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Iraq War: All for Nothing?; Mission to Destroy; Imagine a World

Aired January 8, 2014 - 14:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

So was it, in fact, all for nothing? The U.S. war in Iraq, the bloody battle for Fallujah in 2004, which was the toughest fight America had faced since the Vietnam War. And then the successful surge of U.S. forces that put down the Al Qaeda insurgents just a few years later.

Now when Barack Obama pulled the U.S. out of Iraq two years ago, he did so saying the country was on its way to being a stable democracy. How awfully wrong he was.

After thousands of American lives, tens of thousands of Iraqi lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, Iraq looks a lot like it did at the height of its civil war, and today America has been humiliated by the fall of Fallujah again.

But so, too, is Iraq's Shia-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who takes the lion's share of the blame for this bloody failure. The Sunni of Iraq's Anbar province are so alienated that they say they prefer Al Qaeda to their own government's forces. Maliki's plea for them to turf out the militants therefore is likely to fall on deaf ears.


NOURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I call upon the people of Fallujah and the tribal leaders to unite and reject the presence of those evil people because Fallujah has witnessed fighting and destruction many times before.


AMANPOUR: And just as it has many times before, the dead are piling up and those who can are fleeing their homes. Al Qaeda militants who want to carve out the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are riding this wave of dysfunction.

So what can and what should the United States and other members of the coalition do now? Who can convince Prime Minister Maliki to form a properly inclusive government? And can anything actually change as long as the Syria war rages and fuels the fire across the border in Iraq?

For answers, we turn to Britain's former special envoy to Iraq, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, a diplomat long steeped in the Middle East, whose career has also taken him from Washington, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and to the United Nations, where he served as Britain's ambassador during the run-up to the Iraq War and he joins me now from London.

Welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: So first and foremost, what Prime Minister Maliki said today, join up and turf out those, as he called, "evildoers" from Fallujah and Ramadi, does he have any hope that the Sunni residents of those towns and cities will do that?

Well, he hasn't worked on much up to now, has he? The Sunnis feel very disaffected from the Shia-led government in Baghdad and have done for some years since the Americans left and before.

And remember, this is not just about Sunni-Shia. It's not just about Al Qaeda and its own warped ambitions for an Islamic state. There are old Saddamists, Ba'athists, left under the covers of what is Iraq now, trying to get back, trying to damage the new government. There are a lot of different issues, all milling about together. And Syria and Iraq have infected and have affected each other.

So it's very complex.

AMANPOUR: Yes, and so what to do. First and foremost, are you worried, should we all be worried, that the footprint of ISIS, this Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, is actually spreading and could really become what we saw at the height of the Iraq civil war?

GREENSTOCK: Well, I think because of Syria, particularly, but it happily began with Iraq, there are more foreign jihadis in Syria, looking to beat up the people they don't like, the West, the Syrian government, anybody against an Islamic state. These are bloodthirsty, to me, un-Islamic people, are looking for any opportunity to spread their murderous violence.

And although their quite effective militarily, so rebels in Syria began to think they could help us against Assad, they've become very unpopular when they practice their own methods of behavior on the ground.

AMANPOUR: Now you were the special envoy of your government to Iraq at the beginning, after the war there. We started by saying, was it all for nothing? I mean, it's incredible to hear the names, Fallujah, Ramadi, Anbar province again, as if we were back in 2004, '05 and '06, the bad old day.

Has -- is this a real threat to the stability of Iraq right now?

GREENSTOCK: Yes. And the nature of Iraq is a threat to its own stability of evolution because it's so vociferously a divided country. And remember, the intervention, which we're all so focused on, you know, was it worth it?

Should we have done it? Did we do it in the right way? All intervention achieves -- and sometimes it's worth it -- is to freeze the state of a country, maybe get rid of somebody, but freeze the state of it while we're there and then when we go, it all starts going again. That's what will happen (INAUDIBLE).



GREENSTOCK: It's pretty inevitable because we don't have the power to change all the historical roots of what creates that country.

AMANPOUR: But do you think that the way that the U.S. forces all left suddenly with no (INAUDIBLE), with no residual forces, has that actually been shown to have been the wrong strategy?

GREENSTOCK: No, I think if it's the right strategy, because from what I've just said, the longer we stay, the longer it stays in the fridge, but whenever you leave, it all starts warming up, heating up again. And whether it's 2010 or 2014 or 2020, that's what will happen.

So to me, the president has a case in saying we've done enough here; they've got to take over at some point. Perhaps it's time for America to leave and let them get on with it and then leave time for these things to evolve. And then they will evolve.

AMANPOUR: So what should the U.S. do or Britain or whoever? What should they do? I mean, I started by saying the lion's share of the blame, everybody seems to be saying, is at the feet of the prime minister, who's alienated the Sunnis, who has suppressed a rebellion and who -- these guys are saying, hang on a second; no, don't come into Fallujah and Ramadi. We'd rather have the Al Qaeda.

I mean, it's amazing to hear that.

GREENSTOCK: Well, people are very short-term and very local. The enemy of my enemy is my friend for this month or for a few weeks. Look what's happened in Syria, where there was a united opposition, gradually broke down into different units and different localities. And they forgot that they were fighting Assad because the closer enemy to you is the person in the next locality or the person who's trying to take over your locality.

The world of geopolitics, Christiane, at the moment, is breaking down into smaller and smaller units. You know, Texas and California and the Northeast are bigger in their own local estimation than 50 years ago than when I first came to America. It's -- Scotland wants to move away from the United Kingdom or some people do, Catalonia wants to leave Spain.

The different parts of Iraq are thinking about their own locality. And it's only when that matures into a different situation that you get a hope of recreating a democracy (INAUDIBLE).

AMANPOUR: Well, you have been all those places you mentioned, that we won't see this kind of civil strife. So again, what should the U.S. do? Secretary Kerry says that they're desperate to try to help the Iraqi government; they're not going to put boots on the ground, obviously, but they're probably going to rush weapons in, although that is going to take several months.

But beyond that politically, do you see the necessity to try to convince Maliki that there has to be an inclusive government?

GREENSTOCK: Yes, and I think he's been rather unresponsive. I'm sure the American embassy and the British embassy in Baghdad have been doing that since the forces left and before. I was doing it in 2003, trying to convince them that they shouldn't be all a lot of little streams, but trying to forge big rivers of political opinion that cross local borders and tribal borders.

AMANPOUR: Isn't that the only way it's going to survive (INAUDIBLE)?

GREENSTOCK: Yes, and it takes time. And so we need -- it's not all about weapons. It's actually about politics and local politics much more than it's about weaponry. You've got to train people to administrate in certain ways.

AMANPOUR: But who has the influence to be able to do that if the U.S. is out and everybody's out militarily? Where's the influence and where's the ability to have (INAUDIBLE)?

GREENSTOCK: (INAUDIBLE), the decision-making is with the people of the country. If they don' want to, there's nothing we can do. But actually they do want this, because they're in trouble. And so long as we don't brag about it, so long as we don't impose anything, there are some very intelligent diplomats in the U.N. as well as in our countries who can help them with administrative detail, with training, with funding for certain programs, with examples of how to do this.

And Maliki hasn't wanted to listen up to now. But he's in trouble. He's got an election coming up. He should be looking for advice.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about Robert Gates, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense, whose book is about to be released and certainly excerpts have been leaked. I mean, he certainly casts a wide net of blame around. But about Iraq specifically, he says in one paragraph, "In Iraq, I hoped we could stabilize the country so that when U.S. forces departed, the war wouldn't be viewed as a strategic defeat for the U.S. or a failure with global consequences."

He also went on to say, "Fortunately, I believe my minimalist goals were achieved in Iraq."

Was he right? I mean .

GREENSTOCK: I wouldn't describe it like that.


GREENSTOCK: I think the mistakes were made by the Republican administration in 2003. They didn't focus on security at the start. They lost it. They allowed a vacuum to be created. And the violence poured onto the streets straightaway in April-May 2003.

I would put more blame back on the desks of Secretary Cheney and -- Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld than on the (INAUDIBLE). I don't think it could have been retrieved in 2010-2011, when the forces left.

AMANPOUR: So we've talked about Syria and how the raging war there is fueling what's happening in Iraq.

Let's talk quickly about Iran. There's all sorts of talk that both Iran and the United States face a similar enemy in the rise of these Sunni militants, these jihadis, and that there's a possibility that they could see a common future towards battling them, one way or the other.

Jack Straw, the former British foreign secretary, is in Iran. What kind of role do you see, if at all, for Iran to play in this unfolding debacle?

GREENSTOCK: I think quite a big one, actually. And I think the potential consonance of interest in Iran and Western countries is greater than just over the jihadis.

The jihadis are a lethal nuisance, but they're not an existential threat. There are bigger things. There's Gulf security --

AMANPOUR: So Al Qaeda's not an existential threat?

GREENSTOCK: No. It's a lethal nuisance. It's not going to change our way of life. It's not going to defeat us on the battlefield.

AMANPOUR: But it could defeat them.

GREENSTOCK: Not -- no, Iran's too big for that.

AMANPOUR: OK, Iraq, Syria.

GREENSTOCK: No, they're just a bloodthirsty nuisance. The people of Iraq don't want them in the long term. People of Iran don't want this. People of Iran don't want a clerical regime by a majority. They laugh at their rulers more than they cry about them. And they're nasty, they're brutal.

Jack Straw is trying to start a new conversation now that President Rouhani is there, and I applaud him for going to communicate with the Iranians, because the Iranians want to reconnect. And I hope that Americans will follow that example, actually.

AMANPOUR: All right. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, thank you very much indeed for joining me.


AMANPOUR: So it does seem clear that the militants will continue to plague Iraq as long as the Syrian war rages. But a press conference planned for January 22nd is so far not inspiring much hope for a solution. And today it seemed like Damascus drove a nail into the coffin of that conference by saying that the Syrian people have decided that President Bashar al-Assad should be nominated for yet another term.

Hard to swallow when terrible scenes like this one continues under his leadership. When we come back, the deal to destroy Assad's chemical stockpile won't end this kind of killing. But it could take away his most poisonous and lethal weapons. We'll get a status report from the official charge with overseeing that process when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

The war in Syria threatens to tip Iraq back over the abyss as we've been saying. The West's failure to back Syria's moderate rebels allowed Al Qaeda militants to flourish in Syria. And when the U.S. sided with Russia to destroy Assad's chemical weapons, it had the effect of, in fact, cementing his stay in power.

But now an important first step has been taken. The Assad regime has sent out the first batch of chemical weapons after failing to meet its first deadline, which was December 31st. This first batch was moved from two sites on Tuesday, onto a Danish commercial trip -- ship, rather -- and that today left the Syrian port of Latakia for Italy.

From there, the weapons will be transferred to a U.S. cargo ship for destruction at sea.

It's a long and complex operation with more questions than answers right now. But my next guest is perfectly position to shed some light on the process; Sigrid Kaag is the special coordinator for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is tasked with this job.

She's been briefing the U.N. Security Council about the first phase and she joins me live now from the United Nations in New York.

Ms. Kaag, thank you for joining me. Welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: So tell me exactly what is happening with this first batch as it's now on this ship and it's moving to Italy. What then?

KAAG: Well, actually not much is happening since it actually left Latakia and was loaded onto the Danish vessel because the process of accumulating and consolidating all the other priority one chemicals is still ongoing. More movements need to take place within the Syrian Arab Republic to Latakia.

The Danish vessel will have to do many trips multiple trips, rather, to Latakia and then wait in the Mediterranean in international waters for the U.S. ship to arrive, the Kate Ray (ph), which, as you know, will be used for hydrolysis-based destruction of the priority one chemicals.

AMANPOUR: Exactly. It is a very complicated process. And in fact, it's the first time ever the U.S. has destroyed these chemical weapons at sea. They've done it by doing it on land before, but not at sea.

You know, what is going to happen? I know that you're not a technical expert, but where is this, whatever it is, the byproduct of the destroyed chemical weapons, do you know where it's going to go?

KAAG: Well, yes, there are two phases. And as you just mentioned, the priority one chemicals, the most dangerous ones, will be destroyed once fully consolidated, will be destroyed aboard the U.S. ship.

When the chemical effluents, the reactive mass that follows the destructive process, will be taken, will be transloaded and will be taken to different companies, either in Europe or elsewhere, that are currently bidding with OPCW for the contracts to take part in that destruction process.

But that is apparently a fairly straightforward commercial exercise and it happens day in, day out, around the world and we just don't know about it because all we see is not newsworthy.

AMANPOUR: Well, it's pretty newsworthy because, you know, everything that happens in Syria these days is newsworthy.

And the question I suppose is, why on Earth is a sea-based process being used? Why were these weapons not done as they have been done before and sent to a country to be destroyed and disposed of?

KAAG: You're absolutely right. Actually there are two differences. And as we've all -- as we've always been saying -- and I represent OPCW and the United Nations, as this is a joint mission, it's an unprecedented situation, unprecedented effort. And also unprecedented in the fact that chemical weapons are actually destroyed outside of the state party's territory.

That is a change.

Secondly, it is normally done land-based. However, in an effort to find member states will to assist in this process and basically lend their territory for the destruction process, no member state stepped forward. So this was the alternative to make sure that traction is gained and that deadlines can be met.

So, yes, it's unique; but we are reassured of course by the U.S. and other member states it's technically very feasible. It's viable and otherwise it wouldn't be happening.

AMANPOUR: Do you think of that already, what is your thoughts about how the Iraqi -- rather the Syrians are cooperating? They missed their first deadline. Your mandate says this whole process needs to be finished by June of 2014.

Is that realistic? And what are the challenges?

KAAG: It's a valid question. We've also had this, of course, this discussion this morning with the Security Council members. The deadline remains very viable and realistic. The initial deadline, intermediate milestone of 31st of December was missed.

But I think this important first step that we could confirm yesterday of out of country removal and all that that entails, the preparation, logistics, the security undertaken by the Syrian authorities demonstrates intent and demonstrate the opportunity to continue to ensure a timely completion.

What is now important and the Security Council expressed that desire very strongly, that there is a collective expectation the process is continued; and that also there may be a need for acceleration to make up for some of the lost time.

The challenges remain the security conditions in country. Logistical hurdles we've managed to overcome and all the supplies and material requirements needed for this operation are in country. So it's a matter of continuity.

AMANPOUR: And do you think that OPCW and your whole organization actually is convinced that it knows where all the chemical weapons sites are and all of these have been given to you and told to you and there's nothing lurking in other areas of Syria that may not have been revealed by the government?

KAAG: Well, as you may recall from the early days of the Russian-American framework agreement and Syria's accession to the chemical weapons convention, all state parties operate on the basis of the cleared facilities and the chemical weapons program.

Our mission is based on the Syrian declaration. If there are any doubts, if member states feel there may be a gap or there may be an omission, there's either a process to bring this to the attention of the director- general of OPCW or the Security Council.

As for Security Council Resolution 2118, to date no member states has done that. We work within the parameters of the mandate and that is to ensure the elimination of the declared Syrian weapons program, chemical weapons program.

AMANPOUR: And when do you expect the U.S. ship, the Kay Gray (ph), to arrive? And will it be the Mediterranean? Is that where this is going to happen?

KAAG: I can't confirm where it's going to happen because ships are mobile, after all. But the ship is intended to arrive in the Mediterranean between -- somewhere between the 23rd and 26th of January.

AMANPOUR: But would you agree the Mediterranean is the best place to do this?

In terms of ease?

KAAG: I wouldn't agree or comment on it.

What is needed for this kind of exercise to happen, the proximity to a port is necessary. But obviously there are many seas. And I think it's up to the U.S. in this case and a country which is willing to lend its support for proximity or access to the port, that's a bilateral member state discussion that's ongoing.

AMANPOUR: Sigrid Kaag, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

And after a break, imagine a war that actually makes lives better for people. Fifty years ago today, the first shots were fired and the battle still goes on. We'll explain when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, it's a challenge to be optimistic these days about all those wars raging around us, seemingly without solution and without end. And yet imagine a world where a different kind of battle remains a beacon of hope and health to the poorest of its people.

Fifty years ago today, the U.S. president, Lyndon Johnson, issued an unprecedented declaration of war.


LYNDON JOHNSON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And this administration today here and now declares unconditional war on poverty in America.



AMANPOUR: Born dirt-poor on a Texas farm, as president, Johnson made the war on poverty his personal mission, traveling to Appalachia, which is among the poorest regions in the richest country on Earth, to state his case and open the eyes of the nation.

At that time, over 22 percent of Americans lived below the poverty line. But with bipartisan support, something so rare today, LBJ created the Great Society with programs that Americans now take for granted, like Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps, education for the very youngest underprivileged children. And he expanded Social Security.

For the next decade, poverty fell by 42 percent and it continues to decline today and yet the program has been vulnerable to draconian budget cuts and critics called it a failure, saying it created generations of welfare dependents instead of the wage earners and taxpayers that LBJ envisioned.

But suddenly, fighting poverty is in again. Republicans are planning their own anti-poverty legislation, and President Obama is expected to take the offensive against rising economic inequality in his upcoming State of the Union address. The war on poverty goes on, and not just in the United States.

Around the world, more than a billion people live in extreme poverty. And on this program tomorrow, you'll meet Camila Batmanghelidjh, the remarkable and, yes, the flamboyant woman who's dedicated to eradicating the Dickensian squalor that so many children are living in today here in contemporary London.

That's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.