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Iraq In Crisis; ISIS Takes Over More Iraqi Cities

Aired June 16, 2014 - 13:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to welcome back our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. This is a CNN Special Report, "Iraq in Crisis."

Militants with the terror group, ISIS take over more Iraqi cities. They are stepping up their propaganda campaign.

Here is the latest development. An ISIS militant posted new videos on a Facebook page showing five captured men being interrogated. The militant group says these are Maliki's dogs. These are Maliki's soldiers and we are the soldiers of God. Another video shows one of the men after he was executed.

A U.S. amphibious assault ship with 550 marines on board now moving into the Persian Gulf. Iraqi faced verdict could assist to evacuating Americans if needed. An Iraqi forces strike back the Iraqi air force claimed to have killed more than 200 militants in air raid. That according to Iraqi state television.

Let's bring back our panel, the former United States ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad and James Jeffrey, also the former congresswoman Jane Harman, once a top member of the house intelligence committee.

Some workers at the U.S. embassy, Ambassador Khalilzad, they are very nervous right now. The U.S. spent a million dollars building the largest embassy in the world in that so-called green zone in Baghdad thinking this was going to be the heart of a great democracy in Iraq. Now the few thousand who are left, a few about 5,000 I think Americans in Iraq diplomats, non-governmental observers if you will, military, contractors, others, a lot of them are worried this could be the end.

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Well, I remember overseeing the building of that embassy. Of course, there were thought that that point that we would have a significant long-term both military, economic and political diplomatic presence. I think this is an important issue, the issue for the Americans who are there. We have to think about contingencies for withdrawing them safely from Baghdad by air if possible, by land, maybe to Kurdistan or Kuwait in the south.

BLITZER: How worried should Americans be that the 4,000 our 5,000 Americans who are there still could get caught up in a Saigon-type evacuation or a Benghazi kind of situation?

JANE HARMAN, FORMER MEMBER OF HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, I think we learned the lessons of Benghazi. I think it is not optional to provide additional security. We are doing it. I don't really see ISIS taking Baghdad. But I do think it is urgent business to convene for us to help convene a regional meeting including Iran, including the curds, including the Gulfies (ph), the Gulf cooperating council, and the Arab League. And this could easily be done because a meeting is going on in Vienna right now between Iraq and the United States on the nuclear issues. It can be and should be done. And the action taken, there needs to be a political track and possibly a military track to stop ISIS. If the region blows, everybody is hurt.

BLITZER: You were a career diplomat, Ambassador Jeffrey. You were in-charge of that U.S. embassy when you were the U.S. ambassador in Iraq. At what point does the president of the United States, the secretary of state tell those American diplomats, contractors, personnel, you know what, it's time to get out?

JAMES JEFFREY, THE WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: Usually the president doesn't do that in one fell swoop, Wolf. What you do is you reduce the number of personnel and change its competition. Thus, security forces are flowing in. And people who are not essential to the immediate mission are flowing to other places so you don't have as many people to move. The danger isn't that Baghdad in the green zone will be overrun. The danger is that ISIS could surround and cut off and besiege all of Baghdad. We almost had that in 2004 with the U.S. military. That's the problem facing the president right now.

BLITZER: And what would happen if that were to occur, if ISIS surrounds Baghdad? Doesn't have to be take the city, but surrounds the city, what would be the impact?

JEFFREY: If the Iraqi security forces who would perform miserably so far, can't drive them out, and they are not good on the offensive, either the Iranians could come in a big way or we'll have to use our fire power to drive them back.

HARMAN: Or the neighborhood could also intervene. There are other air assets among the state surrounding Iraq and Syria. This is a regional problem and they're all affected. Yes, it is a civil war -- Muslim civil war, Sunni and Shiite. But the idea that Iraq could fall, not just fail, which currently is. And that Syria could fall, not just fail.

BLITZER: That's interesting.

Ambassador Khalilzad, you know the situation, Iraqi military despite the billions in U.S. assistance, weapons, training, all of that crumbling in parts of Iraq right now. But some of Shiite militias are coming to the aid f the Iraqi military. They could be formidable fighters, if you will, aligned with the Iranians and not necessarily with the U.S. We will have to see as end result.

KHALILZAD: Right. This is a risk to the military that could become in filtrated or dominated by the militia. And the success or hope of building a professional military, the Gulf community, with respect could be further undermine, I think if there's a political settlement, that may involve the prime minister Maliki to step aside so that the people of that Sunni areas can cooperate with the new government as they did during the surge period, they shifted sides from the extremists to the government and to the coalition. We need to do the same thing.

BLITZER: Let me ask Ambassador Jeffrey, because he was there during that surge period. Was that surge successful because the U.S. taxpayers were basically paying off those Sunni leaders in Fallujah, Anbar province and elsewhere. They were spending millions and millions of dollars just describing these guys.

JEFFREY: Wolf, it was successful. It stopped the insurgency both the Shi'a and al Qaeda --

BLITZER: But was it because of the money that the U.S. was shelling out to these tribal leaders?

JEFFREY: It was because of more troops. It was because of more money. It was because of the horrific deportation of al Qaeda. There were dozen reasons. But the end result was it succeeded. It gave Iraq a chance to try to try to start a new. That chance has been squandered.

BLITZER: It certainly has been.

James Jeffrey, Zalmay Khalilzad, Jane Harman, guys, we'll continue this conversation. Thanks to all three of you.

President Obama getting slammed on Iraq by my top Republicans. One senate Republican standing by to join us to explain why he's demanding better answers from the commander in chief.

And the effects of the conflict spilling over the country's borders, how it is hitting home for people around the world?


BLITZER: Welcome back to our Special Report, "Crisis in Iraq."

As President Obama continues to weighs options from military actions, he is getting slammed by a whole bunch of Republicans. Senator James Inhofe, he is the top Republican on the senate Armed Services Committee, put out a very strong statement the other day. And it reads in part, the nation deserves better answers from President Obama. The president needs to put forward a comprehensive strategy for Iraq and the Middle East, one that tells our military men and women that their blood, sweat and tears over the past decade weren't in vain.

Senator Inhofe is joining us now live. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. JIM INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: Nice to be with you. By the way, blood, sweat and tears, that came from a guy named Bryan Hacklor who worked for me. I was with him over at Fallujah and he had many of his people in the marines that were killed. Those guys are devastated over what's happened. BLITZER: Yes. I was in Fallujah myself. I was in Fallujah in 2005

when General Petraeus was there in the surge. They weren't even thinking about a surge then. But it looked like the marine had done a pretty good job in Fallujah. And right now it's hard to believe and heartbreaking to think about it. ISIS and its supporter, they are really in control Fallujah, Balad. So many other military places where the U.S. --


BLITZER: Of course. It's heartbreaking when you think of all that blood, sweat and tears that were invested by the U.S. troops trying to secure some sort of semblance of democracy in Iraq.

So here is the question. Where do we g from here? What do you want President Obama to do?

INHOFE: Well, first of all, we -- in 2009, 2010, and 2013 we sent some very strong recommendations to the president and said whatever you do, don't cut and run and leave them without any intelligence and other sources and things we could have done with it n-- logistics, poor military sales and all that. But he did it anyway.

BLITZER: And so, what do you want the president to do now, Senator?

INHOFE: Well, right now, I understand that we do have some tomahawks in the northern Persian Gulf. That is start. That actually was actually was arranged at the time hawk said, they can hit anything in Iraq if it becomes necessary. Then I think we need to do some things, grab some air strikes. But the main thing is to offer them the support of having the intelligence and then some of the equipment that they need to have. Because what happened was we just walked away from it.

BLITZER: But Senator, let me play the devil's advocate. The U.S. left behind a ton of equipment for the Iraqi military, spent billions of dollars training these guys and gave them the help that they possibly could for nearly a decade. The first semblance of a little tension they take off their uniforms, they run away. The ISIS militants have captured dozens and dozens of humvees, tanks, armored personnel carriers. There was no resistance whatsoever.

INHOFE: Yes, Wolf. That's true for about a decade. That was going on. We were giving them a lot of equipment and all of that. It was the abrupt withdrawal. Now, I know this because the Oklahoma 45th was involved in the training over there. Just all of a sudden take it away without leaving any of the chief, easy, no boots on the ground support and that is what he did.

BLITZER: You want the U.S. to send troops into Iraq right now?

INHOFE: No, I don't want to send. He's doing that already, by the way. He's sending a bunch of marines into the green zone. And so, but that part is all right just protect the ones that are there and help them get out. BLITZER: Well, let me just press you, Senator. Let me press you on

the air strikes. You want tomahawk cruise missiles to go in and you want air strikes I assume drone strikes. But a lot of these ISIS militants, they are in jeeps, they are in tow trucks. They're just driving around. Finding the right targets, you spend a million dollars sending in a tomahawk cruise missile, it could land and kill a whole bunch of innocent civilians.

INHOFE: Yes, but it is left up to the military. They are not going to that. They are going to make sure they have target out there they can hit and utilize that. What we have to do is continue to give them the kind of support that we also do. Bosnia, coast to coast, the Sinai peninsula, we always do that.

BLITZER: Can you trust Nuori al-Maliki?

INHOFE: Well, those are things he did wrong. It was major thing he did wrong. I think was he had agreed to put some Sunni in his cabinet and all that and he didn't do that. So, he's partially to blame for the part that problems that we have right now. Now, they are talking about, some of the people are even talking about joining in with Iran on this thing which would be a horrible mistake.

BLITZER: Well, even Senator Lindsey Graham yesterday on "STATE OF THE UNION" suggested maybe it's time pr the U.S. to start discussing options with Iran as awful as the U.S.-Iranian relationship is right now.

Senator Inhofe, we have to leave it there. But we'll continue this conversation on another occasion.

Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee.

We'll take a quick break. More news right after this.


BLITZER: The leader of the ISIS insurgents in Iraq is this man. His name is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. And he actually spent four years in U.S. custody at a military prison Camp Bucca in Iraq. And when he was released back in 2009, he said to the camp's commanding officer, and I'm quoting al Baghdadi now, "I'll see you in New York." Was he the dangerous militant then that he has become right now?

Let's bring in Colonel Ken King. He is the former commander at Camp Bucca, was face-to-face with al Baghdadi when he said those words.

Colonel, thanks very much for joining us.

COL. KEN KING, U.S. ARMY: Good afternoon, Wolf. Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Take us back to that last encounter you had with al-Baghdadi when he said to you, "I'll see you in New York. I'll see you guys in New York." I think that is the specific quote. What did you think at the time? Was he referring to another 9/11 attack in New York or what was his message to you?

KING: Well, he -- first off, I was an army reserve commander, commanded an MP battalion that -- and we were responsible for the detention center at Camp Bucca Iraq. Al-Baghdadi knew we were a New York unit who from Long Island. And when we did our detainee transport missions up north to Baghdad, because we released no detainees from Camp Bucca. We always transferred north of Baghdad for the Iraqis to do disposition.

As we handed them off to the next unit, the chain of custody, he looked back to us, saw our patches and he said "I'll see you in New York." Now, again, him knowing we were from New York, I believe that what he was saying at the time was that he thought that he would be out and released in short order and apparently he was. And he is now in charge of ISIS.

BLITZER: Did you know, because he spent four years in U.S. military custody at Camp Bucca. Did you guys realize then that he was a brutal, brutal terrorist, someone who would go out and create this kind of terror organization? An organization that even Al Qaeda says is too extreme for them?

KING: Well, we had many of the most dangerous folks in the world there at Camp Bucca. And we had them in a certain area, identified them and put them in a certain compound. To be honest, he was not in that compound. He did exhibit certain events, and he did expect certain tendencies and behaviors, but while he was dangerous, he was not one of the most dangerous, at least at the time.

BLITZER: What was your impression of this guy? You got to see him in action under these military prison conditions.

KING: He was very intelligent. He's very savvy. Again, when you spend a number -- a period of time within the detention center, you have nothing to do but to watch, to understand the rules, to look to be habits, et cetera, which is why one of the tendencies that we did was to rotate our detainees through the compounds and rotate our guard forces, so that we did not have any habits established or they were able to take advantage of habits.

But he was very aware of the rules. He was also very aware of the ramifications of violating the rules. Number of times he tried to instigate a reaction out of my guard force and my soldiers and sailors were very professional, maintained discipline and self discipline at all times. And we did not let him escalate anything within the camp. And as a result, we had no escapes during our tenure.

BLITZER: Colonel King, I want you to stay with us. I want to continue this interview. I want to take a quick break.

Much more with Colonel King right after this.


BLITZER: We're back with Colonel Ken King. He is the former commander at Camp Bucca, was face-to-face with al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader, when he uttered those words, "I'll see you guys in New York."

And just to repeat, when he said to you after four years of captivity, I'll see you guys in New York, you did not see that as a direct threat, another 9/11 threat, did you?

KING: I did not see it as a direct threat at the time. I saw it as a -- I believed he had confidence he would be released to the Iraqi judicial system. However, that being said, looking at things today and recent developments, I might consider those things -- those same words under a different context now.

BLITZER: I would too. I think with hindsight, it was clearly in my mind, at least, a direct threat. So when you hear about what's going on right now, colonel king, how frustrated are you? How angry are you that all the blood, sweat and tears, all the effort that U.S. military personnel did in Iraq seems, at least now, seems to be wasted?

KING: Well, I -- as we discussed earlier, Wolf, I spent a year in '03, '04 as a civil affairs officer during the first rotation. And we did a lot of the nation-building, returning to normalcy. And you're absolutely right. We spent a lot of time, a lot of effort there. When I -- when I found out that the Iraqi ministry of justice had released al-Baghdadi, personally, yes, I was disappointed. I thought we built a -- because we built legal cases for all detainees for them to be adjudicated. And to see the fact that he was released was a bit personally disappointing. However, I must respect the decisions of a sovereign he government.

BLITZER: The sovereign government in Baghdad. Nouri al-Maliki, even though, he has turned out to be such a huge disappointment, right?

KING: Yes. The release was disappointing to me.

BLITZER: Very disappointing. Would you send U.S. troops back into Iraq, under these circumstances?

KING: I -- well, that's a decision that's way above my pay grade, Wolf. I -- however, I think there are number of ways that we can help somebody when they are asking for help. The culture as I was exposed to it during '03, '04 and '08, '09, it is a culture that understands actions and understands force. And it understands deeds over words. And I understand, again, watching the news, watching your reports, that Iraq is looking for help. Well, my experience has always been, when someone is looking for help, they will continue to ask for help until they get help. So the short answer is, do I think we should send troops in? That's - that's not - that's really not my call. But I think there are a number of ways that we could probably help the Iraqi government if we deem fit, if we deem so.

BLITZER: Key word, if, if, if.

All right, Colonel King, Kenneth King, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks so much, of course, for your service to the United States. We deeply, deeply appreciate it.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. Eastern in "The Situation Room." For our international viewers, "AMANPOUR" is next. For our viewers here in the United States, "NEWSROOM" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.