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ISIS Crisis: Is al-Maliki To Blame?; Iraq Minefield Makes For Tough Military Choices; Benghazi Ringleader Captured; Tragedy At Sea; Imagine A World

Aired June 17, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET



HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST (voice-over): Tonight, deadly violence on the doorstep of Baghdad.

Is the Iraqi prime minister to blame for the crisis? We ask the spokesperson for Nouri al-Maliki's party.

And later in the program, high stakes on the high seas. Are migrants crossing the Mediterranean about to be cast adrift?


GORANI: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour this evening.

Tonight will Iraq fall to the ISIS onslaught? As the death toll rises and insurgent militants tighten the noose on Baghdad as the battle rages in

Baquba not 40 miles from the capital. It's an open question, whether Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki can hold his country together today.

His military has not acquitted themselves brilliantly so far. Tens of thousands of Iraqi troops cut and run from an attack by just a few hundred

ISIS fighters in Mosul. There's the burnt-out remains of that battle and this video shot inside the fallen city.

Politically al-Maliki's corrupt sectarian government, his critics say, may have polarized Iraq beyond repair. Driving the Sunni minority to welcome

in some cases the ISIS invasion. And positioning Iraqi Kurdistan for full independence.

So is Iraq the next Afghanistan, a failed state and breeding ground for extremist violence?

And could this sectarian schism sparked by Iraq light a fuse throughout this volatile region?

One thing is clear: the blame game has begun already, with fingers pointing to the disastrous U.S. invasion, the precipitous withdrawal or the

power grab by Prime Minister al-Maliki, driving some Sunnis to support the ISIS surge.

Joining me in the studio is Zuhair al-Naher, the spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister's party here in London.

Thanks for being with us, sir.

You've been hearing all this criticism against Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki saying here's a man who's grabbed power. He's excluded Sunnis. He's put down Sunni demonstrations in parts of Anbar. He is to blame for

the disenfranchisement of Sunnis and therefore setting the scene for this ISIS invasion.

ZUHAIR AL-NAHER, SPOKESMAN FOR THE IRAQI PM'S PARTY: This is simply not true. Prime Minister Maliki has never been a sectarian. He has welcomed

Sunni and Kurdish involvement in a government and the government that we have, the government, the last, former government, had the leader of the

parliament, a Sunni, vice -- the deputy prime minister, a Sunni, heads of the armed forces, Sunnis. There were approximately 10 Sunni ministers.

So the Sunni involvement has been huge. So he cannot be accused of being a sectarian.

GORANI: But if this were all true, if indeed Sunnis shared power equality with Shias and the Maliki government, why would you have tens of thousands

of people throwing stones at the Iraqi army as it's pulling out from Mosul under the ISIS advance, happy to have extremists, even Al Qaeda says are

too extreme and too fundamentalist instead of the Iraqi army?

AL-NAHER: Firstly, Sunnis share power according to their percentage. Their percentage in Iraq is approximately 20-25 percent. It is true that

Saddam, the former regime, has -- was dominated by a Sunni leadership. And they are the ones who led Iraq and who terrorized Iraq for 30 years.

In terms of the Iraqi army, the withdrawal from Mosul was a conspiracy because former Saddam generals, who were brought into the army, after the

downfall of the regime, as a result of pressure from the U.K. and America, it is these generals who deserted, who orchestrated the take --


GORANI: But it has nothing to do with the weakness of the central government's army in Mosul and all that happened? It was just a


AL-NAHER: It was a conspiracy orchestrated by the former Saddam generals with ISIS and corrupt local Sunni politicians. There was no fight.

GORANI: But was Talofa (ph) a conspiracy? Were all the other -- what about Fallujah? What about Ramadi, all of those were conspiracies?

AL-NAHER: No. Fallujah is a city again taken over by extremists. Now this is not a sectarian dispute. This is not a Shia-Sunni dispute. The

ISIS terrorists have been killing Sunnis as well as Shias in Mosul. The troops, the 1,700 troops who were killed, army people, unarmed and

ununiformed, they were Shias and Sunnis. There were reports that Sunni leaders in Mosul --

GORANI: So what --

AL-NAHER: -- have been executed.

GORANI: -- so you're saying Prime Minister al-Maliki is all-inclusive; there's no corruption. He rules -- he rules for the benefit of all Iraqis,

regardless of sect?

So therefore why, why is this happening? Why the discontent from all these --


AL-NAHER: I'm not saying that Maliki is faultless, OK? Iraq is a difficult country to run. It is difficult to include everyone perfectly

and keep them happy.

There are grievances. It's not just the Sunnis who have grievances. Shia have grievances; the Turkmen have grievances. But that does not give an

excuse to have people occupying cities and murdering. These --

GORANI: Oh, I don't think anybody's arguing that that's an excuse for murderers to commit the kind of atrocities we believe these extremists


But the question now is for the world, how do you confront this problem? Do you need outside help?

AL-NAHER: Well, confronting the problem and seeing how the problem arose, the problem arose because support for these terrorist groups, they have an

vacuum that has been formed in Syria and they are able to move around and to move into Iraq.

So the support for these terrorist groups by Arab and Gulf states must stop and --

GORANI: Because Prime Minister al-Maliki is actually going as far as saying Saudi Arabia's funding all these extremist groups. They're

practically guilty of genocide, he's saying.

AL-NAHER: It is not a secret that these groups have been funded by Gulf states. But also the West has turned a blind eye to this support. So that

has to stop now. In terms of dealing with a terrorist threat, the world needs to support Iraq in dealing with this terrorist threat because this

terrorist threat is affecting not only the area, this area, but it will also affect the West, because so many of these youths are attracted from

the West to these terrorist groups and they'll be returning to the West.

GORANI: Do you want -- did you want America to send soldiers? Do you want boots -- do you want boots on the ground if this gets out of hand?

AL-NAHER: What we want at the moment is air power, air support, to bombard the areas of these terrorists firstly.

We also want advice and sharing of intelligence so that is the kind of support that we need. We need support and we need -- and it is good that

America is thinking of cooperating with Iran in order to support and all the regional countries should also support Iraq in this great time.

GORANI: Zuhair al-Naher, thank you so much for being with us, the spokesperson for the Iraqi prime minister's party right here in London.

Thanks for joining us in the studio today.

So where does this crisis go from here? And what are the military options? We spoke about it a little bit there with Mr. al-Naher.

Douglas Ollivant has served in Iraq. He was the director for Iraq at the National Security Council during both the Bush and Obama administrations.

He currently assists U.S. companies to do business in the country and also works as a security expert with the New America Foundation.

Thanks for being with us, sir.

So what are the military -- what are the military options here first off for the government of Nouri al-Maliki in confronting this ISIS advance in

your opinion?

DOUGLAS OLLIVANT, FORMER DIRECTOR FOR IRAQ, NSC: I think the government is doing what it needs to do. It's bringing up what it considers both more

reliable and more motivated troops from its base constituency, the Shia south up to fight this, you know, invading ISIS army. It looks like

they're about the converge somewhere north of Baghdad.

GORANI: All right. And so what about the United States? I mean, does it have a strategic interest in getting involved more than it has by simply

perhaps cooperating on a strategic level with the government, having some sideline discussions with Iran?

Does it need to get more involved militarily if it deems ISIS a true threat to its own security?

OLLIVANT: I think you hit on it exactly. Both because ISIS is a threat to our own security, totally exclusive of the state of Iraq, but also because

we have interests in Iraq itself, it may be a good idea for America to loan out air power to Iraq in this moment of crisis.

GORANI: And loan, what do you mean loan? I mean, would it be that they would conduct operations on behalf of the Maliki government?

OLLIVANT: No, loan was a poor choice of words. For the United States to conduct airstrikes in support of Iraqi troops on the ground, no American

troops on the ground.

GORANI: Right. And do you think that's going to happen?

OLLIVANT: Well, it's certainly possible. We now have an aircraft carrier in the Gulf. We may have some planes that could range there anyway from

surrounding bases. So it's certainly possible.

As to what the president and the White House will decide to do, your guess is as good as mine.

GORANI: Well, now, let's talk a little bit about the genesis of all this. So many have pointed fingers at the government of Nouri al-Maliki. But

fundamentally, when the U.S. invaded in 2003 and dissolved an entire army, a big one, for the region, including basic police force presence as well in

some parts of the country, is that not what set the scene for what's going on today, this Sunni anger and militants that joined Al Qaeda in Iraq for

years before morphing into what we're seeing now?

OLLIVANT: Well, if -- you know, we can go far back and blame all kinds of people. If we want to go back far enough, we can blame the British for

1920; certainly --


GORANI: Well, this is a little bit more recent than Britain in 1920 which --

OLLIVANT: -- but let's keep moving forward.

GORANI: Right.

OLLIVANT: Dissolving the army in 2003 did not help. It did not help. You know, the rule of Saddam Hussein did not help. More recently, the

inability of all factions in Iraq, not just the government of Nouri al- Maliki, but all factions to come together and resolve their political differences, is certainly not helping.

None of this changes the fact that you now have this at -- largely outside army, perhaps with some local Iraqi auxiliary so to speak, but you do have

this ISIS terrorist threat that's coming into Iraq. I think we need to keep -- there are two threats here that are closely related or two


One is this ISIS threat that needs to be dealt with. And even if Iraq didn't exist, this is still a problem for us. Closely related to this is

the dysfunction in Iraqi politics, which has made Iraq uniquely vulnerable to ISIS right now. We need to deal with the first problem right away as

ISIS is moving south towards Baghdad.

Once that problem is dealt with, then we can take a little more leisure to figure out how we do fix the admittedly dysfunctional politics in Baghdad.

GORANI: All right. It's going to a be a big question as to how you contain this ISIS advance, this expansion into so many other cities.

Quick, last question on news coming out today, of the arrest by the United States inside of Libya of a suspect in -- that they believe masterminded

the attack on the consulate, the American consulate in Benghazi.

Abu Khattala: strategically important or not?

OLLIVANT: I don't think so. I mean, don't get me wrong; I'm overjoyed he's captured. I'm overjoyed that he's going to face justice in the United

States. But if we think that this is going to change what's happening in Libya or change the arc of the extremism in North Africa, we used to call

this in Iraq whack-a-mole. You know, you get one; another will come up. This is not going to have a huge strategic effect. Again, overjoyed he's

captured, though.

GORANI: All right. Thank you very much for joining us, Douglas Ollivant in Washington, D.C. Thanks for your take on all the day's news on this

important story also out of Iraq and Levant.

The possibility of Western countries turning to Iran to help stabilize the situation in Iraq took on substance and architecture today as Britain's

foreign secretary, William Hague, announced that his country would reopen the British embassy in Tehran. The circumstances are right, said the

secretary, from 2.5 years after a mob ransacked the embassy.

Unfortunately, the diplomatic mission won't be up and running in time for this year's World Cup where England and Iran are both competing. Iran's

President Rouhani has been kicking back on the couch and tweeting for the national team, even though Iranian cafes and other public places are banned

from showing the games.

And after the break, another casualty of the conflict in Syria: a tidal wave of immigrants that threatens to sink not only their fragile ships but

also their safe harbor. We'll explain when we come back.




GORANI: Welcome back to the program. I'm Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane.

It's an age-old tale, people making their way through perilous conditions in search of a better life desperately doing what they can. It is now a

growing crisis in Europe where tens of thousands of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East seek out a new life each year.

But Italy is warning that it may stop rescuing migrants trying to cross its borders unless the European Union does more to help out. The country's

interior minister says his government just can't handle the volume of people making the journey across the Mediterranean Sea. Just this year

alone, over 40,000 migrants arrived on the Italian coast. That is more than the whole of last year and Syrians fleeing violence in their country

formed the largest group of those migrants with just over 11,000 crossing.

Fewer people are dying at sea because the Italian navy set up a rescue operation in October last year after shipwrecks left hundreds of migrants

dead since then more than 20,000 have been rescued at sea plucked from the waters essentially.

But the Italian government now says it is quite simply overwhelmed.

Joining me from Geneva to talk more about this is Ambassador William Lacy Swing, who heads up the International Organization for Migration.

Ambassador, thanks for being with us.

Italy says it is --


GORANI: -- Italy says it is next month going to ask that you just take over this operation, that this is costing it more than $12 million a month

and it can't do it alone.

Do you think that you will listen?

SWING: Look, I think -- thank you very much for this opportunity. This is a key issue. We're engaged in a period of what we can only call

desperation migration. We're in a period of unprecedented human mobility and unprecedented multiple complex humanitarian emergencies from Libya to

Syria to South Sudan to Central African Republic, Somalia and then all the natural disasters such as the typhoon in the Philippines.

So more and more people are leaving out of desperation and far too many are dying along the migratory route.

We track 2,370 people who died on the high seas and in the deserts of Africa and the Middle East in 2013 alone. This has to stop. And to do

that, I think policies have to change.

GORANI: And why is there such an increase this year because all of last year, the number was similar to just the first six months of 2014?

SWING: I think it's partly -- largely because of the crises that I mentioned. There are no political processes in place right now that seem

to be going anywhere. There's a very mixed flow. Many of these people are in need of international protection under the UNHCR convention. Some are

simply going out of Syria trying to get to their families in Northern Europe. And we really have to crack down on the traffickers and smugglers

because as governments draw the visa regimes ever tighter and deny more and more possibilities to get there legally, people will go there and put their

life at risk.

GORANI: You're talking, sir, about the traffickers; the prime minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi, saying that intervention needs to happen in Libya,

where you have these criminal gangs essentially charging migrants to use these terribly unsafe vessels.

Is that realistic that Europe and -- because two-thirds of these migrants end up outside of Italy.

So is it realistic to expect this type of intervention?

SWING: I think what is needed at this point is a way to keep people from putting their lives at risk. The top priority has to be to save life. And

we've very grateful to Mare Nostrum, the Italian operation since the disaster off Lampedusa in October. They've saved some probably 36,000

lives in this period. And they have done a great service to everyone.

But I think there are things that can be done. We've made our views known. There could be migrant assistance and protection centers in North Africa,

for example, where people could go and be processed before going to Lampedusa and Malta. And that would save life and allow some people to

come on board legally.

GORANI: But this is -- who should share the burden here? Italy is pretty much saying at this point we set up this operation; sure, it saved lives.

Our navy and Coast Guard are participating in it.

But we cannot do it anymore. We don't have the funds.

Should other E.U. countries not pitch in?

SWING: Well, we believe that there should be shared responsibility among all of the countries that have been receiving migrants. It's difficult

under the Dublin Convention to do this. But there needs to be more reaching out, not only by Europe but by other countries.

I know that the United States has taken a number of the migrants from Malta to help out there and more things like this could be done by other

countries. Now while the numbers are great -- and I wouldn't make light of that -- but you're talking about 50,000 migrants going to an area that is

approximately 450 million or 500 million people in all of Europe, so surely there must be a way somehow to share that responsibility.

GORANI: All right. We'll see how they respond when Italy formally requests that this responsibility be shared.

Ambassador William Lacy Swing, the head of the International Organization for Migration, thank you very much for joining us on CNN today.

And the desperation of asylum seekers is not confined to the Mediterranean, of course. Back in 2010, disaster came to the shores of Australia when a

ship carrying 89 Iranian and Iraqi refugees and a crew of three was caught in a monsoon off Christmas Island and smashed onto the rocks, leaving 50

people dead, five-zero.

Today, survivors and relatives of the victims filed suit against the Australian government for underfunding the rescue service and putting the

lives that they say of asylum seekers at greater risk.

And after a break, we'll return to the disaster that is Iraq. Imagine if that troubled country never existed. It's not as farfetched as you might

think. We'll be right back.




GORANI: And a final thought tonight, as jihadists vow to carve out a Sunni empire modeled on the caliphates of the 7th century, imagine a world where

there is no such place as a country called Iraq. Long ago an all-seeing eye would have revealed a region that looked more like this, a vast desert

where water, not oil, was king and tribal loyalties pitted one Bedouin band against another, at least in that part of the Middle East.

But 98 years ago, as the First World War raged on the Western Front, Britain and France encouraged the Arabs to unite and create a second front

by rising up against the remnants of the Ottoman Empire with the promise of their own nationhood.

Well, it was all a lie. Mark Sykes (ph), the British diplomat, worked tirelessly behind the scenes as Arab horsemen did battle with Turkish tanks

and machine guns. And together with Francois Picot (ph), his French counterpart, signed a secret treaty that redrew the map of the region,

dividing it into two spheres of Western influence and creating the modern states of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and which eventually led also to Saudi

Arabia, Jordan and even the state of Israel. The Sykes-Picot agreement might have remained a secret but for the Russian Revolution a year later,

when the Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin discovered a copy of the treaty in the czar's imperial archives and published it, exposing the false

promise of Arab autonomy.

Today, nearly a century later, those arbitrary lines on a map and the countries they created are melting away as if they had only been a mirage,

with unforeseen consequences for years and perhaps decades to come.

Now this programming note: Christiane Amanpour will be modernizing a CNN town hall, "Hillary Clinton's Hard Choices." The former U.S. secretary of

state will be taking questions from Christiane, a studio audience and the American public with the no topic off limits. That starts at 10 pm here in

London, 11 pm in Berlin.

That's going to do it for our program tonight. I'm Hala Gorani and goodbye from London.