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U.S. to Send 500 Additional Troops to Iraq; Woman Joins Battles in Iraq; Obama Discusses Challenges Facing U.S. Military Veterans, His Legacy as Commander-in-Chief; Former Israeli President Shimon Peres Dies. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired September 28, 2016 - 13:30   ET



[13:33:23] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The United States and Iraq agreed on a new plan to send at least 500 more additional U.S. troops to Iraq. The number of U.S. troops in Iraq has been rising steadily since June of 2014. The latest increase would bring troop levels up to around 5,000 troops in Iraq alone.

Our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, join us live from Baghdad.

Ben, what additional -- what will these additional U.S. troops were doing, and how soon could they be deployed?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they could be deployed fairly soon, Wolf, and we understand from the prime minister's office here that they will be strictly involved with training and advising Iraqi troops in the area around Mosul. The point is to reinforce the American presence as Iraq prepares for that offensive. But when it's going to happen, most people are working on the assumption it will be sometime in October but a precise date is still not clear.

At the moment, the Iraqi forces are busy trying to clear some of the villages and towns around Mosul. And the other day we went and met a woman who's been taking part in some of those battles.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): Rahida Hamid (ph) counts all the times her house has been blown up.

"2006, 2009, 2010. Three cars in 2013, and 2014," she says.

Describing herself as a housewife, Rahida (ph), better known as Omhanadi (ph), took up arms and leads men into battle against ISIS, and al Qaeda before that.

[13:35:16] WEDEMAN: "Six times they tried to assassinate me," she says. "I have shrapnel in my head and legs, my ribs were broken, but all that didn't stop me from fighting."

Her first and second husbands were killed in action, and ISIS killed her father and three brothers. This justifies, she says, the following.

"I fought them," she tells me, referring to ISIS. "I beheaded them. I cooked their heads. I burned their bodies."

Grisly photos from her Facebook page bear out her words.

Her men showed me the machete they say they use.

General Jimaned (ph) heads combat operations in the province. This is his explanation.

"She lost her brothers and husbands as martyrs," he says, "so out of revenge, she formed her own force."

Last week, Omhanadi (ph) and her men took part in the battle to drive ISIS out of her native area. All ISIS left behind was booby traps and a few dead bodies. Many of the residents stayed put or, like this woman, joined the fighting.

These boys recount the travails in life under ISIS.

"There was no food, no school, nothing," says one. They ruled us."

"If we lose Iraq again," says this boy, "we'll lose it forever."

In ways both tangible and intangible, this ravaged land has already lost itself.


WEDEMAN: And also this woman says will also take part in the offensive to liberate Mosul with her tribal gunmen, and they will be in proximity with those American forces who will be advising and training Iraqis -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman in Baghdad for us. Ben, thank you very much.

Up next, discussing the new U.S. troop levels in Iraq and the war against ISIS with U.S. Congressman and U.S. Marine corps veteran, Seth Moulton. He's walking in now.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: We're going to discuss in just a moment.


[13:42:01] BLITZER: Iraq, Afghanistan and the fight against ISIS, all of these conflicts played important roles in President Obama's eight years in the White House. As his time comes to a close, President Obama sits down with our own Jake Tapper to discuss challenges facing the U.S. military veterans and his legacy as commander-in-chief.

I wasn't to talk about this with our guest. Massachusetts Democratic Congressman and U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Seth Moulton is joining us.

Congressman, thank for joining us.

MOULTON: Great to be here, Wolf.

BLITZER: You served four tours of duty in Iraq. So you understand that place. First of all, the breaking news we're getting now that an additional 500 U.S. military troops are heading towards Iraq. That's going to bring the number up to about 5,000. All U.S. troops were out with a lot of fanfare at the end of 2011. This looks like a creeping escalation of U.S. military involvement. Are you concerned?

MOULTON: I am concerned. And what we have to ask as Americans is how will this time be different? Under the same president who campaigned on getting us out of Iraq, we now have 5,000 troops going back in. And the worst tragedy is we're refighting many of the same battles we already won, Fallujah, Ramadi, Mosul is up next. We've got to ask, how will this time be different? How can we ensure we win the war, not just the fight against terrorists, but we win the peace as well?

BLITZER: The word is, they're going in, these 5,000 troops, who about to be there, all of them, as advisers. You understand, advisers, this is combat. They're wearing boots and they have wearing boots on the ground.

MOULTON: That's absolutely right. This is a combat mission. On my second tour, in my platoon, we were combat advisors. We went to Najah (ph) in 2004, and we were on the front lines with these Iraqis within the first couple of weeks. It was the worst fighting that the war had seen until that time. Because the Iraqis came under attack, they needed our support. We went to their aid. This absolutely is a combat mission.

BLITZER: And there's still thousands of other U.S. military personnel in neighboring Kuwait. They could easily move in as well. I'm sure when you went to Iraq you went through Kuwait?

MOULTON: That's right. And you know what, if the commanders on the ground need reinforcements, I'm sure the commander-in-chief will deliver them. You're right to be worried about this being a creeping mission.

But what we really got to talk about is what happens the day after, because our fight militarily against ISIS is actually going pretty well. They haven't gained territory in over a year. They only have one stronghold left in Iraq, the city of Mosul, but we win? How do we ensure the peace so that five years from today we don't find ourselves sending thousands of troops back to Iraq yet again to clean up the mess when it falls apart?

BLITZER: The U.S. has, what, almost 200,000 troops in Iraq.


BLITZER: Got rid of Saddam Hussein. That was relatively easy, but the day after, as you point out, it turned out to be almost a nightmare.

MOULTON: The day after in 2003 was a real problem and we hadn't planned for it. But then we also beat the insurgency, beat al Qaeda in Iraq during the surge. At that point, Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus were joined at the hip. General Petraeus always said, my military mission is to defeat al Qaeda, defeat the terrorists in order to make a space for Iraqi politics to succeed. But then we didn't ensure the success of Iraqi politics. And when the Iraqi government fell apart, ISIS swept in.

So if we don't have a plan to ensure the peace, to ensure the success of Iraqi politics after we're done defeating ISIS on the ground, I think we could find ourselves back there again.

[11:45:25] BLITZER: Here's the problem as I see it. The U.S. can't want peace and stability in Iraq more than the Iraqi people themselves. And right now, just as they have been for a long time, they are deeply divided, Sunni, Shia, Kurd, and that's a problem. And this Iraqi government is a problem. Nouri al Maliki, the former prime minister, is a problem. Al Abadi, is he better?

MOULTON: A lot better, actually. He believes the right things, says the right things. We just need to help him do the right things. In the same way we send our troops over to help mentor the military and soldiers on the ground and their fight against ISIS, we need a diplomatic effort to help Iraqi politicians. We did that during the surge, and even under a terrible prime minister, in Prime Minister Maliki, and we actually made a lot of political progress.

BLITZER: So it was for naught?

MOULTON: But then we abandoned the effort. In fact, Ambassador Crocker talked about the importance of a diplomatic surge to follow the military one, but then we just pulled out and we didn't do it, and now look at the mess we're in now.

BLITZER: You want Hillary Clinton to be the commander-in-chief, the next president of the United States. Are you comfortable with her flat assertion that she will never have U.S. combat ground troops stationed in Iraq, or Syria for that matter?

MOULTON: I'm confident that in that assertion if we actually have a plan to maintain peace.

BLITZER: But is that smart to declare that, tell the ISIS enemy and others out there who hate the United States, don't worry, the U.S. is never going to send large numbers of combat troops into Iraq or Syria?

MOULTON: She clarified that statement the next day and said that she's very open to having Special Forces, having small numbers of troops on the ground. Bottom line is this, we've got to have a political and diplomatic plan to ensure peace or we'll find ourselves in an unending cycle of going back again and again.

BLITZER: But the criticism she's gotten, not just from Donald Trump and other Republicans, even from fellow Democrats, why say it publicly? Why afterwards that to the end?

MOULTON: I think she wants to make it clear we're going it make this time the last time. That we're going to be in Iraq this time to win. And like that Iraqi housewife said, she said we want to make sure that this time we win Iraq and it doesn't fall apart again.

BLITZER: You're a military veteran. As you know, the president's going address these issues in a town hall that airs tonight. Jake Tapper will moderate this town hall with U.S. military personnel. They'll ask questions. What do you want to hear, as a veteran, tonight in this town hall?

MOULTON: I want to hear about reforming the V.A., taking care of the troops when they get back home. Trump has talked about just privatizing the V.A. Veterans are against that. There are a lot of surveys and polls that show what they want is a V.A. that works. We need to talk about how to fix the V.A., how to reform the V.A. I think Secretary Clinton has a plan for that. Trump just wants to blow it up.

BLITZER: he says he wants to help veterans. He repeats it in every speech.

MOULTON: Of course, he says he wants to help the veterans.

BLITZER: He says it is -- one of his top priorities is helping the vets.

MOULTON: Right, he says that. But just like he said he contributed to veterans' charities and then it turns out he hadn't contribute anything at all, the rhetoric doesn't often match the reality. He doesn't actually have a plan. Just like he says he has this super secret plan to defeat ISIS, I think we all know, he doesn't really have a plan.

BLITZER: He did eventually give $1 million.

MOULTON: After the fact.

BLITZER: As you remember.

MOULTON: After the fact. The reality is he lied to a lot of veterans saying when he said he had supported them in the past. He hadn't.

BLITZER: Seth Moulton, United States congressman and a Marine Corps veteran.

Thanks for joining us.

MOULTON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks for your service as well.

MOULTON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Be sure to watch our CNN presidential town hall event, "America's Military and the Commander-in-chief," tonight 9:00 p.m. eastern. The president of the United States will answer questions from veterans.

Coming up, the death of a statesman. The former Israeli president, Shimon Peres, has died at the age of 93. We'll take a closer look back at his life, his legacy, optimism for peace in the Middle East that he always expressed, right after this.


[13:53:07] BLITZER: Preparations are under way for the Friday state funeral of the former Israeli state president, Shimon Peres.

Tributes and condolences are pouring in for a man who worked diligently for peace in the Middle East.

President Obama said in a statement, quote, "There are few people who we share this world with who change the course of human history, not just through their role in human events but because they expand our moral imagination."

Former President Bill Clinton said in a joint statement with his wife, Hillary Clinton, "Israel has lost a leader who championed its security, prosperity and limitless possibilities from its birth to its last day on earth."

And former British Prime Minister Tony Blair tweeted that Shimon Peres, "was a political giant, a statesman who will rank as the foremost of this era or any era, and someone I loved deeply."

President Obama, we're told, wants to attend the funeral in Jerusalem on Friday. They're working out the logistics, that according to the White House press secretary.

Among those definitely attending the funeral, former President Bill Clinton, the French President Francois Hollande, and the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles.

I interviewed Shimon Peres on several occasions over the years, including here in Washington in 2011 at the United States Institute of Peace. He praised President Obama's efforts to achieve an Israeli/Palestinian peace agreement.


SHIMON PERES, FORMER ISRAELI PRESIDENT: I applaud the president. I think he's serious. I think it's a dilemma that all of us have. The dilemma is between following the values, the primacy of the moral choice, and the realistic situation, which is not necessarily as small as we would like to be. He really thinks, like all of us, that the solution must result from an imposition. And that's one of the reasons why I respect the president. I believe he's trying to do the right thing and careful not to create illusions and not to create something which is imaginary. So it's a different situation. It was different parties. And it's not a lost hope, neither is it an assured prosperity. We have to work very hard and very serious to make this possibility into a reality. And that should be the task of all of us.


[13:55:43] BLITZER: My last interview with Shimon Peres was in Tel Aviv two years ago as the war in Gaza was winding down. He said he was 100 percent optimistic an Israeli/Palestinian peace agreement eventually could be achieved.


PERES: There is no real solution for the Palestinians, for us, without having a peace. I think the fight in the Middle East today is more about the future than the past. The past is dead.


BLITZER: Until his final days, Shimon Peres worked hard for that elusive peace. He was a good man. He certainly will be missed. Shimon Peres was 93 years old.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

The news continues right here on CNN right after a quick break.


[14:00:12] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow, in today for --