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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: JIM WILKINSON, CHIEF SPOKESMAN, CENTRAL COMMAND APRIL 6th, 2003
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
DAVID FROST: Well the allied operation in Iraq is being directed from Doha in Qatar by US General Tommy Franks, and his chief spokesman is Jim Wilkinson. And Mr Wilkinson joins us right now from central command headquarters. Jim, good morning.
JIM WILKINSON: Good morning. Good morning to you, thanks for having me.
DAVID FROST: It's a pleasure, thank you for being there. Let me begin with the reports we just heard an eye witness account earlier on from our reporter about the huge columns of American tanks moving towards Baghdad, 2000 vehicles he said, and then he said another 2000 and so on. What can you tell us about that?
JIM WILKINSON: You know David I would never want to give away future operations, I always want to protect coalition forces. What I will say is that we have strong control over the airport, Baghdad international airport and they will expand out there, frankly in all directions - north, south, east and west - to clear and to make sure there are no other forces in the area. In terms of Baghdad I want to give you an update, this morning General Franks briefed us on the flyers that were dropped there yesterday. We dropped a little more than 200,000 flyers with several important messages. The first message was that this is not a campaign against the civilians, it's an initiative to remove the regime. Other messages included on these flyers, the messages included notes to civilians to stay in their homes, to not be, don't co-mingle themselves with some of these forces. And so I think David you'll continue to see some of these - raids is not the term I would use - but some of these incursions out into, into Baghdad by our forces. It's important to do so to secure the area. It's also important David to do that for psychological reasons. You have to remember, we've been at this about 17 days, they've had several decades there of fear from this regime and frankly we've had to prove to the regime, in the north and the south - excuse me - we've had to prove to the civilians in the north and the south that we're there to stay. Once they know we're there to stay, they celebrate. But they're still a little sceptical and we have a lot of work to do.
DAVID FROST: And in terms of the south, yes that's the case, and some of the hearts and minds progress in the last two or three days has been better than it was a week ago, hasn't it?
JIM WILKINSON: It has been David, I think we've seen less of the humanitarian crisis than we thought we would see, however, by some courageous work of our friends in the United Kingdom, down in Basra they brought water to those people who were in desperate need of it. I do want to also point out that, as you know, we targeted 'chemical' Ali, we now have positively identified the body of his bodyguard - I don't have any new news on 'chemical' Ali himself. What I will see, down near Basra, where a lot of the United Kingdom forces are, there are about 3000 people celebrating in the streets down there. So I don't know what that means, if there is a linkage, but we clearly are tightening the noose around this regime and its key figures.
DAVID FROST: Do you think within our net or our grasp, or our noose or whatever, do you suspect that Saddam is still within our reach, or that he's fled or that he's dead?
JIM WILKINSON: Oh who knows? He could have fled, he could be dead or he could be within our reach or he could be most anywhere. I think what's important to remember is that this is a, a coalition that is focussed on initiatives larger than any one person. Now there are many, many regime figures, 'chemical' Ali is only another example, who have tortured, who have raped, who have killed, who have used chemical weapons. And so, certainly we're looking for Saddam Hussein, and certainly if we knew where he was we'd take quick action. We don't know if he's alive or dead but we're focussed on right now securing Baghdad, important humanitarian assistance in what's happened and I think the United Kingdom has given us, really set the standards in the south for how you do humanitarian assistance, and we continue to, to work with them with our forces.
DAVID FROST: And what about, Jim, the situation of the disappearing troops? The disappearing Iraqi troops. That the Iraqi army seems to be not as numerous as expected or not as present as expected. The Republican Guards were going to try and stop us getting closer and closer, the allies into Baghdad, and everyone says where have they all gone. Do you know where they've gone?
JIM WILKINSON: Well I don't know where they've all gone because I'm not there, but what I can tell you is General Franks was briefed yesterday on the, on the destruction from the air against the Republic Guard forces and it was actually much more devastating than we even realised. The amount of equipment that was destroyed, the amount of special Republic Guard that were killed, in both the ... division and ... and other places, were just much more David than we knew. In many cases busloads of troops came out and said we quit, we want to come home. In some cases they just went home, in other cases we have, as you know, we have thousands and thousands of prisoners of war. But I, I think we have to remember, a lot of them have just taken off their uniforms and melted back into the population. It's going to take some time to find them and I also think, I have seen reports that, both intelligence and open source reports, that, that the both the ... and the special Republican Guard are now burrowing in with civilians in their homes. And so we've got a lot of work to do there. A lot of important, tough and deadly fighting left to do.
DAVID FROST: And in fact talking there about prisoners or war, do we have a figure on how many Iraqi prisoners of war we have in our possession?
JIM WILKINSON: David, the last figure I saw which is dated was something I saw yesterday that had almost near 7000. I apologise for not having a more updated figure on that.
DAVID FROST: Not at all. Finally, Jim, when you read like Hosni Mubarak said yesterday, this war is going to produce a hundred Bin Ladens and so on, how can we avoid that?
JIM WILKINSON: Well first off, I don't think we've seen evidence that it has. You know, this past Friday was our second Friday of the war and we haven't seen, I think, large violent demonstrations throughout the Middle East and in other places. And I think in the United Kingdom and the United States and all other nations in the world, we have to constantly be on guard against potential terrorist activities. But this is about, not about personalities, it's about taking away a regime and that's what we're trying to do.
DAVID FROST: Jim, thank you very much for joining us with that update. We appreciate it.
JIM WILKINSON: You know, David, you're a fantastic journalist and thank you for what you do to keep citizens informed on serious topics.
DAVID FROST: Thank you for that very generous word, I appreciate that.
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