Iraq: Danger On Land, And In Air

The army chopper crews call themselves "The Outlaws" -- they skim low, and fast, over the roofs of Baghdad. Every one is a possible hiding place for an insurgent.

What the terrorists won't know is that General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of all 120,000 coalition forces in Iraq, is onboard.

CBS' Dan Rather wanted to know what he hoped to accomplish.

"We will be able to get out to the border to look first hand at what is going on," Sanchez explained.

Ten months into his command, the general knows it's essential to visit all the corners of his territory to listen to all sides.

"As I travel around the country, there are more than, probably, 90 percent of Iraqis who say they want the army back," he said.

His destination today: Basra, 300 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq's second city.

General Andrew Stewart, commands the British forces based there. There have been few insurgent attacks against his troops. The area is dominated by a Shiite community that welcomed the invasion. Stewart, like General Sanchez, is trying to give more power to the local Iraqi security forces. But he has little hope they will reach western standards any time soon.

"It takes any Arab police, not just Iraq, 30 years to train the police force," Stewart said. "We are trying to make these police not only operate properly but also be politically accountable to the people and not to themselves."

After that stark assessment, Sanchez is on the move again, this time for a short helicopter ride over Basra.

Suddenly anti-missile devices are fired after a cockpit alarm goes off.

The pilots take immediate evasive action fearing an attack.

Later we discover that it was a false alarm.

"I don't know about you, but when the helicopter took that evasive action -- the pucker factor went up?" asked Rather.

"Yes sir, that was an exciting helicopter ride on about three different occasions that we shared," Sanchez said. "It's something you have to expect. Well I thought maybe somebody was shooting at us. I never thought we'd get shot out of the sky."

Undaunted by the incident, General Sanchez jumped a boat for a tour of the Shat Al-arab waterway. It's Iraq's only access to the Persian Gulf, a vital economic channel that is still littered with the wreckage of the Iran-Iraq war, and Saddam Hussein's personal yacht.

"When we passed Saddam Hussein's old yacht what did you think?" Rather wanted to know.

Sanchez laughed.

"Very appropriate that it was upside down and sunk in the water sir," he said, and laughed again.
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

Comments

Follow Us

On Twitter