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Massive Storm Causes Closures, Flight Delays In Eastern U.S.; Storms, Heavy Winds Pound Western Europe; Violence in Iraq; Living With Psoriasis; Rethinking Tourism; Cold War

Aired January 3, 2014 - 15:00   ET


ISHA SESAY, HOST: Tonight on Connect the World, winter knockout. Strong storms blanket northeastern U.S. and Canada in a foot of snow and large parts of the UK get lashed by heavy rain and strong winds.

We'll look at all the travel disruptions and what lies ahead.

Also ahead...


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: It's been a long road for me, a long journey of self acceptance.


SESAY: CNN's anchor Zain Verjee opens up about a lifelong battle with her skin, sparking a massive social media reaction.

And from unspoiled hidden gems, a hedonistic party spot, how modern tourism is changing the face of our planet.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is Connect the World.

SESAY: Hello, everyone. It is a day of rough weather conditions for millions of people worldwide. Parts of Europe faced serious flooding while a snow storm has blanketed the U.S. northeast causing travel chaos. Commuters face hazardous conditions as nearly 60 centimeters of snow fell in some areas. More than 2,400 flights into and out of the U.S. were canceled. Frigid weather is being felt across the mid-Atlantic coast and into New England.

In the UK, high tides and strong winds have triggered flooding in Wales, Scotland and parts of western England. There are currently nine severe flood warnings in effect. The public is being urged to stay away from coastal areas.

France is also being hit hard by flooding and some low lying towns have been left under water. Villages along the Brittany coast have been evacuated after a river burst its banks.

Well in the U.S. the impact of today's snow storm is being felt across the northeast and beyond. With more on the travel disruptions, we'll hear from CNN's aviation correspondent Rene Marsh who is in Washington.

But first, we cross to one of the hardest hit areas of New York City. CNN's Jean Casarez is there. Jean, give us a sense of conditions where you are.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is very cold right now. It is actually minus 7 Celsius. And when you're talking about New York City, you're talking about a lot of people and a lot of children. And the New York City school district was closed down today. This is the largest school district in the United States with 1.1 million students, 1,700 schools affected.

Now as far as the streets here in New York City, 2,500 snow plows have been out and about. But I want to show everybody what a plowed street in New York City is like, because it is still extremely dangerous.

I'm taking you to the street here and you can look for yourself, this is a plowed street, but this is also a street that is still very, very dangerous. I was in a New York taxi this morning and he drove very slow, went to the right, went to the left because underneath this snow there is a lot of ice.

Traffic is back up right now. People also staying at home, but last night during the snowfall, I want to show you what Columbus Circle was like. It was barren. You hardly saw any cars at all. And New York City really becomes a ghost town in a circumstance like this. People stay at home, they don't drive, because they know how dangerous it is.

Now, something else in New York City, when you talk about New York City you talk about cabs, right. And if I need to get a cab, I've got to climb over this -- I'm going to call a little mountain of snow right here. But it's dangerous. You've got to hopefully not fall in and you try to hail a cab. And if you get one, and let me tell you it's tough to get one, because everybody is in cabs today, but then you have to get over the embankment to get in the cab. So it makes it even more dangerous.

We also want to remind everyone that even if the sun is out, as it is right now in New York City, there's also a risk of hypothermia. And the New York State governor has come out talking about the signs of hypothermia. And that is where you're confused, where you're shivering, where you just can't really comprehend. If you have any of those symptoms from staying outside for a duration of time seek medical help.

Back to you.

SESAY: Jean Casarez, we appreciate it.

I know New Yorkers are used to travel problems, but -- travel and weather issues, but this looks pretty rough. Jean, thank you.

Well, let's talk about the travel. The impact of the storm is being felt far beyond the U.S. northeast. Tens of thousands of travelers are stranded after many flights into and out of the U.S. were canceled.

With more on all this travel chaos, I'm joined by CNN's aviation correspondent Rene Marsh.

Rene, it looks rough in New York where Jean is. What is the situation overall? Give us some insight?

RENE MARSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Isha, it is rough if you're flying and trying to get to a destination as well. Here's the latest numbers that we have from Flight Aware. Nearly 5,000 delays. And we are talking about nearly 25,000 cancellations. So, it's a lot.

It's miserable outside. It's miserable if you're trying to fly. And that's why we're looking at Flight Aware's misery map.

You can see from the red here New York City, large percentage of cancellations and delays as well as in D.C. And then when you look at Chicago, well they have the most number of delays and cancellations at this hour. And this is just a four hour block we're looking at here. 126 delays. And we had here as far as cancellations 26.

And you see these orange lines here? That just depicts where you're seeing those delays and cancellations, places like Atlanta, places like Dallas. So it is a big ripple effect when we're talking about that here as far as delays and cancellations.

We're also going to take a look at Flight Aware's breakdown of the airports. And at this hour -- again, this is all in real-time -- as we look, Philadelphia, they have a lot of cancellations there. Right up top, 226, that's just we're talking about cancellations at Philadelphia. We also have 197 at Newark, that's if you're leaving those airports.

And if you're going to those airports, same thing, seeing hundreds of cancellations as well as delays, Isha.

So, bad, bad situation if you are trying to get somewhere and you're in that problem area, expect -- think of a plan B when it comes to your travel plans.

SESAY: Yeah, what an awful way to start the year.

Rene Marsh, joining us there from Washington. Rene, thank you.

As we mentioned at the top of tonight's show, weather is also posing a major problem in parts of Europe. Britain and France are seeing flooding as a result of high winds and heavy rainfall. CNN's Matthew Chance has the details.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As the U.S. is gripped by winter storms, across the Atlantic, Europe is also being lashed by the first high winds and torrential rain of 2014. These dramatic images of western France being hammered by fierce gales.

In Britain, tidal surges swept inland, forcing rescue teams like this life boat crew in western Wales to evacuate residents stranded by the flood waters. Severe flood warnings are in place across western and southern areas.

Entire centers of some coastal town have been inundated.

Recent weeks in western Europe have seen repeated bouts of stormy weather. Just before Christmas, high winds downed trees and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of homes in France and Britain.

It's raising concerns that the weather patterns this side of the Atlantic are getting worse.

DR. ROBERT MUIR-WOOD, FLOOD RISK ANALYST: I think our memory is fairly short for how bad the weather can be here. I mean, this winter is pretty exceptional for having this succession of storms, one after another coming in. I mean, I don't think you can simply say this is climate change. I think is -- this is probably simply the normal variability of the weather.

CHANCE: And the storms are expected to worsen next week as western Europe braces for another pounding.

Matthew Chance, CNN, London.


SESAY: Well, for more on the weather we can expect over the next few days I'm pleased to say I'm joined by CNN's Jenny Harrison -- Jenny.


I'm going to start in the U.S., because the good news in the U.S. is although it's going to be bitterly cold for the next few days, in fact some possibly recordbreaking temperatures, the worst of the snow is over for now. So I'm going to start with that.

So, let's try and find some good news amongst all of this really bad news.

This, of course is the radar in the last few hours. The snow really clear on this picture. You'll notice some more coming in towards the lakes. And of course we will see some more over the next few days.

I want to show you this, this is time lapse in Washington Circle in New York City just off Central Park. And you can see over the hours the snow of course coming down and building up. And eventually it stops at about 8:30 in the morning with a nice white covering, although not that easy as we know.

So, 18 centimeters has been recorded in New York City itself, but look at this 37 centimeters in Boston, 31 in Chicago. And in fact in Boston that was more snow that came down that was actually expected.

As we know Thursday, there are over 2,000 flights cancelled. We heard a lot about this, of course, from Rene Marsh just a few moments ago. And again, this Friday huge knockon effect as we know. The ripple just spreads really not just across the U.S., but actually out across into -- from other countries as well, if you're trying to get in or out of the U.S.

Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington really seeing the brunt of those, what, 2,500 cancellations this Friday.

As for the temperatures, this will be the them over the next few days, certainly going into next week, because look at this temperature, minus 28 Celsius this morning in Green Bay in Wisconsin. Minus 37, even colder, in Ottowa. And all these temperatures well below the average.

Right now it is pretty cold out there. This is with the wind factored in. It feels like minus 16 in New York, minus 11 in Washington, even minus 2 down in Atlanta. So this cold air will be the theme of the weather over the next few days. It could actually get as low as 25 degrees below the average. And as you can see, we say here the coldest air possibly in decades actually coming across much of the country.

As well as that -- look at this, as you head towards the end of the sequence, you'll see another big storm really developing across the central plains pushing up into the Mid West. So again, that will be causing problems as we get into that time frame.

Meanwhile, bitter conditions are still in effect across really pretty much all of North Dakota and spreading further to the south. And again more of those winter advisories really spreading across much of the north.

We've got 9 Celsius the high in Atlanta on Saturday, minus two in New York, but again it will feel colder because of those winds.

Now talking of winds, of course, as we know particularly in the UK, we just have this tremendous winds now going on for over a month. Here's an image taken earlier from Dorset of course, huge waves, all of course coinciding as well this rain coming in, falling on very saturated ground with these very, very strong winds and also coinciding with high tides.

But look at some of these wind gusts, 122 kilometers an hour in Plymouth, 101 in Dublin, even nearly 80 kilometers an hour in London itself.

This is what's been happening. We've just had these systems flowing along the jet stream. They continue to fuel each other. That's actually what happens. And then so far December in the UK the windiest December for over 20 years, but in fact the windiest -- the windiest month since 1969. And then when you go to the north into Scotland, actually the wettest month on record in Scotland since 1910.

So we've got the slowing, of course, across much of the south of UK, the south of England, Wales. Wind gusts once again beginning to pick up. And unfortunately there's no real getting away from that with the next system coming through, Isha. So the winds will be strong as we head again through the next few days.

Once again, 80, 90, 100 kilometers an hour.

SESAY: I'll say it again, what a way to star the year.

HARRISON: Absolutely.

SESAY: Jeannie, thank you.

Well, for more great images of today's wild weather in the U.S., visit our website. You can see a gallery of the best pictures from snowy New York, Boston and beyond. Follow the links on our homepage at

Well, still to come on Connect the World, a new stop in his shuttle diplomacy, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry takes his framework for Middle East peace to the Palestinians.

Also ahead, a family demands answers after another shocking rape case grabs headlines in India.

Plus, South Sudan rivals meet for talks in Ethiopia, but back home tension is still high. We'll get the very latest from Juba.

All that and much more when Connect the World continues.


SESAY: You're watching CNN. And this is Connect the World with me Isha Sesay. Welcome back.

New violence across Egypt today as Muslim Brotherhood supporters defied a ban on protest. The health ministry says at least 11 people were killed in clashes with police. In some areas, police fired tear gas to clear the crowds. Egypt's military backed interim government has declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization threatening stiff penalties for its members. They're demanding the return of ousted President Mohamed Morsy.

The aid group Medecins sans Frontieres is trying to establish contact with five of its workers who were abducted in Syria. It says they were taken from a house in northern Syria last night allegedly for questioning. It wouldn't give further details, citing safety concerns. Rebels control much of northern Syria.

Fresh off talks with Israeli leaders, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is now in the West Bank. He's meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. Kerry is pushing a new framework for Middle East peace trying to convince both sides to reach final agreement on a two state solution.

Well, some Palestinians didn't exactly roll out the welcome mat. These protesters chanted that Kerry is a coward. They say the talks are a delaying tactic that will allow Israel to grab more Palestinian land through settlement building.

Now an Indian family is demanding answers after the brutal gang rape and death of their 16-year-old daughter in Calcutta. Police have made arrests in the case which comes just over a year after a young woman was gang raped and left for dead on a New Delhi bus. Mallika Kapur has the story.


MALLIKA KAPUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Along the banks in the river Hobli (ph) in Kolkata, Hindus consider this river sacred. The family of the young girl who was gang raped and later died have just completed the some final rituals here in accordance with Hindu rights. The family was visibly shaken. Her father spoke out and he said he wants justice for his daughter. He wants all the men involved in the gang rape to be hanged.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I cannot be bought. Apart from wanting the men hanged, I don't want anything. I don't need money.

KAPUR: According to the family, the victim was 16 and gang raped twice in October. The second time was when she was on her way back from the police station after filing a complaint about the first attack. She died on December 31 following burn injuries. Some media reports say she committed suicide, but her family says she was burned alive by the culprits.

There is anger on the streets of Kolkata and a deep sense of disappointment, because the city has always taken great pride in being a city of culture, a city that respects its women and a city where girls have always felt safe.

Mallika Kapur, CNN, Kolkata.


SESAY: Well, Ferrari fans from around the world have held a silent vigil outside the French hospital where Michael Schumacher is fighting for his life. The Formula One racing legend spent his 45th birthday in a medically induced coma after suffering head trauma in a skiing accident on Sunday. Jim Boulden was at the vigil and sent us this update.


JIM BOULDEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As part of Friday's vigil, the Ferrari fans have unveiled this massive parachute sized banner of Ferrari in tribute to Michael Schumacher.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are hear for Schumy (ph), because Schumy (ph) give a lot to Ferrari, to our Ferrari fans. And I think that the only thing that we can do is to be here.

BOULDEN: Of course, even though he also drove for Benetton and he drove for Mercedes, most Italians think of his as Ferrari. And they think of Ferrari as Michael Schumacher.

Jim Boulden, CNN, Grenoble, France.


SESAY: Now, a bomb apparently left over from World War II has just killed a person in Germany. Friday's explosion happened in a town just outside of Cologne near the border with Belgium. It's not the first time this has happened in recent years. Back in 2010, three members of a bomb disposal squad were killed while trying to defuse an old bomb in another German town. A year later, tens of thousands of people had to be evacuated in Tblinsk (ph) while experts dealt with two bombing, including one that could have wiped out the entire city center.

Pope Francis is not only invigorating the Roman Catholic Church, he's also proving to be a huge hit with the crowds. CNN's Erin McLaughlin has that story from the Vatican.


ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pope Francis sure can draw a crowd. More than 6.6 million people, that's the number the Vatican says turned out to see Francis at various events during his first nine months as pope. And that doesn't even include his trip to Brazil. Spend just a couple of minutes talking to tourists here at St. Peter's Square, and you'll see that people from around the world are pretty excited about Francis.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's not the typical formal pope. I don't know. I think he's trying to change some things. I hope he will change much more.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With his new looks and his new approaches and his outreach to all generations and all conditions and all places is comforting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's definitely one of the hot spots to come here to St. Peters. I'm not sure we're going to actually see the pope. But it would be great if we could.

MCLAUGHLIN: The Vatican says the pontiff has more than doubled the crowds we saw during Benedict's first year as pope, just one more example of the Francis effect.

Erin McLaughlin, CNN, Rome.


SESAY: A coroner's report into the death of actor Paul Walker has shown the Porsche he was in was going more than 160 kilometers per hour when it crashed last November. The Fast and Furious star was in the passenger seat of the car driven by his racing partner. Authorities found no sign of drugs or alcohol in Walker's system or the driver's.

We're live from CNN Center, this is Connect the World. Coming up, a dramatic escalation of fighting in Iraq's Anbar Province. We'll update you on the government's battle against al Qaeda militants.

And cease-fire talks get underway, but fighting still raging in South Sudan. We are live in Juba after the break with an exclusive interview with a mayor of one of the worst affected cities. Stay with us.


SESAY: You're watching Connect the World live from CNN Center. Welcome back everyone. I'm Isha Sesay.

Talks have begun in Ethiopia's capital aimed at ending the conflict in South Sudan. Government representatives loyal to President Salva Kiir and negotiators from the rebel camp who support former vice president Riek Machar has met with regional mediators. The rival sides have not yet met face-to-face. They're trying to hammer out a cease- fire to stop weeks of fighting that has killed more than 1,000 people and displaced some 180,000.

Well, the fighting began on December 15 following a political squabble that has intensified and taken on an ethnic dimension. Let's get an update from our senior international correspondent Arwa Damon who is there in the capital Juba. And I want to warn our viewers that some of the pictures, Arwa, you're about to show may be disturbing.

You just secured an exclusive interview with the mayor of the city of Bor, one of the most fiercely contested areas in South Sudan.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Isha. Bor has gone back and forth between government and rebel control. The mayor was able to get into the town for a few days at the end of December. He shot some images there. It is now of course under rebel control. The government trying to launch an offensive to gain it back.

And we do have to again warn our viewers that some of what they're about to see is quite disturbing.


DAMON: These images that you have here are absolutely horrific.

MAJAK NHIAL, BOR MAYOR: Yes. This is what I saw in Bor when the rebels took over the town.

DAMON: What's it like for you to look at this happening in your own town?

NHIAL: My heart bleeds.

DAMON: Some of these bodies -- you saw them just outside of the UN compound.

NHIAL: Yes, I did.

This lady, she was dragged off by what is the people (inaudible). She was dragged off when she went to find firewood. She was defiled. She was crying. And you can see now her (inaudible).

DAMON: The South Sudanese army is trying to retake control of Bor right now. Why is Bor so strategic, so important for both sides?

NHIAL: So, to get the White Army to reach to the capital, you must have to clear the way. And Bor stands in the middle.

I don't know why he attack Bor and ethnically did the same thing in 1991.

DAMON: Are you optimistic about these cease-fire talks?

NHIAL: It's not going to work, because the rebel is using it as a matter of buying time while they are moving their forces from the north to the south.

DAMON: What's the risk of the Dinka community, the Dinka tribes coming into this?

NHIAL: The rebel leader had shown the people the tribal way. He went away and mobilized one tribe against the nation. So if the other tribe mobilize in the tribal way then this country is going to break apart. So, this is the danger that he's leading the way the tribal chose, the tribal way. And if it happens, it's going to be disaster for the country.

DAMON: Such deep divisions have been created in all of this. How is this country going to move forward?

NHIAL: For us to come back to normality, is that when the citizens of this country realize the democratic way of dealing for leadership, that whoever wants to (inaudible) to violence, they must refrain from following that person. The youth of the Republic of South Sudan should refrain from being mobilized on the basis of their tribe, because ethnic cleansing is simple recipe for the failure of this nation.


DAMON: And Isha, that's an incredibly dire prediction right there. A lot of people also underscoring those similar concerns that even if a cease-fire deal is eventually hammered out, this cycle of violence could continue unless there is some sort of significant national reconciliation plan also put into place.

SESAY: Yeah, Arwa, these talks are in Ethiopia, which are yet officially get underway. Do we have a sense of what it's going to take from both parties in terms of demands for them to agree to a cessation of hostilities?

DAMON: Not in terms of the specifics at this stage, Isha. We do know that prior to these negotiations that Riek Machar wanted the government to release his political allies who had been detained, something that President Salva Kiir himself told us he was unwilling to do saying that it set a very dangerous precedent.

The concern that we're hearing voiced by the mayor as well as the United Nations is that these talks could drag on for quite some time now.

A source who was close to the proceedings did tell us that there was a list of seven demands being made by the rebels. What is concerning is that the first six have to be fulfilled before the seventh, the implementation of a cease-fire, goes into place.

SESAY: Yes. This is a very distressing time, a very tense time there in the ground in South Sudan.

Arwa Damon, stay safe. Thank you so much for the reporting.

Now the latest world news headlines just ahead.

Plus, Iraqi forces are trying to repel and al Qaeda attack on two major Sunni cities. The fighting has killed at least 80 people today alone.

Also ahead, CNN's own Zain Verjee goes public about her very personal struggle with psoriasis. Why she's speaking out now.

And, is tourism destroying the wild? Why we should all be paying more attention to the places we visit.


SESAY: This is CONNECT THE WORLD, the top stories this hour. Tens of thousands of travelers are stranded after massive snow storms swept across the US northeast. More than 2400 flights into and out of the US were canceled. Frigid temperatures are expected across the region this weekend.

A week of heavy fighting in central Iraq has seen a spike in the number of casualties. Interior Ministry reports at least 80 people died in clashes in Ramadi and Falluja in Anbar province on Friday. Militants affiliated with al Qaeda have overrun police and army stations in a struggle for control of the troubled region.

At least 11 people have been reported killed in Egypt as supporters of former president Mohamed Morsy clash with opponents in police in two cities. Police used teargas and bird shot to disperse pro-Morsy demonstrations across the country Friday.

The Chinese icebreaker that played a key role in an Antarctic rescue on Thursday may itself be stuck in the ice now. The Australian authorities say the Chinese ship has concerns about moving through heavy ice in the area. That means the Australian ship that helped carry the rescued passengers is staying nearby as a precautionary measure.

More now on the fierce clashes underway in Iraq. Sunni tribal leaders are fighting alongside government security forces trying to help repel an al Qaeda assault on the cities of Ramadi and Falluja. A senior Interior Ministry official tells CNN that 80 people were killed today alone, most of them al Qaeda militants. Hala Gorani has more now on the fighting.


HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Unrest intensifies in Iraq's volatile Anbar province. Fighting has now gone on for days between security forces from Iraq's Shiite-led government and Sunni militants linked to al Qaeda.

Clashes erupted Monday in the city of Ramadi west of Baghdad after troops moved in to take down a Sunni anti-government protest camp. Violence quickly spread to nearby Falluja. Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have reportedly taken control of parts of Ramadi, holding territory for the first time, torching several police stations in the area.

The group is allied with al Qaeda, and it is also active in neighboring Syria. Aerial surveillance video from Iraq's Defense Ministry shows what appears to be air strikes against those al Qaeda- linked militants as security forces fight to retake the cities.


GORANI: This is a region with a history of bloodshed. American troops saw some of the heaviest fighting of the Iraq War in Falluja.

WILL DUNLOP, JOURNALIST: This has harkened back to previous years where Ramadi and Falluja were militant strongholds in the insurgency after the 2003 US hard invasion.

GORANI: With growing sectarian tension and the continuing civil war in Syria, the power of al Qaeda militants in the province is once again on the rise.

Hala Gorani, CNN.


SESAY: Well, for more perspective on all of this and this increase in violence, we're joined by Middle East expert Fawaz Gerges in London. He's professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Always good to speak to you, Fawaz, thank you for your time.

Falluja and Ramadi, where this fighting is taking place, are considered two of the most important cities in Iraq. Give our viewers some perspective on the geopolitical significance within the country.

FAWAZ GERGES, PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: Well, you're absolutely correct, Isha. Ramadi and Falluja are in the heart of the so-called -- the Anbar western region in Iraq. And this is really the heart of the Sunni insurgency and revolt against the Nouri al-Maliki government in Baghdad.

The most alarming development in the last year or so is that al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant has really found basically a refuge, receptive ground in Ramadi and Falluja. In the last few days, more than a thousand fighters, rallying under the flag of al Qaeda in Iraq, basically has taken over Ramadi and Fallujah. This is a very serious development.

Remember, even the Americans could not pacify Ramadi and Fallujah. The Americans tried twice to take over Falluja and paid dearly in blood and treasure. In fact, two thirds of American casualties in Iraq were in Ramadi and Falluja.

The Iraqi government has tried four times to take Falluja in the last two years, and it has not been able to do so. This tells you about the importance and the gravity of the crisis facing the Nouri al-Maliki government in Baghdad.

SESAY: Fawaz, as we talk about these militants, we know the war in Syria is feeding the violence in Iraq, but a point that's often overlooked is the fact that the militants who fought those US troops you were just talking about in Anbar province in the years after the 2003 US invasion, they actually inspired Syria's most hard-line jihadists, the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria. So, basically, are we looking at a cycle of violence, effectively, one with potentially far-reaching regional consequences?

GERGES: You're absolutely correct, Isha. You really cannot understand what's happening in Iraq today without understanding the escalation of the Syrian crisis. Al Anbar region, Falluja and Ramadi borders Syria.

Fighters from Falluja and Ramadi and other places in Baghdad are flooding to Syria, both to fight on the side of President Assad and also to fight on the side of the opposition inside Syria as well. In fact, the Syria conflict is spreading not only into Iraq, it's also spreading into Lebanon as well.

As you well know, several major bombings have taken place in the last few months, and the situation both in Iraq and Lebanon is polarized along sectarian lines, Sunni-Shiite lines.

And that's why al Qaeda now is basically capitalizing on this sectarian divide in order to find a refuge and also to co-opt more and more followers. And unless the political situation is resolved in Iraq, I would argue that al Qaeda will grow in strength and will gain momentum.

SESAY: And do you have any confidence that the political establishment, the Shiite-led government is ready to deal with the longstanding Sunni grievances that many have in a place like Anbar province?

GERGES: Isha, this is really the most important question. The question is, why al Qaeda has gained momentum in Iraq. Why al Qaeda now has more than a thousand fighters fighting in Ramadi and Falluja.

The question is -- the challenge is, it's a severe and deepening political crisis. Many Sunnis in Iraq feel excluded. They feel angry at the security practices of the sectarian-led government in Baghdad.

And unless Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki addresses the legitimate grievances of the Sunni community in Iraq, I would argue he will not be able to pacify the area that is Ramadi and Falluja. Even the Americans did not basically pacify the areas.

It was only in 2007 when the Americans basically co-opted the local population in both Ramadi and Falluja and turned them against al Qaeda. And this is a lesson for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It's politics, politics, and politics.

And unless the political aspirations and the economic and social aspirations of the Sunni community in Iraq basically are addressed, the situation could escalate, and Iraq could descend into all-out war.

In fact, there's a real danger that if this insurgency spreads into Baghdad, Iraq could easily descend into all-out war, like what's happening in neighboring Syria.

SESAY: So, Fawaz, go back to your previous graphic to give us -- just break down, Fawaz, because it is so complicated, the situation in Iraq, and the ethnic and sectarian divisions, and just spell it out for us, the situation.

We're talking about the Sunnis and the Shias, and clearly there are longstanding divisions. But give us again that overview of those ethnic and sectarian divisions that exist on the ground.

GERGES: Isha, this is again what we need to explain to our viewers. Iraq was one of the least sectarian-based societies before the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. What happened after 2003 is that sectarian-based system, similar to that of Lebanon, was basically set up in Iraq.

The Shiites, who represent about 60 percent of the population, get 60 percent of political positions. The Sunni Arabs, who represent about 20 percent, got about 20 percent of the political authority in Iraq.

And the Kurds, who represent about 18 percent -- remember, Isha, the Kurds are Sunnis, but they're not Arabs, so they have given almost 18 percent of political authority position.

So what you have in Iraq now is that the political spoils were divided along sectarian lines as opposed to political and ideological lines. And what you have now in Iraq is similar to Lebanon that the conflict in Iraq is divided along sectarian lines. And that's why al Qaeda comes in.

Al Qaeda in Iraq basically claims that it's defending the Sunni community that feels marginalized and excluded. And that's why the government of Nouri al-Maliki, which is a Shiite-dominated government, must address the political problems in order to pull the rug from underneath al Qaeda in Iraq that has been gaining in momentum and strength in the last one or two years.

SESAY: We've seen the US in these days where we've seen this uptick of violence get involved in terms of sending to the Nouri al- Maliki government missiles and surveillance drones. Is there more they should be doing as Iraq, in the view of many, stands at a crossroads, is on a precipice?

GERGES: Yes, absolutely. Remember, I don't think that Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki would be able to pacify either Ramadi and Falluja or secure the political and social situation in Iraq, regardless of how much arms the Americans and the Russians send him.

This is an essentially severe political crisis, and the Americans and the international community and the United Nations must impress on the political elite in Iraq to sit down and resolve their differences.

Helicopters and missiles will not bridge the divide between the various communities in Iraq. Only -- only -- if political agreement, and that's between the dominant Shiite community government in Baghdad and the various communities that basically resolve the underlying fundamental crisis that has almost brought Iraq to a breaking point.

Iraq now is in the eye of the storm. It could easily go the Syrian way or basically find a way out of this deadly embrace between the government on the one hand and the Sunni community in the Anbar region in particular.

SESAY: Fawaz Gerges, it is always great to get your insight and perspective. We so appreciate it. Thank you.

GERGES: Thank you.

SESAY: Live from CNN Center, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. Coming up, a CNN anchor details her lifelong personal battle against her own body. Plus, why people off on holiday may want to be more careful about what they leave behind.


SESAY: Welcome back everyone. I'm Isha Sesay, and you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. It's a personal struggle that's been shared by millions around the world. Life with the skin disorder psoriasis can be a painful, embarrassing, and frustrating experience.

Now, CNN's Zain Verjee is sharing her own story about living with the condition. See Zain's account of the physical and emotional toll of psoriasis has triggered massive online reaction from fellow sufferers. Now Zain tells us how the disorder has impacted her life and why she's decided to open up about it.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's been a long road for me, a long journey of self-acceptance. I suffered from this disease since I was eight years old, and I've always put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect, to look perfect.

And now I realize that that's impossible, and it's really the way that you approach yourself and that you approach life. It's in part a self-acceptance that I suffer from this and always will, and it's a question about how to handle it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Got to fix your hair.

VERJEE: It was awful because I felt like I was living in two worlds, showing one face to the world, but you're living a completely different one. I've spent most of my life in hospitals doing so many different treatments, feeling rejected, especially by myself.

You're always looking for strategies on how people can't see things. So, how do I get to the beach without anyone seeing? Or don't wear black because your scalp flakes. And don't accept invitations where you may be too physically exposed.

So, anyone who suffers from psoriasis will have these sort of hiding tactics, and the entire world is filtered through what the disease will or will not let you do.

After I did this incredibly strict, incredibly difficult diet, with the support of my family, I was in remission for ten years from 24 to 34, and I was able to eat what I want, do what I wanted. I was not taking any medication.

Since then, I have quite sever flare-ups every now and then, so I - - and I found the diet really hard to do by myself with the career that I now have and the stress that I experience.

I have a genetic disorder, and I'll always have it, so I use a combination of trying to address diet and meditation and mind over body, but when I need a quick fix and I'm really in a bad jam and I feel terrible and I can't move and I'm uncomfortable, I have sought successful medical drug therapy.

The last couple of days has been overwhelming the kind of response, as well as just to be really honest. And not only that, but brutally honest. I actually also feel that I've connected more to people in real, meaningful ways, than I have in my entire 15-year career as far as having a human connection goes. So I think exposing a vulnerability has actually given me a lot more strength.

I wanted to empower young people to feel that it's OK to have a flaw or a physical condition. What we are externally is not what we are internally. And even under the worst conditions, I was also able to successfully make it to CNN and have a successful career.

Psoriasis and other skin conditions are hidden so well by people like me that the odds are very high that there'll be many people around that will also be suffering from the same thing. So you're not alone.


SESAY: We are very proud of our own Zain Verjee, there, and the courage it took to share her story. And her story has garnered hundreds of comments on, many of them from those who struggle with psoriasis themselves or who have loved ones who do.

Listen to this. David from Miami says this: "I admire your courage and thank you for letting everyone know about this disease. I know the pain of the itch and how can it can look."

Fritz says, "I've been dealing with this disease since I was a junior in college. The feelings of embarrassment, being self-conscious, vanity, and depression have had a profound impact on my life."

And finally, Claire says, "My hope is that more awareness of the condition will help those without it to be more accepting of those who do have it." And that is a wish that we all share, that people will be more understanding of those suffering with this.

If you or someone you know are struggling with psoriasis, there is help and information available. In the United States, the National Psoriasis Foundation offers information on the skin disorder and available treatments.

In the United Kingdom, the Psoriasis Association has a special website for teen sufferers and lists resources for support.

Well, coming up after this short break on CONNECT THE WORLD, the destructive legacy that's left behind by some tourists. Stay with us.


SESAY: Welcome back everyone. The holiday season is ending, and many of our viewers, like me, will already be back to work and may even have a case of the January blues. If you're already dreaming of your next vacation, this next clip may make you rethink your role as a tourist abroad and where you choose to go this year.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We come to party.




SESAY: Thailand's hedonistic full-moon parties may seem like fun, but once the party's over, the environmental devastation is irreversible. This is just one example of the damaging side of tourism. That's the theme of a new documentary, "Gringo Trails," by American anthropologist Pegi Vail.

A self-confessed travel addict, Pegi has spent over a decade studying the damaging effect mismanaged tourism has on nature and indigenous cultures. I'm pleased to say Pegi joins us now, live. Thanks so much for your time today.

We just showed a clip in your film featuring Thailand, but I want you to talk to us about some other parts of the world you believe have suffered from an explosion in tourism.

PEGI VAIL, ANTHROPOLOGIST, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: Yes. And actually, Thailand -- I look at that really as a cautionary tale. I had been on that beach actually in 1986, so I'm dating myself here, but in 1986, and I see that is kind of the most extreme example.

But if you look at -- and I want to show that in comparison to some other places that might be at very different stages, kind of mid stage of that tourism process, what I call tourism globalization. Kind of like gentrification in the urban environment, where the intrepid traveler comes in, and then many backpackers follow, and then eventually, it might become an upper budget destination.

So, other places that we feature are meant to show the loopholes in where things can maybe change and that still have the opportunity to look at that cautionary tale that Haad Rin Beach in Thailand shows.

So, we focus on Bolivia. We filmed in both Mali, Bolivia, and Thailand, as well as in Bhutan. And in Bolivia, we featured a couple destinations, one of which is this Bolivian Amazon jungle destination in Pampas areas, which travelers initially came to after reading a book about being lost in the jungle by Yossi Ghinsberg.

That's one of the reasons that much of the tourism influx initially happened. Now, we're getting more and more of the growth is happening, constantly, so the anaconda snake, for instance, when travelers are going, they go out into the Pampas and they look for the anaconda snake to view the anaconda.

But some of the travelers are touching it. In the past, guides might let that happen, but now, we're seeing that that's actually detrimental to the snakes, because you might have repellant on that can cause death at some point.

So, we're trying to look at all these different places where we might make some changes, where travelers can both be more responsible. So listen to somebody if they tell you not to touch the snake, don't touch the snake --

SESAY: Sure.

VAIL: -- and so forth.

SESAY: And Pegi, your film doesn't just explore backpacking. You mentioned backpackers. You also look at the negative impact other types of travelers have on places. Explain what you mean by that, what you've seen.

VAIL: the other types of effects -- you say the negative effects that travelers have anywhere?

SESAY: Well, you mentioned backpackers, but also people who go -- I guess it's called dark tourism?

VAIL: Right.

SESAY: What exactly does that mean? What are you looking at there?

VAIL: Well, that's actually -- I don't feature that -- the dark tourism part I don't feature so much in the film. I'm actually -- I look at that, or I'm starting to look at that more as an anthropologist. And that's more the extreme. It started out, dark tourism, for people that wanted to visit, maybe, war tourism or even Holocaust tourism, places of grief.

But that can be extended now to tourism in the Bolivian mines, for instance, to working miners that are showing tourists how they work in very difficult, extreme conditions, to Chernobyl. People are visiting the sites in Chernobyl, now, the nuclear disaster and fallout years later. So, it can be extended to some of those.

And I think part of that is that desire to look for extreme experiences and to actually experience things versus just observing. I think that's part of why, maybe, that dark tourism is kind of on the rise.

SESAY: All right. You also highlight some positive aspects tourism can have on developing countries. Let's take a look at a short clip from the film.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Tourism, when you control it, is a very good industry. But if it goes out of one's control, is when you can see the differences. In regards to the benefits of what tourism has generated for us.


SESAY: Because it's important for our viewers to understand that there can be benefits, right?

VAIL: Oh, totally. And in fact, I love to travel, and I think that travel is one of the best ways for people to experience each other's cultures worldwide. And so, actually, that Chalalan eco lodge is a great example of community-based and indigenous-based tourism where actually the money's all going to the community, they manage the entire tourism area.

They initially needed help with funding to enable their vision to come to fruition, but this totally sustains their community now, and they teach people about their environment and about -- and it also protects the environment at the same time, so not only --

SESAY: OK. Sorry, we've got to leave it there.

VAIL: Sure.

SESAY: You've given us a lot to think about and highlighted some important parts of the world and what they're going through. Appreciate your time today. Thank you.

VAIL: Thank you so much. Bye-bye.

SESAY: Bye. Now, what are your thoughts on the issue? Is irresponsible tourism destroying the planet? The team at CONNECT THE WORLD wants to hear from you. We want to know what you really think about this. Get in touch at And you can also tweet me @IshaSesayCNN.

Before we leave you this Friday, a reminder of the special CNN series airing tomorrow. This coming November will mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

We're recognizing the occasion by re-airing our 24-episode landmark series "Cold War." It explores the struggle that defined the second half of the 20th century. In the opening episode, we take you back to the world on the brink of war. Here's a preview.


KENNETH BRANAGH, NARRATOR: September 1939. Hitler invaded Poland. Britain and France declared war on the aggressor, too late to save Poland.


BRANAGH: Defeated, Poland was wiped off the map. Germany and Russia had conspired against her. In Eastern Poland, the Communist occupiers were supervised by Nikita Khrushchev. They were taking over provinces once ruled by the tsars.

The Nazi-Soviet pact left Stalin free to grab Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The Baltic states were back under Russian domination. Stalin had already outraged the world by invading Finland.


FRANKLIN DELANOR ROOSEVENT, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Soviet Union is run by a dictatorship. A dictatorship as absolute as any other dictatorship in the world. It has allied itself with another dictatorship and it has invaded a neighbor so infinitesimally small that it could do no conceivable, possible harm to the Soviet --


SESAY: That's where we leave it tonight. I'm Isha Sesay, that was CONNECT THE WORLD. Thank you for watching.