RAY SUAREZ: John Burns, welcome. Tonight, reports reached us from Baghdad that say some pretty big bombs fell in the center of the capital tonight. Were you close by?
JOHN BURNS: Very close by. Three points of the compass, to tell you the immediate vicinity, we're talking about weapons that travel at this speed, is slightly overstating the case, I would say three points of the compass around the hotel in which we reporters are living. At a distance of I would say between 600 to 800 yards is the closest; 1,200 yards at the greatest distance. Missiles and bombs of enormous power hit strategic targets, targets which in the main we know of and which have been hit before. It was a... it was quite a moment.
The most important of those targets, certainly the most visible one, is once again the presidential compound in which Saddam Hussein's principal palace lies. And it seems that the target for the last 24 hours and has been hit repeatedly by what sound like bunker-busting bombs, has been the palace complex of the youngest son of Saddam Hussein, Qusay Saddam Hussein.
He's 36 years old; he was named just before the war began as the commander of the Baghdad military district. It looks to us as though the Pentagon believes something is going on beneath that building. It's a huge imperial palace of a building with colonnades running on every side, surrounded by palm trees. I see it clearly across the Tigris River from where I'm talking to you now. Starting about 24 hours ago and as recently about half an hour ago, it was being hit repeatedly by these enormous bombs, and it would seem logical to think that the Pentagon thinks there's something going on not in the palace, but underneath it.
We know that that entire compound is under laced with a network of tunnels and bunkers built in the 1980s, in part by a German companies specialized in that work who designed them to resist nuclear attack. They haven't attacked that complex with that severity since the first night of the bombing, now some eleven or twelve days ago. So it suggests to me they have some sense that they know where they know some of the leadership are.
Otherwise we've seen another attack on the air defense headquarters, an attack on the Iraqi Olympic Committee headquarters, which is a strange target, you might think, for a war of this kind until you know that the chairman of the Iraqi Olympic Committee is the older son of Saddam Hussein, Uday Saddam Hussein, and human rights reports have said for some time that that building has, in fact, been taken over as an intelligence... as a security building and that things have been happening there in recent years that make for very unedifying reading if you read the report of Human Rights Watch of Amnesty International.
RAY SUAREZ: You mentioned at the outset that the bombs hit at three points of the compass around the hotel where the international press is staying. It sounds at first to be frightening, but in a way is it oddly reassuring?
JOHN BURNS: Well, I'll tell you what. When this bombing campaign began, although I had seen this kind of bombing before, in Afghanistan, it certainly was a heart stopping moment, I'm talking about the first night of intensive bombing a week ago. Now of course you get used to almost anything. But what in the main from what we've seen is that while there have been incidents of allegedly Arab bombing strikes in which significant numbers of Iraqi civilians have been killed, whether they were actually American bombing strikes or Iraqi anti-aircraft missile fire that fell to earth, we do not know.
But in the main, what we've noticed is that these weapons are hitting with extraordinary accuracy. Indeed, they are destroying strategic targets, which in some cases are no more than 50 feet away, from targets which are about as civilian and humanitarian as you can get.
Over the weekend they struck a telephone complex at the center of Baghdad, which is 50 feet across a narrow lane way from the main cardiac surgical hospital in Iraq, which was absolutely untouched. So when we see these missiles streaking across the night sky and we hear these enormous bomb impacts, there is a sort of assurance that they're not going to be hitting us. Now, I have to say, this may sound brave or perhaps bravado, we know that the Pentagon know where we are.
They know where the Palestine Hotel is and they know the most of the press is in the Palestine Hotel, so this building, in my judgment, is the least likely building in al of Iraq to be hit, and Iraqis know that and many officials have moved into this hotel in consequence of it.
As a matter of fact, they've begun encouraging us to move across the road into the Sheraton Hotel, an even bigger hotel which has been empty much of the past week because many Iraqi officials are in that hotel and they feel oddly what an inversion this is for those of us who have worked here under conditions of some difficulty these past years, if we are, there, they are safer.
RAY SUAREZ: Day by day the list of the assets of the regime that are reduced to rubble grows, has the tone of what they're saying to you and to other reporters changed?
JOHN BURNS: It has. As you know, for sometime now, after a rather shaky start, the Iraqi leadership, that part of it that's accessible to us, we've heard from just about everybody up to the number three man - Taha Yassin Ramadan -- we are seeing powerful people.
And after that shaky start, they sort of steadied the ship and began to say, in effect, take a deep breath and say, well, we survived the initial onslaught, we can do it. This is a reflection of the American feeling that things have not gone so well for American armed forces in many respects, the resistance is much stronger, et cetera.
There's been another change, I sense, today that from very senior ministers that we saw today including the foreign minister and the information minister, there's a new shrillness, a polemics raised to a higher degree than before.
My sense is that the Iraqi leadership behind all of the polemics, and the angry words and the defiance, has an increasing realistic appreciation of what is actually happening here, and that the power of the United States Army and Marine Corps and their Australian and British allies is being brought to bear increasingly on this capital.
RAY SUAREZ: John Burns from Baghdad, thanks a lot.
JOHN BURNS: Thank you, Ray, good night.