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Battlefield Report: Dexter Filkins on the Iraq War

March 24, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: Dexter Filkins, welcome.


RAY SUAREZ: Let’s talk a little bit about the two motifs that seem to be emerging from the war– one of resources streaming toward Baghdad, and another of stubborn resistance in cities along the way.

DEXTER FILKINS: Well, I’m in Nasiriyah, and you can see both of those elements right before your eyes. I’m sitting out. It’s late here, it’s past midnight, and middle of the night, and there is an unending bumper-to-bumper stream of American tanks, trucks, material, and troops moving northward, and it hasn’t stopped. It hasn’t stopped for three days. It’s been moving. And this, of course, is the same time where there’s a very intense fire fight just a few miles away in the middle of the city, between American marines and Iraqi forces who, you know, we weren’t even supposed to be there.

RAY SUAREZ: Is it also tough, the marines you’re with, or meeting finding it tough, to fight inside the tighter quarters of an urban area?

DEXTER FILKINS: Well, it’s absolutely tougher. I think what’s interesting here is that the whole American strategy so far has been to avoid the city and to avoid urban warfare and for a whole bunch of reasons, because it’s bloody for the Americans and it’s bloody for the Iraqis, and if they, you know, in the process of defeating this force here, which they undoubtedly will do, they risk alienating a lot of Iraqi civilians, which they don’t want to do. I mean, you know, the entire theme of the Bush administration’s push here to the Iraqi people has been, you know, “our fight’s not with you, it’s with the government. We’re going to go right past the cities and we’re going to go straight to Baghdad.”

Now when you have American marines inside of a city, fighting in such close quarters, it’s bound to and already has made rage for some of the Iraqis who live there. I was at the outskirts of the city today and just meeting Iraqis as they came out, and there were some pretty credible reports that American bombs had killed a number of Iraqi civilians and wounded a number. And they’re angry about it as they would likely be. They’re… they’re… you know, we’re talking about noncombatants, we’re talking about civilians being killed.

RAY SUAREZ: Have you also heard reports from American forces of civilians being injected in between Iraqi and American fighters?

DEXTER FILKINS: Yes. Yeah. The marines are saying that as they move into the city… I mean, it sounds like a terribly confusing situation, and when you hear these stories, you realize why they want to stay away from them, but as the marines move into the city, they’re saying gunmen are jumping out of taxis, coming out of buses, pulling guns on us, they’re pushing, you know, women and children into the streets in front of them. And you can just imagine what that’s like.

RAY SUAREZ: Dexter Filkins, from Nasiriyah in Iraq, thanks a lot.

DEXTER FILKINS: Thank you very much.