CNN LARRY KING LIVE
War in Iraq Update, Discussion: Does Al Jazeera Go Too Far?
Aired March 27, 2003 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight 12 Marines missing, 14 wounded in fighting around the southern city of Nasiriya. The Pentagon says it will send 120,000 more U.S. troops into the region, and some of the strongest explosions yet rocked Baghdad today.
Eight days into Operation Iraqi Freedom. Is Saddam still alive? Is he in command?
Joining us tonight, the former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Hugh Shelton, Colonel Tom Bright, chief of operations at central command's joint operation center in Doha, Qatar, and Prime Minister John Howard of Australia. Their troops are fighting in Iraq alongside United States and British troops.
We'll also get a different perspective from an Al-Jazeera correspondent and the latest with our team of reporters stationed in and around Iraq.
We start tonight with Nic Robertson, as always. Nic is our senior international correspondent. He is near the Jordanian-Iraqi border, been reporting all day on what happened there.
What is the significance, Nic, of what happened today?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Larry, clearly coalition going after communication facilities again.
This international communications building in the center of Baghdad, very close to the Ministry of Information. This particular building was struck in 1991 on the first night of the Gulf War. A cruise missile went into the seventh floor.
It's taken a week this time for the coalition to choose the target on this night. Flames erupting from the base of it. And from what we've seen in the last few days, the coalition targeting the television station, a satellite service close to the Ministry of Information. This particular communications building.
Clearly the coalition trying to take down some of Iraq's ability to communicate, not only with his people, but around the country, possibly with the military units.
We've also seen, again, targeting of presidential palaces in the center of Baghdad and one of those compounds right next to the river in Baghdad. A huge area. One of the huge palace buildings, one of the biggest buildings. I saw that targeted last week. And I looked at the pictures tonight.
The same building, massive explosions coming out of that building, Larry, when it was hit just last weekend, just across the road outside, a quarter of a mile away. It blew the glass out of shop fronts and some houses, very, very close to the presidential palace. Too soon yet to say what the damage may have been on this night -- Larry.
KING: Thank you, Nic Robertson. As always, he's on the scene. We'll be calling on Nic as we move along.
Let's go to Colin Solloway of "Newsweek" magazine. He's embedded with the Army's 101st Airborne.
Where are you, Colin and what can you tell us?
COLLIN SOLLOWAY, "NEWSWEEK:" Well, I can't tell you exactly where I am. We're in -- We're in central Iraq, 101st. We just moved up -- just moved up from Kuwait a few days ago.
The 101st is getting ready, as you can imagine, to go into action, as well.
Just one point, talking about what -- I just heard this may have happened in the past few hours while I was asleep, that they went after the TV communications buildings.
SOLLOWAY: Before I came over, I was speaking with some folks at the Pentagon who were involved -- who were involved in some of the post-war stuff, and they'd said, you know, in the post-war planning for sort of media stuff. And I had asked them, saying, well, are you going to take down or what's going to happen with the TV transmitters? These things, they said, that's all going to go.
Because it's -- one of the reasons is because it's dual use. It can be used for both civilian and military communications is what they claimed. And one of the things that we saw, also, in Yugoslavia, and which intelligence officers here said is also the case in Iraq, is that it's not uncommon for the military to actually bury or piggyback military communication signals within the TV or radio signals, as well.
And that may be one reason, also, at least they say, why they're going after TV transmitters, as well. Obviously, they also would like to cut off the ability of Saddam to communicate and to show these images that he's been showing.
KING: Colin, quickly. How do you like being embedded?
SOLLOWAY: Well, it's been -- it's been good and bad, as everybody else is having out here, I think. The -- I've been this unit. I'm with an Apache attack battalion and I've been with them for the past, let's see, virtually three weeks or a month. We've endured sand storms, endured horrendous convoys. Another set of sand storms out here right now. And so it's quite good. At least in my experience, I certainly haven't had some of the problems I think that other people were concerned about in terms of being restricted and in terms of being restricted in what you can learn and restricted in what you can report.
I mean, I'm simply -- these are situations where, you know, I can't obviously talk about what's being planned and what's going to happen, but as soon as they do -- as soon as they do then you'll be hearing about it.
KING: Thank you, Colin. Let's go to Jane -- That's Colin Solloway, embedded with the Army's 101st.
Let's go to Jane Arraf, CNN correspondent. She's in a small town about 20 kilometers away from the Harir airstrip. That's the airfield secured by paratroopers.
What's happening there, Jane?
JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Larry, over the past few hours we've been seeing U.S. Army transport planes taking off and unloading in the absolute dark. They're taking advantage of this moonlit night.
And they're unloading troops and, presumably, at some point, tanks and armored personnel carriers and other equipment that they'll need to actually launch this northern front.
Now, the Kurds here, officials, military people and the people, as well, have been waiting for this a long time and they're extremely happy. This is a front that will attack Iraqi forces from the north, Nic -- Larry, sorry.
KING: Is the mood there, Jane, would you say, optimistic?
ARRAF: It's optimistic in a sense. The Kurds, as we know, have been let down before, let down by history, let down by former events during the Gulf War. I mean, they were told to rise up after the Gulf War, told they would get U.S. help and then let down after that.
But they do, almost inexplicably, remain optimistic as they've been longing for the U.S. troops to get here and they believe that this is their best chance. This is sort of a defining moment in history for them. So in that sense they feel there is a certain window of opportunity. They could actually accomplish something and be part of a new Iraq -- Larry.
KING: Thank you, Jane. Jane Arraf doing superb reporting.
Let's go to Washington, D.C., and our man there. General Hugh Shelton, United States Army, retired. The 14th chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Before becoming joint chairman, he was commander in chief of U.S. special operations command.
I want to congratulate you, General. We understand that you have received the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, congratulations.
GEN. HUGH SHELTON, FORMER JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Well, thank you very much, Larry.
KING: Well, what's your assessment thus far? You were with us a couple of days back and now we're into -- going into our ninth day. How's this going?
SHELTON: Well, I think, as we've heard both the secretary of defense, the chairman of the joint chiefs, and General Franks' headquarters briefed, that overall, it's going very well.
I think one of the things we have to keep in mind is, is that the timeline is a timeline that General Franks is setting for what will determine victory in -- with the defeat of the Iraqi forces.
We saw a lot of hype early on. A lot of people thinking that using the word strike or "shock and awe," that we would very quickly be able to advance to Baghdad and be showing the victory sign by day two or three of the operation. And of course, we know it hasn't unfolded that way.
One of the things we have to take into account is what the worst case is and the worst case is, as we're seeing some of that unfold now, is that the Republican Guard, special Republican Guards, would be prepared to defend, that they could potentially even start to use chemical weapons.
And so General Franks will be taking this battle to the enemy at a time and place of his choosing, not in accordance with an Iraqi plan and not in accordance with any other plan dreamed up by someone outside of the Department of Defense.
And so I think, overall, it is progressing in an orderly fashion. I believe that we probably encountered a little more resistance in places along the way than was probably envisioned early on, but I know that General Franks is quickly adjusting his plan and I anticipate that this will continue to go very well.
Saddam can't be happy right now. He's got -- he's got forces on all sides. The noose is tightening around his neck. His days are numbered. And so I think if you were sitting in his command center tonight, it would be a rather bleak picture that he would be looking at.
KING: General Shelton will be with us throughout the hour.
Let's go to Doha, Qatar, where Colonel Tom Bright is standing by. Colonel Bright is with the U.S. Marine Corps. He is chief of operations, joint operations center for the central command forward. JOC is the nerve center for all military intelligence and operations for the Centcom forward.
Colonel Bright, as you know, General Shelton is with us. What can you tell us from your standpoint about how this action is going, from where you in Qatar? COL. TOM BRIGHT, CHIEF CENTCOM JOINT OPS CTR.: Larry, it's going extremely well. The plan that we conceived and the plan that we're carrying out is going very well.
As the chairman mentioned, we are tightening the noose around Saddam. And each day he gets the opportunity to make a choice to fight or not and he has not made that choice and so we're going to continue to take the fight to him.
We're taking it to him from the south, from the west and from the north. So there's no doubt in his mind and certainly from his fielded commanders' minds that he's in for trouble, and no matter how long it takes, we're certainly going to accomplish our mission that we set out to accomplish, and that's to change this regime and to free the Iraqi people.
KING: First to you and then to General Shelton. Has the resistance, Colonel Bright, been surprising?
BRIGHT: No, I don't think so. You have to keep in mind, Larry, these guys have been defending around Baghdad for -- literally for decades, and so this should not be surprising to anybody. We're in their backyard.
It's not like it was in Desert Storm where we kicking them out of Kuwait, where they did not have the opportunity to set up defensive positions as well as they might like to have done. In Baghdad, however, they've had to defend that for literally decades, you could say for hundreds of years, if you would.
But in this case, we've come up with -- come against the type of resistance that one would expect for a sophisticated army and -- but we're going to win and there should be no doubt in the American -- in our coalition and in the American public's mind.
This fight, once we -- as we take it to him, is going to be successful and it's going to be successful on our time line.
KING: It's approaching dawn in Baghdad. General Shelton, do you think the public expected less resistance? Do you think the public expected this to go more quickly?
SHELTON: I think, Larry, that there was a great deal of hope in a lot of areas that this would move very fast.
That, you know, we're almost insatiable when it comes to warning instant, instantaneous results. And certainly if, by day two or three, we could have -- if Saddam had said I quit, I give up, I surrender, that would have been great. But I don't think anywhere in the planning for this, certainly within the Department of Defense, was that ever even considered.
We knew that early on, that the less than Republican Guard type units or what I call the second or third tier type units, would probably fold almost as quickly as they folded, and the drive to the Euphrates would be fairly quick. But once you cross that and you get into the Republican -- special Republican Guards types of units, which we didn't really get into during Desert Storm, because we did stop on day four.
But now we're into that and I think everyone thought that -- we didn't know what the will of the Republican Guards would be. That was the big unknown. The uncertainty, if you will, is how hard they would fight. And so you had to plan that they would, in fight, dig in and decide to fight to the death.
And now we're seeing that they are digging in. They are defending, but this doesn't come as a surprise, nor does the length of time.
It's been an incredibly fast move, if you look at it. Right now in day number seven, our forces are within 50 miles of Baghdad. That's right up at Saddam's front door. That's a very short closure time.
And so we need to keep in mind the progress has been rather good. And there's no rush to fail. We can take our time. We can use that Air Force and Naval air and really go in and finish him off, if that's the way he wants it to end.
KING: Colonel Bright, the reports today and we thank you for being with us for this limited time. We know you're very busy. The reports today were that the ray -- the all-out assault on Baghdad may be a week away. True?
BRIGHT: Larry, I'm not in a position to divulge the timing of our attacks, but let's just say Saddam needs to be worried.
KING: Needs to be worried but you're not going to give us any time frame whether it's imminent or not.
KING: I'm trying.
BRIGHT: No, I'm not. Yes, I know you are.
Let's just say that Saddam, he really ought to be worried a lot about this. We're going to defeat him and his fielded forces.
But, you know, his -- the message to him is certainly -- it's up to him. He chooses to fight each day he goes to bed and gets up in the morning. And if he chooses to fight, then we'll be more than happy to take the fight to him and destroy him.
KING: Thank you, Colonel. Colonel Tom Bright, we'll be calling on you frequently.
Here's a clip of President Bush today addressing the troops -- not the troops, addressing the press at Camp David. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're now engaging the dictator's most harden and most desperate units. The campaign ahead will demand further courage and require further sacrifice, yet we know the outcome. Iraq will be disarmed. The Iraqi regime will be ended and the long suffering of Iraqi people will be free.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: General Shelton, he used the word "desperate," how desperate are they?
SHELTON: I think for certain that by now Saddam has got to understand that with the amount of forces that we have in the region, with those that he now has picked up from the media that are in route, that his days are definitely numbered.
You know, we're fighting a kind of, a little different war than we fought in Desert Storm, for sure. It's a more of a nonlinear battlefield at this point.
But the fact is, as Tom brought out just a few minutes ago, he now is encircled from three sides and he knows that the only chance he's got of surviving is to try to fight us in an asymmetrical manner. If he stands head to head with us, his days are numbered. They're numbered anyway. But they'll be even faster if he decides to keep them in defensive positions and try to defend against the forces that the coalition have coming at him.
KING: General, we are now joined by Omar Al Issawi. Mr. Issawi Is the correspondent for Al-Jazeera.
And just to refresh the memory of our audience, Al-Jazeera was founded in 1996 by the emir of Qatar. It has commanded worldwide attention when it aired a video of Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 terror attacks. While the United States military has criticized it, it's closely watched at Centcom headquarters in Doha.
Omar, from your vantage point there and as you see it from the vantage point of your network, how -- what's your assessment as to how this war is going?
OMAR AL ISSAWI, AL-JAZEERA TV CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think you get conflicting viewpoints, don't you, regarding this war? There are people who want to see it move faster. There are people who are quite satisfied at the moment with the way it's going.
I think that we just have to see how events unfold, chapter by chapter, day by day.
KING: In your opinion, is it going the way you expected?
AL ISSAWI: Well, I'm not a military analyst, but I think that the hype that preceded the launch of this campaign, the "shock and awe" campaign, awe campaign and the talk about a quick victory. Well, that, you know, that hasn't happened if quick was a few days' time. If it's a couple of weeks or three weeks' time, then people might still be proven wrong. We have to wait and see.
KING: What, Omar, is -- how can you explain to the world, and we're being watched around the world, what is Al-Jazeera's role?
AL ISSAWI: Al-Jazeera is here to provide accurate news coverage to its viewers, just like any other network. We've got millions of viewers around the world who expect us to provide a service, balanced, accurate.
And we're trying our best to do that from our correspondents out in the field, be they in Iraq, in Washington, London, various European capitols, Beijing, Moscow and from here in Centcom base in Qatar.
KING: So the network does not have an agenda of any kind?
AL ISSAWI: Not that I'm aware of. We've been called many things in the past. We've been called agents of the CIA, the Israeli Mossad or bin Laden, Iraq. However, I've never been aware of anything and nobody's ever tried to influence us. I can speak for myself personally, never, ever had any pressure from anyone.
KING: General Shelton, how do you view Al-Jazeera? It wasn't around in '91.
SHELTON: Larry, I would say first of all, one of the great things about the United States is that we do have so many freedoms, freedom of press being one of them.
And certainly one of the services I think that Al-Jazeera does perform is that it does give us the balance of seeing, in some cases, what other people think about events as they unfold.
And so, you know, there have been things that Al-Jazeera has done that I find very distasteful, such as the showing of the films of the POWs in violation of the Geneva Convention.
But on the other hand I think it helps sometimes to listen to the way the news is being reported by others around the world, and that gives you a perspective of how maybe the other side, maybe the Iraqis are viewing the actions of the United States.
KING: Before we take a break, let's check in with Ryan Chilcote. He's embedded with the Army's 101st Airborne Division with the 3rd Brigade in central Iraq. Several Iraqis believed to be couriers of Saddam Fedayeen surrendered to the 101st today.
What can you tell us from where you are, Ryan?
RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it looks like the U.S. Army, the 101st Airborne got a little help from Mother Nature after all during that sand storm. We had an absolutely brutal 48-hour plus sand storm here. And in that sand storm, these Iraqis, this group of six Iraqi men apparently got disoriented and lost and approached the base, almost drove up on a position of U.S. soldiers from the 101st just outside the base.
Those soldiers surrounded the car and the Iraqis immediately surrendered. They were taken into custody and I was able to see them a bit later. Like you said, the commanders here do believe that they're part of a group called Saddam Fedayeen, which they're saying is a paramilitary group that is very I loyal to the Iraqi leader, to President Saddam Hussein. And they believe these men were couriers because they found a lot of money, a lot of U.S. dollars, in fact, inside of that vehicle.
Now I spoke with some of the soldiers who were guarding -- it was kind of interesting -- the Iraqis, and I asked them how they felt about how the conditions that they're keeping these Iraqis that they captured in comparison with the conditions that the American POWs are being kept, or at least they think they're being kept, inside Iraq.
Well, he thought that the conditions here were a lot better and he said, we're going to show an example because we want -- all that the Iraqi treatment of POWs has done for us is that, should I get in a situation where I'm faced with dying or surrendering, I'm not going to surrender because I know what I might face.
But the Iraqis hopefully seeing these conditions, and he was going to try to improve those conditions. He was setting up a tent. He brought blankets. One of the Iraqis got some medical treatment; he got some medicine for some asthma. Once the Iraqis, he said see the conditions and if they see those conditions are okay, hopefully more of them will surrender.
KING: Thank you, Ryan. Ryan Chilcote on the scene with the 101st Airborne in central Iraq. We'll take a break and be back with more.
Later we'll be meeting Dr. Marwan Muasher, the Jordanian foreign minister. We'll also be talking with the prime minister of Australia, John Howard.
We'll be right back with General Hugh Shelton and Omar Al Issawi. Don't go away.
KING: We're WWe'vWee're back on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE with Omar Al Issawi, the correspondent for Al-Jazeera in Doha, Qatar.
How do you respond to General Shelton's statement about your network showing the POWs?
AL ISSAWI: I think the general used the word "distasteful." That's his opinion and we respect his opinion. We don't really use that criteria when we judge what we're going to broadcast. We are just interested if the material that we've got is news worthy and that's how we decide whether to go on air with it or not.
KING: So in other words, you don't make a judgment decision, then, on taste or whether this thing might be objectionable to some? If you think it's newsworthy you go with it.
AL ISSAWI: Well, basically, I think that's the criteria for most news organizations. The threshold might be different. The level of tolerance might be different and I think that will vary from culture to culture.
But if you examine Al-Jazeera's track record, them you will find that we've done similar things in the past. As a matter of fact, just prior to the airing of the POW tape. we had some graphic images of casualties in Iraq and we broadcast that. They were the same graphic nature.
Basically we're just trying to cover the news from both sides of the conflict as we see it.
KING: General, are they just coming from two different viewpoints here?
SHELTON: Well, no doubt about it, but I would hasten to add two wrongs don't make a right. And in this case, I think, being -- reporting in a responsible manner and reporting -- reporting in a balanced fashion is what most newsworthy organizations or what most international organizations do, making sure that in some cases, for example, that if you're going to report certain items that you have at least two sources for that data.
I think -- I was told one time by the CEO of CNN that that was one of the criteria, of always trying to corroborate reports that you were getting before going on the air with it.
And then, of course, abiding by international laws and international customs. And I think that's where I have a real difference of opinion when it comes to showing not just the U.S. casualties, but also any other casualties, including Iraqi.
KING: General, what about those who say -- the Geneva Conventions may say don't show POWs, but doesn't it give the family a chance to see their loved ones?
SHELTON: Well, Larry, it certainly would give a chance to see loved ones, but so would showing casualties. As the gentleman just said that they did, showing Iraqi casualties. And I find in this case both of those are unacceptable.
There are provisions under the Geneva Convention -- which by the way, Iraq had not complied with, or has not as of yesterday, I'm not sure what has happened today -- to allow the International Red Cross to come in and verify and report back to the loved ones, not only their status, but their health conditions, et cetera.
KING: General Shelton, are these casualties, I think the number is a little over 20, about as expected, frankly?
SHELTON: Larry, you know, the casualties are an outcome of a lot of things. Depending on how dangerous the operation is, the amount of resistance you get. You have to worry about safety, fratricide, weather conditions and so it's awfully tough to put a figure and say yes, well, that's an acceptable figure.
I would say you look at those casualties and based on the amount of contact you've had, based on the types of accidents that you've had, then you make an assessment as to whether or not this is going well.
I would say certainly everyone -- with every individual that we've lost on the American side or on the coalition side, to include our British allies, is tragic and our hearts and prayers go out to the families of those that we've lost. Our men and women that are being held captives right now have been trained very well. They know that America will make e every effort to get them back to get them back as rapidly as we possibly can.
KING: We're going to take a break, come back with General Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the joint chiefs, and Omar Al Issawi, correspondent for Al-Jazeera. We'll take some phone calls.
We'll also be talking with Dr. Marwan Muasher; he is the Jordanian foreign minister. He'll also meet the Honorable John Howard, the prime minister of Australia.
Tomorrow night, Bob Sheffer (ph) of CBS, Bob Woodward of the "Washington Post" will be among the guests.
Heidi Collins will have news headlines. We'll have a word or two and we'll be right back.
KING: Welcome Back to LARRY KING LIVE. We'll rejoin General Hugh Shelton and Omar al Issawi in just a moment, but we're going to spend that moment with Dr. Marwan Muasher. He is the Jordanian foreign minister, and he's standing in the cold, and we appreciate him.
A couple of things, Dr. Muasher. Does your country support the United States efforts in this conflict? Do you support this war?
MARWAN MUASHER, JORDANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Larry, we're not a participant in this war. We have tried, in fact, to find a diplomatic way out that would achieve the same objectives without going to war. We were not, obviously, able to do that. And now that the war has started, our principal objective is to make sure that it ends at the soonest possible time with the minimum of casualties. The longer the war takes, the more frustrated people in this region are.
KING: Your government expelled three Iraqi diplomats yesterday. Why?
MUASHER: These Iraqi diplomats were involved in security activities that were not commensurate with their diplomatic status in Jordan. We chose not to reveal the details of their activities because, at this time, we feel that the efforts should be directed at helping the Iraqi people. And as such, we've asked them to leave and told the Iraqi government that we are ready to receive diplomats in their place.
KING: How do you respond, Dr. Muasher, to Iraq's charges that Jordan is allowing United States force -- I want to get this right -- to use its territory to launch attacks on Iraq and are preventing food aid tracks from reaching Iraq? How do you respond?
MUASHER: We have a number of U.S. troops. We've made that public a long time ago. They are here in the country to install and train our troops on the use of the Patriot battery missile systems and on other logistical affairs, but they are purely here for defensive purposes. The U.S. troops in Jordan are not participating in the war against Iraq.
As far as the trucks are concerned, as you know, all the traffic, or most of the traffic have stopped because of the war and not because of us preventing trucks from entering. In fact, of all the countries neighboring Iraq, Jordan is the only country that has still some trucks going into Iraq, despite the security situation.
KING: I know there are a lot of Iraqis living in Jordan. "The New York Times" reported I think 4,300 Iraqis left Jordan. Is that -- do you certify that? Is that correct?
MUASHER: Yes, we have about 400,000 Iraqis living in the country, people who have fled Iraq after the Gulf war in 1990. About 4,300 of them went back last week.
KING: Are there still a lot of protests in your country against the allied action?
MUASHER: There is a lot of protest against war, and I think, you know, the images of casualties on TV are not helping. It is that -- that is why it is very important for us now to try to find a quick end to the war, to try to minimize civilian casualties and to make sure that Iraq's territorial integrity is preserved and that the Iraqi people are free to rule themselves.
KING: Do you expect a refugee problem coming?
MUASHER: We are making arrangements for a potential refuge problem coming. So far, we have not had many refugees coming. In fact, no Iraqis have come so far. But of course, most of the refugees that would come from Jordan would come from the center of Iraq, meaning Baghdad. And since the battle has not started in Baghdad yet, we have not seen such an exodus. But we remain prepared to see it in the near future.
KING: Do you think King Abdullah has been in touch with President Bush or Prime Minister Blair?
MUASHER: The king has been in touch with many world leaders. And I'm not sure, you know, of the situation in the last 24 hours, but we have been trying to, as I said, find a diplomatic way out and find a quick end to the conflict. It is very important to do that.
It is also, Larry, I must point out, very important to also pay attention to the other conflict in our region, the Arab-Israeli conflict. And both the president and Prime Minister Blair are very well -- very aware of this point. And in fact, in their meeting at Camp David, they have discussed the need to move ahead with the roadmap and to pay serious attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well.
KING: Thank you very much, and thanks for staying outside for us. Dr. Marwan Muasher. He is the Jordanian foreign minister.
Let's return to Hugh Shelton in Washington, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Omar al Issawi, the correspondent for Al- Jazeera. You have a number of correspondents in Baghdad, do you not, Omar?
AL ISSAWI: Yes, we do. And we've got correspondents in Basra and a couple in northern Iraq.
KING: Have they been interfered with in their reporting in any way?
AL ISSAWI: I'm not aware of that.
KING: General Shelton, what do you think of the idea of embedded reporters?
SHELTON: Well, Larry, I think, first of all, that the embedded reporters have shown the American people the great strengths of our armed forces, the great men and women that serve. They've got a chance to see our leaders in action, our non-commissioned officers, our officers. All of that, I think, has gone very well and bodes well for the idea.
I get a little bit concerned, now that we're in the execution phase of it, when I hear statements made like, We are located a hundred meters south of an Nasiriyah, because that gives targeting level and information to Saddam. For the most part, that's gone pretty well. But I think, in the end, that in the final analysis, it will be the impact that the combatant commander and his subordinate commanders see on any impact that it might have had on either operational security or on their ability to carry out their operations. Overall, it seems to be going very well.
KING: Omar, are any Al-Jazeera reporters also embedded?
AL ISSAWI: Yes, we've got one with a U.S. Marine Expeditionary Unit. I believe he's in the area of Umm Qasr, at the moment.
KING: General Shelton, the biggest roadblock that you see or the biggest surprise, if I could use that word, thus far has been what in all of this? It's still short. It's only eight, nine days. What has, if anything, surprised you the most?
SHELTON: Larry, I would say right up front I have not seen any really big surprises. If I had to name one, I would say that it's that the Iraqis and Saddam himself was not smart enough to see that the inevitable was in front of him and not allow his people to suffer the losses that they have suffered and that he knows they will suffer as American forces continue to advance. But again, for an individual like Saddam, I guess that shouldn't come as any great surprise. But overall, I think that what we've seen unfold is a scenario that was very likely from the very beginning and something that could very -- we could very easily anticipate being the course that this war would take.
KING: Let's take a phone call or two. Fayetteville, North Carolina. Hello.
CALLER: Hello, Larry. How are you today?
CALLER: Good. This question's going out to Mr. Shelton. And first, I'd like to say, General, it was definitely an honor to serve under you in Fort Bragg, so...
SHELTON: Thank you.
CALLER: My question is, with the dual encirclement of Baghdad by the Republican Guard -- back in high school, we used to use the football drill, man in the middle, and you'd get hit from both sides. What do you think the possibilities are of them letting us penetrated that and utilizing that, as you would say, maybe red zone to try to capitalize?
KING: The old trap play.
CALLER: That's right.
SHELTON: Well, I don't think there's any question that we've got to be on guard for that, and I have no doubt at all that General Franks has got a branch or a sequel to his basic plan that would deal with exactly that type of a scenario unfolding.
KING: Tell us about General Franks and your estimation of him. You know him well?
SHELTON: I know Tommy Franks very well. I had the honor of serving as chairman while he was our combatant commander. He's the man -- he's the man for the -- for the job. He's the man in the right place at the right time, and I have the utmost confidence in his leadership and his able ability to carry out this mission for -- on behalf of the president and the secretary of defense. And I think that it's unfolding as Tommy Franks probably envisioned it unfolding, and I have no doubt that he's -- that this will -- he will see this through with very good success.
KING: What do you make of the purported siege of Baghdad? Major Bright (ph) wouldn't tell us about when. We heard today it's still maybe a week away. You're not in the military anymore, so you can conjecture better.
SHELTON: Larry, I think that what we've got now is a situation that we ought not to try to rush. We have some tremendous firepower available to us in the form of Air Force and Naval air. Saddam can't defend against that. There's no place to hide. If you tried to defend in that desert against a -- in a symmetric manner, as it appears that maybe he's trying to do, at this point, once that weather clears, he's almost a sitting duck. And so rather than try to attack him head on in a symmetric fashion, a defender, where you have to have a much higher ratio of offensive forces than you do defensive, it's just time to take our time, use the great joint firepower available to the combatant commander and decimate him before you commit the forces.
And I have no doubt that that's what their plan is. And so the siege of Baghdad, per se, is one where we shouldn't rush to say we've got to have Baghdad in the next three days, the next seven days or even the next four weeks. We can take our time. We can do it right. We can minimize the losses to our own troops, the coalition troops, and still be victorious in due time.
KING: Ventura, California, hello.
CALLER: Hello. My question is for General Shelton.
KING: Go ahead.
CALLER: I'd like to know what the distinction is between classifying people from "missing in action" to "whereabouts unknown."
KING: Yes, we had that last night, General. Parents were on of a young man who was first reported missing in action. Then they got a call from the Pentagon, whereabouts unknown. And our military adviser on the show said he'd never heard that term.
SHELTON: Well, Larry, I'm not a legal expert, in terms of the differences between the different types of classifications, but I would say that very clearly, if you have individuals that are missing and you do know where they are, then you obviously have got a prisoner of war or a missing in action prisoner of war. There are other cases where you have a missing in action, and you can't account. You don't know if they're dead or alive.
You know, we've had -- and over our -- and throughout our history numerous cases of that. And so you have to be very careful not to make any prejudgments. Sometimes you might look at an aircraft action and say no one could have survived that. And in essence, someone did survive it, we've found in the past. And so you carry those as missing instead of either POWs or killed.
KING: Let's get an update and go the to the Pentagon, where our man, Jamie McIntyre, is standing by. Jamie, what's the latest?
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Larry, we're learning a little bit more details about what caused that massive explosion in downtown Baghdad earlier today. It was seen on CNN at about 3:00 PM Eastern time. It turns out -- there was a lot of speculation at the time because of this huge cloud that this might have been that so- called MOAB, the "mother of all bombs," the 21,000-pound bomb, which is not really suitable for an urban area.
But after a little research, we have discovered, in fact, it was a GBU-37, 4,500-pound bunker-buster bomb. Now, this is one of the bigger bombs in the U.S. inventory, and it dropped by a B-2 stealth bomber over Baghdad against a communications facility, communications center. Made a huge explosion and a very large cloud over Baghdad. Really shook the city.
And again, one of the precision-guided bunker-busting bombs dropped on that target, according to Pentagon sources -- Larry.
KING: Thank you, Jamie McIntyre. Around the clock, he's on the scene.
Omar, does Al-Jazeera stay with this war 24 hours?
AL ISSAWI: Yes, we do. We provide round-the-clock coverage of this war, updates throughout the day from all of our correspondents all over the world. We try to take into account the time difference, and therefore, we present parts of our bulletin from Washington primetime U.S. time.
KING: We'll take a break and be back with more, take some more phone calls. Then we'll be meeting the prime minister of Australia, the honorable John Howard.
You're watching LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
KING: It's early morning in Baghdad. As you can see, another clear day. And we're hearing bursts of bombshells going off. We don't see any action, but there -- the sounds are reported there in downtown Baghdad.
We'll be hearing shortly from the prime minister of Australia. We're with General Hugh Shelton and Omar Al Issawi.
Let's go to Nottingham, Pennsylvania. Hello.
CALLER: Good evening, Larry.
CALLER: My question is for Omar.
KING: Yes. Go ahead. CALLER: I currently have a son, my only son, on the ground in Iraq. I'm very proud of what he's doing. But I saw footage of Al- Jazeera showing executed soldiers on TV. Why is it that they're not showing the things that took place yesterday in Iraq, the man who had his tongue cut out because he was a dissident, or the woman who was hung for waving at the coalition force?
AL ISSAWI: Ma'am, we don't know for a fact, it hasn't been established that those soldiers were allegedly executed. That's one. And I assure you, first of all, when we broadcast our images, there is no malicious intent on our part, and we don't hide anything. We provide the information as soon as it gets to us, once it's been reviewed by our editorial board. And therefore, I mean, this is war, and no matter how hard you try, you can't sanitize war.
We're not about -- if the insinuation is complicity with the regime in Baghdad, then I'm afraid that we have to reject that categorically. Basically, we're just trying to cover what we have available to us. Whatever images are available to us, from whichever side of the conflict, we provide to our viewers very, very faithfully, I must stress.
KING: General Shelton, what does the military want and not want covered? Is it a thin line?
SHELTON: I don't think the line is too thin, Larry. What the military would not like to have covered is, first of all, on the operational side, anything that would aid, abet, assist, support or in any other way help the enemy or know what the intent of our forces are, their location being one of them, and the direction of movement, et cetera. That's one.
And secondly, of course -- and I assume you're referring to by the U.S. media -- but certainly, anything that would be in violation of the Geneva Convention or that would cause undue stress and anxiety on the part of those family members of those that were serving.
KING: Thank you very much. Let's go to Green Bay, Wisconsin. Hello.
CALLER: Hi. I was wondering why these people have been oppressed with mental and physical abuse for 20 years, and we think in eight days, we're going to cure it. And why is the media so obsessed with a timeline, when this is not done even in an abusive atmosphere?
KING: General Shelton?
SHELTON: Well, Larry, all I can say is, I'm with her. I think that she asked a very good question, and I think that those that want to try to rush this in accordance with a timeline are basically just asking for trouble.
KING: Yes. SHELTON: We have a great armed forces. We've got a lot of great technology. We can use that technology, in conjunction with the high quality force we've got, to achieve victory while minimizing casualties to our forces. And again, we gave Saddam a chance not to have any casualties, either. All he had to do was, as President Bush told him very clearly, comply with the U.N. resolutions, disarm as you promised you'd do, and get on with it.
SHELTON: ... fight.
KING: Hold it, General. I'm told we're going to go to southern Iraq and get a report from CNN's Jason Bellini.
Jason, where are you, and what can you tell us?
JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Larry, I'm in the port of Asu Baer (ph). This is a naval port. But the information I have for you is about Umm Qasr. We were just there. And their efforts are centered on trying to get humanitarian aid into the port. Yesterday, they were hoping to have a ship dock for the first time at this port, but they were unable to do so because of more mines that have been found in the port itself.
I spoke with one of the munitions experts, and he told me that it's going to be a major effort to find these mines. They've even brought in dolphins to assist them, trying to find -- locate these mines inside the port. There are also a few ships that have been left behind in the port that also have some land mines on them.
It's a tricky situation for them, but they're feeling a lot of pressure from above to get this port open as quickly as they can. President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have said that they want to reinitiate the oil for food program and get humanitarian aid into Iraq, and they -- and unfortunately, they are not able yet to get these ships in, even though it's sitting just off of dock.
KING: Thank you, Jason. Jason Bellini in southern Iraq. And thank you, General Shelton, for being with us. And thank you, Omar al Issawi, as well. General, good luck to you, and always great having you with us.
SHELTON: Thanks very much, Larry.
KING: Let's go to Canberra, Australia, where we're joined by the prime minister of Australia, the honorable John Howard.
Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much for being with us. Give us first your perspective as to how the war is going.
JOHN HOWARD, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Larry, I believe it's going very well. It's got to be remembered that this is a war in which unprecedented steps are being taken by the United States, Britain, Australia and other participants to minimize the impact on civilian populations. There's been a scrupulous regard for the interest of the civilians, of the noncombatants.
And people who perhaps were running around saying it should have been over by now, or it should, in prospect, be over in a few days' time have to pay some regard to the way in which it's being conducted and to recognize that it is being conducted by nations that do have a proper regard for human life, and it's being fought against an opponent that has no regard for human life. And they are factors that are affecting the way in which the war is being conducted.
KING: Mr. Prime Minister, what's your reaction to the protesters in your country? You've been a staunch supporter in the Bush-Blair program, right with them. But a lot of people in your country don't agree. Your reaction?
HOWARD: Well, I accept that. Australia is a very robust democracy, and I respect the right of people to disagree with the government's decision. I have no doubt that we're taking the right decision. I've been a strong supporter of disarming Iraq for a long time. And unfortunately, the United Nations was not able to summon the sense of unity and courage to deal with the thing effectively.
And I have no doubt that there's a lot of support in Australia for what we're doing. Public opinion has shifted quite a bit since we made our commitment. But in the end, our stance has not been driven by opinion polls. It's been driven by what we believe is right.
KING: You were invited, Mr. Prime Minister, to be at Camp David tonight with Mr. Bush and Prime Minister Blair. You declined. Why?
AL ISSAWI: Oh, it's not that I didn't want to talk to them. And as it happened, we talked over the phone. But I felt that right at the moment, the best thing for me to do was to be in Australia, bearing in mind that it only takes six-and-a-half hours to go from London to Washington and that takes about 24 hours to go from Canberra to Washington. And it's -- I took a rain check on the invitation, and I might have the opportunity again of talking face to face.
But we have had a lot of discussions, the president and I, and we have a very important commitment. We have special forces. We have a squadron of Hornets. We have naval personnel, mine clearance experts. For a country our size, our contribution is very significant, and we are very committed to the objectives of the military campaign.
KING: No casualties, but you have lost, I understand, an Australian journalists. Cameraman Paul Moran was killed by a car bomb, is that correct?
HOWARD: Yes, he was killed by a car bomb, and it's almost certainly the case that it was the work of a suicide bomber of an organization associated with al Qaeda that has, at the very least, been accommodated by elements of the Iraqi regime, that it was another demonstration of the willful behavior of international terrorists and how they target people without any regard for even life, including their own.
KING: Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Blair has brought this up. Are you focusing a lot of attention on post-war Iraq?
HOWARD: Well, we are. We believe that, inevitably, there must be an interim period of American-supervised administration. We then see a greater role for the United Nations. It has to be a role, in our view, that accepts the propriety of what has been done by the United States and Great Britain and Australia and others. It's got to be borne in mind that the countries that have made the commitment and brought about the disarmament of Iraq.
And most particularly, but not only the United States has a right to express a strong view about the post-conflict arrangements and to have that view respected, but all of us agree that the future belongs to the Iraqi people. And I want the people of Iraq to be able to choose the form of government that best suits them. I want their oil assets to be for their future benefit. And I think they are views and aspirations that are shared in common by the president -- by President Bush and by the British prime minister, Tony Blair.
KING: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for giving us this time, and congratulations, I understand, are in order. You did win the world cricket championship.
HOWARD: We did, indeed, and we're very happy about it. Thank you.
KING: Prime Minister John Howard, the prime minister of Australia.
We'll see you tomorrow night with Bob Schieffer and Bob Woodward.
Heidi Collins has the headlines, and Aaron Brown is right around the corner. I'm Larry King. Good night.
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