Iraq War News Roundup
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JIM LEHRER: U.S. troops faced deadly new fighting in Baghdad today, despite the collapse of government control. And Kurdish forces made sweeping gains in northern Iraq. Kwame Holman has our war news roundup.
KWAME HOLMAN: It was a chaotic day in the Iraqi capital. Diehard fighters again targeted American troops. And with the local police gone, many residents did as they pleased and took what they wanted. U.S. troops manned checkpoints in and around Baghdad today. Iraqi residents were back on the streets of the capital for a second day. Some embarked on a new wave of looting taking carpets, furniture, refrigerators, they even rounded up horses from the stables of the Republican Guard, anything they could carry or cart off from abandoned government offices, and the homes of those within Saddam Hussein’s inner circle. That included the villa belonging to Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who was no where to be found.
The German embassy was among several diplomatic buildings ransacked. Meanwhile, U.S. forces continued to battle sporadically against pockets of Iraqi resistance in the city. U.S. troops stepped up security at checkpoints throughout the capital this evening, after a suicide bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint near the Palestine Hotel. Four marines were wounded.
CAPT. JOE PLENZLER: I think it confirms everything we expected coming here. We came here looking for a fight, and when you are fighting a regime that systematically raped and tortured its own people for so many years, we expected all the dirty tricks to come out.
KWAME HOLMAN: Up the Tigris River from there, near the al-Azimyah Palace, one marine was killed and more than twenty were injured during a four-hour battle with Iraqi soldiers firing from the Imam al-Adham Mosque.
SOLDIER: We learned last night that Saddam and his son were here, so we came down here to find out.
REPORTER: Any sign of them? SOLDIER: No, we ain’t seen nothing, came in and just been taking a lot of small arms RPG fire the entire ride here, and all around this place has been a lot of small arms, a lot of RPG fire. But as far as inside, we haven’t seen nobody.
KWAME HOLMAN: Several Iraqi civilians were caught in the crossfire, including a man who was killed as he walked out onto his balcony during the fight. A six year girl who was sitting in the back seat of passing car was also injured. She was rescued by a translator for British television. Marines treated her head would and airlifted to a military hospital. At the CENTCOM briefing in Qatar this morning, officials gave more details on the fight.
MAJ. GEN. VICTOR RENUART: In terms of the enemy forces, the only report I have that I think is fairly valid is that a number of the killed and captured were dressed in the similar black kinds of garb that we have seen at least other of these paramilitary forces dressed in. Now whether that means they were special Republican Guard or Republican Guard who have changed uniforms or some of these other organizations, I’m really not able to give you more specifics on that.
KWAME HOLMAN: South of Baghdad in the holy city of Najaf, two Shiite Muslim clerics were hacked to death by a mob at the mosque. One was a Saddam loyalist, the other, Abdul Majid al-Khoei, just returned from exile in London. He was the son of a prominent ayatollah who urged support for U.S. troops. The two clerics were attending a reconciliation meeting at the mosque. In northern Iraq, U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters, or peshmerga, faced little resistance as they moved in and took control of the oil rich city of Kirkuk today. We have this report from Julian Manyon of Independent Television News. ( Crowds shouting )
JULIAN MANYON: In Kirkuk there was no need for the American troops to topple the statues of Saddam. The Kurds did for themselves, by hand. ( Crowds shouting )
Here there was no doubting the passion of the crowds. The hand that oppressed them for so long is broken. Saddam’s defeat is a triumph for the Kurds. (Crowds shouting)
Earlier today, the northern front finally broke wide open. On the heels of jubilant Kurdish troops, we drove through what were Iraqi front lines. The burnt out tanks hit by American warplanes testify to the stubborn but futile resistance the Iraqi troops put up until they fled. Today, many surrendered, unable to endure the bombing any longer. These soldiers told me that they hadn’t heard about the fall of Baghdad because any radios they had were confiscated by their officers days ago. For days now, the Iraqis have been falling back on this front, mile by mile, yard by yard. But today, that attempt at a careful retreat has turned into a rout. East of Kirkuk, the Americans were still bombing to open the way for the Kurds. We came in from the west down deserted roads, through the oil fields that have made Kirkuk such a rich strategic prize. At the entrance to the city, the bodies of Iraqi soldiers lay in the road. A statue of Saddam in uniform had failed to inspire resistance and it was torn down by a fire engine commandeered in for the task. (Crowds shouting) (gunfire)
Kurdish soldiers celebrated by firing wildly in the air. Inside the city, an orgy of looting had begun. The Kirkuk Chamber of Commerce was emptied of its contents and Kurdish guerrillas hauled away their loot on pickup trucks. Before our eyes, Kirkuk has given itself over to anarchy. Here in the center, a supermarket is on fire and in front of it, a small crowd is trying to tear down yet another of the images of the fallen dictator, Saddam Hussein. All over the city there is looting, there is firing in the air, and there are still, it seems, small pockets of resistance, particularly in the military district of Kirkuk. But the pillars of Saddam’s power have been smashed by American bombs. This was the headquarters of the secret police in Kirkuk. In the offices of the Ba’ath Party, Kurdish soldiers smashed official slogans and then amused themselves by pretending to be men who used to control this city. For the Kurds, this is the capture of the place that they see as their historic capitol and they are determined to efface every symbol of the tyrant’s rule.
KWAME HOLMAN: There were questions today about the U.S. Marines involvement in the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue yesterday in Baghdad. The marines brought in an M-88 tank recovery vehicle to help a small of group of Iraqis who had been trying to bring down the statue with a rope. One marine briefly had draped an American flag over the head of the statue and then removed it. At the CENTCOM briefing in Qatar today, military officials were asked if U.S. Troops had been ordered no longer to display the American flag in Iraq.
MAJ. GEN. VICTOR RENUART: I don’t think there’s been direction for U.S. Forces not to display a U.S. flag. I think you’ve seen in a couple cases instances where, in sort of enthusiasm and jubilation, we’ve seen some of our forces bring out the American flag, and then think better of it. And truly, there is… the guidance from headquarters is you have to understand that this is the country of Iraq. We will have our flag over our forces where we find our forces. And where the Iraqi people begin to reclaim their country, then the Iraqi flag will be flown. And I think, for example, yesterday you saw both coming from the same young man. So I think we’ll continue to be enthusiastic where we’ve succeeded and understanding of the importance of establishing Iraq for free Iraqis for the future.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: This is George W. Bush, the president of the United States.
KWAME HOLMAN: And messages from Pres. Bush and Britain’s Prime Minister Blair to the Iraqi people were broadcast on a new television station in Iraq today. “Towards Freedom TV” is being broadcast in the country from a U.S. C-130 Hercules aircraft circling in the skies above.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: At this moment, the regime of Saddam Hussein is being removed from power, and a long era of fear and cruelty is ending. American and coalition forces are now operating inside Baghdad, and we will not stop until Saddam’s corrupt gang is gone. The government of Iraq and the future of your country will soon belong to you.
TONY BLAIR: Now we want to give you the chance to rebuild your country, to rebuild your lives, to give your families a chance of that better future. So it is in the spirit of friendship and goodwill that we now offer our help.
KWAME HOLMAN: Despite those appeals, there was no sign of surrender in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, some 100 miles north of Baghdad. The U.S. Military said it was possible that forces still loyal to Saddam were regrouping there. U.S. air attacks continued to target the area. The whereabouts of Saddam and Iraq’s other leaders remained a mystery today. The Associated Press reported U.S. Special Operations teams had searched the rubble of a Baghdad building. There’ve been reports that Saddam was there on Monday, when the place was leveled by U.S. Bombs. The latest U.S. casualty figures showed 105 Americans killed so far. That number may not include casualties from today’s fighting. More than 400 U.S. troops have been wounded. Eleven are missing, and seven are listed as prisoners of war. The official British death toll is 31. The U.S. Military estimates at least 2,300 Iraqi soldiers have died in Baghdad alone. A week ago, the Iraqis claimed more than 6,000 civilians had been killed or wounded in the war. They have not released any casualty figures since then. Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Thanks, Kwame. The crumbling of Saddam Hussein’s regime drew sharply different reactions today in countries around the world. Spencer Michels has that story.
SPENCER MICHELS: One day after the fall of Baghdad, the world’s newspapers ran different headlines, but the pictures all told the same story: Saddam Hussein’s rule was over. Opinions among world leaders were mixed, even in the Arab world. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, cautioned action must be taken quickly to prevent further chaos in Iraq.
PRES. HOSNI MUBARAK ( Translated ): In fact I would ask them now that they have to work on the stabilization of conditions in Iraq, and establish the government bodies so to prevent the chaotic situation in Iraq now. This needs a lot of work and after that we have to go as quickly as possible to a transitional government to things have quieted down in Iraq.
SPENCER MICHELS: Mubarak had met with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Saud al Faisal, who also stressed the urgent need for stability.
SAUD AL FAISAL ( Translated ): The thing which we called for now is to end this lawlessness, which could lead, God forbid, to a total security collapse.
SPENCER MICHELS: And in Jordan, Prince Hassan told the BBC: “There are jitters throughout the region about the possibility of U.S. threats to Syria and possibly Iran resulting in the domino effect.” In the Gaza Strip, a senior Hamas official reacted by urging Iraqi people to rise up against the United States.
ABDEL AZIZ RANTISI: I believe it is the era of Islamic resistance, not only in Iraq, but in all the area, to stop the operation of the U.S., to stop the aggression of the U.S., to stop the stealing to the U.S. of our oil.
SPENCER MICHELS: European reaction included comments from British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who said Iraq could look forward to a better future.
JACK STRAW: Coalition military forces will be doing all that they can to provide a secure environment for the Iraqi people. But for all these difficulties, all the difficulties which may be ahead, without question we are now at the start of a new and much better chapter in Iraq’s history.
SPENCER MICHELS: And Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister who vigorously opposed the war, said he hoped for a quick, peaceful outcome.
DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN ( Translated ): I hope that the fighting will end as quickly as possible for Iraq’s sake, and also that all the international community can work together towards reconstruction with respect to Iraq’s unity, territorial integrity, and sovereignty. Together, we must build peace in Iraq, and for France that means a central role for the United Nations.
SPENCER MICHELS: And at the United Nations in New York, Secretary General Kofi Annan said Iraqis have sacrificed a great deal since the war began.
KOFI ANNAN: It appears there is no functioning government in Iraq at the moment. We also saw the scenes of jubilation, but of course when you think of the casualties both military and civilian, the Iraqis have paid a heavy price for this.
SPENCER MICHELS: Meanwhile, in Washington, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund said they were prepared to help with the rebuilding of Iraq once the war was over, but that new loans would require U.N. Authorization.
JIM LEHRER: In New York City today, an estimated 15,000 construction workers and firefighters rallied in support of the war; they gathered at the site of the World Trade Center. And spread over several blocks, many of them carrying home made signs and chanted U.S.A., U.S.A. — they said the war had actually started there at ground zero, with the 9/11 attacks.