Guests: Wayne Downing, Barry McCaffrey, Richard Engel, Chip Reid, Wayne Downing, Barry McCaffrey, Brian Williams
ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT:
“Objective: Peace, Iraq One Year Later.”
Now, Deborah Norville.
DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST: You are looking at a live picture of Baghdad.
It is just about daybreak there.
One year ago tonight, the people of Baghdad were scanning the skies and bracing for a military attack. The first battle of the Iraq war was about to begin.
Good evening. Tonight we‘re going to be following the time line from one year ago to over the next hour, beginning with the way you first learned the inevitable.
The world knew that Saddam Hussein had rejected President Bush‘s ultimatum that he leave Iraq by this time tonight a year ago. And by the time the clock struck 9 p.m., President Bush already had set in motion the war, a war he hoped would bring peace to the Middle East.
This is how MSNBC‘s Lester Holt reported one hour earlier that the deadline for Saddam‘s departure had come and gone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LESTER HOLT, MSNBC ANCHOR: It is now zero hour. I show you a live picture of the White House where two days ago President Bush delivered his ultimatum to Saddam and at Baghdad where the night skies are quiet but likely not for long.
All day U.S. troops have been moving into position. War, it appears, is imminent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: And by 9:02, the military operation against Iraq was well underway. Stealth fighters, flying from neighboring Qatar, and Tomahawk missiles launched at sea were speeding toward a single target, Baghdad.
The fear, of course, on the American side a year ago was that Saddam might preempt a U.S. strike—preempt it by unleashing chemical and biological weapons on coalition forces massed along the border.
Here is how MSNBC‘s David Shuster reported it at this exact hour one year ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: There had been some fear that once Saddam knew that the coalition was coming after him that might be Saddam‘s preemptive moment, when he might try to unleash whatever chemical and biological weapons he has and take out as many coalition troops as he can before they cross into Iraq.
So with each passing hour that that does not happen, clearly commanders here and of course also at the Pentagon are somewhat relieved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: Of course, the fear of chemical and biological weapons obviously a concern at the time.
For a look at that, as well as all the military strategies that were mounting on this night a year ago, we turn to General Wayne Downing, who led a special unit behind the lines in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm back in 1991.
Last year at this time he was in Kuwait City as NBC‘s military analyst.
Also with us tonight, General Barry McCaffrey, one of the Army‘s most highly decorated battlefield commanders. He served assistant to Desert Storm‘s commander, General Colin Powell. And last year he was following the developments for NBC News as the war unfolded.
And gentlemen, thank you so much for being here.
General Downing, let me start with you first. You were in Kuwait City as the planes and the missiles were coming over. How tense was it? How fearful was it?
GEN. WAYNE DOWNING, U.S. ARMY (RET.): I‘d been there for about five days, Deborah. And we knew that war was imminent. And it was very tense in Kuwait. The Kuwaitis were very, very tense. All the Americans knew something was coming. So we were all prepared for, you might say, the worst.
NORVILLE: Prepared for the worst and expecting it at any moment?
DOWNING: Now that‘s exactly right.
NORVILLE: And what was the sense of foreboding, the sense of depression? Because there had been such an intensive diplomatic effort to stop this, and it was clear, by 8 p.m. when the decision hour had come and gone, it was going nowhere.
DOWNING: Well, actually, I think it was clear to me several weeks before that something was probably going to happen.
We had positioned an overwhelming amount of military force in that region, and they couldn‘t sit on their hands for too much longer. So we could see this thing ticking down. You had the ultimatum. The president gave them 48 hours. That came and went. So we knew it was going to happen.
I had just laid down for a short little nap. And as you remember, it was not even daybreak.
NORVILLE: About 5 in the morning.
DOWNING: About 5 in the morning. About 10 after 5, I got a call to get up on the roof, which was where we had our TV cameras. I went up with Brian Williams. Took me about seven minutes to get up there, and just about the time we got up there was when the reporting started coming out of Baghdad that the bombs and the cruise missiles were hitting.
NORVILLE: General McCaffrey, you were here at the NBC studios, where you were in the studios with Tom Brokaw at the time the war happened.
Having been a part of the first Iraqi war, what was your sense of how this unfolded? And did it play out the way you expected it was going to?
MCCAFFREY: Well, of course there were 200,000 troops assembled, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine. There was just no question on how the war would turn out.
We were going to conduct a blitzkrieg operation, take out the Republican Guard and take occupy their capital, regardless of what they did. They had no good military options.
At the same time, I think all of us, you know, who had a lot of combat experience, which both Wayne and I do, were filled with apprehension, not about the successful outcome but about the losses of American soldiers. People are always asking, what‘s acceptable casualties? You know, when it‘s your you‘re your daughter, the answer is none.
And I think most of us thought there would still be substantial casualties and potentially, as Wayne says, a first strike with chemical weapons on the troops in the assembly areas.
NORVILLE: Which was the great unknown, because the intelligence we had going into this led everyone to believe, not the least of which the troops in the field, that at any given moment the raids (ph) could go off and the biological or chemical could be headed your way.
At what point...
MCCAFFREY: Probably chemical, probably not biological...
NORVILLE: Probably not biological.
MCCAFFREY: ... was what many of us thought.
NORVILLE: At what point did that fear subside?
DOWNING: It didn‘t really subside for me until we got into Baghdad.
NORVILLE: If he was going to use it, it was going to happen there?
DOWNING: That‘s exactly right. Up until that time I kept my protective mask and my protective clothing within arm‘s reach. Because I really thought that he was going to use chemical weapons. I thought he had chemical weapons.
NORVILLE: The other great unknown was what would happen when you got into the towns. And there was a great concern, General McCaffrey, about the surgicalness of the operation and the possibility of huge losses of innocent civilians in the city.
MCCAFFREY: Yes. I never thought that was a likely outcome. Having said that, huge losses. There were probably still thousands of civilians killed or injured during this fight. You can‘t conduct military operations in a city of, you know, seven million people without some disasters occurring.
But most of our munitions were precision-guided munitions. The tactics used were very constrained. Tommy Franks had gone in there with the notion that reducing collateral damage was one of his major objectives.
So I don‘t think there was ever any implication that this would be Stalingrad, fighting block by block and knocking down the buildings.
NORVILLE: What have we learned from the war the Iraq war was conducted that will assist America the next time there‘s a military operation that has to go forward?
DOWNING: Well, certainly our tactics and our use of the precision weapons was just outstanding. I mean, I went through villages around Baghdad where individual T-72 tanks had been eliminated by one bomb with no other collateral damage.
Now, one of the interesting things to me, though, because we were so careful, the Iraqi people and Iraqi armed forces by and large did not even realize they‘d been conquered. Psychologically, this was a very tough problem for us to get some of these people, especially in towns like Mosul, to surrender and to start cooperating with the military post-hostilities.
NORVILLE: And has that been a continuing problem, then? I mean, obviously they know the war is over, but because there was not this—you know, it wasn‘t like looking at Dresden after World War II.
DOWNING: Exactly. This isn‘t like the Japanese or the Germans in 1945, who absolutely had been pounded into oblivion over four or five years. These people actually asked, you know, why are these people here? We haven‘t been defeated.
MCCAFFREY: And a lot of them walked away with their guns, their leadership, money intact, organizations, yes.
NORVILLE: On May 1, President Bush in a very memorable photo op stood on the deck of the aircraft carrier and said hostilities over, mission accomplished. And yet three quarters of the casualties since then—of the total casualties have happened since then.
Was he premature, General McCaffrey, in making that statement?
MCCAFFREY: Well, you know, I personally had a very strong viewpoint that going to Iraq at that time was the right thing to do. The American people would be safer. Because—and I still feel that way.
I must admit, at the time, I winced at the notion of the war is over.
Because I never did see that as we‘ll have a war and then build a peace. These are continuing combat operations. It‘s not unsurprising what we‘re now encountering.
And indeed, some of it may have been caused by, in my view, an inadequate ground combat force when we went in. We didn‘t dominate the situation, and they looted and destroyed a lot of the infrastructure.
NORVILLE: Yes. Well, General McCaffrey, General Downing, thank you both very much. It‘s been an amazing year, and we appreciate your insights into what‘s going on.
MCCAFFREY: Thank you very much.
Now to what‘s happening in Washington. One year ago, tensions were incredibly tense at the State Department, which of course the mandate is to settle disputes through diplomacy instead of war.
NBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell covered the unfolding developments from her vantage point there, and she joins us now a year later from our Washington bureau.
Hi, Andrea. Nice to see you again.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you, Deborah.
NORVILLE: You know, one of the fears going into was that the diplomacy wasn‘t working. And when you look back, was the failure of America to get not even unanimity but collective United Nations support just a colossal diplomatic failure?
MITCHELL: Well, it‘s a little bit more nuanced than that, because back the November earlier they had gotten unanimity on a U.N. resolution.
Now, Colin Powell said throughout that he had warned even the French that that was a war trigger, that if Saddam Hussein did not comply, that that was authority for war.
And Saddam Hussein, by everyone‘s account, including Hans Blix, who‘s now been so critical of the U.S., did not comply. He did not disclose everything that he had. He did not willingly say what his weapons were. Why he didn‘t is another whole question.
But that said, the British felt, Tony Blair felt that because his population was so dead set against war they needed to go back for a second resolution.
It was that second resolution that failed. And it was a few days before the war ultimatum that they finally pulled the plug at the U.N., and that was because, despite a whole week of efforts, and the president‘s promise 10 days earlier, that they would let it go to a vote even if it went down, the French said that they would veto it.
And the fear, then, by the legal folks at the State Department was, well, if there was an affirmative vote against war, that would negate the previous resolution and that would really mean that the U.S. was violating U.N. principles.
NORVILLE: And really, there was just no point in going forward, that when you took a pre-count of the countries, France, Germany, Russia, China, Syria were all going to vote no. The only other countries that were going to vote yes with the United States, along with Britain, was Bulgaria and—
I‘m blanking here—Bulgaria and Spain.
MITCHELL: Bulgaria and Spain. Exactly.
NORVILLE: And so they had that effort, they went forward. There was this sort of last-ditch diplomatic attempt that was made at the Azores. What was all that about?
MITCHELL: Well, that was less diplomacy and more a show of unity by those—Spain, Great Britain and the United States—who were determined to go to war.
And it was on that weekend on that windswept island that they said that the only way that they could avoid war was for Saddam Hussein and all of his top leaders to willingly step down, leave the country and welcome in a different kind of leadership. Everyone knew that wouldn‘t happen.
That day on “MEET THE PRESS” there was talk about a French proposal for 30 more days, to give Saddam 30 more days, another month. And as General Downing pointed out, we had all of that equipment pre-positioned. We weren‘t going to leave it there. And there was no way that that was going to happen.
Dick Cheney said to Tim Russert that Sunday that was a nonstarter.
Colin Powell had a slightly different spin, showing again the division in at least tone in this administration. He said well, maybe if Saddam leaves, then we could avert war.
But by the next day, the very next day, the president was giving his Oval Office speech with his 48-hour ultimatum. They were telling the U.N. to get out, to bring out the inspectors. They were closing U.S. embassies throughout the Middle East, bringing home nonessential dependents.
NORVILLE: That was clear.
MITCHELL: That was the signal.
NORVILLE: It was clear which way it was going to go.
Let‘s fast-forward now to where America in its standing in international affairs is today. From the coalition of the willing, as it was put a year ago, it now seems to be the coalition of what‘s left.
With Poland saying well, we think things are stabilized, it‘s time to get out. Spain is saying we‘re going to pull our troops come June 30.
Where does the United States stand in terms of being able to keep the coalition together while the transition goes forward?
MITCHELL: It‘s going to take a lot of diplomacy. And they have done some of it. The U.N. announced today that they will go back in after the U.S. really verbally bludgeoned the Iraqi Governing Council to welcome the U.N. back in. It was that invitation that Kofi Annan was waiting for.
But they‘re going to try to get NATO involved after June 30, which is the notional transition date, the handover to we don‘t know yet what kind of political organization there. And if NATO gets in that will at least give them a little bit more on the ground as well as the sort of coronation (ph) of an international organization like it was in Kosovo.
NORVILLE: But there‘s no guarantee that will happen.
MITCHELL: No guarantee. I think it is conceivable that it will happen. Still, we shouldn‘t over—or rather underestimate the impact, the psychological and political impact of Madrid.
The bombing there really did weaken the resolve the resolve of many of the European nations. Even those who were reluctant allies are now rethinking it. That‘s why you heard from Poland, from the Dutch prime minister in the Oval Office, not giving the president a vote of support.
We see some smaller players who are not important militarily but symbolically, Honduras, Costa Rica and others.
So there is going to be a weakening of resolve.
NORVILLE: And finally, Andrea, once the United States completes the handover on June 30, is it more likely, with the U.S. no longer having a lead role, that some of those countries that have been reticent to step up will then do so?
MITCHELL: It‘s just not clear, Deborah. It‘s a really good question, but we really don‘t know what‘s going to happen, except that with us providing the majority of the military, the fiction is that the Iraqis are going to take over and create their own election process. But the U.S. is still the dominant player.
NORVILLE: Indeed. Andrea Mitchell, thank you very much for your insights. We appreciate it.
MITCHELL: My pleasure.
NORVILLE: General Downing, General McCaffrey, our thanks to you, as well.
When we come back, the time line continues. What was happening on the ground in Iraq one year ago? We‘ll take you there right after this.
NORVILLE: You‘re looking at a live picture from Baghdad. It is 5:18 in the morning in that city, 9:17 Eastern time here.
At this hour one year ago, stealth fighters and missiles were just a short distance away from Baghdad, honing in on that city.
NBC‘s Chip Reid was one of the reporters embedded with U.S. forces poised to launch a drive from Kuwait to Baghdad. And Richard Engel was at the center of the bull‘s-eye a year ago. He was in Baghdad. And both gentlemen are in the Iraqi capital now.
Hi, guys, nice to see you.
RICHARD ENGEL, JOURNALIST: Good to be here.
CHIP REID, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Welcome, Deborah.
NORVILLE: Richard, let me ask you first. You were one of, if not the only American reporter left in Baghdad at the time of the beginning of the war. Why did you stay behind?
ENGEL: I wasn‘t the only American reporter. There were a few others. There were some print journalists from magazines. There weren‘t very many television reporters.
I—I thought it was an important place to be. I wanted to see what would happen to Iraq, what would happen on the receiving end of this war, how the Iraqi people would react.
And I‘ve been in the Middle East for—well it‘s been about eight years now. So I thought this was the time to stay and to watch this significant historical shift throughout the region.
So I decided to hunker down. And I was pretty self-sufficient. So I would have my own little network of fixers and friends, and people trying to help me out. So I stayed and hoped for the best.
NORVILLE: You were self-sufficient because you had to be. You were working freelance, not attached to any particular news organization specifically.
I want to take a look at a video diary that you recorded this night a year ago on which you were clearly hunkering down, as you said, for what was about to come. Let‘s take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ENGEL: Looks like I could be up all night. The rumors, again, rumors
· this is rumor city, pressure cooker place, are that it could happen at 2 a.m. or around 4 a.m.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: And it actually happened a little after 5 a.m. How frightened were you right then?
ENGEL: I didn‘t know what to expect. I was very frightened, as you see in that little diary. I just had a small camera that I turned on myself and documented some of the moments during the war.
I was most afraid of the rumors. People didn‘t know what to expect here. The—We were afraid that the Iraqi government would come and take us hostage. We were afraid that the Iraqi people might react badly and there could be some sort of riots in the street.
And then, of course, we were afraid that this military action would be shock and awe, which was what it had promised to be.
So there were a lot of—there was a lot of concern. And of course, that concern goes up when all the—when most of the other journalists start to leave the city, you start to think, “Am I doing the right thing? Am I being responsible? Am I being somehow cavalier?”
But then when it began, especially on the first night of the war, it really wasn‘t that significant. I was not far from where I am right now, and I could hear the cruise missiles coming into town. I woke up to the sound of the anti-aircraft sirens that Baghdad was still operating at that stage. They were knocked out not much longer.
And then I thought well, this wasn‘t so bad. It wasn‘t as intense as I had expected it would be.
NORVILLE: But then it got worse a couple days later?
ENGEL: It got much worse. The second night was about the same. And then the third night was that shock and awe that everyone was promising, and that was no doubt a much more intense experience.
NORVILLE: Chip Reid, you were on the other side of the border in Kuwait with troops ready to come across when they got the signal. How did you find out the war had started?
REID: Well, we got the order to get our amphibious assault vehicles and go. And simultaneously we had a chemical weapons scare, so we all already had our chemical weapons suits, the pants and shirt on. And that meant we had to put on the boots, the gloves and the gas masks and grab our packs, and we were already wearing our flak jackets.
And I remember my producer, John Zido (ph), and I had to go down and try to get a briefing from the commanding officer of our battalion, which we had expected to get before we left.
But we ended up leaving earlier than we had thought, and we found him, and he kind of mumbled through the gas mask, and that just meant go.
And we had to go find our vehicle, these big amphibious assault vehicles that are kind of like Bradleys from the Army, but they actually go through the water, too. They‘re amazing machines.
And there was one moment as we were trying to run with all this weight, our backpacks and everything else, when I thought we were going to be left out there in the Kuwaiti Desert by ourselves and miss our ride.
But we did get there in the nick of time. We got in and moved forward, very slowly at first, and eventually got to the big, absolutely monstrous sand berm that separates Kuwait from Iraq and just—by that point just roared through it.
And I think we were in this thing, other than a couple of quick breaks, for about 17 hours...
REID: ... before we finally got to our first destination.
NORVILLE: The ride you were hitching was with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, and as one of the embedded reporters, you know, one of the questions was how independent will you be able to be as you go about your job as a journalist, reporting what you‘re witnessing as the war goes forward.
How did you deal with that? These guys are keeping you alive. But by the same token, you have to be independent of them.
REID: It really wasn‘t a problem at all. We had almost total access.
Let me give you a good example.
One of our first battles was just a horrendous, terrifying gun battle in the middle of the night, and one consequence of it was that two young Iraqi girls were killed.
We heard their screams, or at the least, the Marines there heard and in the morning found their bodies. And the commanding officer allowed us to interview the guys who had accidentally killed them. Now, they blamed the Iraqis, because they believed these girls were used as human shields. And I believe that‘s correct.
REID: But there was no effort to keep us from getting even a delicate, difficult story like that.
NORVILLE: Richard, when you were there in Baghdad, how were you able to keep up with the progress of the war and find out what was going on?
ENGEL: It was very difficult. I could only report on accurately what I could see was going on around me. Luckily, there was quite a bit to report on. The city was—the government was still standing. The government officials, it was interesting to see their spin on the war.
The—and that was difficult. You had to filter through their propaganda spin, which was kind of an interesting message, if you remember it. It was the information minister...
NORVILLE: Baghdad bob.
ENGEL: ... Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, who—he had his own version of events, which was really the government line, which was don‘t worry about the war, we‘ll take care of it. Forget about it, go live—this is what they were telling the Iraqi people, go live your lives as normal, pretend not to notice.
And for the first few days of the war people were going out and going to restaurants and really pretending as if this was just some sort of rainstorm that would blow over and pretending not to notice.
Now, that obviously—that line of argument didn‘t hold up very long. But that was certainly the initial government‘s position on things. So you had to...
NORVILLE: What was people‘s mood toward you, too, as an American there? Did you sense a shift as the war ratcheted up, and you‘re clearly an American, though you‘re affluent in Arabic?
ENGEL: Obviously, there was a major shift. And in the beginning people were very nervous and they continued their old mentality, which was try not to talk to foreign journalists.
I‘d been in Iraq, so I had some sources who I trusted, and I had safe houses. So—and we had these—there was a minder system in Iraq. So each person was assigned a supervisor or someone who was attached to the intelligence agency who formerly belonged to the information ministry.
But with a little bit of effort, these people could be avoided. You could go out the back door of the hotel. You could just ignore them, or you could play little games. You could say you‘d meet them at one particular place and then not show up until later.
So there was quite a delicate game that needed to be played to try and get information out and placate the people who were reporting on you to the Iraqi government and try and get information and sort out their propaganda.
And it was—So you never knew what the truth was exactly, but you could say what you saw, what you were hearing and then hopefully let the viewers sort it out.
NORVILLE: Now, we‘re going to stop you right there. We‘re going to come back to talk some more with both you and Chip Reid about the challenges of reporting the war from your respective venues.
As we go to the break, I just want to let everyone know that both Richard and Chip have described in incredible detail what they went through during their experiences in Iraq. And you can check out their stories. Just go to Iraq.MSNBC.com.
And when we come back, the moment Americans learned that war had begun. We will relive the moment, as first reported by NBC News and Tom Brokaw, after this.
NORVILLE: It is now 5:32 a.m. in Baghdad. Our minute-by-minute reliving are the beginning of the war one year ago continues.
At this moment one year ago, NBC‘s Tom Brokaw was the first network to report the bombing of Baghdad had begun.
TOM BROKAW, NBC ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It has been an evening of tense expectations. The 48-hour deadline for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq has expired about an hour and 30 minutes ago now. And we have reports that American warplanes could be in the air.
Jim Miklaszewski at the Pentagon, what can you tell us?
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: U.S. military officials are also saying tonight that what we may be seeing tonight could in fact be what they call preliminary airstrikes.
NORVILLE: It is astonishing to relive those first bomb blasts that hit one year ago tonight.
Joining us again from Baghdad, NBC‘s Richard Engel, who was in Baghdad when the first bomb sirens went off. Chip Reid was on the Kuwaiti border. They‘re both in Baghdad tonight.
And, Chip, I understand it was your reporting back to New York that gave NBC the signal that indeed the war was on. That‘s a lot of pressure.
CHIP REID, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can only say what it was from my point of view.
The first report—as soon as we crossed that border, I saw the sky just light up with artillery. And a tank that was leading our battalion, it was just a little bit in front of the vehicle, the amphibious assault vehicle that I was in, suddenly started blasting at some target that I could not see. And I had my satellite phone and I called into the NBC control room.
They immediately put me on the air. I described what I was seeing. And as I was getting off the air, they said—whoever the anchor was—I don‘t even recall—said, as Chip Reid just reported, the war has begun. And I felt this gigantic lump in my stomach. I thought, I‘m so used to pack journalism in Washington where there are all these other journalists around. And you never feel out on a limb, really. Here, I felt that—I suddenly realized how important it was as an embed.
There wasn‘t another TV journalist within many, many miles and nobody else relating this story on an as-it-happens basis. And I don‘t think I‘ve ever felt such a heavy weight of journalistic responsibility. And I say that in all seriousness.
NORVILLE: Well, it‘s a humbling experience. And, indeed, it is an incredible burden.
Richard, there was so much talk, as you know, about the possibility of chemical weapons being used and certainly everybody on the American side had the gas masks at the ready. What was concern of that nature in Baghdad amongst the Iraqi people?
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: The Iraqi people were very worried about this. They didn‘t trust their own government. And they were concerned that there would be some sort of chemical attack.
The Iraqi people at one stage even I remember were talked—were concerned that Saddam might even try and gas his own people again to try and blame the Americans or to do some sort of maneuver of that sort. The Iraqi people had really no idea what to expect from this war. Would it be a war that went all the way? How would the government react in its final death throes? Would it give up a fight?
The Baath Party was going house to house at the time, driving around in open pickup trucks, taking down people‘s names, giving out guns to people that the Baath Party thought would be loyal and would fight. So the Iraqis were very frightened. Chemical weapons were only one of a host of concerns.
We‘ve got General McCaffrey and General Downing here in the studio with us, too.
General Downing, having had experience with Iraq the first go-round, what was the concern as the troops progressed further north as to what they were going to meet? Because the intelligence was limited. You didn‘t have a lot of people on the ground feeding information back.
RET. GEN. WAYNE DOWNING, NBC MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think the military outcome was determined. We were going to win. It was just going to be, how long is it going to take?
NORVILLE: And the question also of what kind of price was going to be paid.
DOWNING: And what kind of price was going to be paid as far as casualties went.
We were very concerned, as I said, about chemical weapons being used. That ended up not to happen. But this was an entirely different than the first Gulf War. The first Gulf War was to move the Iraqis out of Kuwait. This war was about regime change. It was about getting and stopping his weapons of mass destruction from shooting not only at our forces, but we were also concerned they were going to shoot at Israel and Saudi Arabia.
And then the third thing we had to do was protect the oil fields because we wanted to put the country back on its feet again. So it was an entirely different set of tasks that the military was faced this time, Deborah..
NORVILLE: , General McCaffrey, because it was regime change that was one of the ultimate objectives of this conflict, someone who knows their job is at risk is going to go down fighting. The Iraqis did not put up nearly the kind of fight that I think certainly we on the receiving end of the information had been led to believe that they would.
Was the military misinformed about the strength of Saddam Hussein‘s army?
RET. GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, NBC MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think there was unanimity of view that the Iraqi army was not going to fight.
We also believed the Fedayeen would not fight effectively, that they were more a group of thugs and killers than an organized military force.
NORVILLE: More like an elevated gang than a bunch of military guys.
MCCAFFREY: Yes, that‘s right.
But the Republican Guard, I think there was widespread belief, look, there‘s four divisions up there, four separate brigades. These guys will actually put up some kind of a battle. We thought they would certainly fight for Tikrit, Ramadi. They didn‘t. They walked away unengaged.
NORVILLE: I just heard a big boom in my ear.
Richard, Chip, what‘s going on in Baghdad?
NORVILLE: I know you‘re looking behind you. What‘s happening?
ENGEL: Well, we heard the same boom. And now we‘re hearing a jet flying overhead. But it‘s hard to know exactly from where from this vantage point, but there has been some sort of explosion. We tend to hear these at nighttime and then in the early morning time.
These tend to be when there are these—the bombings or mortar attacks that have really been plaguing Iraq for the last—since the war, really.
NORVILLE: Well, and you had a number of explosions earlier today. Sirens were going off at coalition headquarters. This may be par for the course, but it just underscores the continuing unrest and lack of security that goes on in Baghdad.
How fearful are the two of you of your own personal security as you go about your work doing what you have to do as news reporters?
REID: Well, let me speak briefly as the short-timer here. I‘ve only been here about a week now. And it‘s been a shock to me how there is something going on at every minute.
And let me turn it over to Richard, who is the guy who has been here along is going to be continue to be here.
NORVILLE: All right, make it quick.
ENGEL: It‘s a difficult—it‘s a difficult place to report.
But eventually you almost get used to the threshold. You see it comes in ebbs and flows. Right now, there is a peak and the military leadership here is certainly concerned that there is going to be an increase in attacks coming up to the June 30 handover. The theory is that militants have really this window between now and June 30 to carry out as many attacks as possible because they‘ll have more legitimacy to do this when the U.S. is still seen as an occupier.
But here as reporters and really like the people who are living in Iraq, you try and report on the events. You try and get as much information, but hopefully not get caught up in it.
NORVILLE: And you try to stay safe. And we hope you do.
Richard Engel, Chip Reid, in Baghdad, General McCaffrey, General Downing, here in the studio, thanks to you all.
NORVILLE: Our timeline will continue. In just a moment, we‘re going to finally be hearing from the White House as they announce that the war with Iraq has begun.
NORVILLE: Another time stamp in our minute-by-minute account of the first night of the war in Iraq. This time, it comes directly from the White House.
NORVILLE: We continue now our minute-by-minute look back at the night one year ago when America went to war with Iraq. We‘ll find out what was happening inside the White House. Plus, we‘ll be joined by NBC‘s Brian Williams, who had a unique perspective. From the night the war began, he covered so many of the aspects of the conflict throughout the past year.
NORVILLE: The United States did not officially announce that war had begun until after the first bombs fell on Baghdad. At 9:45 p.m. one year ago tonight, White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer made this simple statement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The opening stages of the disarmament of the Iraqi regime have begun. The president will address the nation at 10:15.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: NBC‘s Brian Williams was on assignment in Kuwait City this time last year. And he joins me now with his perspective.
You were there on the border. When you got your first glimpse of the mighty U.S. Army, it just—it knocked you cold.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR: I have to say, I felt a little silly, because the anchorman part of my life had been using all the modifiers you and I use when we‘re not sure of something. You can never call someone a murderer unless a jury has decided their fate.
Well, “should the U.S. go tow war, “should war be inevitable,” I felt like a bit of a fool when I saw Camp Virginia, Camp New Jersey, Camp new York, Camp Victory. These were cities. And Wayne Downing just said how amped-up the soldiers were. We couldn‘t stay at this heightened pace. We were going to war. When I got there, a week before...
NORVILLE: But you couldn‘t go on TV and say that
WILLIAMS: Of course not, but it was so clear to me, P.X.s and trucks coming in. And these were cities and these were guys slowly moving, very highly motivated.
NORVILLE: Closer and closer.
WILLIAMS: Yes, you could tell.
NORVILLE: And so when you had already seen this enormous massing of manpower and machinery, and yet, as Andrea Mitchell said, the last throes of diplomacy were still going on, in the back of your head, were you thinking, this is a total waste of time; I can tell you how this story is going to end?
WILLIAMS: Well, it was awfully likely.
And, of course, the U.N., public pressure, there were a lot of protests. And if I got questions from soldiers before they headed out, it was, how bad are the protests back home and is Saddam using those human shields again, because we‘re going to be shooting at buildings? We don‘t want to hurt women and children. That was the most asked question of soldiers, because they knew we were fresh meat from the states.
NORVILLE: And what did you say to him?
WILLIAMS: Well, there‘s no indication of human shields, again, and, yes, there are protests in some American cities. But most of the United States is solidly behind you, the soldiers. They may have mixed feelings about this war. I don‘t know anyone who is anti-U.S. fighting soldier.
NORVILLE: Right. And, as everybody says, in times of war, everyone rallies behind the military.
WILLIAMS: Of course.
NORVILLE: You were not an embedded reporter. You were a free agent.
WILLIAMS: Yes. Unilateral is what my press badge...
NORVILLE: You went where you and Wayne Downing could get in.
But you think the embedded system worked?
I think it was better for the military than the military has yet realized. I‘ve given a few speeches up at West Point. I‘ve been lucky enough to be invited since I got home from this. And a lot of the panels they‘re doing up there are on this. I think it gave an incredible glimpse of an incredibly prepared and motivated, squared-away fighting force. I think it was a fabulous experiment.
NORVILLE: Do you think there will be less animosity and less stress between the military and press the next time around? And, inevitably, at some point, there will be a next time.
WILLIAMS: Yes. I think they now have a much better idea of what we do for a living and we them. We know when to stay out of their way. There were a few skirmishes. We tried to shoot some pictures that they didn‘t like. And reasonable people can reason things out.
NORVILLE: But isn‘t it hard when you‘ve been with a unit and you see the bravery, the heroism, the incredible dedication to the job at hand, to not become a little bit jingoistic and a bit of a cheerleader for what they‘re doing, because that‘s not the appropriate role?
WILLIAMS: Yes, words like our and us starts creeping into your vocabulary as a journalist.
I‘ve got to say, I mean, this young lieutenant, now captain, who rescued us when we had our little adventure, I would have a tough time criticizing him publicly. I owe a lot to him. I was so impressed with his platoon. And that‘s an example. American people ought to know that these people are so instantly...
NORVILLE: And, likewise, they bonded with the press. I remember when David Bloom so tragically died while the conflict was going on the outpouring from the military and particularly the unit he was with.
WILLIAMS: All those wives in St. Patrick‘s while their husbands were still on the battlefield.
NORVILLE: It was amazing.
WILLIAMS: And we miss him every day. I found myself on “Nightly News” tonight. We did an item about a building being named after David at Fort Lee in Virginia. And my voice caught toward the end of it. You think you‘re getting better. And then you say, he was 39, a husband and father of three, and you get worse.
We‘re going to take a break. Back with more Brian Williams and talk about the war in Iraq after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROKAW: That‘s from Al-Jazeera, I believe, Arab television, which is another component in this war. The technology of communications is so much different, every screen around the world probably tonight carrying these pictures at this hour. It will be the most televised event, probably, in the history of mankind, this war that is playing out live.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: Indeed, the words of Tom Brokaw one year ago tonight. It was a war that played out on television.
But, Brian, you were saying when we were chatting during the break, there was a lot you saw that you couldn‘t put the camera on?
WILLIAMS: Yes. This is an ugly business.
There I am rolling through downtown Baghdad with General Wayne Downing, retired four-star. He has been shot in his lifetime probably two or three times, war wounds going back to Vietnam. He doesn‘t look twice at bodies in cars and street corners. They hadn‘t policed the bodies. Things were still smoking. There were live firefights going on downtown, over our heads. This is his environment. This is his office, where he works. It‘s not mine.
I come to work at 30 Rock in New York.
NORVILLE: Nor is it the rest of ours who watch TV.
WILLIAMS: And as striking as the visuals were, to turn my camera on them and shoot them and beam them back to the states, we wouldn‘t have aired them. There are family issues, propriety issues. People know people die in wars.
The purpose of the war as stated was to rid Saddam Hussein of the weapons of mass destruction and to effect regime change. Well, the one we haven‘t found any evidence of. The other has certainly happened.
NORVILLE: But the big question mark is what goes on next. Everyone knows there‘s a handover on June the 30th, but a handover to whom? Because there is no government in place.
WILLIAMS: A scheduled handover.
And today, as the president spoke, the wires carried an urgent that the U.N. was reconsidering its position and heading back in. This is, while no accident, absolutely crucial. I just spoke to Wayne Downing in the hallway and he was talking about the possibility that we would need to come in some day and mop up a civil war. This would be a tragedy. But sitting here tonight in New York, we don‘t know.
NORVILLE: And yet there is a constitution that has been agreed upon
by the Iraqi Governing Council.
NORVILLE: That provides a bill of rights. That provides for the rights of women. That is an awfully forward-looking document, particularly for an Arab country.
WILLIAMS: And the Shia, the Sunnis and the Kurds all saying, ah, this must be our chance now. The boot is off our neck. This is our turn to come to power. Surely, we will have a majority. Surely, we will have a voice in how this nation is run.
Two sides is confusing enough. When you get three, this could be a long and drawn-out process.
NORVILLE: And from the people that you speak to, how long and drawn-out will the American occupation of Iraq be?
WILLIAMS: Well, remember that four-year figure that was floated out early on.
I think the administration and I think all people would like to phase them out. But we now have an obligation. The president said it again today. We‘ll do what is right there. And so that means what it means, if it means going back in, in large numbers, to quell something, God forbid, for our men and women.
NORVILLE: Well, 115,000 men and women in uniform are in Iraq right now. There will be a changeover and we‘ll be down to about 110,000.
NORVILLE: Brian Williams, thank you. It‘s good to have you on the program.
WILLIAMS: My pleasure.
NORVILLE: We wish you continued success.
WILLIAMS: Thank you, Deborah.
NORVILLE: Before we go, it‘s important to take note of the human cost of The war over the last year.
To date, 576 members of America‘s military have lost their lives during the fighting in and the occupation of Iraq. Now, three-quarters of them died after the president declared mission accomplished. The rough estimates are that more than 10,000 Iraqi civilians have died in the last year. Indeed, a heavy price has been paid in that country. No weapons of mass destruction have been found. Peace remains a hope in Iraq, but not a reality. And the specter of terrorism continues throughout the world.
For the past hour, we‘ve taken a look at how, one year ago tonight, the war ending the region of Saddam Hussein in Iraq began. But how it will ultimately end is a story that remains to be told.
That‘s our program for tonight. Joe Scarborough picks up the storyline from here. I‘m Deborah Norville. Thanks for watching.
“SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY” is coming up next.
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