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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Firefight in Northern Iraqi Town of Mosul

Aired July 22, 2003 - 13:51   ET

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

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Another big story we've been following all day, is that firefight in the northern Iraqi town of -- not town, it's a big city, third largest city in Iraq, of Mosul, long firefight involving the 101st Airborne Division. Four are dead, four Iraqis are dead, I should say, and it's possible that two of them might have been the sons of Saddam Hussein.
For more on potential confirmation on all of this, we turn now to our senior White House correspondent John King.

John, just a few moments ago, we saw the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, not confirming much of anything. I assume you've had a chance to work the phones. Are you getting any sort of hint as to where this might be headed?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Miles, behind the scenes here, there is growing optimism that in fact the two sons of Saddam Hussein were killed in this raid in Mosul. But you're exactly right in saying the public face of this White House is very a cautious one right now. In part, because in the past, we've seen both in Iraq and in the war in Afghanistan initial reports from the field have turned out not to be true or not to be exactly as initially reported as well. So they are quite cautious publicly here at the briefing.

Press Secretary McClellan did say that say that the president has had several conversations with the Defense Donald Rumsfeld today. But he wanted to leave it there for now. He says he's waiting for more word, more definitive information, from the Pentagon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: I am aware of the reports, Campbell. I'm not in a position at this time to confirm anything. There was a military operation earlier today. And I think that any additional updates or information about that particular raid will come from the Department of Defense, and so I think you should stay in touch with them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Obvious caution there. Much more excitement, if you will, if you talk to officials privately. One put it a short time ago -- we can't say for certain, but there is hope in my heart. This official who has access to intelligence, says it was very solid intelligence the U.S. military had that both Uday and Qusay Hussein were in the house at the time of the firefight. Still, what we are being told now, is they are awaiting definitive confirmation from the Pentagon. Miles, officials here say they need to be careful until they get that confirmation, but they do acknowledge behind the scenes that it would, as one official put it, brighten the spirits of senior administration officials here, who of course have been under some fire of late. Some saying there was not a sufficient security plan to win the peace, if you will, on the ground in Iraq.

And of course the recent controversy as well, some accusing the administration of exaggerating and hyping the intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs. This would be something if Uday and Qusay Hussein are dead, would be one way for the administration to say it is meeting the key military objectives inside Iraq, even as these other controversy bubbles up -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's John King at the White House.

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