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Field Report From Deborah Block - 2003-03-23


MS. BLOCK:
There was a great deal of artillery barrage last night and today. The artillery was shooting at areas outside of Basra. It did not hit the city -- that will keep the casualties down -- and was hitting at Iraqi troops around that area. There has been some smoke in this area. You can see the oil fires. Some of them are still burning. And it looks like some of the other fires may have been caused by the U.S. hitting Iraqi troop targets.

MS. WARD:
Are the Iraqis putting up much resistance? What are the Marines saying about it?

MS. BLOCK:
In the area that I'm in, no, they have not. There have been pockets of the Iraqi troops that have been fighting. I am specifically with an artillery group, and they've had a great deal of success in holding the Iraqis back. The artillery does work with the infantry, which is ahead of them, and the infantry does call the artillery for assistance. Therefore, the artillery has been shooting, as I said, a barrage of air fire when necessary. And so far, they have been able to contain the Iraqi troops.

MS. WARD:
What kind of power do the Iraqi troops have? Are they using missiles or is it strictly gunners?

MS. BLOCK:
They have been using some gunners. They do have artillery itself, which are cannons. That's also with the artillery the U.S. has. They have what are called howitzers. But the Marines tell me that although the Iraqis actually have more cannons, theirs aren't as in good condition as the American ones are and may not be as powerful in some cases. There has also been quite a few Iraqis, off and on, that have been putting their hands up and surrendering, not wanting to fight, realizing that the Americans have a great deal of air and firepower.

MS. WARD:
Let me just ask you about the troops themselves. Are they feeling optimistic at this point, or they're not even thinking about the end, they're just doing their job?

MS. BLOCK:
It's really both, Rebecca. They're very optimistic, because in the area that I've been in, they've been having a great deal of success. They feel that their operative plans are going very smoothly. And they're also feeling very good that they are able to do their jobs well. I've had many Marines say to me that this is a job and they feel good if they can do it well and get this over with as quickly as possible with as few casualties as possible.

MS. WARD:
Debby, there has been talk about Iraqis’ possible use of chemical or biological weapons. What are you doing to protect yourself? What are the troops doing to protect themselves from such an attack?

MS. BLOCK:
Well, the Marines I have been with have been wearing their chemical suits full-time. We've now been wearing them for several days. Before we went out into the field, starting in northern Kuwait, before we crossed into Iraq, there were numerous gas drills so that we would be required to put on our gasmasks as quickly as possible. Even when the Marines were moving forward and were still in Kuwait, there were several calls for putting on the gasmasks, which we took very seriously, and we did. So far, there has not been any attack on us, but I would say that everyone is very, very closely watching that situation and prepared to react at all times.

MS. WARD:
The suits must be somewhat cumbersome for the troops.

MS. BLOCK:
They are not too bad right now. They are made out of cloth. They are not too heavy. The problem will be if the weather gets hotter. Right now the temperatures have not been too hot. There have been a couple of hot days. And, you bet you, when it gets hot out, these suits get hot. But for right now, they are just fine. What's more important, I think, to all of us is that they protect us and they could definitely save our lives.

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