Inside Iraq with New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins
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TERENCE SMITH: Dexter Filkins, welcome. We’re pleased to have you on the broadcast.
DEXTER FILKINS: Thanks very much.
TERENCE SMITH: Tell us what you’ve been able to see and hear and observe along the border between Kuwait and Iraq.
DEXTER FILKINS: Well, I’m just… I’m just a couple miles from the Iraqi border, and four-and-a-half hours today, I just… tonight, I witnessed the most extraordinary bombardment — mostly artillery, but a lot of planes, but just felt like a thunderstorm and an earthquake combined — just shell after shell after shell.
And then troops going across the border — tanks, troop carriers rolling across. Where I am, it looked like most of the forces were heading due north to Basra, which is Iraq’s second largest city, where all the oil facilities are. There’s a lot of oil fields there, and… but just troops rolling through under cover of this really amazing bombardment.
TERENCE SMITH: And this bombardment, of course, was coalition artillery firing into Iraq — ahead of the troops?
DEXTER FILKINS: Yes, yes. It was American and British troops, and the guns were here, pointed in, and firing away.
And I have to say, I don’t think… I didn’t hear a single shot come back. And you know, the closer you get to war, the more horrifying it is. And I have to say, I pity anybody who was on the receiving end of what I saw today.
TERENCE SMITH: Do you have any evidence, in fact, that there were Iraqi units there in that area?
DEXTER FILKINS: Well, it’s… that’s an interesting question. I was just up on the border, and can see the Iraqi watchtowers and right just across from the Kuwaiti watchtowers. And, you know, in some cases they’re only a few hundred yards apart.
And I looked and looked at the Iraqi watchtowers, and didn’t see a bit of movement. And I think they were empty. And the word here is that there really isn’t anything Iraqi at all for, you know, ten or fifteen miles inland. So these shells were going pretty far.
TERENCE SMITH: There was a lot of discussion today whether this is the actual full-scale movement, or whether it’s something more preliminary than that. What you’re describing sounds pretty big.
DEXTER FILKINS: Well, you know, I was in the… I was in Afghanistan for the war there, and I have to say that the scale of this just dwarfs what I saw in Afghanistan. This doesn’t look preliminary in any way to me. This looks like the main event — big in every sense.
TERENCE SMITH: We’ve had reports of missiles being fired from Iraq into Kuwait, across the border. Do you have any information on that? I gather most did not strike any meaningful targets?
DEXTER FILKINS: They didn’t. I think a couple were hit… intercepted by American Patriot missiles before they could land, but I talked to…
I didn’t see the missiles, the Iraqi missiles coming in, but a friend of mine did, and said that he was by a Kuwaiti checkpoint today when one of the missiles landed. It shook the buildings, it shook the windows, but nobody was hurt. I mean, I have to say that if that’s all… if that’s all there is, just three or four of those, I mean, what we saw come out of Iraq today was just a tiny, tiny fraction of what the Americans and the British delivered going in to Iraq today.
TERENCE SMITH: Were there both American and British units involved?
DEXTER FILKINS: Yes, yes. My understanding… I had a chat with a British officer a couple of days ago. The bulk of the British force is going to head for Basra.
And that’s an important city because it’s the second largest city, and what the coalition, what the Americans and the British are hoping for is a quick victory there.
It will be, you know, it will certainly boost spirits here. It will probably take some political pressure off the British if it succeeds. And it will demoralize, you know, ideally, it would demoralize the Iraqi units closer to Baghdad if it fell quickly. But yes, there’s a lot of British forces here — and American forces — and together they appear to be rolling due north for Basra.
TERENCE SMITH: And is this movement continuing? Are there troops still going north?
DEXTER FILKINS: Well, it’s late here. It’s about 1:00 A.M., and it’s very dark, but just about an hour ago, you know… all sorts of rumbling. And there was — a big convoy crossed in front of where I’m staying and left off very dark and just rolling towards the border. So, just until very recently, these things were still making their way towards the border.
TERENCE SMITH: Right. And finally, have you been able to speak to any of these troops? Have you any way of gauging their morale now that they are finally on the move?
DEXTER FILKINS: Well, I have. I didn’t speak to any… I did speak to a couple today and yesterday. And you know, I think there was a certain edginess on their part, and anxiety.
And the troops I spoke to, you know, they had just stopped and were waiting for the word. And so there was kind of a… you know, there was an edginess in their voice and a bounce in their step, and they were ready to go. And now I think, you know, that’s why they’re here, and I think they’re on their way.
TERENCE SMITH: Dexter Filkins, thank you very much, and keep your head down, will you?
DEXTER FILKINS: Thanks very much.