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Militants Seize Four More Iraqi Towns; Kerry Arrives In Cairo For Iraq Talks; Is ISIS Closing In On Baghdad?; U.S. Team Faces World Cup Test; Boaters Rescued After Drifting Overnight

Aired June 22, 2014 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What ISIS has been able to do now is to take control of the whole valley, from that border crossing all the way to the western outskirts of Baghdad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was amazed they lasted that long in the water. I never seen something like that before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe God put us there to save them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a face now to those people who made that sacrifice 53 years ago. They are my heroes.


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: You're still in the middle of your weekend so don't worry about it when the alarm goes off this morning. I'm Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. It's 6:00 here on the east coast. This is NEW DAY SUNDAY.

First up this morning, Islamist militants have tightened their grip on Iraq seizing a strategic border crossing in three other towns in the country's tenuous west.

PAUL: The four nearly captured towns include Al-Qaim, a critical gateway to Iraq along its border with Syria. Now the towns also line a main highway as you can see here. They connect Syria to Baghdad. That heightens the chance for militants to march in the west to go to the Iraqi capital.

BLACKWELL: Now the big headline purportedly this video shows fighters with the group Islamic State in Syria, Iraq and Syria, ISIS, laying claim to the border town as some residents hailed their arrival.

PAUL: In the meantime, thousands of Shiites did heed a call we're told by the powerful Iraqi cleric to rise up in a show of force against the ISIS militants.

BLACKWELL: And less than two hours ago, Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Cairo, his first stop on a swing through the region including Iraq to try to defuse the sectarian bloodshed. Just as the first at least of some of the 300 U.S. military advisers are due to arrive in Iraq.

PAUL: Iraqi officials say several Sunni tribes are supporting ISIS in the west. The latest town to fall to the militants is just 62 miles outside Baghdad.

BLACKWELL: Nima Elbagir joins us from the Iraqi capital. Nima, how is the city reacting to the news that reportedly these militants are getting closer?

NIMA ELGAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As you can imagine, it is extraordinarily tense here. We've now had confirmed to us by Iraqi officials over 70 percent of that Western Anbar Province that borders between Iraq and Syria, is now under ISIS control. They have most of the Euphrates (ph) River Valley in their hold and that gives them avenues to reinforce, that gives them avenues to move troops and assets.

And they have now Iraqi officials told us set their sights even closer to Baghdad, they are now looking at the Sunni areas right on the outskirts of the capital like Abu Ghraib where the infamous prison was. The push just feels like the momentum is picking back up. That's one of the things that's worrying Secretary of State John Kerry -- Victor.

PAUL: Nima, we know that Secretary of State John Kerry is in the region, do we have any indication what the governments in Baghdad and elsewhere in that region are expecting from him?

ELBAGIR: Well, we've had clearly from President Obama that he wants an inclusive government and what people are reading between the lines of that here is that Al Maliki's government has not been inclusive and many of the Shia complaints are what has given rise to a lot of support from the Sunni tribes. Many of the Sunni complaints I should say, has been what's given rise to the support that ISIS is enjoying from amongst the Sunni tribes.

So the concern is that it can't just be business as usual. Whatever it is the U.S. does to try and hold back the floodgates of ISIS, will that be bolstering a government that has proven that it can't move Iraq into the new stage, can that be the government -- the government that is overseeing much of this Sunni gaining of ground, is that the government that can take Iraq into the next stage?

That's what U.S. officials need to figure out now, Christi, what happens on the ground when those U.S. military advisers finally arrive here.

PAUL: All right, Nima Elbagir, thank you so much, Nima, for keeping us up to date on what's happening there. Appreciate it.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk more about this trip of Secretary of State John Kerry, again, now in Cairo, just arrived two hours ago. First up on a diplomatic mission of trying to calm this crisis in the region in Iraq there.

PAUL: Chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto is traveling with Secretary Kerry. He joins us now by phone. Jim, what is Kerry's goal, first of all, in Egypt?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): In Egypt, you have a new president elected, which is General Sisi and it's the first senior American official to visit him after that election. And you have a lot of problems. They acknowledge it's a difficult transition, you remember that they had this mass trial where they sentenced hundreds of members of the Muslim Brotherhood to death in two hours, a trial that no one says followed due process.

So clearly a challenge there. Also they have imprisoned a number of journalists as well and Secretary Kerry and other U.S. officials say these are two key areas of concern. But at the same time they say that Egypt is a strategic partner. They want to keep this relationship going. They have shared interests.

And as always with this country, that balance between trying to push them to a more democratic government at the same time is trying to keep them on the same side with peace with Israel, and with a shared threat from terrorism.

BLACKWELL: Jim, President Obama has said that Iraq has to settle this issue, the sectarian disputes, of course, itself and that it's a political solution and the U.S. can't fix the problems. Secretary Kerry plans to travel to Iraq soon. That's got to be a difficult line to walk, to support reconciliation, I mean is he going to also pressure Maliki to resign?

SCIUTTO: No. U.S. officials say the focus now is on one action stabilizing the country, in this fight against ISIS, but two, providing political space for a more inclusive government. They say that Maliki has not brought an inclusive government, they want him to do so, but they are not saying they are pushing him out or making that a requirement for U.S. help in pushing back against ISIS.

But what they say is your immediate threat is from ISIS, it is a horrible terrorist group. It has territory. It's got money. It's got weapons, it's got -- it's battle hardened from fighting in Syria. This is spilling across from Syria. And this is threatening to tear the country apart.

So, they say the first priority is getting all sides on the same page, the Sunni, the Shia, the Kurds in Iraq, to fight ISIS, and at the same time find political agreement and I'll tell you though, the situation is so bad on the ground right now in Iraq, it's difficult to imagine how you make reasonable political compromise in that environment.

On the other hand, fear could be a good driver here because all these groups are equally fearful of ISIS' advance.

BLACKWELL: All right, Jim Sciutto traveling with the secretary of state. Jim Sciutto, thank you very much. Stand by, we'll talk with you later throughout the morning. As we said ISIS militants are closing in it appears on Baghdad. Four key towns between the Syrian border and the capital have fallen into the hands of militants just this weekend.

PAUL: I want to show you this map again so you get a really good gauge of what we're talking about because this opens up a path for fighters from ISIS in Syria to get to the outskirts of Baghdad now. I want to give you a time table here, in less than four hours.

Let's bring in Lieutenant Colonel Bob Maginnis. Bob, thank you so much for being with us. So I know Baghdad seems to be partly surrounded at this point. From a tactical standpoint, how much in danger is Baghdad right now and how do they -- do they have enough, do you think, to fend off ISIS and the Sunnis that they teamed up with?

LT. COL. ROBERT MAGINNIS, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): I think they have enough to fend them off. After all, if you were watching Baghdad yesterday, you saw that a lot of the militias as a result of the Ayatollah Sistani calling out a mobilization they have many thousands of people augmenting the army, and as a result I think Baghdad for the most part, not outskirts but Baghdad proper, is fairly secure for right now.

BLACKWELL: So you said that after the Ayatollah Sistani called for so many Shia to join forces and protect the capital, there is now this blurred line between Iraqi forces, the official army, and the Shia militias. Does that complicate the American support for the official army?

MAGINNIS: No. There's no doubt, Victor, that it's complicating and in fact, Sadder himself who runs the Mahdi Army says that Americans that may join to assist are fair targets. The old animosities that came from our occupation have not gone away. This is a very complex arena. Hopefully Maliki and his army officials will protect our people who are embedded there.

Primarily as President Obama said, to kind of assess the army, to prepare perhaps airstrikes in the future. But certainly to bring stability and it's a very complex and very tight wire that we're walking here.

PAUL: We know ISIS militants want to create this Islamic caliphate in Syria and Iraq. In Iraq, they have the support of the Sunnis right now, but the Sunnis' goal isn't necessarily the same goal as ISIS. So my question is how long will these two groups work together or support each other because right now it seems to be a matter of convenience.

MAGINNIS: Great question. The reality is that the Sunnis are doing this because they have been alienated by Maliki and company. So should ISIS move in, and not rule very well, in other words, antagonize, you know, marginalize the Sunnis, then you'll find that the Sunnis are going to try to find accommodation elsewhere.

And in fact, there's already been indications that Maliki has reached out once again to the Sunni population to try to reel them back in. They don't you know, Iraq does not benefit by having a three-part Iraq in the future. ISIS needs to go, but Maliki has as Jim pointed out from Cairo, some very difficult ways ahead trying to divide things up. So, we'll have to wait and see. BLACKWELL: All right, Colonel Maginnis, so good to have you with us this morning and help us explain this.

PAUL: Thank you, sir.

BLACKWELL: CNN will have more on the American response to the Iraq crisis at 9:00 a.m. Eastern on "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley with guest Senator Rand Paul and Senator Dianne Feinstein. Turning to Brazil, get ready for World Cup USA.

PAUL: All eyes on the game, folks. Tonight, the U.S. trying to pull it off again. This time against Portugal. We'll have a preview for you. My gosh, this story from the sea. People, you're not going to believe. A man and woman rescued off the coast of Florida. They tread water for 14 hours.


PAUL: The music gets you every time. Somebody tweeted asking me what the song was and I can't find it.

BLACKWELL: It's good music, but there's a lot like it.

PAUL: It gets you going. We're talking about Team USA, people, facing off tonight with Portugal for their second World Cup match.

BLACKWELL: Here's the thing. Both teams will face another pair of opponents. The heat and humidity of the Brazilian rain forest. CNN's Lara Baldesarra has more for us -- Lara.

LARA BALDESARRA, CNN SPORTS: Good morning, Christi and victor. I'm ready. The United States getting ready for every team wanted to avoid, it's not because of who they play, but where they play.


BALDESARRA (voice-over): The U.S. faces Portugal in Manaus, the only Brazilian host city in the amazon rain forest, which means not just playing in the high heat, which averages 88 degrees in June, but playing in the deep humidity, which can make it feel hard to breathe for anyone let alone a soccer player running for 90 minutes.

KYLE BECKERMAN, U.S. MIDFIELDER: It's probably similar to Houston, Dallas, Midwest, East Coast in the summer. So, hopefully when we get there it won't be as shocking as it has been to some other teams.

GEOFF CAMERON, U.S. DEFENDER: I think the heat plays for both teams so you can wash that out.

BALDESARRA: Either way it will be a physically grueling match for both teams with fitness levels and conditioning certain to play a role in which side has the edge. For the U.S., they'll have to do without their striker, Jozy Altidore, who is out with hamstring injury. It is a pretty big loss. Altidore was expected to be a key goal scorer.

JURGEN KLINSMANN, U.S. HEAD COACH: We have to hope that Jozy will be back. How quickly that is down to his healing process.

BALDESARRA: No matter which striker chooses defense will be key. Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to play for Portugal despite a knee injury. Ronaldo is Ronaldo and this guy can score from anywhere.

BECKERMAN: You lose a ball and the next thing it's in the back of the neck. That's how dangerous he is. So we're going to have to be aware of him at all times.

ALEJANDRO BEDOYA, U.S. MIDFIELDER: We're trying to go out and win that game and then we don't have to think about anything.

BALDESARRA: U.S. fans are turning out in record numbers to support this team in America as well as in Brazil and the players, they are feeding off of this energy.

BECKERMAN: Any time we get on the field it's all about making them proud of us. Win, lose or draw it's all about them being seem with good spirit, commitment, and that you know, American fight.


BALDESARRA: The U.S. fans certainly have been proud of the squad. The original expectation was just to get a draw against Ghana. Now expect these fans to be even more excited inside and outside of the stadium. And Christi and Victor, I don't doubt you'll be in red, white and blue on Sunday night.

PAUL: I'm in the red and white now. Lara Baldesarra at the World Cup in Brazil, thank you.

BLACKWELL: U.S. Women's national soccer team goalie, Hope Solo, is in jail this morning. She's been held without bail on domestic violence charges. Solo was arrested in Seattle after allegedly assaulting her sister and 17-year-old nephew. Police say Solo was quote, "intoxicated and upset." She is due to appear in court tomorrow.

PAUL: See the man and woman here on the boat. Well, they weren't on a boat for a very long time. They were treading water off the coast of Florida for 14 hours to survive. We're going to tell you what happened.


PAUL: For all of our friends waking up in Northern Illinois, we are so sorry that you are probably seeing some of this. Slammed by thunderstorms yesterday, sparking flash floods in several parts of the state. Hope you're OK.

BLACKWELL: The storm damaged buildings, knocked down trees and power lines. Unfortunately, the threat is not over. Karen Maginnis here with the forecast. What are they looking at?

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Let's show you last night with the big cluster of storms, there is that cell that moved across Chicago, 1 to 3 inches of rainfall, boy, did it blow up during the afternoon. They were looking at tornado warnings, but they saw the severe storms. Just as powerful and this morning we're expecting pretty big storms to blast the Midwest again.

And in Omaha, you've seen about 9 inches of rainfall for the month already. You should see about three but this morning watch out. Big thunderstorms could knock out power, could see heavy downpours and potential for hail. Back to you guys.

BLACKWELL: All right, Karen, thank you so much.

PAUL: Let's talk about this Florida couple, shall we?

BLACKWELL: It's amazing.

PAUL: They fell off their boat, apparently. Then they floated at sea for 14 hours without flotation devices.

BLACKWELL: But thankfully a group of friends on a fishing trip were in the right place at the right time.


PAUL (voice-over): Imagine drifting for 14 hours in the Atlantic Ocean, through the night without any life jackets, treading water the entire time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very distraught, tired, you can tell they have been in the water a long time.

PAUL: Shaun McGovern and Melissa Morris are so lucky to be alive this morning after being rescued by some off-duty public safety officers off the coast of South Florida.

STEVE COOCH, RESCUER: The female when we brought her on board her legs were cramped. She couldn't move them. We had to lift her out of the water. The male Shawn said he ran into about three or four jellyfish stings during the course of the evening.

PAUL: The Brower County Sheriff's Office says the couple fell off their boat in Key Largo, then watched the boat which was in gear, just pull away. They drifted up the coast, finally being spotted seven miles off Hollandale Beach by some fishermen who happened to include Broward County safety officials. The two of them who didn't want their faces shown said they felt they were just at the right place at the right time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another 30 minutes to an hour and probably wouldn't have the same outcome. They were in pretty bad shape, both cramping, very dehydrated, very tired. They appeared to be mildly hypothermic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thought they were bait fish. We got up close and once realized they were in trouble, we brought them on board.

(END VIDEOTAPE) PAUL: That's right. He said he thought they were bait fish. They went to something like this to happen in their neighborhood. It happened.

BLACKWELL: A plane falls out of the sky and look at this. Smashes into a home.

PAUL: We'll tell you more about that. Plus, the pope apparently goes after the Italian mafia. The strong language he used that's making headlines now.


PAUL: Don't even have to look at the clock. It's 29 minutes past the hour. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Welcome to your Sunday. Five things you need to know for your NEW DAY.

PAUL: Number one, Islamic militants have captured four more towns including a crossing at the Syrian border.