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Iraq's Man in Washington; Vacuum on the Potomac?; U.S. and Iran: Strange Bedfellows; Imagine a World

Aired June 16, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight, from Washington, will the United States work with old enemy, Iran, to battle militants in

Iraq as ISIS takes control of more cities I speak live to the Iraqi ambassador right here in the U.S. capital.


AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in Washington, where the Obama administration is

scrambling to stave off the unthinkable. The end of Iraq as we know it, partition possibly, along sectarian lines with a rump Al Qaeda-like

statelet in control of vast parts of that country and Syria.

The United States is bolstering its military presence in the Persian Gulf. But with its options limited, the administration says it is

considering direct talks with Iran on how to prevent the terrorist push.

After the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that they were willing to cooperate to stop it. ISIS or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has

seized yet another city, Talofa, in the country's northwest. And the militants have their sights on Baquba, a mere 60 kilometers from the

country's capital.

ISIS has a reputation even more brutal than Al Qaeda. This Sunni extremist force has released these pictures and says that it's executed

nearly 2,000 Iraqi security forces after capturing Tikrit, which was the hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein. And this all is causing alarm

in Western capitals.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, they've got the whole answer, but they may well be one of the options that are important to be able to

stem the tide and stop the movement of people who are moving around in open convoys, in trucks and terrorizing people.

I mean, when you have people murdering, assassinating in the -- in these mass massacres, you have to stop that. And you do what you need to

do if you need to try to stop it from the air or otherwise.


AMANPOUR: So what can Washington, Iraq and the region do now? Joining me is the Iraqi ambassador to the United States, Lukman Faily.

Welcome to the program.

LUKMAN FAILY, IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Thank you for having me.

AMANPOUR: Thank you for joining me.

FAILY: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: First and foremost, do you believe that ISIS is on its way to Baghdad? And will I take over Baghdad?

FAILY: The ultimate objective is to have an Islamic state going across Iraq to Syria and to other parts of the world.

So Baghdad will be a crown of the jewel (sic) for them. But we will not let them.

AMANPOUR: Is there any possibility that they can? I mean, they basically ran over Mosul and your forces basically bent over and let them

do it.

Is it possible that that could happen in Baghdad or is there more serious defense?

FAILY: I would say that the issues are not just whether Baghdad can fall or not. We doubt that. We have our mobilization. We mobilize

peoples. We are looking at all possibilities or options are available for us now. We're exploring all that.

However, the threat is immediate to the whole region as well as to Iraq.

AMANPOUR: So in that case, what do you make of possible talks between Iran and the United States to form some kind of alliance to stop it? And

what shape would that take?

FAILY: This is a global tumor in Iraq taking place now and in Syria. We've seen it before. So that it needs to have an international

cooperation working together to support our democratic government and trying to put an end to this.

In that sense we are welcoming discussions across all. But we have to be clear that immediate threat would not allow for a long discussion to

take place.

AMANPOUR: So when you say that, that's because the administration has said that it's still weighing its options, that there are no immediate

decisions to act. Or do you know differently?

What are they telling you?

FAILY: They are saying that they are trying to explore all the options that the president made that clear. We're thankful for that.

We're thankful for all the hard work we've received before. But we are saying that we have an immediate threat now, which is as much as ever,

threatening the global economy and geopolitics, not just of the region but of the globe. That's the extent and the seriousness of the situation.

AMANPOUR: We've been covering this for months. They have been talking about the growth of these Al Qaeda offshoots in Syria. We've been

talking about the porous border across Iraq and how each side is fueling the other.

Your prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was here several months ago and asked for military help.

What did he ask for? What was the response? How long have you known that this ISIS was this threat?

FAILY: We have been saying that the situation in Syria is having a detrimental effect on us, that the prolongedness (sic) with no light at the

end of the tunnel in Syria will certainly have an effect on us. So that's one aspect.

In addition to that, we have been saying that we need to strengthen our army with having fighter planes, Apache helicopters and others. And

this is an area. The administration now understands that urgency. They have been willing to saying we are willing to help. What we are saying is

we cannot wait until tomorrow. A decision has to be made. It should have been made yesterday.

From our perspective, the urgency of the ground are giving us less options and more radical options.

AMANPOUR: But even if you get this help, it won't be tomorrow. I mean, you know as well as I do that sending these complicated defense

systems, whether they're planes or missiles or whatever, will take several -- a period of time, weeks if not months.

FAILY: But we -- what we are saying is that we have chosen not to state our strategic partner of choice. We have no other strategy for an

agreement with any other country but United States. The majority of our capabilities are from the United States, training and everything else. We

have a long have been a system requiring approval and delivery to Iraq.

So these are all issues which we are paying for. These are all issues of choice. Our strategic -- our parliament voted and wanted that

partnership with the United States.

We are a democratic system. Surely the last 10 years' experience -- nobody wants to go to waste. Surely the next few years and weeks and

months ahead we need to have some predictability. Without any involvement I'm afraid we'll have chaos.

AMANPOUR: What do you say, then, to your prime minister, your parliament, your government refusing U.S. forces to stay after the pullout

of December 2011, refusing the residual force, making it really difficult, demanding an -- not allowing an immunity deal for the U.S. soldiers?

FAILY: I think doing a reflection might be, I would say, good, but shouldn't be that conditional. What you are saying is that --

AMANPOUR: No, is that the wrong thing to do back then?

FAILY: Let me this way. I think that's for historian to say --

AMANPOUR: No, no, we're watching it now. We're watching it unfold. You have no help.

Was it the wrong decision?

FAILY: What I'm saying is that at that time, our parliament and the U.S. administration both agreed not to have a SOFA. What we're saying now

is the strategic primary agreement between the two countries should be enough as a framework for us to address a common immediate threat, where

the -- what took place shouldn't be a point of discussion.

What we should do together today, not tomorrow, is what is the question.

AMANPOUR: Well, a point of discussion is also the political reality in Iraq. And you know very well that Prime Minister Maliki is accused of

being more and more authoritarian and sectarian and these forces, I was told by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi collapsed because they had

nothing to fight for. They felt totally disenfranchised.

Now he has told me that he's gone back to Iraq to try to help with some kind of a national unity process. Listen to what he told me just a

few days ago.

FAILY: Please do.


AYAD ALLAWI,FORMER PM, IRAQ: . what we should look at now is how to convene a small meeting of the -- as a

summit meeting to see the road map ahead, what can we do and to form a government of leaders.

Maliki can be part of it. But he can't head it.


AMANPOUR: What do you make of that?

FAILY: What we have is an election took place --

AMANPOUR: No, I know that. But it hasn't worked.

FAILY: -- today that today only today as we speak, the high court, Supreme Court ratified the election results. We're talking about formation

of the government and so on.

These are all nice to have discussions. What we have in Iraq now, to -- is an immediate threat.

AMANPOUR: But do you not feel that this is an immediate threat, that practically half the country feels disenfranchised, the Sunnis.

Do you not think that this might be a time for national unity? Or not? Are you ruling it out?

FAILY: No, we already have a national unity government. We've had it for some time. That's not the issue. It's not the issue of what should

the (INAUDIBLE) process be look like in future. And we're not saying we're not happy to discussion. We want to have that discussion. But we're

saying conditionally that discussion is not wise. Making clear that we all stand together against a threat in global terrorism is the question.

Let me give you an example. What you have in Afghanistan with one biladin (ph), you will have a thousand of them. Your own previous record,

no pure devil (ph). There is nothing, none of that, no rule of engagement but destruction, that's the situation in Iraq. That's the size and the

adverse impact on the whole global geopolitics.

AMANPOUR: So an SOS situation right now for you?

FAILY: For all. For all, not just for us.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Faily, thank you very much for joining me.

FAILY: Thank you for having me.


AMANPOUR: And while the U.S. government weighs its words and its options, critics here and abroad have been blaming a lack of leadership at

the White House.

With characteristic bluster decades ago, the former president, Lyndon Johnson, once explained his style of decisive leadership like this, "Well,"

he said, "what the hell is the presidency for?"

After a break, we'll put that to an expert panel on U.S. foreign policy. That's when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Here in Washington, President Obama is taking a lot of hits for what is seen as a failure to lead, both from here in Washington and in fact

around the world. In a speech at West Point last month, the president pushed back, saying that sometimes the best course for America is to limit

military action.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But U.S. military action cannot be the only, or even primary, component of our leadership in

every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.


AMANPOUR: But if the United States pulls back from the playing field, who, what will fill the vacuum?

Geoff Dyer covers U.S. foreign policy for the "Financial Times," the paper of record for global opinion leaders.

And Robin Wright has covered the Middle East for decades for "The New Yorker" and a while ago the London "Sunday Times" and more. She's also

author of "Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion across the Islamic World."

Welcome to both of you, Geoff and Robin.

Let me start with you first, because I know you've been talking to the Iranian foreign minister and the question of the day is is America and Iran

going to work together to push back ISIS in Iraq?

ROBIN WRIGHT, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Well, I think there's a difference. The United States, through the secretary of state, has said

today that it is prepared to talk with the Iranians about Iraq.

But there's a big difference between consulting and coordinating. And the Pentagon today has also said we are not coordinating any military

action or considering military options with Iran.

So I think that there is a sense that they share a common cause right now. They both are concerned that they're policies of a decade have failed

and they're looking because they're both concerned about the growing threat from Sunni extremists to their common interests.

That doesn't mean that we're going to see American drone strikes providing air cover for ground involvement by the Iranian Revolutionary


AMANPOUR: What does it mean, do you think?

WRIGHT: Well, I think it means they've got to talk through what it is, how you get, first of all, the Iraqi government of Prime Minister

Maliki to be more inclusive, to deal with the realities of do you create a new coalition government? Do -- how do you bring back Iraq? How do you

salvage the Iraqi state diplomatically?

And then beyond that, kind of think about what are the alternatives. But the fact is neither country wants to get involved on the ground very


AMANPOUR: Well, precisely. And I don't know whether you heard, but Ambassador Faily, the Iraqi ambassador to Washington, talked about the

necessity of more political discussions in his homeland. But that the urgency right now was to stop ISIS.

Viewed from global capital, all the reporting you do, what is the biggest fear of what's happening right now?

GEOFF DYER, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "FINANCIAL TIMES": Well, there's two separate fears. I mean, you have the immediate fear that you

have this very, very radical jihadi group that is taking control of a huge slate of territory, mostly in Iraq but also in Syria.

But then you have a secondary fear, which is that this will start at a deeper civil war in Iraq and that the country will essentially fragment

into three ethnic statelets, a Sunni statelet, a Shia statelet and a Kurdish statelet. And these are two very interlinked but different types

of crises. And the U.S. is going to have to have different types of policies to deal with both.

And that's the real problem.

AMANPOUR: And let's not forget, the Sunni is mostly dominated by an Al Qaeda-like offshoot. I mean, this is potentially the worst terrorist

outbreak since the Taliban took Afghanistan and gave Al Qaeda its base.

WRIGHT: This is the Talibanization of Iraq. And there's no question that the global jihadi threat is greater today than it was at the height in

the 1980s, the war even in 2001 when we saw the attacks and the -- in Washington and New York.

This is the challenge that both Iran and the United States face and for the Obama administration, given the fact that Gulf War I in 1991

ultimately failed to achieve its political objectives. Gulf War II under the Bush administration in 2003, an eight-year involvement, also failed to

achieve its political objectives, shows that you can do things militarily but you can fail politically. And that makes you vulnerable to Gulf War


AMANPOUR: And further along, the Syria was is being blamed by so many people, as we've just said, for this incredible blowback and enabling --

you just heard the ambassador say -- enabling ISIS in Iraq.

Many world leaders have said they need U.S. leadership to stop what's happening in Syria, drain the swamp.

How do you report -- are you assessing leadership here in the United States?

DYER: Well, I think definitely the president's wobble last year over Syria was a huge deal for U.S. credibility and leadership in the world.

When he's somebody threatened to take military action in Syria and then decided that he didn't have the legitimacy to do that as well as needed to

go to Congress. That was a very big deal, of the countries not just in the Middle East but around the world are very worried about that.

However, I think there's a tendency sometimes in Washington, especially to kind of over wreak that and to see U.S. backing of leadership

and all the other different crises in the world at the moment. I don't think that Vladimir Putin is doing what he's doing in Ukraine because he

thinks President Obama's weak. I think he's doing that because he felt he was going to lose Ukraine.

I don't think the Chinese are pushing their own territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the East China Sea because they think President

Obama's weak. They've been doing these kinds of things really since 2007- 2008, since before the Obama administration.

So things in the U.S. and Syria has because a huge credibility problem for the administration but I don't think it's the reason for all these

other different crises around the world.

AMANPOUR: We just played that sound bite from President Obama from his -- from his speech at West Point, the foreign policy speech, in which

he said just because we have the best hammer it doesn't mean to say every problem is a nail.

Is Syria a nail?

WRIGHT: Well, Syria is -- ultimately we can't solve Iraq with also dealing with Syria. We've put it off for -- whether you agree with it or

not -- and now to find a solution to the bigger problem, we have to ultimately deal -- figure out what to do with Syria.

And that's what makes this challenge arguably greater than anyone we've faced in the Middle East. You could -- you could argue in six or

seven decades. I mean, it's just -- it -- the whole map of the Middle East is now up for grabs. There are fundamental questions about borders that

have prevailed for a century that now may not be hold together.

We find a jihadi threat that could be with us far -- for far longer period of time, with far -- in far greater numbers than in Afghanistan.

AMANPOUR: It is really remarkable to think of it in that way.

As a reporter for the "Financial Times," what are the financial, the economic implications of this de facto breakup of Iraq, if it stands?

DYER: Well, quite obviously the main thing people look at is the oil price and indeed oil prices have surged in the last week or so after you've

seen this insurgency gain grown in Northern Iraq. But it's much more broad. I mean, we're looking at potentially the redrawing of all sorts of

borders in the Middle East, deep seated Sunni-Shia conflict that could last for years if not decades. That is a whole series of other potential

economic ramifications that we're only beginning to start to think through.

AMANPOUR: And what about for instance even in Iraq right now? I mean, the Kurds have moved into Kirkuk, something that has been disputed

for a long time, and they've wanted it. Then there's obviously oil production all over the country and oil routes out of the country through

all these what might be partition statelets in Iraq, not just the prices but doesn't it have -- I mean, can't it cause sort of like an implosion of

the system right there?

DYER: Implosion of the economic system of those countries?


DYER: Potentially, yes. I mean, you are talking about the potential partition of a very large and important country and the -- and the oil

industry. And with all the potential knock-on effects that this can have in Syria and in other parts of the region.

So yes, absolutely. That's one of the things that is at stake here.

WRIGHT: I actually think that the Kurds are likely to use this as a pretext, look, we don't want to be part of it. It offers them a way out.

And to say we're going to draw a line in the -- along the border with the rest of the country and say we're going to protect our territory, the rest

is up to you. That's the only way.

And whether it's a de facto or -- I mean, an informal or a formal declaration of independence, I think this is -- could be the turning point

at which you see the Kurds pull out.

AMANPOUR: And you just called it, you know, one of the most seismic shocks in the last several decades, maybe even the last 100 years.

Do you think this might cause this administration to change its policies, change the whole notion of leading from behind or supporting

instead of leading, you know, like they did in Libya?

WRIGHT: Even if they do, they have to make sure that unlike 2003, that there is an international coalition in which the world is involved,

which has the approval of the United Nations or at least NATO, something that is a -- has been broader semblance of the United States.

The price tag also is -- could be enormous. Remember, we paid estimated $1.7 trillion for the eight-year Iraq War. The United States at

this point has neither the will nor the treasure to pay for that kind of intervention again that could be again open-ended to try to salvage the

Iraqi state, not just beat back ISIS.

DYER: And inasmuch as this is a lot of this is about Syria, I mean, there's a very valid debate about what the U.S. could or could not have

done in 2011 when the civil war in Syria was just beginning to get going. But we're now 2.5 years later from that. The reality on the ground is very

much different. The options the U.S. has even if it did want to change its approach are much more limited.

And so it's not such a simple question to say the U.S. needs to change its attitude. Unfortunately, the things that it has, that it's asked to do

are very limited. Syria --

AMANPOUR: Or that some are looking very, very carefully at the notion of arm and train the Syrian opposition. But we have to leave it there.

Geoff Dyer, Robin Wright, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

And I'll be putting questions about America's leadership to the former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, when I host her in a town hall forum

here tomorrow. And before we take a break, this moment from a town hall meeting back in 1994, with her husband, then President Bill Clinton. The

war was in Bosnia and it was raging when I joined the discussion via satellite from Sarajevo.


AMANPOUR: Do you not think that the constant flip-flops of your administration on the issue of Bosnia sets a very dangerous precedent and

would lead peoples to take you less seriously than you would like to be taken?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There have been no constant flip-flops, Madame. I ran for president saying that I would do

my best to limit ethnic cleansing and to see the United States play a more active role in resolving the problem in Bosnia.


AMANPOUR: The town meeting phenomenon is nothing new. In fact, it's older than the United States itself. Democracy in its purest form, when we

come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, remember when Iraq was supposed to be an experimental garden where democracy could take root? Today, any green

shoots are being strangled by deadly weeds spreading from Syria's civil war and fertilized by the dysfunctional and sectarian Iraqi government.

Now imagine a world where one democratic institution might offer a glimmer of hope and an example of truly representative government. For

nearly 300 years, the town hall meeting has been a fixture of American life, the purest and most democratic form of government, where local

business can be debated and where leaders can be questioned and made accountable.

Henry David Thoreau, the author of "Walden Pond" and the conscience of 19th century New England, called the town hall meeting the true Congress

,and sometimes the nation's fate has been decided there.

Boston's Old South meeting house was once the epicenter of political protest and in 1773, some 5,000 citizens met there to debate British

taxation after which some of them dressed up as Native Americans, boarded a tea ship and threw the cargo into the harbor. The Boston Tea Party that

launched the revolution.

And just a reminder, we don't know whether Hillary Clinton will be running for president. But tomorrow I'll be moderating a town hall meeting

with her here in Washington. And one day she might find herself wrestling with Syria the same way her husband wrestled with Bosnia two decades ago.

So join us for this special edition of the program.

But that is it for our program tonight. And remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and

Facebook. Thank you for watching and goodbye from Washington.