Iraq War News Update
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
KWAME HOLMAN: American troops in frontline units faced twin enemies– the Iraqis and temperatures that reached 90 degrees. The heat was made worse by the need to use chemical suits, and at least three soldiers collapsed from heat exhaustion. But the advance continued, as pressure mounted on the Iraqi capital.
The U.S. Third Infantry Division seized the Saddam International Airport on the southwestern outskirts of the city according to news agency reports. Armored units pushed to within six miles of the Iraqi capital meeting little resistance. U.S. Military officials said some American troops now were closer to their target than many American commuters are to their jobs. Inside Baghdad, large sectors were thrust into darkness tonight when the electricity went down for the first time during the war. At the Pentagon, joint chiefs chairman Gen. Richard Myers said U.S. forces weren’t to blame.
GEN. RICHARD MYERS: In terms of the power, central command has not targeted the power grid in Baghdad.
REPORTER: So you don’t know why the power might have gone off?
GEN. RICHARD MYERS: At this point we do not; CENTCOM is looking at that themselves.
KWAME HOLMAN: ABC News broadcast images of bus loads of Iraqi civilians and soldiers leaving Baghdad and surrendering to U.S. troops in central Iraq. The U.S. did take on a major Iraqi leadership target today. About 50 miles west of Baghdad, special operations forces raided one of Saddam Hussein’s presidential palaces, officials said. Brigadier Gen. Vincent Brooks showed videotape of the mission.
BRIGADIER GEN. VINCENT BROOKS: It is a known residence that is used by Saddam Hussein and his sons. They did take fire on entry from anti-aircraft artillery. Near the entry point of the compound itself, the helicopter was put down on the ground. An aerial gunship provided some support, as required. You can see the movement in the upper corner entering into the building that was just blown open. The raid did not yield any regime leaders in this case, but documents were taken that will be valuable for intelligence, and they will be examined further.
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, Iraq’s information minister continued to deny reports of coalition success.
MOHAMMED SAEED AL-SAHHAF: They are not even 100 miles, or whatever, they are not in any place. They are on the move, everywhere. They are a snake moving in the desert, they hold no place in Iraq.
KWAME HOLMAN: There also continued to be reports of Republican Guard fighters from four divisions heading south from city to meet the U.S. Advance. New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins is with marines near Aziziyah about 20 miles southeast of Baghdad.
DEXTER FILKINS: Today we crossed the Tigris River on a marine-built pontoon bridge that they had built the night before so it was pretty impressive. We got on Highway 6 and just started driving north. I have to say that it’s the first time in slugging it out here that I felt that Baghdad was just on the horizon. We were tearing down the road at 40 miles an hour, and the tanks were going 40 miles an hour and they’re throwing pieces of tread all over the place. We’re just racing along.
The other thing that was just really amazing today were just lots… hundreds and hundreds of Iraqis streaming out… streaming south, I should say, out of various cities, out of Baghdad as well, coming south and invariably, you know, honking their horns and waving and cheering and waving flags and people on the streets doing the same. When all these Iraqis today saw, you know, whatever it is– my gosh, 800 vehicles rumbling up the road, tanks and everything else– it was clear to them the United States is serious this time and is going to get rid of this guy. So what we witnessed today was just an outpouring of, you know, joy. And at the same time on the horizon there’s gigantic clouds of smoke and fire and helicopter gun ships and tanks and American tanks engaged, firing.
They passed through a town today called Azizyah — there were what some of the soldiers believed to be the front end of the division of the Omida Division of the Republican Guard. There was a lot of fighting today. You know, they were dispatched pretty quickly. I must say that all along the way for the past several days, there’s been these little sort of pin pricks really that don’t amount to much more than that, guys fire a few shots and the U.S. trains their guns on them and it’s over in a couple of minutes. But this was real today. I mean, this was a big fight. I don’t know if there was any artillery on the Iraqi side, but there was some actually because I saw them dragging it out. This was a real fight. There were some people in there. I saw some… at the end of the day a Medivac helicopter coming out probably with some American casualty heading back towards the American base.
KWAME HOLMAN: There was another marine battle south of Baghdad in Kut on the Tigris River, there was another marine battle. One American reportedly was killed during the firefight, another in an accident. U.S. Officials say some Republican Guard soldiers gave themselves up in Kut.
BRIGADIER GEN. VINCENT BROOKS: We know that we had a bus, for example, near al Kut this morning– actually, just off to the west of it– a bus that approached. And I believe the number was 53 members of the Republican Guard said, “we’ve had enough. We surrender.” And so there are surrenders that are ongoing as well. We’ve captured enemy prisoners of war as a result of combat action.
KWAME HOLMAN: Near Karbala, two U.S. aircraft went down. The navy launched a search today for an FA-18 and its pilot, and at least six Americans were killed when an army Blackhawk helicopter crashed last night. And an F-15 may have fired mistakenly on American soldiers killing one and injuring several others. Amid other reports of possible friendly fire incidents, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld addressed the issue at the Pentagon today.
DONALD RUMSFELD: There have been friendly fire incidents in every war in the history of mankind. It’s… there are portions of this battle space that are enormously complex, and human beings are human beings. And things are going to happen. And it’s always been so, and it will be so this time. It’s always sad and tragic, and your heart breaks when people are killed or wounded by blue- on-blue fire.
GEN. RICHARD MYERS: We’ll have to investigate each one of them, see if it was a breakdown in our techniques, our procedures, or if there was a technical breakdown that we have to shore up, and we can do that.
KWAME HOLMAN: In Najaf, a Shiite leader urged Iraqis not to get in the way of U.S. forces as they secured the town. Still, hundreds of demonstrators confronted the soldiers as they moved toward the town’s mosque, one of the world’s most revered Shiite Muslim shrines. And British troops made their deepest drive yet into the city of Basra, fighting within four miles of the city center. They captured a factory where Iraqi militia had been spearheading resistance. In northern Iraq today, Kurdish forces continued to push forward toward Mosul. They captured one town, but Iraqi resistance began to stiffen. Julian Manyon of Independent Television News is traveling with the Kurdish fighters.
JULIAN MANYON: U.S. jets are pounding Iraqi troops on the road to Mosul. The Iraqis are being ordered to stand and fight after yesterday’s retreat, but they are taking terrible punishment. Earlier we advanced on foot towards Mosul, which is part of Saddam’s heartland. We followed a unit of Kurdish peshmerga through miles of territory which the Iraqi army has abandoned. With us, a half a dozen U.S. Special Forces soldiers who, for a time, were hopeful that the enemy had pulled out altogether.
JULIAN MANYON: So what’s your procedure when you get off to a place like this?
SOLDIER: Well, usually we sneak up to it at dark in the middle of the night. But seeing how the peshmerga pretty much secured the whole high ground here, we’re just going to walk up a bit farther. And they’re moving.
JULIAN MANYON: We just heard a shot over there.
JULIAN MANYON: The Iraqis were a few hundred miles ahead of us when they opened fire.
SOLDIER: Right there. Right there. ( Gunfire )
JULIAN MANYON: Soldiers and journalists dived for cover and the peshmerga rapidly began to fire back. ( Gunfire ) the troop situation here on the road to Mosul. Up to just a few minutes ago, we were walking calmly down the road with a few members of the U.S. Special forces. Then our position was fired upon. Since then both U.S. troops and Kurds have gone into action as you can see behind me taking over former Iraqi army position and opening fire are what they believe are enemy positions further ahead. Kurdish and American troops began to move forward towards the enemy. Iraqi troops fired back from behind a low hill, and their mortar rounds began to land nearby. We took cover. ( Explosions )
SOLDIER: Roger, grid 7-0.
JULIAN MANYON: The Americans called in air strikes and the jets screamed in. But tonight, the Iraqis are still holding out on the road to Mosul.
KWAME HOLMAN: Pres. Bush declared today “the vice is closing” on the Iraqi regime. He spoke to thousands of marines and their family members at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. At least 13 marines from there have been killed during the war, the most of any U.S. Military base. Mr. Bush took note of that in his remarks.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: There is a tradition in the corps that no one who falls will be left behind on the battlefield. ( Cheers and applause ) Our country has a tradition as well: No one who falls will be forgotten by this grateful nation. We honor their service to America, and we pray their families will receive God’s comfort and God’s grace. ( Applause )
KWAME HOLMAN: Later, the president met with the families of five marines killed in the war. As of today, the U.S. Military’s confirmed death toll was 52. That figure did not yet include at least nine soldiers and marines reported killed today. At least 16 U.S. troops still are missing, and seven are prisoners of war. The British military death toll remains 27; Iraq claimed as many as 1250 civilians killed and more than 5,000 injured; there were no figures on Iraqi military casualties, but the British said more than 9,000 Iraqis had been taken prisoner. A former American prisoner of war had surgery today at a U.S. military hospital in Germany. Army supply clerk Jessica Lynch was rescued Tuesday. She had suffered broken limbs and an injured back when her unit was ambushed on March 23. Today in Palestine, West Virginia, Gregory Lynch said his daughter was in good spirits and she said some of the early information about her condition was wrong.
GREGORY LYNCH, SR.: We have heard and seen reports that she has multiple gunshot wounds and knife stabbing. The doctor has not seen any of this. He looked for the gunshot wounds, for the knife stabbing, and there is no entry whatsoever.
KWAME HOLMAN: Lynch said he had not yet asked his daughter about her ordeal, but according to the Washington Post today, she put up a fierce fight even after being wounded. The report said Lynch shot several Iraqis, and kept firing until she ran out of ammunition. Military officials said they’re still investigating the battle. Jim.