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Iraq War News Roundup

April 8, 2003 at 12:00 AM EST
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KWAME HOLMAN: In western Baghdad, U.S. Army units beat back Iraqi fighters at a crucial intersection. In the eastern part of the city, marines defeated an armored force and captured a key airport. Amid the fighting, warplanes swarmed overhead, hunting new targets.

The U.S. air attack on Baghdad continued today, launched from jets taking off from the U.S.S. “Constellation” in the Persian Gulf. Meanwhile, there still was no confirmation of success in the attack on the military’s primary target, a restaurant in the upscale al Mansour neighborhood where Saddam Hussein was believed meeting with his two sons and military leaders. A B-1 bomber yesterday dropped four 2000-pound bunker buster bombs on the area, flattening three houses and creating a 60- foot-deep crater. At central command in Qatar, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said he couldn’t confirm Saddam was killed in the attack.

BRIGADIER GEN. VINCENT BROOKS: We had credible information that indicated that there was a regime leadership meeting occurring yesterday. While it’s not useful to get into any speculation on who might have been present at that meeting, what we will say is that we had an opportunity– as we’ve said before, we respond to opportunities– but we had an opportunity to attack that particular regime leadership meeting. We believe that the attack was effective in causing destruction of that facility. As to who was inside and what their conditions are, it will take some time before we can make that full determination.

KWAME HOLMAN: Iraqi rescue workers used bulldozers to pull three bodies from the rubble: An elderly man, a woman, and a small child. Meanwhile there were reports today that the only known restaurant in the area was untouched. In New York, the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations presumed Saddam was unhurt.

MOHAMMED ALDOURI: Well, I think that the president is in Baghdad and all the people are there fighting and it’s okay.

REPORTER: Do you have any communication with him?

MOHAMMED ALDOURI: No, no, I have not. There are no communications in Baghdad.

REPORTER: Do you think he is alive?

MOHAMMED ALDOURI: Well, I think yes.

REPORTER: What about the idea that the U.S. Targeted him this way?

MOHAMMED ALDOURI: Well, the U.S. targeted him as usual, yes. They tried to get him. But I think he knows very well that he is targeted by Americans, of course.

KWAME HOLMAN: On the ground, the fighting intensified. The first marine division continued its movement into Baghdad from the east, and took control of the Rasheed Military Airfield. The marines fought their way across the Dyala River Bridge to reach the airfield. Major General Jim Mattis described the battle to reporters.

MAJ GEN. JIM MATTIS: Marines went into buildings, where women and children were cowering in the buildings. And people who did not live there had come in and fired from those homes, not allowing these innocent people to get out of the line of fire, breaking every rule, whether it be the law of war, of decency, of the Koran, or anything else, and firing at us, knowing full well that we would have to fire back. The marines were able to get in. In some cases, they didn’t even have the manhood to go down and fight. They surrendered after endangering these women and children, firing on us, then they surrendered. They didn’t even have the guts to go down swinging.

KWAME HOLMAN: Marine commanders say capture of the airfield will help prevent high level Iraqi leaders from leaving the country. Meanwhile, army forces in Baghdad gained control of more key points from the west. We have this report from John Irvine of Independent Television News from his vantage point atop the Palestine Hotel.

JOHN IRVINE: It was 12 hours earlier that the battle for Baghdad resumed. The Americans had decided to push deeper inside the capital. The main thrust was again along the western riverbank, but they did seem to be coming in from all directions. These Cobra helicopters are over the southeast and this is an A-10 tank duster directly over our heads, weaving and putting out flares and positioning to use the fearsome gatling gun in its nose. (Gunfire) (explosions) It’s the Iraqi ministry of planning. He came round for a second go as well. (Gunfire) This has been a stunning advance by the U.S. forces.

This morning they’ve moved right along that far riverbank, past a couple of presidential palaces, and all the way to the administrative heart of Baghdad, to those government buildings which were bombed so heavily in the opening days of the war. U.S. troops are now fighting in their midst. They’re also trying to secure that first bridge over the Tigris. And soon they appeared: American Abrams tanks on the bridge, their gateway to the eastern half of the Iraqi capital. They stopped to clear the way on the far riverbank — first firing machine guns at Iraqis hiding in trees. Then they opened up with their big guns. This prominent office building was a prime target for the American gunners.

KWAME HOLMAN: As the fighting in Baghdad continued, hospitals reported they were overwhelmed with civilian casualties. And this time, journalists were among those killed. In an air raid, offices of Arab TV network al Jazeera were hit by two U.S. missiles, killing one man. And an American tank fired into the Palestine Hotel where most international journalists are based, killing two cameramen– one from the Reuters News Service, the other from the Spanish network Telecinco. Several others were injured. Journalists carried the victims to cars and rushed them to a hospital. At the Pentagon, spokeswoman Victoria Clarke and Major General Stanley McChrystal defended the actions of the military.

MAJ. GEN. STANLEY McCHRYSTAL: When they get into combat from the cities which from the beginning we had specifically said would be dangerous and difficult, you put yourself in their position, they have the inherent right of self-defense. When they are fired at, they have not only the right to respond, they have the obligation to respond to protect the soldiers with them and to accomplish the mission at large.

VICTORIA CLARKE: The incident you’re talking about, I was not there on the ground. I don’t know if your characterization of how it happened is true. My understanding is again context we are at war, there is fighting going on in Baghdad. Our forces came under fire. They exercised their inherent right to self-defense. We go out of our way to avoid civilians. We go out of our way to help and protect journalists. That’s been repeated again and again and again.

KWAME HOLMAN: Journalists staying at the hotel said they did not know of any Iraqi military activity at the hotel before the attack. And this evening, journalists held a candlelight vigil to honor the memory of the journalists who were killed. And near the international airport outside Baghdad, a battalion of the 101st Airborne Division, which has hooked up with the army’s third infantry division, captured a headquarters of Iraq’s Republican Guard. Late today we spoke with Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times. He’s traveling with the 3rd infantry.

STEVEN MYERS: What they did today is pushed to the east from the airport towards the city of Baghdad. There’s a large complex there that belongs to the Special Republican Guard, the elite security forces that were responsible for supporting President Hussein’s regime. What they did early this morning backed by air and artillery strikes was essentially clear that compound of what pockets of fighters still remains. From there they also took a manmade hill, there was a monument on top of it that Saddam Hussein himself inscribed, and they seized that hill which overlooks the second presidential palace, and they were fighting to surround and control that area as well. In the case of the Special Republican Guard’s headquarters, there’s probably both military and strategic or symbolic. This is a security force one, you know, that was responsible for much of the control of that Saddam Hussein wields. One captain from the 101st battalion that was there today called it “the Pentagon of Iraq.”

On the other hand as we’ve seen, you know, the least organized resistance from Iraqi soldiers and security officials seems to have more or less collapsed, and what they find as they make these incursions closer into Baghdad or in Baghdad itself, as with the case of the second brigade, they seem to be encountering just disorganized resistance. I think still seizing the headquarters of the Special Republican Guard itself is a symbolic thing as well. They hope, anyway, will show to the Iraqi people, who they seem desperate to try to reach, that the Hussein government is no longer able to provide security at all in and around the city.

KWAME HOLMAN: In northern Iraq, Kurdish forces moved within sight of the key oil city of Kirkuk. U.S. air strikes on Iraqi troops paved the way for the advance. And south of Baghdad, in central Iraq, U.S. troops battled Iraqi forces northwest of Hilla, near the ruins of ancient Babylon. They used helicopters and artillery to silence mortar and small arms fire. And in Basra, there was more looting. But British forces began setting up a civilian administration, headed by a tribal leader. In the latest casualty count, the U.S. military today confirmed a total of 96 troops killed. Eight are missing, and seven are prisoners of war. The British death toll is 30. Iraq has reported thousands of civilians killed and wounded. It has not released military casualties. Jim.