CNN INSIDE POLITICS
Explosions Rock Baghdad in Past Hour; Bush, Blair Hold War Summit
Aired March 27, 2003 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Saddam Hussein will be removed no matter how long it takes.
ANNOUNCER: The leaders of the U.S. and Britain face each other and the unknowns in Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You two, lay down.
ANNOUNCER: On the battlefield of southern Iraq, who's innocent and who's the enemy?
In the new northern front, U.S. forces dig in for whatever may come.
Struggles on the homefront, new war protests on the streets and the more private efforts to carry on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Me and my friends are just like sitting there crying, like oh, my God, what's going on? They just look so scared and so frightened. It seriously really upset me.
ANNOUNCER: CNN Live this hour, Judy Woodruff reports from Washington. With correspondents from around the world, a special edition of INSIDE POLITICS: The war in Iraq starts right now.
JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.
We are, as always, watching the skies of Baghdad, where it is just after midnight. Within the past hour, several large explosion rocked the city, creating a huge cloud of smoke. We'll have more from the battlefield ahead, along with new conflicts on the homefront.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: You can't afford to give this administration or any other administration a blank check.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: A determined Democrat takes on the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And how is Iraq's propaganda war playing here in the United States?
Before we do anything else, let's head right back to Kuwait City and my colleague Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Judy. The latest explosions in Baghdad are the strongest felt in the Iraqi capital in days. Arabic television stations showed a huge plume of smoke rising into the air, and reported that U.S.-led forces were going after targets they previously had struck during the week-old war.
A Reuters correspondent on the scene in Baghdad reports at least a dozen blasts shortly after 11:00 p.m. local time. That's within the past hour. Smoke was seen near Iraq's international communications center. That's right in the heart of Baghdad.
And the Associated Press is reporting that buildings close to Iraq's information ministry appear to have been hit. Witnesses say Iraq unleashed antiaircraft fire from the roof of the information minister. The Pentagon made a point of telling our Jamie McIntyre, our Pentagon correspondent, that this was not, repeat, not the work of the devastating new bomb the so-called MOAB bomb, nicknamed the mother of all bombs.
Let's move on to northern Iraq now, where there have been important developments. Kurdish forces say they moved today into an area apparently abandoned by Iraqi troops after coalition bombing. Elsewhere in the north, U.S. forces dug in after parachuting into the region overnight and a dramatic development. CNN's Ben Wedeman now has more on the northern front. He's reporting from Kala (ph).
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A coalition war plane glints in the early morning sunlight and goes in for a kill. Pounding Iraqi army frontlines in northern Iraq. When the bombing ended, nerves were still on edge at the sound of a plane, Iraqi soldiers scurry for cover. Others dig in deep for the next strike.
Less than a mile away, Kurdish fighters in the village of Kalak keep a close eye on their old foes and wait. They had confidently predicted that once the shooting began, the Iraqis would come down the hill with hands up. That hasn't happened. American propaganda leaflets and bombs not quite enough to convince the Iraqis to call it quits. News of the arrival of American force in the north welcome here.
(on camera): Kurdish leaders have announced that now that the Americans are here, it is safe for people to return to the frontline towns and villages they had fled from. But here in Kalak with Iraqi positions right over the town, it may be a little too early for that.
(voice-over): Despite the obvious danger, some have returned. Others now entertain hopes they will be reunited with friends and relatives cut off by war. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): My family is from here, but my tribe is on the other side, under the Iraqi regime's control, says Kurdish corporal Fayik Guyzeez (ph). We hope we can put an end to all of this.
WEDEMAN: Shop owner Amed Askar (ph) just wants to get back to business.
AMED ASKAR, SHOP OWNER (through translator): The sooner the Iraqi soldiers leave this area, he says, the better.
WEDEMAN: A sentiment one hears along the northern front with mounting confidence.
Ben Wedeman, CNN, Kalak, northern Iraq.
BLITZER: These developments in the northern part of Iraq potentially significant in opening up a second front to move against Baghdad, but that's going to take a lot more equipment, a lot more troops than the thousand paratroopers who dropped from the skies last night. Judy, I'll be back at the tower with much more on a special edition of "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" reports, but for now, back to you in Washington.
WOODRUFF: All right, Wolf, thanks very much.
And we want to move now to southern Iraq, a British contingent there is armed to the hilt. But its members say they hope to show the Iraqis that they mean them no harm. Here's CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what the British call soft operations. Military action aimed at counterinsurgency and trying to win hearts and minds.
(on camera): The British is setting up checkpoints all along this road from the border up to Basra, not only to secure the area militarily but to also try to show the population that they are in control and to try to instill some confidence.
2ND LT. ANDY SHAND, BRITISH ARMY: Obviously, there is a hard line militia, which is working in this area to try and basically intimidate people and stop them speaking to us. So, it is part of our role, one of our key roles is to make the civilian population feel safe. If they feel safe, they'll talk to us, we'll get intelligence and, obviously, that's going to help us greatly.
AMANPOUR: British soldiers tell us they have found ammunition and artillery rounds along the road, possibly to be used to ambush them. But on this day, the Iraqis driving by are mostly are good- natured and cooperate readily with the military searches. Some wave white flags as they approach the checkpoints, and many tell us they are still afraid. They don't know exactly whose in charge yet. Others say they welcome the allies' arrival and Saddam's eventual departure.
But most of the people tell us they are hungry and thirsty. When soldiers asked to see inside these barrels, they found them filled not with weapons, but water, collected from the recent rainfall. And we watched these women scoop water from puddles on the ground. Christiane Amanpour, CNN on the road to Basra in southern Iraq.
WOODRUFF: Christiane reporting with a contingent of British troops. We want to share with you something that we've reported earlier today. Of course, a new element of the 4th Infantry is leaving Texas today Fort Hood, Texas. Something like 20,000 troops were deployed today, part of the Fourth Infantry.
And now the Pentagon is saying that in addition, an additional 100,000 ground troops are going to be deployed to Iraq, to the region next month. Now a Pentagon officials, these numbers some of us were not familiar with. Sounds like a lot of troops, but the Pentagon is saying that these new deployments represent simply a continuation of the Pentagon plan. They say it is not a change in strategy. But, again, another 100,000 troops, the plans in the works for next month, upping the number in the Iraq theater to, by my count, well over 300 to maybe close to 400,000 troops, if that deployment is fully under way.
Well, as we've also been reporting, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair talked about the war today at Camp David, Maryland. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux standing by with us now, Suzanne. We just saw the prime minister leaving Washington heading to New York for meetings at the U.N. But his meeting with the president an important moment for the two of them to show that they're together.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Judy, and president is back at the White House now. This after this summit, a 24-hour war council with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at Camp David. They shared meals together, also several meetings. Really, the purpose of the summit really to get an update the progress of the war with Iraq, also to discuss the possible future role of the United Nations in a post-Saddam regime, as well as to show the resolve of disarming Saddam Hussein.
Earlier, today, we heard from President Bush. He said that the grip of terror around the throats of the Iraqi people is being loosened. Also both leaders talking about the fact that they enjoy international support but neither one of them giving a timetable. President Bush saying he would do whatever it takes to win the war, but he did not give an indication of how long it would last.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: It's not a matter of timetable. It's a matter of victory. And the Iraqi people have got to know that, see. They got to know that they will be liberated, and Saddam Hussein will be removed no matter how long it takes. TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Saddam Hussein and his hateful regime will be removed from power. Iraq will be disarmed of weapons of mass destruction. And the Iraqi people will be free. That is our commitment. That is our determination. And we will see it done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: And, Judy, both leaders emphasizing appealing to the United Nations to break that impasse, that oil-for-food program, because of the growing humanitarian crisis on the ground in Iraq. And you had mentioned before that British Prime Minister Tony Blair on his way to New York. He'll be meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to talk about just where they are in that process. It was interesting as well, British Prime Minister Tony Blair did talk about the role of the U.N., how it's important to play a central role in humanitarian aid as well as reconstruction in a post-Saddam regime. This is something he differs somewhat with President Bush. The Bush administration seeing somewhat of a more limited role when it comes to the United Nations - Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, Suzanne Malveaux, who's been reporting on that meeting last night and today with President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. Thank you, Suzanne.
With me now to talk a little more about that Camp David meeting, CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times."
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Judy.
WOODRUFF: Ron, the two leaders making an appearance together, but underlying you're reporting indicates there is significant disagreement.
BROWNSTEIN: It is fascinating to watch these two men together, because they have a determined but also very difficult alliance. They are determined wherever possible to reach common ground. They have a good personal relationship, and they each have political incentives to find agreement wherever they can. But apart from the underlying issue of disarming Saddam Hussein, they begin from very different places in their view of how to organize the world for the new century. And that makes it difficult for them sometimes to come together.
Blair is much closer to the domestic Democrats and arguing that the key to security is maximizing the utility of international alliances and international organizations. And President Bush is much more focused on eliminating constraints, on American freedom of action, and that promises conflict once they get beyond their core agreement on the urgency of disarming Saddam Hussein.
WOODRUFF: How does that disagreement get resolved down the road? And to what extent does the outcome of the war, the conduct and the progress of the war affect that?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, you see the disagreement on a variety of fronts. It really is a nuance in emphasis, the degree to which Tony Blair wants the U.N. involved in the post-war reconstruction of Iraq seems greater than Bush. Blair puts more emphasis on advancing the Middle East peace process than Bush.
Blair supports the Kyoto Greenhouse Treaty. Bush opposes it. I do think, though, that the overriding instinct that Blair has had, the calculation he's made is that he needs to come to agreement with Bush on these, rather than getting into open disagreement with him. He feels he can have more influence inside the tent, operating as a bridge between Europe and the U.S., then he can being a critic even when he does disagree. And I think he will go to every possible length to avoid breaking with Bush. And Bush has his own reasons to want to reach agreement with Blair. And I think, by and large, they try to come together, but it's not easy because they do have a very different underlying perspective.
WOODRUFF: Very quickly, Ron, how much influence does Prime Minister Blair have on President Bush?
BROWNSTEIN: I think he's demonstrated that he has significant influence, but not unlimited influence. The fact that they went through the U.N. process at all and, certainly, went back for a second resolution was, in large measure, a reflection of Blair's influence. But there came a point at the end, where clearly the administration was not going to go any further. And I think you can see some of that here in the negotiating over what role the U.N. will have. The administration envisions a limited role, more focus on humanitarian, not sure how far Tony Blair can push them off of that.
WOODRUFF: All right. Ron Brownstein reporting on the U.S.- British relationship at the very highest levels. Ron Brownstein, thanks very much.
BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.
WOODRUFF: Appreciate it.
There is a British Royal Marine in Iraq who is one lucky man. Eric Walderman was shot in a helmet four times during a firefight in Umm Qasr, but his helmet has a bullet proof Kevlar shell inside which stopped the bullets. And the reports are that he is doing just fine. We can think of all sorts of analogies here, but suffice it to say he's doing well and we're pleased.
War time developments here in Washington. Up next, we go to Capitol Hill. Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld makes the case for the $75 billion request to pay for war, at least the beginning of the war in Iraq.
WOODRUFF: Within the last hour, more coalition strikes on the capital city of Baghdad in Iraq. You're looking at pictures from Abu Dhabi TV just in to CNN. These pictures of what is said to be by the Iraqis damage from these latest hits this Thursday, March 27th, the 7th day of the war, if you start counting a week ago on Wednesday night. I guess it's the eighth day of the war. This is Abu Dhabi television. And it is pictures of what the Iraqis are saying is damage as a result of the missile strikes, bombs that have hit Baghdad on Thursday.
Back now to our coverage in the United States, Democratic Congressman and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich headlined a gathering of House members to voice their opposition to war in Iraq. Kucinich said it is illegal. And he predicted his point of view will gain strength among the American people in the weeks and months to come.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DENNIS KUCINICH (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This war must end now. It was unjust when it started last week. It is illegal and unjust today. And I'm saying, yes, we should get out, end it now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: Dennis Kucinich, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president.
Meantime, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today traveled to Capitol Hill to defend the administration request for almost $75 billion to pay for the war in Iraq. Our Jonathan Karl reports the money will likely be approved, but there could be strings attached.
JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Even as the defense secretary made the case for the president's request for war funds, he said he may come back to Congress looking for more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We can't know how long the effort in Iraq is going to last. And we certainly can't tell what it's going to cost.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: But this hearing made it clear, Congress is ready to give the president whatever he needs to fight the war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ERNEST HOLLINGS (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: Mr. Secretary, don't worry about the money, you know and I know that you're going to get the money.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: Far more controversial is the wide latitude the administration wants in deciding how the money will be spent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BYRD: We can't afford to give this administration or any other administration a blank check. We didn't give you a blank check when you were secretary of defense in the 1970s. And I don't expect to support giving a blank check to any administration. The people have a right to know how their moneys are spent.
KARL: This is also a point of concern for Republicans. But again, the president seems likely to get virtually everything he asks for.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: I don't believe you've asked for a blank check. You've been specific. You've asked for flexibility, and you've asked for resources. I think that we need to give you all the resources, Mr. Secretary, that you need to prosecute and win this war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: Many in Congress are more concerned about what comes after the war, but Rumsfeld said he doesn't expect rebuilding Iraq to cost the U.S. much at all.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUMSFELD: I don't believe that the United States has the responsibility for reconstruction in a sense. What we have is a responsibility to get that country on a path that is has a representative government that is -- fulfills the standards that General Myers outlined.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: He said he wasn't talking about abandoning post war Iraq, but the resources for rebuilding it could come from Iraqi frozen assets around the world, the 10 to 12 billion from the U.N. oil-for- food program, Iraq's oil resources and contributions from other countries.
And just a short while ago, the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, and the Senate Republican leader Bill Frisk met to discuss other issue that the president did not ask for money for, and that is the question of bailing out the airlines that have been hurt as a result of the war in Iraq. And it now looks increasingly likely, Judy, that at least a billion, perhaps as much as a $3 billion, will be included in this emergency supplemental to pay for the war, will also go towards helping out airlines -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: Very interesting, John Karl, because we have been hearing reports the last few days, certainly since the war has gotten underway, that air travel, passenger travel in the United States has dropped by a significant percentage, certainly significant enough to hurt the airlines revenue. John Karl at the Capitol, thank you very much.
The official photographer for former Vice President Al Gore is said to be among three U.S. journalists in Iraq whose whereabouts are now unknown. Freelance photojournalist Molly Bingham was last heard from in Baghdad at the beginning of the week, according to an official at the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Editors at New York's "Newsday" say reporter Matt McAllister and photographer Moises Saman have also not been heard from since Monday.
We know this is a not a safe place for the troops, and it is not a safe place for the journalists, nor for the civilians in the war theater for that matter.
Baghdad takes its biggest hits in days. Up next, we'll check in with our military analyst after the huge explosions last hour in the Iraqi capital.
WOODRUFF: With no apparent interference U.S. and British warplanes bombed Iraqi targets in the north and in the south and in Baghdad,today, this Thursday. Time now to check in again with our military analyst in Atlanta. Our Miles O'Brien is with them at CNN Center, Miles.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks very much, Judy. Don Sheppard, retired general U.S. Air Force joining us. We have a map table in front of his here which lays out the center part of Baghdad, a city of 5 to 6 million people. And what we've depicted here are two confirmed explosions, which we just witnessed not too long ago. Don Shepherd, let's walk through what we know is happening right now in Baghdad.
GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: Exactly. We're looking at north toward us, right this way. We're looking at the west and east banks of the Tigris River which runs through downtown Baghdad. One of the targets, reportedly, is the international communications center which is on the east bank right here across the Sinak Bridge. We saw explosions going off in that. And the other one is a re-hit of the Al Salam palace over here on the west bank, and this large, very large presidential palace compound over here.
O'BRIEN: All right, Don Shepperd, as we look at these pictures, you have a relatively tall structure by Baghdad standards there, and yet that building was not level. Presumably, there are weapons in the U.S. arsenal that can do that, what can you infer from that about the goal here?
SHEPPERD: It appears to me that the building was not hit. It appears to me that something around the building was hit. And it appeared to me from watching those flashes that these bombs went underneath the ground. The flashes were not the huge surface flashes we saw on the first night, but rather it looked like some type of deep digger bomb. It could have a Tomahawk missile. It could have been a commercial air launch cruise missile. It could have been a B-2 or 117 dropping a bomb that dug into the ground.
O'BRIEN: OK, let's do a quick satellite tour, thanks to our friends at earthview.com. Let's zoom on in. We have a nice wide shot of the city of Baghdad here. We're looking to the north. As we zoom in, we'll take you to that communications center, as we told you across the river from the information ministry, which is where those cameras are located that we've seen most of the images of Baghdad recently. The Al Salam palace -- Al Salam, by the way, translated, means peace, a bit of irony there as we move across Baghdad. We'll show you that. It's like -- many of Saddam Hussein's 50-odd palaces with this multibillion-dollar price tag. Quite elaborate, quite ornate, lots of waterworks and so forth, also, a previous target.
SHEPPERD: Previous target, and this is a large complex, so you would likely strike it several times. Also, they could be going after embedded underground facilities there that they have discovered or heard still communicating. The first target we saw there was the ministry of information on the east bank, close to the Sinak Bridge.
O'BRIEN: All right. Thanks Don Shepperd for walking us through that. We are watching it unfold right before our very eyes, Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, Miles O'Brien, with General Shepherd, thank you very much.
In the past week of war, we have seen a steady stream of officials, American and Iraqi come before the cameras to try to sway world opinion. In virtually all modern military conflicts there is a parallel propaganda war. Let's bring in our senior political analyst Bill Schneider - Bill.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SNR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Judy, a lot of people are surprised that the tough resistance Iraqi fighters are putting up on the ground. Just as surprising, the Iraqi propagandists are putting up over the airwaves.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Iraqis are proving themselves to be tough opponents in the propaganda war, not just the ground war. The U.S. says ...
BUSH: Day by day, Saddam Hussein is losing his grip on Iraq.
SCHNEIDER: The Iraqis say ...
TARIQ AZIZ, IRAQI DEP. PRIME MINISTER: Saddam Hussein has full control of his country, and over the armed force and the Iraqi people.
SCHNEIDER: When the coalition forces bypassed cities in southern Iraq, the Iraqis tried to turn it into a propaganda victory.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The first village on the borders, they did not even enter it. And now they claim they are around Baghdad.
SCHNEIDER: The U.S. had an explanation.
PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: Before we take care of the killers that are left behind in those cities, we've got to take care of the regime. It's almost like cutting off the head of the snake and then the rest of the body will go.
SCHNEIDER: We've kept our head the Iraqis responded.
AZIZ: They used the word decapitation. Please remember this word, decapitation, cutting the head of the leadership, as if we are a group of chickens, so that we get decapitated by those cowards. The Iraqi leadership was not decapitated.
SCHNEIDER: Why aren't the Iraqis jubilant over the arrival of their liberators? Fear, say the Americans.
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Saddam Hussein still has rather lethal pockets of resistance that have been left behind in different places. And the presence of those forces has still created some fear in the Iraqi people, which is justifiable.
SCHNEIDER: Saddam Hussein broadcast his answer: You're believers. They're infidels.
SADDAM HUSSEIN, IRAQI PRESIDENT (through translator): You stand, a stand that pleases the friends and the believers and displeases the enemies and the infidels.
SCHNEIDER: But was that really Saddam Hussein? That's part of the propaganda war, too -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: Certainly, none of us has the definitive answer. All right, Bill Schneider, thank you very much.
WOODRUFF: Protests in the streets: New Yorkers against the war make their presence felt in midtown Manhattan.
WOODRUFF: This war in Iraq or any war takes its greatest toll on civilians, especially the children in the line of fire.
British pool correspondent Andrea Catherwood has the story of one coalition doctor who hopes that he and his colleagues can make a difference.
ANDREA CATHERWOOD, BRITISH POOL REPORTER (voice-over): Control of this Iraqi airstrip is vital to the allies' push forward, a refueling point for U.S. attack helicopters, a base for British Pumas, who evacuate injured soldiers. But the Iraqis knew that. And the airstrip can be a mine field, literally, British soldiers searching through the dirt for anti-tank mines. They find one, attach plastic explosives, blow the mine. (on camera): Having taken the airstrip, the RAF are now engaged in securing its perimeter. However, there are still pockets of instability in the nearby town. They hope that, by delivering even basic aid, they will begin to win the hearts and minds of local people.
(voice-over): That, too, fraught with danger. This inhospitable territory provides hiding places for Iraqi snipers and guerrilla attacks. Despite the threat, RAF Dr. Simon Chapel (ph) ventured to a local farmhouse and began an impromptu clinic for Iraqi children sick from drinking stagnant water since the war began.
News of his arrival brings a young man who needs shrapnel wounds cleaned and dressed. He says he was injured when an allied bomb destroyed his farmhouse and killed his family. Dr. Chapel told me why, to him, this work is so important.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this area, people feel threatened by the regime. And they're just ordinary people. And we need to win over their hearts and minds to show them that we're on the side of good, rather than evil, as we're being portrayed by the regime.
CATHERWOOD: The farmhouse clinic has to be heavily guarded, the local town too hostile to accept help. This is far from the rapturous welcome many soldiers were led to expect. But, in one dusty corner of Iraq, a British doctor is winning his own small battle against fear and mistrust.
Andrea Catherwood, southern Iraq.
WOODRUFF: Very interesting. She reported far from the welcome that they had been led to believe they would get.
To the United States now and New York today, where there was a vivid demonstration of opposition to the war in Iraq. Throngs of protesters laid down on the street on Fifth Avenue in what they called a die-in. About 190 people were arrested for blocking traffic or for disorderly conduct. Some passers-by heckled the protesters. And one held a sign asking if the demonstrators had forgotten September the 11th.
U.S. troops stage a dramatic arrival on the northern front. Up next: CNN's first-hand account of the American deployment. And what happens next now that they are on the ground?
WOODRUFF: As we've been reporting, U.S. forces parachuted into northern Iraq. You see these pictures shot last night. They parachuted in overnight in a large and dramatic airdrop, the likes of which hasn't been seen since World War II. Now on the ground, they are digging in, the beginning, they say, of a northern front.
CNN's Brent Sadler has more from northern Iraq. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A daring mission to northern Iraq for American troops under the cover of darkness, 10 waves of paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade jumping in batches, 100 at a time. They landed in friendly territory, controlled by Iraqi Kurds, a breathtaking assault by 1,000 men, precision-timed and safely accomplished, no shots fired.
We found them at daybreak, assembling in groups, scattered across the drop zone, no southern Iraqi desert sands here in the rugged mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. They landed on a carpet of grass and soft earth, men and equipment caked in mud, following days of heavy rain.
(on camera): Good morning, Sergeant. Brent Sadler from CNN. Good morning. Welcome to Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sergeant Harringer (ph).
SADLER: Welcome to Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
SADLER: How was it, tell me please, the parachute overnight?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The parachute drop was well. Everything went according to plan. The planes came in, dropped us off, just like how we normally do business.
SADLER: A drop from 1,200 feet, a rush of adrenaline, and the crack of an opening parachute before hitting the ground, that's how these troops describe their dramatic entry into the war.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're floating out there. It's pitch black. You don't know what to expect. You're just waiting to hit the ground and put your weapon in operation and get ready to go.
SADLER (voice-over): Parachutes are quickly packed, weapons cleaned and made ready. But it's slow going at first across this soggy plane. Nearby, more U.S. special forces have arrived, flown in by helicopter. They start to secure this vital landing strip. Follow-up forces and heavy equipment will surely flow through here.
The paratroopers have made an unchallenged start to their deployment. But they still dig in, just in case, with friendly gestures.
Brent Sadler, CNN, Harir, northern Iraq.
WOODRUFF: Well, now that U.S. troops are on the ground in northern Iraq in increasingly substantial numbers, what's their mission?
For the answers, let's turn to Miles O'Brien at CNN Center -- Miles.
O'BRIEN: Judy, we shouldn't really call this a northern front just yet. I don't think that, militarily, that would be correct.
Joining me now is General Don Shepperd, retired U.S. Air Force, who is going to really explain what this is all about.
One thousand lightly armed troops does not, in and of itself, make a front. Now, what this is, is a toehold. And let's explain why there needs to be a toehold here.
SHEPPERD: What we saw last night was 1,000 troops, the lead elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade from Vicenza, Italy, being parachuted in from C-17s into an airstrip called Harir in the northern part of Iraq.
Now, these troops will link up with special forces troops that have already been operating in the area and also with 70,000 Kurdish fighters that are in this area, the northern front yet to be formed. This is the toehold that will allow them to improve an airstrip and bring in bigger aircraft and more equipment, Miles.
O'BRIEN: One of the things we haven't talked as much about -- we have been talking about to the south and ultimately some sort of march toward Baghdad. But there is the issue of keeping the Kurds separate from the Turks. That's a big issue. And that is part of why a U.S. presence there is important. Explain that.
Two factions of the Kurds up here, almost five million Kurds in this area over here. And they have traditionally fought each other. We need to keep them from fighting each other and we need to keep the Kurds separated from the Turkish. There's been a lot of talks going on with the Turks to make sure they don't send large numbers of troops into the northern part of Iraq and cause us another war up here that is unproductive, as the coalition tries to focus on the south.
O'BRIEN: All right, if you could put the satellite imagery through the Telestrator for me, I'll show you exactly where we're headed. We're headed to this northeast corner of Iraq. Let's move the satellite imagery in. EarthViewer.com is the ones that make this tour possible.
As we zoom in to this Kurdish-controlled country, not correct to call this a seizure of an airport. This is, after all, a place that is friendly country, per se. I guess you could call it that. But this airport, this strip which you see in the middle here, it's only about 6,000 feet long. Good enough for a C-130, that sort of thing. It looks like it's not a concrete strip. So it has some limitations, doesn't it?
And here's what you worry about on an airstrip like this. You can certainly land an aircraft. But you notice, there's no aircraft ramps there. So you might have to land an aircraft, disgorge it, get this stuff off the runway before you can land another aircraft. And so a C-130 can operate in and out of about a 3,000-foot strip from an assault standpoint.
But, on the other hand, you want a longer airport and a better airport and you want ramps and you want roads that lead out of the airport, so you can get the stuff off the airport for military operations.
O'BRIEN: All right, here is why this is key. From here to here is about 200 miles. That at the end of the line there is Baghdad. And it is a fairly unimpeded -- in other words, you're at the edge of mountains there. Of course, there are a couple of important places in between, chief among them Tikrit, which is the ancestral home of the Saddam Hussein clan.
SHEPPERD: Indeed, heavily defended, Adnan Division up in that area, the Nebuchadnezzar Division up around the Kirkuk area up here. So there is some tough sledding between this area and Baghdad.
O'BRIEN: All right, Don Shepperd, thank you very much. Appreciate it -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: OK, Miles and General Shepperd, thank you.
After the compelling news of the day has faded away -- and there's a lot of that news -- there's still something that we have missed. What is it? CNN's Jeff Greenfield gives us his take when we come back.
WOODRUFF: We were just watching pictures of those paratroopers who jumped out of the planes, landing in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. Those jumps came last night. As we just heard Miles and General Don Shepperd describing, it is the beginning, the beginning of what will be a northern front in this war in Iraq.
CNN's Jane Arraf is on the phone with us now. She is in the Kurdish-controlled part of northern Iraq that these paratroopers jumped down to last night. Again, they are from the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade.
Jane, are you in a position to see what any of them may be doing down there?
JANE ARRAF, CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: Judy, we are.
We're actually on the edge of the Harir airfield, where the paratroopers jumped earlier on Thursday. And what we are seeing now is the first landing of the troops and the equipment that will make it possible to have a northern front. Now, after the 173rd paratroopers secured the airfield -- and they are now around the perimeters. They're actually huddled around campfires. It's freezing cold here. But they are securing the edges of it. And what we're seeing are transport planes taking off and landing. Now, they appear to be C-130s and C-17s, the biggest of the lot. And they're expected to be carrying troops, as well as possibly tanks, armored personnel carriers, and artillery. Again, this is the beginning of the landing of the equipment that will be needed to actually have a northern front here -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: Jane, can you give as any sense of how many troops are coming in and the kind of equipment that they're bringing in?
ARRAF: Well, earlier, the paratroopers who have secured the perimeter were said to be 1,000 of them. There are 2,000 in the 173rd Airborne Brigade. There are expected to be more.
And defense officials have, of course, said that this will be a significant effort to bring in troops and equipment to launch an offensive from the north. It's not, of course, the northern front that the U.S. had expected or hoped for. That one would have been 60,000 ground troops coming in through Turkey. This is what they have settled for, though, and this is what they say will be effective as well.
Now, they're working in coordination with the peshmerga, the Kurdish guerrilla fighters who are providing transport and logistics for them. This is a long-awaited landing here. The Kurdish forces have been asking for some time for the Americans to come in. And this is the start of it. We will expect to be seeing more of this during the night. They are taking advantage of the cover of night. And it's a very dark night here, moonless in facts.
We're hearing the planes coming in. They're taking off and landing fairly regularly. And there is a lot of activity going on here at the edge of this airfield -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, Jane Arraf, reporting that it is freezing cold in that part of Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq where the paratroopers from the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade came in last night. They secured the airfield. And, as you can tell, from what Jane Arraf was just reporting, the coalition wasting no time. Transport planes are moving in. They're bringing troops and equipment to begin to establish that northern front.
Well, for eight days now, we've, many of us -- not all of us -- but many of us have been glued to our televisions, to our radios, trying to get every piece of information we could about the war in Iraq: troop movements, battles, leaders against leaders.
But CNN's Jeff Greenfield reminds us that war tells other stories.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST (voice-over): It comes at us relentlessly, pulling us from battle to briefing to graphic. And in the middle of this flood of data, it's sometimes very hard to pause, to note that this story, this piece of information needs special attention.
For example, after all those images of the Shock and Awe campaign that was to stun Iraq into quick surrender, here is an article in today's "New York Post" by Harlan Ullman. He's one of the creators of the Shock and Awe strategy. What the U.S. did, he writes, wasn't Shock and Awe at all. It was more of a slogan than an operational strategy. Is this why the Iraqis are still fighting?
Now, here are citizens in the southern Iraqi town of Safwan chanting pro-Saddam slogans, even as allied forces distribute food and water. Does this suggest surprising loyalty to Saddam Hussein? Well, look at this "USA Today" article. It quotes one resident who, asked if Saddam's men are intimidating the crowd, answered, "When the Americans come, I will answer that." How that key city really feels will be a key, in turn, to the whole hearts-and-minds battle.
Now look at a story lurking beneath these images of protests in the Arab streets. The story is of Iraqi expatriates living in Jordan heading back to Iraq to fight against the United States. And according to yesterday's "Wall Street Journal," it's not just Iraqis, but young men from many Muslim nations who have been volunteering their services. What this story implies, at least, is that the allied pledge that they are fighting as liberators is going to be a very hard sell in that so-called Arab street, that even many who despise Saddam Hussein still see the United States as an outside, hostile, colonial force.
Now, look at this much-talked about piece from Tuesday's "Washington Post." It's by Ralph Peters, a retired military officer and an author, a strong supporter of the war. He wrote that, in overruling his military officers, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will bear moral responsibility if the fighting lasts longer and allied casualties are greater. The significance? Well, remember, Rumsfeld and the Pentagon brass waged a bitter bureaucratic war in the first months of the Bush administration. And this may portend a renewal of that battle if opinion on the war were to turn sour.
(on camera): These are some of the stories, I think, that are worth remembering, worth revisiting, because, how they play out will be of major significance long after the compelling image of the day has faded away.
Jeff Greenfield, CNN, New York.
WOODRUFF: Jeff Greenfield taking a step back. And we appreciate it.
Still ahead: Life is anything but normal on the battlefield in Iraq, but Americans here at home are trying to carry on anyway. Our Candy Crowley tells us how they're doing.
WOODRUFF: For some Americans who find themselves spending hours on end watching television coverage of the war, it can be hard to break away. That is especially true if you have a loved one in the war zone.
But, as our Candy Crowley reminds us, life does and must go on.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Springtime and a game of catch on the Washington mall, a gentle breeze and a good meal beside the Pacific Ocean. That other place, the one on TV all the time, might as well be on another planet. And that may be the point.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We happen to be at a very nice spot by the beach where this is a chance for people to get away from CNN coverage, everything, and kind of relax.
CROWLEY: Time to redefine normal again, which, on the home front now, seems to mean life as you live it, only weirder.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm amazed at how unaffected I am by things, how I'm still coming to work and doing the same things and going for a walk in the morning. And it just seems so strange to me, that it's almost a parallel universe.
CROWLEY: More than 70 percent of Americans say they are sad about the war. The barber in Hinesville, Georgia, hears that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They seem more depressed, more of them afraid they're going to lose their jobs. The economy is down and all that kind of stuff.
CROWLEY: Life on the home front seems the same at farmer's market in Los Angeles, but it's more angst-ridden.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think that it's really affecting our business as much as I was worried that it would. But you never know what's going to happen. If there's any kind of terrorism that happens here, I think that would definitely put a damper on everything.
CROWLEY: Nationwide, people shopped less in the first week of the war. One survey found retail sales fell 2 percent from the previous week. Air travel has fallen 10 percent since the war began. And some hotel chains say cancellations are up; 67 percent of people say they're watching the war.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My boyfriend has been watching the TV like every single day. Every time it comes on, he's watching it.
CROWLEY: Maybe fewer people are shopping because they're watching TV. Maybe fewer are flying because they worry about terrorism. Or maybe they worry what the war will do to the economy. Or maybe it's everything.
GREG VALLIERE, SCHWAB RESEARCH GROUP: There's no one economic statistics to point to a downturn. It's just an overall feeling, a psychological feeling, that everything is frozen, everything is on hold. Consumers aren't spending. People aren't buying stock. Everything is waiting for this to be over.
CROWLEY: Which is pretty much the view from a diner in the middle of Kansas.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the sooner this gets done and gets over with, the better for the economy. I think just the uncertainty of it all beforehand was a drag on the economy and airlines, which is big here in Kansas.
CROWLEY: On the home front, life is pretty normal, only with an undertow.
Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.
WOODRUFF: Maybe one message from that is, no matter where you live, you are deeply troubled by this war and the fact that it is going on.
I'm Judy Woodruff. That wraps up our coverage this hour.
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