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Iraq's Political Crisis Deepens; Fleeing the ISIS Onslaught; America's Role in Iraq; Imagine a World
Aired August 11, 2014 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FRED PLEITGEN, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight, humanitarian disaster and a fight for survival. The battle against ISIS militants continues as
tens of thousands remain stranded with barely any supplies. The latest dramatic scenes from the conflict zone.
Plus a new Iraq in the making or new political turmoil? A prime minister is designated but the incumbent remains defiant. I'll get the
views of Iraq's ambassador to the United States.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program, I'm Fred Pleitgen, in for Christiane Amanpour tonight.
The situation in Northern Iraq remains dire. We're beginning to get a more in-depth look of the plight of tens of thousands of mostly Yazidi
displaced, who fled the advance of the extremist group ISIS and are now stranded on a mountain range.
This dramatic video was filmed by a CNN crew only a few hours ago on Mt. Sinjar. Senior international correspondent Ivan Watson was on an Iraqi
military helicopter that brought aid to the besieged.
As you can see, the scenes are absolutely chaotic as people tried to get on the helicopter and the aid, of course, is far too little to really
make a difference. Now Ivan saw desperate people trying to jump on the aircraft any way to try and get out of that area. Many of them, of course,
are weak and dehydrated after many days in the sun without any supplies.
And of course they are also clearly traumatized by what they've been through. Scores have already died, most of them women, children and the
Now one might think the political elite of a country that's just lost substantial territory to a terrorist group would quickly unify and bury
rivalries. Not so in Iraq, where a new prime minister was nominated today -- Haidar al-Ibadi -- while the old one remains defiant. Supporters of
Nouri al-Maliki said they plan to challenge the decision; they say only Maliki has the right to form a new government.
That's a big problem for my next guest, Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Lukman Faily, who joins me now from Manchester here in the
Sir, thank you so much for being on the program. And first of all, I have to ask, are you sure who your boss is at this point in time? Who's in
charge in Baghdad?
LUKMAN FAILY, IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Well, I have my foreign minister. I also have His Excellency, the president. And the --
as you appreciate, the political process is taking place according to constitution. And according to the -- what we have done over the last few
PLEITGEN: But Mr. Maliki says that this is not according to the constitution. He says this is in breach of the constitution. He said
extending the deadline for attempting to name a new prime minister was something that's already in breach of the constitution. He wants to
challenge all that.
Doesn't that create more political turmoil in Baghdad?
FAILY: It does create challenges for the political class and for the presidency to work with the legislators and to work with the executives.
But we are confident that this issue will be resolved soon. What we have seen otl6w have -- we have never seen it before. Previously it took six
months and previous election nine months. Now we're talking about within six weeks.
We are making significant progress now.
PLEITGEN: But is that progress enough?
The United States says that -- and Iraq and other countries say as well; the U.N. said as well that Iraq needs a stable government as fast as
possible to of course deal with the ISIS threat.
FAILY: We want a stable government. We certainly have a sense of urgency in dealing with this issue. We're working on the military front of
strong corporation from United States as President Obama signified earlier this week. There has --that support will continue. We also are working
with our partners in the region and also with international regarding the ISIL threat.
However, on this political front, as you may appreciate, it hasn't been easy before. And now -- nor now but we are making significant
PLEITGEN: But is that progress enough? We're hearing that there are military forces in the streets that they're loyal to Nouri al-Maliki.
Doesn't that do more to destabilize the situation as the ISIS threat is imminent?
I mean, there are people who are warning that an attack on Baghdad might be imminent by ISIS forces and what we're seeing is the factions
going at it.
FAILY: We are more confident that we can deal with the ISIS threat. The military or there to protect the state. We are working within the
various timelines and various political fronts to get over this specific issue of the premiership. But as you may appreciate, as Iran ambassador, I
do not get involved into the Iraqi internal politics.
All I can say is that we are making significant progress. We are working in a much faster timeline than before. And also we haven't -- we
are a new (ph) democracy. So I think people have to appreciate that as well.
PLEITGEN: On the one hand, it's hard to see, sir -- and I'm sorry; I don't see it with you, either -- the sense of urgency. I mean, substantial
parts of the country have been taken over by ISIS. They're knocking on the door in Baghdad. They're knocking on the door in Kurdistan.
And at the same time, you have this political wrangling going on. The security forces have melted away in part because of that political
wrangling. ISIS has weapons from the Iraqi military. Certainly things have to move a little bit quicker.
FAILY: Of course, I appreciate that. We also appreciate that now we're working with the KRG, Iraqi Peshmerga. That wasn't the case a few
weeks ago. Now we're -- we know that. So these are reflections of a sense of urgency we're working on.
However, I think you have to appreciate that the culture before was for a slow pace in the regent (ph) to the political movement. Now that's
no longer the case. And what we have over the last few weeks is a sign of that. It's not to the liking of the West and others. That might be the
case. But at the same time people have to appreciate what we have been going through, the threat we have faced, the challenges we're working on.
So I think we're on the right track. We need just to be a bit more patient. And I'm sure that our politicians back home will sort this out.
PLEITGEN: What is the government? What is the Iraqi military doing to help the Kurds?
Because the Kurds at this point are the ones who are locked in a battle. They say they need more weapons --
PLEITGEN: -- military support as well.
FAILY: We have battles with ISIL and -- ISIL or ISIS as you may like to call them. Of course all of Iraq, the fighting we have or on more than
one front, it's by all the Iraqi, whether they are tribes, cities; Shia, Sunnis, others, Christians. We're all having this fight. This is not a
single entity fight. It's a whole Iraqi fight against the terrorism.
The government is working with the Kurdish Peshmerga and provisions of certain capabilities are listing, coordinating fronts, joint operations,
also United States are a great supporter of ours. We appreciate that.
PLEITGEN: What sort of other support can you supply to the Kurds in the form of airstrikes? Or is that moving forward?
FAILY: It's to do with -- it's to do with the -- out -- (INAUDIBLE) not as a military person, you may appreciate that I would not have the
great details or I cannot convey that. What I know from my colleagues back home, that -- and from the prime minister's office directly -- is that
there is a great deal of cooperation going on because we signify the threat. We both know that -- we -- nobody is immune from it. Nobody can
work alone. We have to work -- United States has also provided significant airstrikes, which we appreciate. We need to do more. There are more they
can do. And we're working with them on that.
PLEITGEN: What does Iraq expect from the United States and expect from the international community at this point in time? Do you think the
U.S. needs to do more militarily? Does the U.S. need to think about providing more military aid as well, not only to the Kurds but to your
forces as well? What do you want the U.S. -- what do you want the international community to do?
FAILY: We already have a fast FMS (ph). It's on a fast track regarding to Hellfires and others. And that's a significant portion of
support. And we appreciate that.
We're also working with our American friends in relation to the regional issues on the politics. ISIL is not a local issue. It's a
regional problem. It's a global problem. We're working with our American friends in trying to get a consensus of across the region and coordinating
their fight against -- our fight against terrorism.
We're also requesting and we keep saying that airstrikes need to be wider and more intense. The convoys, supplies, communication centers,
command and control of ISIL, these are all targets. We're working with our American friends. We still think there's more to do. But as you may
appreciate, we are all -- have a sort of, I would say, a serious threat to the integrity of Iraq. And we are trying to work together to reduce that
PLEITGEN: When you look at the political situation, you see that Vice President Biden today congratulated the new prime minister, the U.N. also
said that this is a good move forward in the political process.
Do you think or do you approve of the way that the U.S. is commenting on this? Or are you considering this meddling into internal affairs?
Because clearly the situation internally is not as clear-cut as the U.S. portrays it to be.
FAILY: United States is a partner for us in our fight. United States has politically been partner. We have a strategic framework agreement with
them. However, as to who forms what, as ambassador, I do not want to get into that details. Having an in nomine (ph) prime minister is an issue I
will leave to the -- our judiciary and to our (INAUDIBLE) president and to our current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
I will leave that to the political colleagues in Iraq to address. What we would like to say is that the support we need from the United
States has to be urgent, in relation to the fight against ISIL. They, ISIL, are not waiting for us or are not sort of thinking about the internal
politics of Iraq. They have an agenda. We need to destroy that agenda.
PLEITGEN: Ambassador Faily, thank you so much for joining the program tonight.
FAILY: Thank you for having me.
PLEITGEN: Now of course we want to get you back to that dramatic rescue operation that's been taking place in Northern Iraq. CNN's Ivan
Watson, as you've just seen before, was on board an Iraqi Air Force helicopter, which was rescuing people from the beleaguered Yazidi
encampment in Kurdistan. Here's what he saw.
IVAN WATSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I'm standing on the tarmac, Wolf, of a helicopter landing pad.
And we accompanied a helicopter from the Iraqi air force with several Peshmerga fighters on board on a dangerous, chaotic and, dare I say, heroic
mission to deliver aid to some of those people, those Yazidis who have been trapped on Mt. Sinjar for the better part of a week now and to evacuate
some of them from that mountain.
So we took off from here on this aging helicopter that was loaded down with babies' diapers, with condensed milk, with food and water and, in some
cases, even boxes of shoes to give people.
And as we flew over the plain in the direction of Mt. Sinjar and we went over the ISIS positions, the two machine gunners on the side of the
aircraft began opening fire on suspected targets below.
They told me that every time they fly in and out on these missions, they take fire from down below. And I saw them go through cartridges and
cartridges, entire machine gun belts of ammunition. And then they got over Mt. Sinjar. And it's this incredible geological formation that comes out
over the plain.
And there we saw, hiding under some of the trees, some of these desperate people who have been trapped up there for a week, hiding in the
shadow of trees; in some cases, there were a couple half-built structures that people were hiding around. And they all started waving to us and
waving white flags as we came over.
And that's when this chaotic process of trying to throw out assistance, aid to these people began. The gunners were quite literally
hurling diapers and food off the helicopter, at some points at heights of up to 50 feet to the extent that I was worried that people would get hurt
And then we landed on several short occasions. And that's where, amid this explosion of dust and chaos, these desperate civilians came racing
towards the helicopter, throwing their children on board the aircraft.
The crew was just trying to pull up as many people as possible, a little baby, a redheaded baby that ended up in my hands. It was chaotic.
It was crazy. But we were able to then lift off with about 20 civilians, some elderly. Some of these people had scratches, had wounds that were
clearly getting infected.
The crowd on board the helicopter burst into tears, as did some of the Peshmerga fighters who were on board there, trying to help them, just the
relief was palpable.
PLEITGEN: Absolutely heartbreaking scenes. That was Ivan Watson, speaking a little earlier to our own Wolf Blitzer. And if you stay tuned
to CNN throughout the day, we'll give you a lot more of Ivan Watson's reporting on that helicopter flight that he was on. And of course, more
also from the conflict zone there in Northern Iraq.
Now we've just had a bleak picture of the plight of the Yazidi community in Iraq and a desperate fight against ISIS. There are more -- is
there more that the international community can do to help? We discuss that, next.
PLEITGEN: Welcome back to the program. I'm Fred Pleitgen, sitting in for Christiane today.
Now U.S. President Barack Obama is famously wary of foreign entanglements. But when he announced airstrikes and air drops in Iraq, he
sounded surprising out of character.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, "There is no one coming to help."
Well, today, America is coming to help.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PLEITGEN: But the president has also made clear that Iraqis must take responsibility for their own country so as humanitarian security and
political crises all unfold in Iraq, what is the American role and what should it be?
Joining me now from Washington is the former American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.
Sir, thank you so much for joining the program.
And the first question has to be, sir, Barack Obama has said time and again that he does not want to be the Iraqi Air Force. But at this point
in time, with the humanitarian situation so dire, with women getting sold off, people getting executed, is this really the time to prove a political
point to Iraq's ruling elite?
ZALMAY KHALILZAD, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Well, I think already what the president has done is significant. So he has to be given
credit for that. What he did is to help the Kurds prevent a takeover over Erbil, possibly, by the ISIS terrorists. And he has also saved the lives
of many people with the American effort.
That was an adjustment. He didn't want to do that before. And I think going forward, he may need to adjust again. And the adjustment
that's needed is one to strengthen the local forces in Kurdistan so they can defend themselves and that will be less of a burden down the road on
the United States.
Also he needs to look at internationalizing the effort, bringing more allies to assist and also I think what's needed is to assist with the
opposition from Sunni moderates. There are Sunni governors who are interested in opposing ISIS. We need to look at supply then with arms as
well. And then to continue the effort in Baghdad, for a new unity government, so that the Sunnis will be motivated to confront.
I think the president has taken a good step. He needs to build on that as the situation requires.
PLEITGEN: Yes, I was going to say, if you're going to bring the moderate Sunni back on board, then of course there does have to be a
political process, an inclusive political process in Baghdad.
Are you shocked, as many in the international community are, at the seeming lack of a sense of urgency by those ruling in Baghdad, by people
like Nouri al-Maliki, when it comes to forming some sort of inclusive government after they've lost so much territory, they're still -- there's
still so much political infighting going on.
KHALILZAD: Well, I appreciate that the world is shocked. I personally -- I'm shocked but not surprised, because you know, I was in
Iraq from 2005-2007, and there, too, there were extremely demanding circumstances with a lot of violence and sometimes it surprised me. And I
kept pressing for action and they were not moving as fast as we would like to -- would have liked them to move.
I think their sense of time, the urgency of circumstances is quite different than those in other parts of the world.
PLEITGEN: But there are people who are saying that an attack by ISIS on Baghdad could be imminent. Certainly you would think that that's
something that would get them to move, because how are they going to motivate their own security forces to finally take a stand after those
security forces are already melted away in the face of this political wrangling which led to bottlenecks in logistics and some troops didn't even
Why would they defend Baghdad now?
KHALILZAD: Well, I think they have gotten a little more confident about the defense of Baghdad because of the -- a number of sheer volunteers
who have joined the forces. And the Iraqi armed forces, what remains of it, as become reorganized, I don't know whether they are right or not as to
the capability and the readiness of those forces to be able to defend Baghdad.
But I gather from talking to leaders in Baghdad that they have greater confidence about the situation in Baghdad. They might be wrong, but that's
what they believe.
PLEITGEN: How do you feel about today's announcement of a new prime minister? Is that something that you think will actually go through with,
Nouri al-Maliki going to accept that? And could Mr. Ibadi actually manage to form an inclusive government that will bring things on track
KHALILZAD: (INAUDIBLE) Maliki has been weakened dramatically in the last 24-48 hours politically because parts of his own political party, the
state of law, has defected from him. He's got now less than 50 members of parliament supporting him. The only option that he has is either to
bargain for something for himself in the future, to cease and desist his opposition, or to resort to military force.
I think resorting to a military force will be a disastrous decision. It would be a terrible miscalculation on his part. I hope that he will not
resort to that. But as far as Mr. al-Ibadi is concerned, he comes from a very well-known Baghdadi family, although he is from the same political
party as Mr. Maliki, but he is more worldly and I think everyone, the other major forces in Iraq, are looking positively to the prospect that Maliki is
gone and they will have a new leader in Mr. al-Ibadi and look forward to working with him.
But he had huge challenges confronting him on the political track, to satisfy the Sunnis and the Kurds and obviously as what we've been
discussing the security situation.
PLEITGEN: Mr. Khalilzad, thank you so much for joining the program tonight.
KHALILZAD: Well, thank you.
PLEITGEN: And after so much turmoil, after so much suffering, on a lighter note tonight, if new Western sanctions have given Russia the blues,
there's no sign of it. In the breakaway republic of Crimea this weekend, U.S. movie star/martial artist and Putin friend, Steven Seagal, brought his
band to the Black Sea port of Sebastopol at the invitation of a notorious biker club, the Night Wolves. The star of more than 30 films received a
special gift on stage from the leader of the gang, a Vladimir Putin shirt.
The Night Wolves have close links to the Russian president and reportedly delivered supplies to Russian troops fighting in the region.
And with the current tensions in Ukraine causing fears of a new Cold War, we take a look at an incident that almost turned the old Cold War into
a hot war -- when we come back.
PLEITGEN: And a final thought tonight, a hard lesson many public figures have had to learn is that there's never a private moment. A
microphone could be recording at any time.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was recently overheard taking a call from an aide on Israel's airstrikes on Gaza, his remarks perhaps
giving a more unguarded picture of his views.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: It's a hell of a pinpoint operation. It's a hell of a pinpoint operation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PLEITGEN: Now imagine a world where this kind of offhand remark nearly endangered world peace by putting one of the largest armies on
standby to attack.
Well, it's exactly what happened 30 years ago today. In 1984, U.S. President Ronald Reagan was preparing to give his usually Saturday radio
address when an engineer asked him for a sound check. To everyone's surprise, this is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that
will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PLEITGEN: Now this off-the-cuff remark was quickly forgotten until his words were leaked to the media. And when the quote reached the
Kremlin, the Soviet Far East army was put on the highest level of alert.
The Pentagon later had to assure the Russians that the president's remark was not a statement of U.S. policy, which goes to prove what we on
this show already know, be careful what you say; you never know who might be listening.
Well, that's it for tonight. And remember you can always contact us at our website, amanpour.com, and follow me on Twitter @FPleitgenCNN.
Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.