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Iraqi Security Forces Hit Back At U.S. Criticisms; President Obama Visits Arlington National Cemetery; Nigeria's Fuel Crisis; 139 Graves of Suspected Trafficking Victims Found in Southern Malaysia. Aired 11:00a- 12:00p ET

Aired May 25, 2015 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:23] BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: Well, you're watching CNN. This is Connect the World live from Abu Dhabi with me Becky Anderson.

And Americans paying tribute to service members who died while in the armed forces. Ceremonies taking place across the U.S. to mark this

Memorial Day.

And you are looking at live pictures of Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington where many of America's war dead are laid to rest.

And President Barack Obama expected to follow the tradition of many commander-in-chiefs before him by laying a wreath at The Tomb of the


You just saw the U.S. defense secretary in attendance, Ashton Carter. As I say, awaiting the arrival now of the president of the United States of


Ceremonies taking place not just here at Arlington National Cemetery, although this of course incredibly important to those all over the country

who will be watching their screens this Memorial Day, but ceremonies across the United States of America today.

And there you see President Barack Obama who will, as I say, follow in the tradition of many of those who have had his position in the state as

commander-in-chief. And he will very shortly lay a wreath at The Tomb of the Unknowns.






UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right shoulder.








UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right shoulder.


ANDERSON: The president of the United States on this, the last Monday in May where Memorial Day of course is a national holiday, Americans

honoring the women and men who have served in the military, a holiday that was first observed in 1868. Arlington cemetery.

Well, ready for battle, just waiting for orders to attack, Iraqi troops backed by Shia militia and Sunni tribal fighters are now on the

outskirts of Ramadi in Iraq for a planned counteroffensive against ISIS. They are approaching from the east, retaking territory as they close in on

the capital of what is Anbar Province.

Now these forces were able to take the offensive after repelling what was an ISIS advance on Habbiyanah, home to a major military base on the

road to Baghdad.

As they now focus on recapturing Ramadi, Iraqi officials are rejecting U.S. comments about why the city fell to ISIS in the first place. The U.S.

defense secretary says that Iraqi troops showed, quote, no will to fight.

Well, Iraq's prime minister had this to say to the BBC.


HAIDER AL-ABADY, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER: I'm surprised why he said that. I mean, he was very supportive of Iraq. I'm sure he was

(inaudible). He was fed with the wrong information.


ANDERSON: Well, CNN's Arwa Damon is following all of these developments for you tonight. She is in Baghdad.

The Iraqi prime minister conceding that his military are phased by what he calls these ISIS shock tactics, but he vows that Ramadi could be

taken back within days. Arwa, is that realistic?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That might be a bit optimistic given how long battles past have in fact taken. But the Iraqi

government has massed thousands of troops along the eastern front of Ramadi in anticipation of orders to begin to push. And it is quite a patchwork of

forces that includes army, police, those Iranian-backed Shia paramilitary forces and Sunni tribes.

U.S. secretary of defense's comments are being viewed here as perhaps an attempt by America to distance itself from any responsibility it may

have for military failures. And we did speak to one Iraqi soldier whose unit, his brigade was among the last to leave Ramadi.

What he said in the video he showed us providing some insight into what went wrong.





ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The chaotic final moments captured on a cell phone.





DAMON: "Come on, fight," a voice shouts.


DAMON: This, one of the last fire fights with ISIS before Ramadi fell.

A body is seen in the dirt behind one of the berms used for cover. Asad Benyahti (ph), who gave us the video, was one of the soldiers there,

wounded in that final battle.

"There were three IEDs that took out two Humvees and killed five. Then they came at us with two bulldozers, raked with explosives," he remembers.

His contingent, he says, numbered around 140, spread out in smaller units along the vast terrain west of Ramadi.

[11:10:19] DAMON: Iliyah Sidi (ph) was in this armored personal carrier, reloading ammunition. One soldier calls for a heavier weapon.


DAMON: A warning that ISIS is approaching from another direction as well.

"Then they came at us with big gun trucks, surrounding us from four directions. There should have been a force to our rear, but they weren't

there," he says.

His commander radios for air support. Moments later, cries of "no ammunition, no ammunition."


DAMON: And the unit receives orders to withdraw.


DAMON: He is bitter and angry.



DAMON: Though wounded, he wanted to keep fighting.

Just two weeks before the fall of Ramadi, he says, his unit captured an ISIS position, killing six, he claims. Two corpses seen torched in this

video. Another seven, he says, were detained. Four of them foreigners.

Under interrogation, a captured ISIS fighter described their surveillance and bold tactics.


DAMON: He recalls the fighter saying, "You flash a light at the tower. We know there are only 28 soldiers and in five-hour rotations and that

there was a lack of ammunition. If the soldiers don't fire at us, we crawl and plant the bomb."

He bristles at the accusation that the Iraqi soldiers don't have the will to fight. He wants to quit the army and join the militias.


DAMON: "The failure is with the military higher ups," he says, "who gave the orders to retreat and allowed supply lines to fail and front lines

to collapse."


DAMON: And, Becky, Iraq's ministry of defense saying that it is investigating who, in fact, gave that order for the troops there to

withdraw, but this is just an example of one of the many challenges facing this country as it does try to take on ISIS. That patchwork of forces the

government has massed on Ramadi's eastern front does also have the potential to face many logistical and communications challenges, not to

mention the potential also for a rise in sectarian tensions.

ANDERSON: Arwa, thank you.

We'll have more, much more, ahead on our top story this hour, including a closer look at efforts to assign blame for Ramadi's fall to

ISIS. Even Iran now entering the fray with some stinging words for Washington.

Also ahead, living in constant fear of terrorists who show no mercy. We'll hear from some residents in Baghdad about the ISIS onslaught. That

is all coming up.

Well, Syria, of course, also battling back against ISIS days after the militant group stormed into Palmyra. A London-based activist group says

that Syrian war planes launched 15 airstrikes against the militant targets in and around what is this historic city.

Today, this video, which we can't independently verify purportedly shows ISIS fighters advancing on Palmyra last week.

We're getting reports that the militant group has already executed hundreds of people, and that includes children.

Well, CNN's Ian Lee monitoring developments. He's joining us tonight from Cairo. It's very difficult to get a clear picture of what is going on

in the ground. What is the latest as far as we understand it?

IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Becky, like you mentioned we're hearing reports that ISIS is really butchering the people

of Palmyra. Anyone who is associated with the former government, whether they be fighters, policemen or anyone who may have a link to them, they're

going door-to-door searching for these people, pulling them out. Hearing the numbers of people being killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

saying at least 90 people, including at least 11 children, have been executed. And the Syrian state media is saying 400 people have been


Right now, what we're hearing is that the Syrian government may be preparing for a counter offensive to go back and try to retake the city.

It is a very strategic city as it is at a crossroads that leads to Homs and Damascus.

The Syrian government struck 15 airstrikes today, pounding ISIS targets, although there's no dates or time when we expect for them to try

to retake the city.

But as you know, when ISIS takes a city, their reign of terror extends to their killing people as we've seen all over Syria and Iraq. We're

hearing that they've captured at least 600 people as well. But knowing their brutal trademark of executing people, it's unlikely that they would

stay alive for very long.

[11:15:18] ANDERSON: Ian is in Cairo for you this evening.

Human remains are being exhumed from more than 130 graves in northern Malaysia today. And these bodies were found near the border with Thailand

and are believed to be human trafficking victims.

Malaysian police also found 28 abandoned illegal smuggling camps nearby, which may have been in operation for several years.

Now Malaysia's prime minister has vowed to find and punish those responsible.

Let's get more on what is a troubling story. For that, we're joined by Saima Mohsin live from Bangkok for us this evening.

And evidence, it seems, that slavery, modern-day slavery alive and well certainly until very recently. What do we know of the details of


SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Becky, it's an extensive site. You mentioned the 28 camps. This stretches along 49.5

kilometers, or around 30 miles in the Wang Kelian Forest.

Now this is more like a jungle rather than a forest. It's dense. It's easy to hide people in and clearly for a very, very long time. They

believe that perhaps these camps were there since 2013.

Alongside the camps, they discovered a cemetery. This is what the inspector-general of police had to say earlier.


INSPECTOR-GENERAL KHALID ABU BAKAR, MALAYSIA POLICE: We have discovered 139, which we believe to be graves. We don't know are

underneath. We -- the first team has gone in this morning, the forensic and medical team, to exhume whatever remains there.


MOHSIN: And of course there may be more graves to come, Becky, because of the extensive area that they are now scouring.

But questions already being asked Becky, as to how this could have gone on without authorities knowing. And of course the Malaysians saying

they will investigate this even if it means Malaysian officials are involved -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Well, the foreign minister vowing to find and punish those responsible. To your point, are we expected to believe that this is the

first that his government has learned about this?

MOHSIN: Yeah, exactly. It's very hard to believe, isn't it? And frankly, Becky, it's not like nobody has been raising this issue. CNN has

been covering it for many, many years, particularly in this area. We did an investigation on human trafficking in 2011. And again just a few weeks

ago I did an investigation on to human trafficking and the nature of how all the people are moved down.

So, largely what we're talking about at the moment, Becky, is people - - Bangladeshi migrants and Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar. They board these rickety boats. They join bigger boats. And

then they are smuggled down through the Andaman Sea and the Straits of Malaka, Thailand and now it seem Malaysia being the focal points, the

arrival point where the smugglers take them.

They hide them in these jungles.

Now, if everybody knows this, why aren't the police scouring these jungles regularly? Why are they not searching for these people? Well, it

seems these countries, Becky, have for a long time been in denial -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Thank you, Saima.

Still to come tonight, major strikes for ISIS in Syria and in Iraq. Should countries fighting the terror group reassess their military

strategies. Well, we're going to explore that up next. You're watching CNN. It is 18 minutes past 7:00 in the UAE. Back after this.


[11:20:45] ANDERSON: Well, the U.S. President Barack Obama honoring American military personnel who died in the line of duty. This is General

Dempsey speaking at Arlington Cemetery today. Just a short time ago, the president placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington

National Cemetery outside of Washington. And we are after General Dempsey has finished, expecting to hear the president once again giving remarks.

Today is Memorial Day in the United States when the nation honors its war dead. And these are earlier pictures from about 20 minutes ago. U.S.

President Barack Obama laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown honoring America's military members who died fighting for their country.

And we will be back to Arlington when the president speaks shortly.

You're watching CNN. This is Connect the World with me Becky Anderson. Welcome back.

Iraqi forces are preparing for an offensive to retake Ramadi from ISIS a week after it fell to the terror group.

Government troops, Iranian-backed Shia militiamen and Sunni tribal fighters are, as we speak, amassing on the outskirts of the city awaiting

effectively what they will be told is the zero hour when they are to go in.

Ramadi the latest Iraqi town to fall to ISIS. The terror group already in control of Mosul in northern Iraq. And across the border in

Syria ISIS has seized more territory, advancing on Palmyra just this past week.

Well, joining me to talk about what is going on is a CNN military analyst. His name is Peter Mansoor. He is in Columbus in Ohio.

And very important, perhaps, a poignant day as Americans honor their war dead to be talking about what is an incredible conflict going on which

knows no borders. The Americans are involved, but not on the ground, of course.

We're talking Iraq and Syria and we are talking the fight against ISIS. Let me just read you what the Iranians have said, because they are

weighing in, sir, on what is going on. In comments made by the U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Iran has said that the -- sorry, Ashton

Carter said that the Iraqi military has lost the will to fight to which senior Iranian military official -- Major General Hassan Suleimani says it

is the U.S. that has lost the will to fight. And he goes on today to say that today nobody is confronting ISIS properly except Iran.

Now, you have to concede, don't you, he does have a point. This counterterror strategy, if you can call it that, is nothing short of a

disaster. Isn't it time for a change in strategy?

PETER MANSOOR, MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I would concur that the strategy falling way short of its goals. And it needs to be much more

robust if we want to destroy ISIS. We need to back off the mantra of no boots on the ground in order to bolster the will of the Iraqi army to

fight, we need to put combat advisers in its formations just as the Iranians have put combat advisers into the Shiite militias that retook

Tikrit last month or in March.

So, in that sense, I agree. The strategy is falling short and we need to relook it. And if we really want to destroy ISIS we're going to have to

do much, much more to make that happen.

ANDERSON: In an interview with CBS, Senator John McCain, you may have heard this, a Republican of course, blasted the Obama administration, sir,

and called for thousands more U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq. Have a listen.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: We to have forward air controllers. We need to have special forces. We need to have more of those kind of raids

that were so successful into Syria. We need to have a strategy. There is no strategy. And anybody that says that there is, I'd like to hear what it



[11:25:00] ANDERSON: What chance the Obama administration at this point in its tenure will make a significant change in how it acts in what

its strategy is for Iraq and indeed for Syria? And we're going to talk about Syria in a moment.

MANSOOR: I think it's a long shot at best. This administration does not want to be a wartime administration. It was elected in 2008 on an

anti-war platform. It pulled U.S. troops out of the Iraq war. And so I don't think it's going to be in any hurry to put boots on the ground again.

It only has 3,000 trainers in the country, that's only enough to train at brigade level. What Senator McCain is saying there is we need these teams

to be all the day to battalion level. And that's -- when you do that, you triple or quadruple the number of troops that we put into the mission. And

if you really want to do this and do it right and recreate the Iraqi army and make it a capable force you're talking upwards of 10,000 or more troops

on the ground.

ANDERSON: Isn't one of the problems that what the States has been doing with its counterterror strategy against ISIS is sort of isolating its

activities in Iraq and saying we need to go after them in Iraq, meantime they'll pop up over the border in Syria, not interested in going after them

there to all intents and purposes. They pop up then again in Iraq and the States say we'll go after them, or certainly we'll provide some air cover

for that.

Has that been part of the problem here, that there's been this incredibly disjointed effort, hasn't there? And when we take ourselves

back two years Obama simply got it wrong, didn't he, when he took his eye off the ball and didn't take action in Syria when he might have done?

MANSOOR: Well, I would concur with that. I've talked to members of the military senior officials and they view this as a sequential campaign.

We'll take care of Iraq first and then we'll take care of Syria. And that's simply not the way it works. ISIS does not recognize the border

between Iraq and Syria. If you don't have a campaign that degrades and destroys ISIS on both sides of the border at the same time, I think it will

be an exercise in futility. And I think this is part of what the administration needs to do when they relook the strategy what are we going

to do on the Syrian side of the border to compliment what we're doing on the Iraqi side of the border.

ANDERSON: Let me just briefly and finally get your response to what was an article released by one of the news agencies over the weekend

suggesting that Syria's government, Syria's government appears ready for the country's de facto partition, in which it would defend strategically

important areas, leaving according to this report, much of the country to rebels and jihadists.

If that were the case, surely U.S. policy would have to change. The U.S. wouldn't be prepared, surely, would it to have a country de facto

partitioned allowing for rebels and jihadists to officially run part of it, some of whom would be terrorists against the interests of the United


MANSOOR: Yeah, that clearly is not a long-term option to stabilize Syria. And to allow the Islamic State of al Nusra or any of these other

jihadi groups to run a government in large part of the country is not in concert with the national security aims of the United States or western

Europe for that matter.

You know, the key here is Turkey. And to get Turkey on board, the United States is going to have to come to terms with what to do about

Bashar al-Assad. And that brings Iran into the equation, because of course Iran backs his government. But unless we make these hard calls, we are not

going to make any headway in the Syrian conflict.

ANDERSON: And with that, we're going to leave it there. Peter, thank you.

CNN's military analyst Peter Mansoor analyzing the situation for you there.

And over the past year, ISIS has been gaining ground in Syria, of course, and in Iraq. You can find an interactive map on our website at showing the terror group's advances from June of last year until now, very interesting to watch its genesis. We'll be right back.


[11:31:45] ANDERSON: I want to get you to Arlington cemetery once against just outside of Washington. The U.S. president is now speaking.

Let's listen in.


[11:46:41] ANDERSON: This is the first Memorial Day in 14 years that the U.S. is not involved in major ground combat. And on this American

Memorial Day, the U.S. president in a speech at Arlington National Cemetery honoring those 2,200 men and women who lost their lives in Afghanistan,

also remembering those service men and women who continue, as he said, to assist in other conflicts.

Still to come this hour, there could be a breakthrough in Nigeria's fuel crisis. We'll have that story after this.



JOHN DEFTERIOS, EMERGING MARKET EDITOR: South Africa has thousands of kilometers of coastline, boasting no less than eight commercial ports. Of

those, the Port of Durbin is the biggest player.

The port handles roughly 60 percent of all the country's cargo and is the second busiest port in Africa behind Port Said in Egypt.

Officials say from 2013 to 2014, the port of Durbin handled about 44.8 million tons of cargo. And as business through Durbin continues to grow,

the South African government says it's upgrading the port.

The country has launched a multibillion dollar excavation project to expand the port, which could triple its capacity by the year 2040.


[11:50:28] ANDERSON: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. This is Connect the World with me Becky Anderson.

Now there could be a breakthrough in a fuel strike that has crippled Nigeria. Let's get you to Lagos now to Christian Purefoy who is joining us

live. What are you hearing Christian.

CHRISTIAN PUREFOY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Becky, the secretary-general of one of the major unions involved in the strike, the

stopping of importing of fuel into Nigeria has said that the strike will now be suspended and the fuel will now be released from the depots into the

rest of the country.

But until that makes it to the petrol stations, most of which across the country are still closed, it means Nigeria will still be grounded.

Much of the airlines and the banks are still closed.

But it has to be remembered, Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer. And people here are not happy. Here is what they say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without fuel, you cannot do anything. My -- I couldn't (inaudible) I couldn't press clothes. In fact, to get transport

from my house to work is a hell. It's just a shame to this country. Don't ask me. Very shameful. Very shameful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Feels so bad and so sad. You know, you as a citizen can never get a good service from government. That's very bad.

PUREFOY: And yet you have so much oil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have enough oil -- there's oil there, there's oil everywhere, but to serve (inaudible) it's a problem. So we need a good

government, a just government as well, please.


PUREFOY: So, Becky, the union leader we spoke to used the word suspended, that they've suspended the strike. And really what that means

is that this problem of fuel importation, fuel subsidy in Nigeria is basically being passed onto the next government that is coming in. This

current government is leaving, the new government is coming in on Friday. And this problem is simply being that football is being pushed down the

road, if you like -- can is being pushed down the road -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Christian Purefoy is reporting for you.

I want to get some background and some context on this and bring in Goolam Balim who is the chief economist and head of research at Standard

Bank in Johannesburg in South Africa.

Sir, thank you for joining us.

When the oil price started declining, what, nearly a year ago, the alarm bells should have rung in what is an oil dependent exporter, but they

didn't, did they? Who is to blame?

GOOLAM BALIM, CHIEF ECONOMIST, STANDARD BANK GROUP: Well, the bells rang, but probably not as loud as one would want. So you're right in

alluding to the notion that oil is very significant to the Nigerian economy. It accounts for almost 90 percent of its export basket, and more

than half of state revenues is ultimately derived from oil.

So the precursor to the current crisis is quite simply that the plunge in oil prices weighed heavily on the Nigerian economy, so much so that say

from gross rates over the last five or six years near and north of 7 percent. This year, it was already likely that Nigeria wouldn't grow

better than say four-and-a-half percent.

Of course, this current crisis, while monumental in the manner in which it is starving the Nigerian economy of oxygen may just prove short-


The real answer not so much is who is to blame is that Nigeria needs to continue down the journey of reform. It needs to reform its entire

fiscal policy alongside the subsidies that flow to the oil companies, and especially consumers.

Nigeria's finance minister told CNN that she wouldn't bow to pressure from fuel marketeers saying, and I quote, "they are pushing very hard and

they are using the fuel shortage as an instrument to try to get the existing government to pay them quickly without going through the very

thorough verification and we are not going to do that."

If both sides were to dig in here -- I mean, we may have a breakthrough, but if both sides were to dig in, where does that lead the

173 million Nigerians? And how bad could things get?

ANDERSON: So quite clearly, given the dependence of any modern economy or developing economy on energy resources, whether it is

electricity or even fuel, and in this case diesel and petrol.

Quite clearly, this will starve the economy and bring it to a halt, a stasis for as long as this crisis and yours.

Over the near to medium term, clearly there is a great deal of bargaining that will take place. We -- many would appreciate that there is

a great deal of murkiness surrounding the oil industry in Nigeria and it is laden, one would suggest, with graft, with corruption.

Of course, those with vested interests will want to see a persistence of their participation and this rent seeking (ph) behavior. It is going to

take time, but he's also going to take a Herculean effort on the part of the incoming government to be able to stare down these forces that fall not

just years, but for even a greater period of time been able to hold sway.

Reform must come to Nigeria. And quite clearly the population on the ground are increasingly putting pressure on the government.

Admittedly, the incoming president, President-elect Buhari, has committed to reforms in the line of improving the general sense of

governance, rooting out corruption, and one would argue that at the apex of Nigeria's challenges is rooting out the corruption in the oil industry.

[11:56:08] ANDERSON: I was fascinated to see the former president of Nigeria Obasanjo being quoted as saying that Nigeria has, and I quote, "a

new opportunity to be great under Buhari."

But as the presidential handover looms he has an enormous amount of work on his hands. Does he have the sort of support he needs from the man

on the street and the man running business it were to be successful at what is an incredibly difficult time for the country?

BALIM: Becky, President-elect Buhari's installment, or success at the March elections was overwhelming. So, I would argue that the nation,

Nigerians, have voted with their feet, and have called for a change in government. They wan to give the All Progressives Party an opportunity to

be able to reinstall at least a potential for Nigeria's greatness.

I would suggest the political will is there. It is now for him to be given the political space to be able to execute on that agenda.

ANDERSON: All right.

And with that, we're going to leave it there. Goolam Balim suggesting that the space is needed in Nigeria as the presidential handover looms.

Sir, thank you.

If you've been affected by the fuel shortage in the country do email us or get in touch at You can always get in touch

with me @BeckyCNN.

That was Connect the World from the team here it is a very good evening. CNN, though, does continue.