hours later Saddam Hussein at least the recording of him coming back and appealing to his Iraqi people predicting victory, predicting the defeat of the U.S. led forces and also wrapping himself in religion, wrapping himself also in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Palestinian cause. Obviously trying to stir up the Arab street beyond his borders.

COLLINS: All right, Chris Burns, I do have one quick question for you. I'm curious to know a little bit more about -- we were talking bout how busy the president is, obviously at a time like this. What typically will be his most important role now? Surely he'll be getting briefings constantly from his military staff.

How much of his job will be addressing the American people and letting them know about the progress of this war?

BURNS: That is probably his -- one of his primary causes as he has to sell this to the American people as being a just cause and also of course keeping in mind that the U.S. administration is going to have to propose in the next couple of days the cost of this, this war. Going to Capitol Hill and asking for perhaps 80, 90, 100 billion dollars for the initial invasion and occupation of Iraq.

So it's going to be very difficult to sell that and that's his job cut out for him. Of course, also meetings of course beginning from early morning and also late in the afternoon and evening. Meetings, war planning meetings, sessions, deciding exactly what the next step would be to take.

Of course, very much in question right now would be is what is the next step on the battle field as it were -- when will the shock and awe actually take place and be launched. It could happen in the next few hours, it could happen in the next few days -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right, Chris Burns, live from Washington tonight, thank you.

COOPER: Well in Baghdad it is a little bit past 11:00, approximately five and a half hours since the air raid sirens sounded. We're going to check in with Rym Brahimi live in Baghdad -- Rym.

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, indeed, it's been almost six hours, a little more than five and a half hours since the attacks started. It was just before sunrise.

There was that distant detonation of anti-aircraft fire. There were the air-raid sirens and then the anti-aircraft began and a new round of very intense anti-aircraft fire and on the whole basically two series of lasted two hours each, roughly, and in between a speech by President Saddam Hussein addressing the Iraqi people but also the outside world.

The president saying that condemning the United States for what he said was a shameful crime. Making a point that the was speaking today, the 20th of March, probably an effort to make sure that everybody knew he was still there despite the fact that U.S. has said it was targeting the president specifically.

Well, President Saddam Hussein saying today, 20th of March, 2003, the United States had committed a shameful crime. That President Bush had underestimated the Iraqi people.

Now he also called on friends and allied countries to observe how President Bush he said had ignored the efforts to avert a war and somehow tried to portray this or tried to portray this as a battle between the United States on the one hand and Arabs and humanity at large on the other.

The Ministry of Information has also spoken to reporters, saying that he was -- that this was a naked aggression that would be met by fierce resistance. He also asked journalists to show the world what he called the crimes of the U.S. and Britain saying that he would take reporters everywhere...

COOPER: Rym, I'm sorry to interrupt, this is Anderson Cooper, we've got to go to Kuwait right now, we will come back to you very shortly, Rym Brahimi live in Baghdad. We're going to go to Kuwait and Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, what do you have for us?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: ... about 10:25 -- can you hear me?

COOPER: Yes, go ahead Sanjay.

GUPTA: Yes, about 10:25 in the morning, local time here, which was about 50 minutes ago, we heard something very loud about -- and saw something about 300 feet off the deck traveling very quickly from north to south direction.

It was hard to make out whether or not this was a missile or an unmanned craft. It did appear to be self-propelled and did not appear to be mortar. It was traveling very quickly in a north-south direction just a minute or so afterwards on the P.A. system here where we're all stationed at Camp Iwo Jima we heard "bunker, bunker, bunker, gas mask," and all the marines for the last 45 minutes or so have been in bunkers.

They had gas masks on up until a couple of minutes ago, and we were told that we could remove the gas masks just a couple of minutes ago.

But, again, traveling about 300 feet off the deck in a north to south direction very quickly shortly thereafter there appeared to be an impact, a boom was heard of some sort. Appeared in the southern area, somewhere south of here, we couldn't see that, we could only hear that -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Sanjay, just so we're absolutely clear, you are in the northern desert of Kuwait at Camp Iwo Jima. This -- this -- whatever it was, was traveling you say in a north-south direction?

GUPTA: That's correct, it appeared to be traveling in a north to south direction. Again, while we can't tell you exactly where we're located, we are in the northern desert of Kuwait, that is south of the Iraqi border.

COOPER: Now, did you get a visual on this, or did you just hear it or exactly how did you encounter it?

GUPTA: No, you couldn't -- it was unmistakable, it was very loud. It appeared to be traveling about 300 feet or so. The best estimate in the air. Again, traveling north to south very quickly. I will add, Anderson, it is kind of hazy here, there's a windstorm going on. It is -- couldn't make out exactly what it was at that distance.

It did appear to be self-propelled, as opposed to being mortar- like in nature.

COOPER: And this is the first kind of incident like this that you have encountered in your time there?

GUPTA: That's right, we've -- we spent the night here. Certainly there was some concerns about that earlier, but this was the first time we actually had a "bunker, bunker, bunker" call since we've been here.

What happens in that situation is that all the Marines put on their gas mask, they have nine seconds to do that -- and they all run into the bunker.

There are several of them around the camp. There's about 50 or so, I would say, in the bunker that I am right now. Again, we've been here for about 45 minutes.

They're in full gear, including artillery jackets, gas masks, helmets. Just a couple of minutes ago, they got a signal that they could go ahead an take off the gas masks but we're still sitting in the bunkers with the rest of our gear on -- Anderson.

COOPER: So as we speak you are in the bunker with your gear close by, yes?

GUPTA: That's right, I'm here with the crew, along with 50 Marines or so, we are here with all our gear on and the gas masks, like I've said, have just come off but we have not been given the all- clear signal to actually leave the bunker as of yet. It's been about 45 minutes.

COOPER: OK, I'm not sure how long you've been at Camp Iwo Jima. I'm just interested to know how the mood there has changed in the time you've been there since the -- the -- first strike in Iraq.

Have you sensed a mood change; have the soldiers, have Marines been saying anything to you indicating, you know, something is different?

GUPTA: Yes, you know Anderson we've spent quite a bit of time, actually, asking questions this morning. Certainly about 3:30 this morning local time there was a sense of movement around the camp so people -- some people still watching television.

Everyone still keeping sort of in the back of their mind that the 4 a.m. time would be the 48 hours that we have been hearing so much about. When people first heard of the strikes here, I definitely would say that the mood changed.

As you know, Anderson, I was here a few weeks ago. Back then there was just -- sense of just sort of waiting. The mood has definitely changed to be much more anticipatory, much more expectant at this time. A lot of people see this as a (AUDIO GAP). Clearly the mood has been (AUDIO GAP).

I'm also getting a note, Anderson -- I'm also getting a note, Anderson that another call that was given at the time (AUDIO GAP) inbound. That was the signal that we were hearing over the P.A. system -- missiles inbound.

COOPER: An ominous message to hear, I'm sure. And just so we're absolutely clear, you have no sense of where -- how close this landed and what sort of impact it had, if any impact at all?

GUPTA: That's right, Anderson, we don't know how far -- I've been told not to divulge our location for obvious reasons. It did go from a north to south direction and we did hear a boom. That boom appeared to be coming from the southerly direction from here, so certainly between us and Kuwait City.

COOPER: All right, we're losing contact. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, appreciate you joining us. Stay safe; stay down in the bunker -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right, we are going to go to Bill Hemmer who is now standing by live for us in Kuwait City and Bill, we've just been speaking with Dr. Sanjay Gupta as I'm sure you probably heard. He heard the call, "bunker, bunker, bunker -- missiles inbound." Can you tell us at all if you saw or heard anything from where you are?

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Nothing from this location here, Heidi. I can tell you Sanjay is much closer to the Iraqi border whereas our location here in Kuwait City is several miles, probably 40, maybe 50 miles at the most from where Sanjay's reporting.

I can tell you that military planners for several days have told us there's a 90 percent chance that some aspect of Kuwait City may come under attack either by a missile, a Scud missile as well and at some point that may happen during this war.

Listen, it is not out of the question if you go back to January of 1991. One Scud missile that scored a direct hit upon U.S. soldiers stationed in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia literally flew over this city. It was launched from southeastern Iraq, came over Kuwait City and went further down along the Persian Gulf striking and killing almost 28 U.S. soldiers there, more than 100 others wounded as a result of that direct hit.

The military will tell you they believe the Iraqis got lucky at that time, but nonetheless strong consideration given to the possibility that Kuwait could be yet again in the line of fire.

Also in the past couple of days the military planners have told us to be on guard in the event that Iraq would have striked (sic) first. It does not appear that's happened right now, given this launch of 40-something Cruise missiles overnight last night. But nonetheless on high guard here in Kuwait City.

As I talk about that Heidi though we've been out and about today. In fact, we drove out a short time ago from Kuwait City up into the Iraqi border.

We got to the halfway point before the U.S. military stopped us. I tell you the city has no way of going under cover. There are cars moving about but the traffic is significantly lower than at any other point we've observed here. In fact, once you get out of town, say 20 miles or 25 miles, you would go for long stretches of the road without seeing hardly any vehicles.

I point that out for this reason; the past two months -- this is now my third trip here -- we observed today a far few number of U.S. military vehicles moving out on the highways.

Prior to this time, at any certain time during the day, 24 hours a day around the clock, we would observe a high number of military vehicles using the roads, moving up and down the desert, working their way in between camps. Today, that number is considerably lower.

One other thing that we noted at this checkpoint before we returned back here. We saw a convoy, maybe two dozen big rigs, these are tractor-trailer rigs, with empty loads behind them, coming south, indicating that they are still bring supplies up near the Iraqi border.

Whether that's ammunition or tanks, armored personnel carriers or simple things such as food and water, we can't tell. But we did note this long string of convoys now headed south away from the Iraqi border.

Let's move on out to the Persian Gulf right now. CNN's Frank Buckley has been stationed now for several weeks on board the U.S.S. Constellation.

We talked with Frank yesterday about this incident that occurred that involved some sort of Kuwaiti fishing boat and today we want to check back in with Frank to see what he has observed thus far today just so our viewers know right now -- it's about 11:17 a.m. local time here in Kuwait.

Let's join Frank by way of videophone to find out what he is reporting now. Frank, hello.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Bill. We're getting some information from Rear Admiral Barry Costello (ph) who's the Constellation Battle Group Commander with regard to which U.S. Navy vessels were involved in the first strike against Iraq.

He tells us that there were two cruisers, two destroyers, and two submarines involved. Their names, the two cruisers, the Cowpens and the Bunker Hill, the destroyers involved, the Milius and the Donald Cook and the two Los Angeles class attack submarines, the Montpelier and the Cheyenne.

We also got some information regarding the support of the F-117 Stealth aircraft. Admiral Costello telling us that two EA-60 radar jamming aircraft from the U.S.S. Constellation flew in support of the Stealth aircraft that went in and with the initial strikes.

We also got some information on 24 sorties; strike sorties that have come off the Constellation during the past 24 hours. Those sorties targeted military installations, communications facilities and air defense facilities.

Admiral Costello cautioning that those come during what the calls the transition period between Operation Southern Watch during which aircraft from this aircraft carrier have, in fact, been hitting targets like those periodically in response to what they call sapphire incidents, that is surface-to-air firings against coalition aircraft, so some of those taking place but many more taking place during the past 24 hours that have been taking place previously and the described these as coming under the category of, quote, "prepping the battlefield," unquote, for future operations.

Finally, we also learned that some 2.5 million leaflets have been dropped on Iraq just during the past 24 hours. We've been able to collect some of them from the Navy here. These are the kinds of things, kinds of images that they show.

Coalition aircraft coming in and dropping bombs, instructing people on the ground, some of the Iraqi forces with information telling them that they must surrender to coalition forces. Telling them not to use weapons of mass destruction with some ominous photographs and illustrations.

Many of these leaflets produced right here on the Constellation during the past several months. They've produced three million leaflets and again just in the past 24 hours, two and a half million leaflets have been dropped on Iraq -- Bill.

HEMMER: Frank, let's follow up on some information from yesterday. There was a lot of concern given to these small fishing vessels that come out of the southeastern section of Iraq and float your way in the Persian Gulf. I know dozens have been spotted lately. How much concern is there given to these crafts now and especially following up on this incident in about 24 hours ago, which you experienced there on board the Constellation, how much concern is there today, given towards this?

BUCKLEY: Well let me take viewers back who may not have heard about it, exactly what happened. There was an incident involving a dow, which is what these traditional boats that are about 30 feet long in the Persian Gulf that are used to ferry cargo in and around the Persian Gulf.

Several were coming down and out of one of the two waterways leading out of Iraq and entered according to the U.S. Navy, Kuwaiti territorial waters. Now a Kuwaiti vessel issued a warning to one particular dow telling it to stop as happens every night here in the Persian Gulf. Coalition ships stop these dows coming out of Iraq, board them, and check them for contraband, for things banned under U.N. sanctions, also, frankly, checking them for mines.

Admiral Costello is a primary concern is that no mines end up in the Persian Gulf. But, anyway, in the course of one of those checks, this particular dow did not stop and the Kuwaiti vessel according to the U.S. navy fired what the U.S. Navy believes were warning shots at this dow and in the process of that incident one person, one Iraqi citizen as we understand it, was killed on the dow.

Now there have been many of these, hundreds of these dows in the Persian Gulf, and separately to the south of where we are, to the southern portion of the Persian Gulf just in one day, yesterday, two hundred and fifty dows actually left the Persian Gulf. Now that is similar to what happened at about the same period right before Desert Storm.

The U.S. forces, the coalition forces through Admiral Costello, do not want to harm any of the civilians we are told that would be operating these dows. They want the dows to be able to transit out of the Persian Gulf if that is -- if that is what they want to do. Those that are in the southern portion of the Persian Gulf.

Those that are coming from Iraq that may be carrying things that are banned under U.N. sanction, the coalition vessels, are going to continue to board those. And they do say that they want eventually for those dows that are in the waterways of Iraq that number in the hundreds we are told to safely transit out.

The U.S. and coalition forces, according to Admiral Costello, do not want to harm any of the civilians who operate those dows. They want to make sure that they are kept safe because they are civilians and considered non-combatants.

HEMMER: Frank Buckley by way of videophone, on board the U.S.S. Constellation off the coast here in Kuwait floating in the Persian Gulf.

Want to take you now to Becky Diamond, CNN, she's on board the U.S.S. Milieus.

That's a guided missile destroyer. We can get more on an update from Becky on what she is hearing and seeing from her vantage point. Becky hello.

BECKY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bill good morning.

Well, I'm on board the U.S.S. Milius in the northern Persian Gulf. It's part of the U.S.S. Constellation battle group, the ship that Frank's embedded on, the carrier Frank's embedded on.

This ship this morning launched eight Tomahawk missiles. It was just after 5 a.m. local time so about 9 p.m. Eastern time about an hour after the 48-hour deadline.

Just in the distance about 25 miles off the ship, the Bunker Hill one, a series of missiles as well.

That was about half an hour earlier, about 8:30 Eastern time. On board this ship the missiles launched in the port of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the back of the ship just about ten seconds about a minute and a half.

But now there are more missiles aboard the Milius. We don't know if the Milius will launch them or not but the sailors are waiting for more orders -- Bill.

HEMMER: Yes, Becky, also, can you tell us how things changed prior to that activity that you noted being on board for several days there?

DIAMOND: Well, an interesting question, Bill. There was a lot of uncertainty of course before the president spoke which is when I arrived on board this ship. After the president spoke these sailors had a sense of mission, almost a sense of relief but their mood was somber and reflective.

Once the order came in, I was woken up at 4 a.m. Eastern time, so about an hour prior to the launch and of course we knew on the ship that getting information out. I'm not sure how long before that the captain and his crew actually knew.

The men and women who launched these missiles don't necessarily know hours ahead of time, but once that decision has been made, the mood was quiet serious and quiet reflective -- Bill.

HEMMER: Becky Diamond again on board the U.S.S. Milius floating out in the Persian Gulf as well. We will continue to track with our reporters throughout the day here in the Persian Gulf, blanketing the region to find out what they are seeing and experiencing with the U.S. military.

CNN has an extensive list of reporters now embedded, that's the military word for reporters being assigned to various units, whether it's with the Navy, the Air Force, the Army, or the U.S. Marines.

Interesting to note we have spoken with some of our colleagues already today and they have essentially told us, just a handful right now, a handful of people have informed us here at CNN that their units have not moved just yet, they're in some sort of holding pattern in the northern Kuwaiti desert.

What that all means right now is difficult for us to say, it's quite likely though that this enormous military buildup in the northern desert, 120,000 U.S. troops in Kuwait alone, an additional 25,000 British troops as well.

Some of those men and women may be staying at their locations. There are re-supply efforts that have to take place; there are fueling efforts that have to take place, as well. If at some point there isn't a movement across the Iraqi border en masse it's quite likely the greater majority will go but yet again it's also possible that some of these troops may stay behind and to further the effort of re- supply of those troops.

I mentioned earlier today about daily life here in Kuwait City -- I don't want to leave anyone with the impression here that this place is shut down. There was a mad rush for the airport last night, some people saying almost near-panic situation with clogged streets and people trying to get on board flights that at one point local officials had to shut down the roads going to the airport because it was simply too crowded and too packed with people.

Today, we're getting word though despite the fact yesterday we were told the airport would shut down that's not the case. Apparently there are some flights coming and going again with those who want to get out of Kuwait City.

We'll continue to track that. Interesting to note, though. As we sit here in Kuwait. Quite obviously a place that could clearly be on the front lines of a military conflict here -- work life continues.

We saw people early today, 8:00, 8:30 local time, going to work, doing their jobs. There's construction workers reporting for construction duty on the highways in roads just out side of Kuwait City. It's an interesting juxtaposition, knowing that the conflict that may becoming just north of the border with people trying to carry on with their lives here.

Nonetheless the impact is felt, we have noted the level of tension increase almost every day upon arrival here on Monday afternoon We can noted it on Monday night right into Tuesday right into Wednesday of yesterday things continued to ramp up hour by hour with people anticipating the military action that we may see again once nightfall hits yet again.

We'll watch it all for you live in Kuwait City, let you know what we are observing at this point but for now back to the CNN Center. Here's Heidi once again -- Heidi.

COOPER: Actually Bill its Anderson. As you mentioned, Bill, we should just remind some viewers that about ten minutes or so ago we got a call from Dr. Sanjay Gupta who was in a bunker in Camp Iwo Jima with some marines, about 50 Marines and a CNN crew. Just moments before they had gotten the word -- the call went out, "bunker, bunker, bunker." Everyone sort of dived into bunkers, they donned gas masks.

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