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ISIS Persecuting Christians, Other Religious Minorities; Who Are the Yazidis; Will Israel/Hamas Cease-Fire Be Extended; Pope Calls for Protection as U.S. Contemplates Military Action in Iraq; CDC Director to Testify on Capitol Hill on Ebola Threat

Aired August 7, 2014 - 13:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: What else are you learning, Elise? Because this is potentially a real calamity. If those 40,000 Yazidis stranded on that mountain are slaughtered or die from starvation, the world will be watching right now. Not only them, but tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians, many of them have already fled because of the persecution, but now they are endangered. Iraqi Shiites are endangered. The central government of Nouri al Maliki, that military doing virtually nothing to protect these people in Iraq. What are you hearing at the State Department?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, obviously, this is something that they need to deal with right away. When you heard Josh Earnest say Iraq has a lot of problems, this one is particularly acute. The administration has been very reluctant to get involved in the Iraqi government sorted out its political chaos. As you know, the Iraqis still have to have a prime minister. They still have to have a government that can make decisions, a cabinet. They have made some progress on a president, on a speaker of parliament. But what earnest was saying is that the work remains to get some of these political reforms, that anything the U.S. has to do, they want that to be hand in hand with this. But they know that this is an immediate crisis.

Wolf, this is going to take the kind of quick, decisive action that really has not been a hallmark of this administration, whether it be on Iraq or some of the other myriad of foreign policy issues that we've seen. They need to act quick. And I think that's the recognition in the administration that they don't want to go whole-hog in Iraq right now, but clearly these Yazidis and other minorities need help.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about that, Elise. Stand by.

Athena, stand by as well.

As you know, one of the groups being targeted by these ISIS militants in Iraq, this group is called the Yazidis. Who are the Yazidis?

Our Michael Holmes has more now on their fight for survival.


(EXPLOSION) MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Islamic State militants have wreaked havoc across Iraq, leaving many Iraqis dead, others displaced, and religious minorities, like the Yazidi, begging for help.


HOLMES: The Yazidi are descendants of Kurds but consider themselves distinct. They follow an ancient religion derived from Zoroastrianism, making them an especially vulnerable target of Islamic State militants, forcing Islam or death throughout the areas it overtakes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translation): We heard sounds of mortars. And in the morning the Islamic militants entered Sinjar. We fled to the mountains and those who stayed there are now suffering from thirst. They have no water. They also took the girls and raped them. They say the Yazidis have to be converted to Islam.

HOLMES: Their plight doesn't stop there. The thousands who fled to the neighboring mountains are now stranded without food or water in the summer heat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): They have blocked the road to the mountains and the road down the mountains. There is no water, and people are now dying from thirst. Children are dying and are being buried under the rocks.

HOLMES: With no relief in sight, the Yazidi hope their plea for help does not fall on deaf ears.

Michael Holmes, CNN, Atlanta.


BLITZER: It's a real international crisis unfolding in northern Iraq right now. We'll have much more on what's going on. What can the United States do? What should the United States do? Our own Gloria Borger is here. She's got some thoughts on that.

Also, with the clock clearly running out on that cease-fire in Gaza, we're going to take a closer look at what's being discussed in those peace talks in Cairo. Can the three-day cease-fire -- we're only hours away from ending -- can it be extended? The stakes there are enormous.


BLITZER: Let's get back to the breaking news. The U.S. is now considering what are being described as various military options to help minorities who are trapped in Iraq right now: Iraqi Christians, Yazidis, other minority groups, Iraqi Shiites. The ISIS terrorist organization taking over major, major parts of northern Iraq right now. And the Iraqi military, the military supported by the U.S. government over the past decade, largely trained by the U.S. military itself, basically MIA, missing in action, as these tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqi minorities are being threatened with extinction as we speak.

Gloria Borger is with us. She's our chief political analyst.

You know the president of the United States, he's going to be blamed by his Republican critics for this disaster that's unfolding in Iraq right now. They're going to say Mr. President, if you would have kept a residual U.S. Military presence in Iraq instead of pulling out all U.S. troops, maybe this wouldn't be happening.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And the president will respond by saying he couldn't get a guarantee of immunity for American troops, and they're going to respond by saying you should have done that.

Look, the --


BLITZER: You should have tried harder.

BORGER: You should have tried harder.

BLITZER: Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

BORGER: Exactly. You didn't try hard enough. And I think what you're seeing now, Wolf, is an administration that didn't want to do anything against ISIS until you saw a new government in Iraq. They were kind of biding their time. They wanted to see what was going to happen in Iraq. Maliki gone. And now this has really forced their hand, this humanitarian crisis. And the president's going to be put in a position which he's not used to, which is that he's going to have to be forced to do something.

I'm sure you'll hear from politics, particularly Lindsey Graham and John McCain, saying this is a humanitarian crisis, you need it address it, but you need to address it in a broader scope here rather than just a pinprick.

BLITZER: You heard Ivan Watson, our correspondent, there saying the last couple, three months, 1.5 million Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes because these ISIS terrorists, they came in from Syria. They've taken over major parts of northern Iraq.

BORGER: That's right.

BLITZER: They're even moving closer towards Baghdad. And the Iraqi military have not been able to deal with them.

BORGER: Not doing anything.

BLITZER: And the ISIS troops, basically forces, they've captured a lot of U.S.-supplied weaponry that the U.S. gave to the Iraqi military. The Iraqi military fled those warehouses. They abandoned those bases. And the ISIS militants or terrorists, whatever you want to call them, took that weaponry and are now slaughtering these minorities. BORGER: Right. And you can imagine the sort of exquisite irony for

this president, whose narrative has been he killed Osama bin Laden, withdrew from Iraq, Afghanistan, ended these wars, and now suddenly, he has to make this decision because he's up against a wall here. This is a serious humanitarian crisis, which, by the way, is not a surprise to anybody. And he's got to reassure Americans who don't want to put boots on the ground there anymore. So he's on their side with that, but he's got to do something for this humanitarian crisis. So he's got to reassure Americans we're not re-entering into any kind of military combat involvement. But we do need to do something.

Don't forget also, Wolf, this is a president, by my count, who has at least six front-burner, very important strategic foreign policy issues on his plate right now. And the problem he's got is that they're all interconnected. You know? He wants to get an Iranian nuclear deal. The Russians could help him with that, but he's fighting the Russians on Ukraine. So in ISIS, Iran might be of help to him, but he's got problems with them, major problems with them in other ways -- in Iraq, I mean. So I think, you know, this is a president that people are saying, wait a minute, isn't this spiraling a little bit out of control, and you've got to be in charge here.

BLITZER: Not only in Iraq. It's way out --


BORGER: Right. Right.


BLITZER: And the feeling is the same thing could happen in Afghanistan. It's already happening in Libya. The U.S. spent $1 billion launching tomahawk cruise missiles to get rid of Gadhafi. It was supposed to be peaceful and nice after that. Libya is falling apart, Iraq, we know what's going on in Syria.

BORGER: The president wasn't for, you know, the war in Iraq, obviously. That was one of the reasons he became president. So now imagine that he is now going to have to take some kind of action in Iraq, which he clearly, clearly has always wanted to avoid.

BLITZER: Yeah. All right, Gloria, thanks very much. We're going to stay on top of this story. We're going to see what's going on.

The other breaking news we're following is the cease-fire in Gaza. Will it be extended? We're getting important new information. We're going to Cairo when we come back.


BLITZER: Fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas now hanging in the balance. We're just a little bit more than 60 hours into the temporary 72-hour truce. So far there has been no breakthrough on efforts to extend it. But talks in Cairo are continuing. Egypt is acting as the intermediary between the Israeli and Palestinian delegations. The cease-fire expires less than 12 hours from now. Israel says it's willing to extend the truce. There has been some progress in the talks, but the circumstances are still very much unclear.

Let's go to Cairo. CNN's Reza Sayah is following all the latest developments.

So what are you hearing, Reza? I'm hearing that the Israelis are ready to extend the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas, the president, ready to extend, but Hamas, maybe not. What are you hearing?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That seems to be the sticking point at this hour, but the talks are continuing. And I suspect for a lot of these negotiators, it's getting to the nervous time because the clock is ticking. A little bit more than 11 hours to go before we reach 8:00 a.m. Friday morning. That, of course, is the official end of the cease-fire. So the tension, the suspense is building here in Cairo.

And one thing that's adding to the tension and the suspense are some comments made by some of the delegates here that could be perceived as provocative, as failed warnings, perhaps their ploy to pile on pressure. Among those comments, one coming from a senior Palestinian official who told CNN, if Israel doesn't respond to the demands of the Palestinian people, if Israel evades its responsibilities, the resistance can resume its activities. Now, this official didn't tell us that Hamas plans to start fighting again tomorrow morning, firing rockets. But when you hear a statement like that, it starts to get you thinking, you start wondering what's going to happen tomorrow morning if this cease-fire ends. And there is no agreement.

The Palestinian official telling us that they're meeting with Egyptians tonight to hear a response from are the Israelis. And depending on what that response is, Wolf, shortly after 10:00 p.m., and that's roughly an hour and a half from now, they may have an announcement. Again, the Palestinian delegation could have an announcement tonight.

BLITZER: Let's hope they announce the cease-fire as being extended. Israeli officials have already said to me, if rockets and missiles start coming in from Gaza tomorrow morning, 8:00 a.m. local time, back into Israel, they say that Hamas will be responsible for all the Palestinians who will die when the Israelis respond to those rockets and missiles. So this is an extremely tense moment right now.

Reza will stay very close.

Religious minorities being forced from their homes in Iraq right now. ISIS terrorists are moving in. We have new information on the other breaking news we're following. A humanitarian disaster unfolding, and tens of thousands of Christians, other religious minorities, are endangered as we speak right now.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news. BLITZER: Pope Francis now calling on the international community to

mobilize in Iraq to protect Christians and other religious minorities from being forced from their homes and eventually slaughtered by ISIS forces. The U.S. now contemplating what it described as some military options beyond air drops to help trap members of the Yazidi minority as well as tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians.

Our Arwa Damon has more on the plight of the Christians in light of the fire from the ISIS terrorists.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a dusty street corner in this Christian enclave of Bartilla, Yusuf and his friends try to pretend that things are normal, that ISIS fighters aren't potentially moments away from slaughtering them.

"We all have our bags ready. If anything happens, we'll leave," he says.

Mosul, the first city to fall to the terrorist group, is right next door.

(on camera): In 2005, there were a series of attacks against churches in Baghdad. And after that, the young men, the youth here, decided to band together and form their own civilian defense units. That's been going on pretty much of since. But neither efforts have really intensified. They don't want to spill their check points or other measures they have put into place, especially not with ISIS just a 10- minute drive away.

(voice-over): Most shops are closed. Their owners either fled or don't bother opening. Business is down, power is out. And not everyone can afford generators. It's a grim existence in a nation that has already suffered so much.

Oshaka's (ph) brother and sister were killed in an explosion in Baghdad in 2008.

"Her heart," she says, "sears with the pain of the past, and fear of the future."



Here is my son, every day he pulls a 12-hour guard duty," she tells us. "It's hard. It's very hard. If it stays like this, there won't be an Iraqi left in the country."

For most, there is little to do but wait. Outside the church, we meet these women.

"It's fine, what are they going to do, kill us," they try to joke.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) DAMON: "I might be the only girl left here. Everyone will go. But I will stay," 22-year-old Marriona says. "I won't leave my country."

Her mother remembers the days when they felt they had a future. But the moment there is a glimmer of hope in Iraq, it's stolen.

"I remember coming here when I was this big." Father Ben proudly points out the new renovations at his church. The granite archways and floor he always wanted to build.

"What are we supposed to do," he wonders. "This is our land, our church that our ancestors built. This evil can't continue a day will come when people will come to their senses."

A hope, a dream, in a country hijacked by violence few can understand.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Bartilla, Iraq.


BLITZER: We're going to stay on top of that story, a humanitarian crisis in Iraq right now.

Up next, the Ebola outbreak. The head of the CDC heads to Capitol Hill right now to testify about the biggest Ebola outbreak in history.


BLITZER: In just a few minutes, top health officials, including the head of the CDC, they are due to testify here in Washington on Capitol Hill about the threat posed by the deadly Ebola virus.

Let's go to Atlanta. Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is there.

The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee called back from recess to hold this emergency hearing. What do we expect to hear from the head of the CDC, Dr. Tom Frieden?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think there is going to be obviously an acknowledgment that this is the worst Ebola outbreak in history. We've never seen anything quite like this. But I think it's going to more specific questions about, you know, was it dealt with adequately initially? Were there any lapses? Were there any mistakes made? What were the factors that led it to become this very big outbreak?

I think there's also going to be questions, Wolf, about these two Americans who were medically evacuated out of Monrovia, Liberia, back to the United States and at Emory University Hospital. How does that work, exactly? Were there approvals necessary? What was the CDC's role in that?

And I think along those lines, as well, you know, Wolf we have talked about this experimental serum, this experimental treatment. It had never been used in a human being before. I don't know how much Dr. Frieden is going to say about that, but I think the specifics of what happened there exactly and what it means going forward, that these show some promise. And these are all potential questions he might get asked.

BLITZER: And huge, huge interest. People want to learn about this. Obviously, there is not only concern here in the United States, there is concern all over the world. And I anticipate a lot of these questions will be coming up.

Sanjay, you'll be back with us later today in "The Situation Room," as well. We'll have extensive coverage of this.

Also, Tom Frieden, the head of the CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he will be among my guests, 5:00 p.m. eastern later today in "The Situation Room."

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer, in Washington.

NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

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