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Assessing Iraqi Military Strength; Promise To Send Up To 300 Military Advisors; Syria Blamed For Launching Air Strikes; Horrific Scenes In Al Qaim; Al Maliki Rejects Idea Of Emergency Government; Possible Three-State Solution In Iraq; Three-State Solution; Democrats Help a Republican Win; Yesterday's Elections

Aired June 25, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, the crisis in Iraq becoming more complex as Syria seems to be getting directly involved. Its warplanes accused of striking targets in western Iraq and killing Iraqi civilians.

While in Baghdad, Iraq's prime minister takes a rather defiant stand, rejecting U.S. calls for a more inclusive government, one that might not include him.

And right now, the primary results are in. This time around, mainstream Republicans trumped the Tea Party. But the race everyone is talking about is in Mississippi. Did a six-term senator win? His accuser says he was selling out.

And right now, the House speaker, John Boehner, says he'll sue President Obama over his executive orders. Is that even legal?

Hello, I'm whole Blitzer reporting from Washington. We begin with Iraq and the first wave of U.S. military advisers getting ready to work today. They'll start making assessments on Iraqi military strength and the movements of militant fighters north of Baghdad.

Last week, President Obama promised to send as many as 300 advisors military advisors, to Iraq. Meanwhile, the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Al Maliki, addressed the nation today, telling the Iraqi people the new parliament would help form a coalition government. But he firmly rejected calls for an immediate emergency government.


NURI AL MALIKI, PRIME MINISTER, IRAQ: (translator): It is no secret to all Iraqis the dangerous goal behind the call for the formation of a national salvation government as they call it. It is simply an attempt by those who rebel against the constitution to end the young Democratic process and confiscate the opinions of the voters and circumvent the constitutional merits. The call for the formation of a national salvation government is a coup against the constitution and the political process.


BLITZER: And in western Iraq, Syria's now being blamed for launching air strikes in the Anbar Province near the Iraq-Syria border. Officials there are saying more than 50 Iraqi civilians, including a lot of women and children, were killed.

For more on those Syrian air strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq, let's bring in our Senior International Correspondent Arwa Damon. She's joining us from Erbil in northern Iraq. Arwa, what can you tell us about this Syrian attack inside Iraq?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, CNN spoke to the head of the Anbar governing council, the provincial council, who said that the Syrian air force struck at least three locations inside Iraq. All of them along the Iraqi-Syrian border. The vast majority of casualties were civilians.

We spoke to an eyewitness, a resident of one of those areas, the town of Al Qaim. He describes how he says they saw the first plane flying overhead. They were very surprised because they had been watching air strikes happening on the Syrian side of the border for a few days. Very surprised when that plane, he says, flew over into Iraqi airspace, launching one attack. The first, he says, struck an area where refugees from the Iraqi city of Fallujah had fled to. The second air strike happening inside a fairly busy marketplace.

Now, all of this is also interesting, Wolf, because the Syrian government, for quite some time now, has known exactly where ISIS positions inside Syria have been, and yet for the last few months, its response to them is actions against those ISIS positions within its own borders has been fairly negligible.

What we have been seeing, over the last week, is an intensified effort by the Syrian regime to launch multiple air strikes against ISIS strongholds, especially focusing on their headquarters, and that is the city of Rukka. All of this coming about, perhaps, because of the strength that ISIS has been garnering inside Iraq, concerns, perhaps, with all the military equipment that ISIS has reportedly been moving into the Syrian battlefield. But it seems what we're seeing right now is the interconnectivity of these two battlefields growing even more.

What we are unclear of, at this stage, is how much coordination there has been between Damascus and Baghdad when it comes to these most recent air strikes. But, again, we are seeing the seemingly intensified effort by the Assad regime to go after ISIS targets inside Syria, but also across the border in Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Arwa, the reaction among Iraqis to this -- these reports that as many as 50 Iraqi civilians were killed, women and children, and many, many more were injured in these Syrian air strikes. There must be outrage.

DAMON: There is outrage, Wolf. There is horror. There is desperation. This eyewitness I spoke to is someone who I've known for quite a few years, so we're not naming out of concerns for his own security. But he was describing how he went to the marketplace, and he would say, you know, you can't imagine what I saw there. There were women. There were children. Some of them were missing limbs. He then went on to the hospital in Al Qaim and described even more horrific scenes. In fact, he went so far as to say, and he knows this very well firsthand, that when the Americans would bomb Al Qaim (INAUDIBLE), but which they did on numerous occasions, he said that their strikes were much more targeted. This bombing by the Syrian regime, he described as being completely indiscriminate, seemingly a deliberate effort to target the civilian population -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pretty outrageous when you think about it. All right, thanks very much, Arwa, for that.

Let's go back to the comments now by the prime minister, Nuri Al Maliki. Apparently, rejecting any notion of an emergency government in Baghdad.

Let's bring in our Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson. He's in the Iraqi capital. Nic, the secretary of state, John Kerry, was there earlier this week. He had intensive talks with Nuri Al Maliki about creating some sort of more unified government. So, here is the question, is this a direct rebuff from Nuri Al Maliki to John Kerry?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's certainly repositioning the prime minister a little bit here. I mean, the government of national salvation is a little bit different to saying what he said to the secretary of state, John Kerry, that he was committed to forming, along constitutional lines, a government of unity that respected the aspirations of all Iraqis. What he is pushing off is saying that he doesn't want, you know, an emergency government to be put in place, which some people are calling for. And he says that's effectively a cure against the constitution.

But it -- but more broadly, he wasn't striking a very conciliatory tone. He was going back to what he's been saying over the past couple of weeks that the rise and the movement of ISIS here has been part of a conspiracy by not only the Sunnis, he didn't say it directly, and the Kurds, because he thinks they conspired with ISIS to allow them to move so quickly across the country.

So, it's not the kind of reach-out across the sectarian and ethnic divide that really the secretary of state, John Kerry, had hoped for. What he might have hoped was some words from the prime minister saying that, you know, we need to work across all boundaries. You know, I'm ready to reach out. You know, we're ready to make compromises. But that wasn't the language today. It still had very sectarian overtones -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, the new Iraqi parliament is supposed to convene, what, July 1st. Basically, where do we go from here?

ROBERTSON: Yes, you have July 1st it convenes. They determine who will be the speaker. Then the constitution says 30 days to nominate a president. Then 15 days to nominate a prime minister. And then, another 30 days for that prime minister. Then that prime minister has to form a government. However, having said that, it could be done faster. But the track record here, is in Iraq, that it can take months and months and months, go way beyond what the constitution allows. You know, and what secretary of state, Kerry, made very clear that there is an immediate threat, an existential threat to Iraq, and the politicians have to grasp that issue now.

Every day that ISIS gets a chance in Iraq to get stronger, it's going to be so much harder to force them out. That's the threat and the danger. And, again, the language from the prime minister didn't really encourage anyone to believe that that sort of thing was going to happen quickly -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There were not a whole lot of high expectations to begin with as far as Nuri Al Maliki is concerned. Nic, thanks very much. Nic Robertson in Baghdad.

Last week, President Obama announced that as many as 300 U.S. military advisers would be heading to Iraq. Right now, the first wave of those advisers, that wave getting ready to start some work. Let's bring in our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr. What's the latest? These military advisers, I assume they all wear boots. They are on the ground. What are they doing?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, about 130 of them on the ground, about another 50 on their way in in the coming days. Their first job will be to assess. Assess Iraqi forces. Assess the ISIS forces. See what everybody's got, what the state of play is on the ground, the strengths and weaknesses on both sides and report back to the Pentagon. The idea is that they will determine what the U.S. might be able to do to help the Iraqis get back in the fight.

But if you want to assess is, that assessment pretty much is already done. According to the U.S. intelligence community, the fighters, there are about 10,000 of them now, Wolf, across the borders, between Syria and Iraq. You heard Arwa talking about how we're seeing the air strikes across the border. Maybe about 7,000 ISIS on the Syrian side still, 3,000 on the Iraqi side. What the big concern is, for these U.S. military advisers, is to get a sense of the situation in Baghdad. Could ISIS make that run for Baghdad? Do they have the manpower and the weapons to do it?

Right now, they are very stretched out across northern and western Iraq. But the goal is -- the military goal right now is to certainly make sure they can't get to Baghdad -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much. Barbara is at the Pentagon watching what's going on.

So, U.S. officials certainly would like to see Iraq moving toward a more inclusive government but there are a lot of experts out there who think that is no longer possible, in fact some are suggesting a partition or dividing Iraq would be even more sustainable in the long run. We'll take a look at the possibility of a so-called three-state solution. And later, the establishment strikes back. This sequel, mainstream Republicans win some high-profile races. What that means for the crucial mid-term elections in November and beyond.


BLITZER: The U.S. has called for Iraq to adopt a more inclusive government, although the future may be better suited, a lot of experts think, for a permanent division of Iraq.

Brian Todd is here, he's here in Washington. Brian, we heard a lot about what they're calling a three-state solution, back in 2003, after coalition forces went into Iraq, toppled Saddam Hussein. So, is that back in discussion right now?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's being discussed, Wolf, for the first time in almost a decade. You know, the reality on the ground now in Iraq, as we all know now, is as bad as it's ever been. ISIS militants are advancing. The Iraqi military, in many areas up here in the north, has collapsed and retreated. You've got a sectarian war brewing.

Now, with all of this, some media reports reviving that idea put out there almost a decade ago of dividing Iraq into three regions. It would be the Shia region here in the southeast, probably divided somewhere in here where the mixed Sunni-Shia region is in the southeast. You've got the Sunni region here in the west. And the Kurdish region here in the north.

Now, that's kind of close to how the country is divided right now. The most popular idea would be to make each region semiautonomous. That means they'd each be responsible for their own internal laws, their internal security, but a central Iraqi government in Baghdad would control the borders, would control foreign policy, would divide oil revenues between each of the three regions. That idea was proposed back in 2006 at the height of the insurgency when so many U.S. troops were dying trying to keep the sectarian tensions down. The main proponents of the idea, then Senator Joe Biden, who was preparing a run for president, along with former U.S. Ambassador Peter Galbraith, who is now an adviser to the Kurds.

We called the vice president's office today to see if he'd comment on this idea. As it stands now, we've not heard back from the vice president's office. We assume that Mr. Biden is not straying from the Obama administration's position that each of these three groups should be unified, as part of a unified government in Iraq, and that this should not be divided, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: As you know, Brian, the Kurdish region up north of Iraq already has proven to be extremely capable of handling its military, economic affairs on its own. For all practical purposes right now, especially since it's taken over the oil-rich town of Kirkuk, it looks like an almost independent Kurdistan has already developed.

TODD: That's right. And of the three groups, Wolf, it is functioning the most as an independent state. It's got a well-trained, well- disciplined military force called the Peshmerga. That force has been able to hold parts of Mosul where the Iraqi army was not able to do that. ISIS militants have not clashed seriously yet with those Kurdish forces. And the Kurdish troop, as you mentioned, they've been able to capture the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. It's also in the north. They've been able to develop their own oil resources over the past decade anyway, even before all this started. Some experts believe it's only a matter of time before this Kurdish region becomes independent on its own as a nation.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thanks very much.

Just ahead this hour, we'll have more on Iraq, but also other news, including this, can police search your cell phone without a warrant? A ruling today from the U.S. Supreme Court answers that question. And we have details of the court's unanimous decision on a major cases about privacy.

Also coming up, they call him the lion of Harlem. Congressman Charlie Rangel declares victory in a very tight race. We'll recap the marquee political matchups. We'll take a closer look ahead to November.


BLITZER: You could call it the establishment strikes back again. Mainstream Republicans won big in the latest primary and runoff elections. We're taking a closer look at what all this means going forward. But first, a recap of some of the marquee races.

In Mississippi, six-term Republican Senator Thad Cochran survived a strong Tea Party challenge. Cochran got help from some Democrats, African-American voters, in his win over Chris McDaniel. In New York, Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel, he's celebrating today after another close call. Rangel's opponent, though, the state senator, Adriano Espaillat, is not ready to succeed, at least not yet. In Oklahoma, endorsements from Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz were not enough to help former State House Speaker T.W. Shannon. And the help he got from outside conservative groups actually may have backfired. Representative James Lankford easily defeated Shannon in the Republican Senate primary.

We may not have heard the last word from the bitter Republican Senate runoff in Mississippi. The Tea Party candidate, Chris McDaniel, he's hinting at a possible court challenge. After his loss to Senator Thad Cochran, McDaniel said he wanted to make sure, quote, "the sanctity of the vote was upheld," and he blasted Cochran for courting Democrats. Our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash has more on the race.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, voter turnout is usually way down in runoffs, but not here. This has been such a high-profile, nasty and bizarre Republican fight, people were fired up. Sixty thousand more voters turned out in the runoff than in primary day three weeks ago. That's in part because Cochran supporters aggressively tried to get out Democrats to support him, much to the chagrin of his conservative challenger.


CHRIS MCDANIEL, MISSISSIPPI STATE SENATE: So much for bold colors. So much for principle.

BASH (voice-over): A nasty finish to a tough race. Mississippi Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel with a not so conciliatory speech after losing in a close race to incumbent Senator Thad Cochran.

MCDANIEL: There is something a bit strange, there is something a bit unusual about a Republican primary that's decided by liberal Democrats.

SEN. THAD COCHRAN (R), MISSISSIPPI: Thank you all for being here to help celebrate a great victory. This is your victory.

BASH: Cochran, who trailed McDaniel in the Republican primary June 3rd, spent the past three weeks courting voters outside the GOP base, including African-Americans, pointing to federal funds he secured throughout his 36 years in the Senate.

BASH (on camera): And to those who say, you know what, you have been re-elected time and time again, your opponent says it's just too much, you've been there too long?

COCHRAN: Well, I'm the choice the people have made, freely and openly.

BASH (voice-over): In the largely African-American precinct we visited, turnout was up three times what it was for the primary, and it was higher elsewhere.

BASH (on camera): Who did you vote for?


BASH: Have you ever voted in a Republican primary before?


MCDANIEL: I guess they can take some consolation in the fact that they did something tonight by once again compromising, by once again reaching across the aisle, by once again abandoning the conservative movement.

BASH (voice-over): Conservative and African-American groups both sent observers to the poll, fearing impropriety from the other side, which did not materialize. In the end, it was just over 6,000 votes that separated the two.

COCHRAN: We all have a right to be proud of our state tonight. Thank you very much.


BASH: McDaniel talked about voter irregularities and refused to concede the race, making it abundantly clear he's seriously considering challenging this in court. Now whether he has a case, that remain to be seen, but it would make this nasty and bizarre Republican fight last even longer.


BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much. He is very bitter and angry right now.

Other races we're following, they call them the lion of Harlem. The Democratic congressman, Charlie Rangel, came roaring back. He's claiming victory over the challenger Adriano Espaillat. Rangel has served in the House of Representatives for almost 44 years. He says this election will be his last and his focus is on his constituents.


REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: This was your victory. This is your congressman. And you can rest assured all I will be doing is thinking about you and bringing these resources home.


BLITZER: While Rangel was certainly celebrating, his opponent was not yet ready to give up.


ADRIANO ESPAILLAT (D), (ph): We think it is prudent to wait for the final results before we make any announcement. But I do want to thank all of you for the efforts that you put into this race. This is an historic race and one that we should all be proud of.


BLITZER: This is the second showdown between these two. Espaillat came within 1,100 votes of beating Rangel two years ago.

Let's get some perspective on these election results, what they mean for the road ahead. Joining us, our chief political analyst Gloria Borger, along with Mark Preston, CNN politics executive editor.

Let's go back to Mississippi, Gloria.


BLITZER: You saw how McDaniel, angry, bitter.

BORGER: Furious.

BLITZER: He's not conciliatory at all. No congratulatory phone call. He wants to fight this.

BORGER: Yes. Well, he believes he was robbed. And he believes that if it were just the Republicans who had been counted, that he would have won. And I think he's probably right about that. But what Cochran did and his organization with a lot of money and a lot of state-wide clout -- don't forget, former Governor Haley Barbour was helping him out -- they organized these crossover voters who were allowed to vote in the Republican primary, particularly in African-American communities, and that made the difference. And, as you saw him say, you know, they crossed the aisle, how dare they, that's terrible. And he may want to challenge it, but he'd have to find some fraud, right? I mean he couldn't just sort of say, recount.

BLITZER: There's no automatic recount, no, in Mississippi.

BORGER: There is no recount, right.

BLITZER: You got to go to court.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: You've got to find a legal challenge in order to make that. I don't know if he's going to do that, but we'll see if he does.

You know, a lot of the experts, after Eric Cantor lost to his Tea Party challenger, just assumed that Thad Cochran was going to lose just like Eric Cantor did. That didn't happen.

MARK PRESTON, CNN EXECUTIVE EDITOR, POLITICS: No, it didn't happen. And, in fact, I was one of the people who assumed Thad Cochran was going to lose. And I think a lot of people did in this town.

You know, what's interesting about the tea party is that we thought the Tea Party was left for dead, at least for this election cycle, before the Eric Cantor loss. And then we thought perhaps that that would boomerang into a victory for Chris McDaniel down in Mississippi.

But what's really interesting about this is that it was just a few years ago that the establishment seemed to be afraid to take the Tea Party on. They were trying to co-op the Tea Party in some way. But this election cycle we've seen the likes of the Chamber of Commerce, we've seen the likes of Haley Barbour down in Mississippi come together and say, we're going to fight back because we don't want you to take over our party.

BORGER: You know, in 2010, the Republicans believed they lost about a half dozen seat because they had unqualified challengers representing the Tea Party who lost to Democrats. They didn't want to see history repeat itself. So, Cochran's race became kind of a proxy battle for the fight within the Republican Party. And there was a ton of money and all kinds of resources on the ground that were put into it.

BLITZER: You surprised that Charlie Rangel eked out this victory?

PRESTON: I know he's a survivor, right? I mean it was only a couple of years ago where he was censured by the House, which is very rare, and he fought back. And, look, back in 2012, he barely won by 1,100 votes. It's just a little more this time around. But Charlie Rangel's a fighter and clearly he -- the machine wins, right, the machine wins.

BORGER: Now, he - the -- in the Charlie Rangel race, Barack Obama stayed out of it. Just remember that Charlie Rangel endorsed Hillary Clinton early on in her campaign. And then after he had his ethics problems, he remembered he was censured on the floor, stripped of his chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Obama said that he ought -- that Rangel ought to retire with dignity. So while the president did not come out and endorse his opponent, he was really, really absent from this race.

BLITZER: He didn't endorse Rangel either.

BORGER: Right. But if he had endorsed Rangel's opponent, I think it might have made a big difference in this district.

PRESTON: It could have been a little different. I mean this was only a couple thousand votes that separated them.

BORGER: Yes, it might have.

BLITZER: Not many but enough -


BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: For Charlie Rangel to at least get another term. But they - he says this is the last time he's running.

All right, guys, thanks very much.

Still to come, the House speaker, John Boehner, now says he will sue -- sue President Obama for not doing his job. Can Congress really sue a sitting president and make it stick?

Also coming up, the U.S. Supreme Court hands down a number of high- profile rulings, including preventing police from searching mobile devices without a warrant.