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Battle for Mosul Dam; Cease-Fire Deadline Approaches; Crisis in Iraq; Assange Plans to Leave Ecuador Embassy "Soon"

Aired August 18, 2014 - 11:37   ET



BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: And my colleagues in the United States on what we learned from the preliminary autopsy report on the shooting of the

Ferguson, Missouri teenager, Michael Brown, requested, of course, by the family.

And the consequences of the news that's just been reported, the medical examiner suggesting that the teenager was shot at least six times,

all of the wounds survivable, he said, bar the last two, the top of the head.

This is an ongoing situation, of course, so far as what is going on in the ground is concerned there in Ferguson, Missouri. And as we get more

information, of course, we will bring it to you.

I'm Becky Anderson in Abu Dhabi, it is 37 minutes past 7:00 here. Let's move on at this point to other news. And a fierce battle underway in

northern Iraq for control of what the US army has called the most dangerous dam in the world.

The Mosul Dam sits on the Tigris River about 50 kilometers north of Mosul, and it provides electricity, irrigation, and flood protection. But

US engineers say its weak foundation could spell disaster even before any potential attack.

Well, Kurdish military forces, with the help of US warplanes, are clashing with ISIS fighters, who seized the facility earlier this month.

Anna Coren has reached an area with a direct view of the Mosul Dam.

It's not easy to get to, which if damaged or destroyed, of course, Anna, would result in a massive wall of water racing down the Tigris,

flooding Mosul and Baghdad, joining us, I know, now, live. What is going on there as we speak?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Becky, from what we know, the Peshmerga special forces have gained control of the dam, and

they are flushing out the facility of these ISIS militants, really coming into battle in small pockets of resistance.

But what you can see over my shoulder is Mosul Lake, which runs onto the dam. The black smoke, which I'm not quite sure if you can see on the

horizon, that is new. We don't know if that's an airstrike or whether there has been some type of explosion, that that has taken place in the

last ten minutes.

Well, the Peshmerga, they believe that they'll be able to contain this dam. We embedded with them yesterday, and this is what we found.


COREN (voice-over): Black smoke billows on the horizon as heavy artillery and rockets pummel the enemy line.


COREN: Peshmerga special forces waging an intensive ground operation against ISIS as US fighter jets and predator drones patrol the skies.

Their mission: to take back Mosul Dam, captured by militants earlier this month, a critical piece of hydroelectric infrastructure that if sabotaged,

could let loose a wall of water that would flood the cities of Mosul and Baghdad and everything in between, killing countless lives.

Commander Mansur Barzani, son of the Kurdish president, is in charge of the special forces and this operation.

MANSUR BARZANI, COMMANDER, PESHMERGA SPECIAL FORCES: We believe our Peshmerga, we can take back, because this is something very, very

dangerous. It's very dangerous, and this dam cannot be in the hands of terrorists.

COREN: As the offensive continues, ISIS eventually retreats, but in their wake leave IEDs and landmines, scattered on the road, across the

fields, and inside buildings.

COREN (on camera): The Peshmerga have finally allowed us to travel to the area that they attacked a few hours ago. We can still see smoke rising

from the buildings. Now, we have been told we're not allowed out of the vehicle because of the risk of landmines planted by ISIS.

COREN (voice-over): But once we reach the secured area, hundreds of Peshmerga gather, ready for the next offensive, some showing off their

achievements on the battlefield.

COREN (on camera): You're showing us photos of the ISIS militants that they killed earlier today.

COREN (voice-over): But within minutes --


COREN: -- another explosion.

COREN (on camera): Well, this is where the battle was staged earlier today against the ISIS militants. We're about 15 kilometers as the crow

flies to Mosul Dam, and these soldiers were on their way there in this convoy when it was hit by an IED attack a short time ago. The injured

officers have been taken back to base.

COREN (voice-over): We later learned one of the soldiers died. As they begin to create the next offensive position closer to their target, an

American Humvee, seized by ISIS, sits in ruins on the dusty plains, the result of a US airstrike, giving these longterm warriors the reassurance

they need to take the fight to ISIS aggressively on the battleground.


COREN: Now, Becky, once they take full control of the dam, they will obviously need to maintain that. We know that ISIS has full control of

Mosul City, which is close by. We had to move from our position earlier because of incoming fire.

There were rounds of mortar close -- hitting us close by. So, we had to move back from there. ISIS is digging in. This fight is far from over.

So, this is the situation on the ground at the moment, Becky.

ANDERSON: Yes, as we speak. Anna, thank you for that, Anna Coren for you this evening.

A deadline for the latest peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian officials is fast approaching. The latest cease-fire expires

at midnight local time, that is just less than six hours from now.

And as the threat of violence looks again, Gaza's Health Ministry says the death toll on its side of the border has topped 2,000. The Israeli

military says 64 of its soldiers have been killed, as well as three civilians in Israel.

Attempts to hammer out a peace deal between Israeli and Palestinian authorities were dealt a blow earlier this year when Israel pulled out. Of

course, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was angered by the formation of a Palestinian unity government involving both Fatah and Hamas, as the latter

is regarded as a terrorist group by both Israel and the US.

Sabri Saidam is deputy secretary-general of Fatah, and he joins me now, live from Ramallah in the West Bank. Sir, as we reach the end of this

truce, are you optimistic about these talks in Cairo or not? Briefly.

SABRI SAIDAM, DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL, FATAH: Well, hi, Becky. Let me say that the mood is that of optimism. The last message I got from

Cairo is that indeed things are looking very positive. Although there's nothing solid so far, things are swinging in between positive and negative.

Remains to be seen if a peace deal is to be reached.

ANDERSON: Is Fatah completely united with Hamas in its demands for a cease-fire, all of its demands for a cease-fire?

SAIDAM: Yes, definitely. That's the reason we have a united delegation now in Cairo. And let me remind you, this has been propagated

as a war between Hamas and the Israeli military, which is not the case.

Now, this is a war against all Palestinians. Those who are killed in Gaza are certainly Palestinians of different walks of lives. The children

that were maimed in Gaza is staining the reputation of Israel, and I think it's the end of occupation that's going to end the scene of misery that has

long prevailed for decades on end in the Middle East.

So, I think, for the benefit of Israel, for the benefit of those who are supporting the Israeli occupation is to end this occupation, and Israel

has to come to its sense that prolonging occupation, coupling occupation with security, is an unworkable formula.

ANDERSON: Well, it's very good to hear that you are, certainly, at least optimistic about what is going on as we speak in Cairo, where these

talks are being mediated.

I want to put something to you today and get your response. All major Israeli media outlets reporting the publication of an investigation that

dozens of Hamas activists in the West Bank were part of a broad military infrastructure planning to overthrow, for example, the Palestinian

Authority, alleging that funds were being brought in from Jordan. This report suggests recruiting members and establishing weapons warehouses.

Now this, Israels say, was between May and August. What do you know of any Hamas activity, activists in the West Bank and of this report? And

do you buy it?

SAIDAM: Well, nothing much, really, because the first I heard about it was this afternoon. And indeed, the Palestinian leadership has not

contacted the Israelis to investigate a matter of this nature. I think Israel is working hard to divert attention from Cairo.

Netanyahu has gotten into this war to silence the missiles and finish the tunnels. None of the above has been achieved, so he's looking for a

victory. And I think he's about to wage a war on the West Bank if he is to find an excuse.

ANDERSON: All right.

SAIDAM: He tried to excuse it with a (inaudible), it didn't work out. He's now trying something new. So, his trick book is now expiring, it's

running out of ideas.

ANDERSON: Sir, it's a pleasure to talk to you, we thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.

Still to come this evening, with Nouri al-Maliki finally stepping down as prime minister, Iraq looking for strong leadership in the fight against

ISIS, of course. We're going to examine what remains at stake in this country on the brink. That after this.


ANDERSON: Well, if you were with us some five, ten minutes ago, you'd have heard from my colleague, Anna Coren, who is with Kurdish military

forces engaged in a pitched battle to regain control of the Mosul Dam in northern Iraq from ISIS militants.

Now, plumes of smoke could be seen in the area from a short distance away. The Peshmerga have been making progress over the last few days.

They say they hope to take full control of the facility today.

Let's take a look at the bigger picture on what is happening in Iraq. How significant is the fact that Kurdish forces are advancing and taking

back more territory. Could ISIS militants have taken control of a large part of Iraqi territory actually be defeated, or just weakened?

Jomana Karadsheh is live from Baghdad with more on the very latest on the political situation. I just remind our viewers, when we spoke at this

time last night, Kurdish forces were hoping that within hours they would be able to take back control of this dam. They are still at it. But the

bigger picture, of course, is that of politics, as the military do their stuff on the ground. Your thoughts?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Becky, if they do retake that Mosul Dam, that would be a significant setback for ISIS

after the recent gains we have seen over recent months.

But the US air power here obviously has been a game changer in areas where the airstrikes have been taking place. But ISIS is still in control

of large parts of this country, even west of here in Anbar province, the whole city of Fallujah, parts of Ramadi, and in other places.

And of course, if we look at Mosul, if they do retake the dam, if they do retake these areas, will Kurdish forces be able to hold this territory

that they regained. This is something we're going to have to wait and see.

But as you mentioned, Becky, this battle against ISIS is not only a military campaign. Iraq has been though this before. Back in 2004, 05,

06, the predecessor of ISIS, al Qaeda in Iraq, also controlled large parts of this country, and they could not be defeated militarily.

But what did work in weakening them significantly was the US military strategy, recruiting the Sunni Arab tribes to fight these extremist groups,

that's the Awakening movement. And they did have real successes.

But over the past few years, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is accused of sectarian policies that have marginalized and

isolated Sunni Arabs here who, in parts of the country, felt they have -- no longer have a stake in the political process in the success of their

country. That really created that fertile ground, that great environment that ISIS had to jump in and seize.

They were getting support from some Sunni communities, they were able to recruit from some Sunni communities. So now, the big challenge lies

ahead for Prime Minister Designate Haidar al-Abadi here in Baghdad, where talks are taking place to form the next government in the next three weeks.

He will have to regain the trust of Sunni Arabs. He will have to bring together Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds into a truly inclusive government

if this country is going to be able to change the tide, to change this current situation. A very tough task ahead, Becky.

ANDERSON: Yes. Tough times on the ground and in government. Jomana, thank you for that, your report from Baghdad this evening.

Live from Abu Dhabi, this is CONNECT THE WORLD with me, Becky Anderson. Coming up, two years of sanctuary in the Ecuadorian embassy in

London may just have taken its toll on the health of Julian Assange. We'll tell you why the WikiLeaks founder may be finally about to face the outside

world. That after this.


ANDERSON: It's 7:54 in the UAE, welcome back. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says that he finally plans to leave the Ecuadorian embassy

in London. But just when that might happen is not clear.

He's been living there for some two years, you'll remember, trying to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning in a sexual assault case.

Atika Shubert has the latest from outside the embassy.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's been more than two years since WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange walked through those doors

of the Ecuador seeking asylum, and he hasn't stepped out since. It doesn't look like he's going to step out today, either, despite rumors that he

would turn himself in.

He did, however, hold a press conference with Ecuador's foreign minister. There, he said that he would be leaving "soon," but didn't give

any further details. He did say, however, a little bit more about his health and what it's been like being cooped up inside the Ecuador embassy

the last two years.

JULIAN ASSANGE, FOUNDER, WIKILEAKS: As you can imagine, being detained in various ways in this country without challenge for four years,

and in this embassy for two years, which has no outside area, therefore no sunlight, it is an environment in which any healthy person would find

themselves soon enough with certain difficulties.

SHUBERT: Now, he did ramble in this press conference for quite a bit, railing about what he described as being detained without charge. He is

wanted for questioning by Sweden for allegations of sexual assault by two women there. That started four years ago.

Now, since then, he has not been charged with anything. Assange denies the allegations and insists that they are politically motivated.

But rather than face questioning in Sweden, Assange has been seeking political asylum. The reason, he says, he hears that Sweden will extradite

him to the United States, where a Grand Jury investigation is still ongoing into those mass information dumps by WikiLeaks.

So, that leaves a diplomatic and legal standoff, with British police stationed outside the embassy 24 hours a day, waiting to arrest and

extradite him to Sweden.

Now, Julian Assange remains defiant, but judging by his wear appearance at the press conference today, two years inside the Ecuador

embassy have certainly taken their toll.

Atika Shubert, CNN, London.


ANDERSON: That was from London. I'm Becky Anderson here in Abu Dhabi. That was CONNECT THE WORLD, thank you for watching. Your news

follows this short break.