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Inside Baghdad: Jon Lee Anderson

April 7, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: Jon Lee Anderson, we are hearing tales here, so many stories about the big ground war that’s now under way in Baghdad. Tell us what you’re seeing.

JON LEE ANDERSON: Well, tonight Monday night in Baghdad at this very moment it’s quiet. There were still crashes in the night until a little while ago. But I awoke this morning to combat right across the river from where I am in the presidential palace complex. And one of the first things I saw was American tanks on the shore, and Iraqi soldiers running away from them along the shore. And nine hours of gun battle ensued. Along with it one of these dust storms that comes and goes from Baghdad, coincided with this battle – hence obscured much of the palace, what was going on there most of the day. But it was a huge bats with the tanks that were obviously some bombs dropped from the air, there were small arms fire, and also the crackling, exploding sounds which went on for a long time of exploding ammunition. It sounded like Chinese New Year a bit, a loud crackling sound.

When the smoke cleared, this afternoon, I looked across and I did once again make out a couple of the tanks that had been there in the morning. And then I noticed there was two figures on the embankment on this side, that is on the embankment that runs down towards the river and I picked up some binoculars and could clearly see two American soldiers sitting side by side, just taking in the view. And it’s so close and yet so far, there they are, that is now United States’s patch of Baghdad and I’m just on the other side of the river. If I could wake it, if there was a little bridge between us, I suppose it would take about ten to twelve minutes, that’s how close we are. I’m still in Saddam Hussein’s controlled Iraq, and they’re there, in his palace, it’s extraordinary.

GWEN IFILL: Is that extraordinary. Does Baghdad feel at all like a city under siege to you right now?

JON LEE ANDERSON: Well, yes, it does. But it’s a very strange siege, because our countrymen, the Americans have been since Friday taking pieces of it, first the southern suburbs of the airport and then last night and this morning today the presidential palace compound, which is right at the heart of the city. While I was watching those Americans this morning, the minister of information appeared in the driveway of the hotel next to me, the Palestine, where most of the press is staying, and gave a brief press conference denying at all in Baghdad. And so the surrealism of the regime and the propaganda war continues, and until the Americans appeared in full view of us, if I weren’t for the life line of Internet or Sat phones, which we have, I suppose we would be like most people in Baghdad, completely adrift as to what is really going on with a major propaganda battle taking place, to hear, especially to guide our perception.

GWEN IFILL: There is certainly nothing like the evidence of one’s own eyes. You said you saw some Iraqi soldiers running away. Have you seen signs of Iraqi resistance?

JON LEE ANDERSON: Well, yes. This morning when the tanks appeared, actually the first thing I saw was a group of Iraqi soldiers running, and I couldn’t quite see why, although I heard the sounds of fighting. And then I noticed the tank just above them, and then all along the palace sort of perimeter, along the embankment across the river in front of me I could see more and more soldiers appearing running, and even some that had to come down into the water and swim around a security fence, that came down the embankment into the water and continuing to run along the embankment, maybe fifty or sixty for a period of time were running away.

And then later in the morning, I was able to cross the river, two bridges down, not close to this palace, but say a half-mile further down, and I could see lots of soldiers, irregulars really, some were in motley uniforms, some were in uniforms, some were in civilian clothes carrying anti-tank grenades, carrying Kalashnikovs, usually in twos and threes. Some appeared to be heading towards the palace as if they were going to go in and try to fire on the Americans. Others were just sitting around on streets enter sections. But there was a new air definitely in the city, and that was one of a city where the main body of security for the regime seems to have evaporated.

GWEN IFILL: Jon Lee Anderson, thank you so much for joining us.

JON LEE ANDERSON: Thank you. Thank you for having me.