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U.S. Continues Iraq Air Strikes, Humanitarian Aid Drops; CIA to Provide Arms to Kurdish Fighters; Interview with Kurdistan's Masrour Barzani; Peshmerga Fighters Rescue Iraq Religious Minorities.

Aired August 11, 2014 - 13:30   ET


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is what the Iraqis want at this point. That's one of the conditions the president has set for the U.S. being involved in this mission in northern Iraq.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Any indication we'll hear from the president today, see him?

ACOSTA: We won't see him today, but he does have a fundraiser here at Martha's Vineyard later on this evening. A Democratic Party fundraiser obviously. At that point, we will hear I guess what the president has to say through print pool reporters who will go in. We'll get a transcript of what he has to say. We'll all listen to see whether or not he responds to the criticism he got from Hillary Clinton over the weekend in "The Atlantic" magazine article as well as the situation happening in Iraq. Typically, what happens with these fundraisers, they're typically there to really get the Democratic grassroots geared up for these midterm elections. He'll tip off typically what those audiences want to hear. Not so much on the foreign policy end, but we'll wait and see. There's a big challenge for this president now while he's on vacation in Martha's Vineyard.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta. We'll stay in close touch with you.

I want to go to Barbara Starr, our Pentagon correspondent, right now.

Barbara, update our viewers on what the U.S. military has done so far today, as far as air strikes are concerned and as far as humanitarian air drops of food and water are concerned.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they're continuing with both tracks, both air strikes again ISIS positions and also the food drops.

You know, you look at these pictures that Ivan Watson has brought the world and you come to understand genocide is not a word. This is the face. Ivan Watson is bringing you the face of genocide unfolding on that mountain top in Iraq. And the Pentagon knows this full well. In fact, behind the scenes, you know, they're already looking at what more they could possibly do. The president on Saturday sort of in an almost aside before he left the White House talked about an international effort to get these people off this mountain.

But there's some very critical things in this video that tell us all what the military's situation is. The fact that this helicopter with the Peshmerga fighters had to shoot its way on to the mountain, grab these 20 people and shoot its way off this mountain tells you so much that ISIS is not down and out. ISIS still, despite the U.S. air strikes, despite 24-hour combat air patrol over this portion of Iraq, ISIS still posing a genocidal threat to these people. We know U.S. drones are flying over the mountain 24/7 to keep an eye on ISIS. I have no idea where they were when ISIS was able to fire at this helicopter on its way in and out. The air strikes continue. There have been air strikes against a small number of ISIS positions on Sinjar Mountain. The U.S. seems to think they have at least stalled ISIS in place, both on the mountain and down in Erbil. But these pictures clearly show us ISIS, again, far from stalled, far from down and out.

One of the things that is also happening, because the Peshmerga Kurdish fighters now are the front line of defense for these people, the U.S. is trying to facilitate increased shipment of arms and ammunition to the Peshmerga. There were, from the Iraqi, there were three shipments of ammunition to the Peshmerga, emergency shipments since Thursday. But these people are going to need more -- so much more than that. They're going to need more arms, more ammunition. The president making clear any effort for a sort of humanitarian corridor to get everybody off the mountain is going to have to be an international effort. If the president sticks with no U.S. boots on the ground to do that, there will at least have to be a massive air combat patrol over this mountain to keep the ISIS fighters at bay, keep them away from any vehicles, any helicopters, that might try and come in and rescue these people. But you cannot make this go away with one helicopter lifting 20 desperate people off the mountain at a time. These pictures from Ivan really show the world what is happening.

BLITZER: Do we know today -- because we know there were some operations over the weekend. Do we know today, Barbara, how many air strikes, how many 500-pound laser-guided bombs or predator missiles were launched from drones? Do we know how many strikes there were?

STARR: We don't have a final count for the day. I think, given the time difference, there were some initial strikes at these targets. Given the time difference before our day is up, here on the east coast of the United States, of course, we are likely to see more air strikes and certainly we hope more humanitarian drops. Just to point out, there are reports that the British had been trying to drop supplies, but as they come close to these drop zones, they're running into the same issue. They see so many people rushing from this area on the mountain to try and get to where they think supplies are going to be air dropped to them, that they've had to abort some missions. This is very dangerous business. When there are things like, you know, earthquakes and tsunamis, there is a structure. Things are set up. Everybody knows where the drop zone is. It drops. Everybody stays away until the supplies can be retrieved and distributed. These people are so desperate. They have nothing. They've been on this mountain without food and waters for days now in the blistering heat. They are just running to get anything they can that is air dropped. It is so dangerous. The helicopters, of course, can fly lower and basically hurl the supplies out at maybe 50 feet. But the transport aircraft from the U.S., from Britain, they fly at -- they have to -- they fly at thousands of feet up in the air and they drop by parachute. That means that is heavy, heavy pallets of material falling to the ground. They don't want anybody hurt. But these people, they don't even have water to drink on a regular basis at this point. The heat is blistering. You see the desperation. You see the absolute tragedy and turmoil unfolding.

I just come back to the notion, genocide isn't a word. This is an unfolding genocide in front of all of our eyes -- Wolf?

BLITZER: What a horrific situation it is.

Barbara Starr will continue to update us on the latest from the Pentagon.

These are dramatic pictures that we're showing our viewers. Just back -- Ivan Watson was there with an Iraqi military helicopter, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. They went in. They dropped food and they rescued about 20 people. But there are literally thousands of people, many minorities, the Yazidis, other Kurds, who are just stranded there. The U.S. dropping food and water. Launching some air strikes against ISIS targets below this mountain. It's a desperate, desperate situation.

When we come back, I'll speak live to the director of security and intelligence for the Kurdistan regional government about the shocking situation. There's new video just coming in. Lots more on the breaking news right after this.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Major development. Our global affairs correspondent is joining us now. Gloria Borger here as well.

Elise, what are you learning?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Basically, Wolf, you see how the Iraqi Kurds, so under resourced, these rickety helicopters, their light ammunition, really hurting for resources in terms of helping these Yazidis get off the mountain. Officials are telling myself and Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, the U.S. is trying to help the Kurds directly through the CIA. Right now, it's a small program but there is a wider discussion in the administration, State Department, Pentagon, about how they can help the Kurds more fully. As you know, usually, the U.S. goes through the central government in Baghdad to give the entire Iraqi military, but now these are Kurds and the Iraqi military is helping them out. Extremely --


BLITZER: Let's be precise. Hold on a second. Is the CIA providing arms directly to the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters?

LABOTT: That's our understanding, on a very limited scale.

BLITZER: All right, so hold on a second.

I want to bring in Masrour Barzani, the chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council, the son of the regional president, Masoud Barzani.

Mr. Barzani, thanks very much for joining us from Erbil in Iraq.

What can you tell us? Have you heard the CIA is providing the Peshmerga fighters directly with weapons?


Unfortunately, the help came a little too late. Now there has been some shipments of supplies, of mostly ammunition, to the Peshmergas. But if there had been support, military support to the Kurds, most of what we see happening now could have been prevented.

BLITZER: Because the Peshmerga are wonderful, very heroic fighters. I know you've been appealing to the United States and other international powers for a long time. What was the reason why they gave you, why they wouldn't help you directly? I know they often -- supposed to go through the central government in Baghdad but we know that Nouri al Maliki's regime there was no great friend of the Peshmerga or the Kurds. So what was the excuse the U.S. gave you for delaying providing direct weaponry to your fighters in the midst of this horrible situation?

BARZANI: Well, no one wanted to really deal with the Kurdish forces directly. Everything had to go through Baghdad. Unfortunately, Baghdad was not supportive of arming Peshmerga at the time. Unfortunately, most of the arms given to the Iraqi military later on were left at the posts and were seized by the ISIS which, later on, they used against our Peshmergas.

BLITZER: When you say, Mr. Barzani, it's too late, tell me what's the situation on the ground right now, as far as the Kurds are concerned, the Yazidis, other minorities, and Shiites. How strong is ISIS now? What needs to be done to change that?

BARZANI: In terms of telling you it's too late, I mean, it could have been -- what we see could have been prevented if the Peshmergas were well armed. Right now, Peshmergas are outgunned by the ISIS. ISIS has in its possession most of the arms that were left at the posts in both Iraqi military divisions and brigades that left their posts, and also from Syria. So ISIS now really has armaments that are much stronger, much more powerful, much more powerful firepower than the Peshmergas. If the Peshmergas could have this weapon, they could have defeated ISIS before they could commit this against them elsewhere in the country.

BLITZER: We know there are hundreds of thousands of minorities endangered right now. Do you really believe, Mr. Barzani, the Christian, the Yazidis, so many other minority groups, non-Muslims, are in danger now of genocide? BARZANI: Absolutely. What you see today is an act of genocide on --

being unfolded in front of the world. And unfortunately, tens of thousands of people have fled to Mt. Sinjar and people on the mountain and around the mountain are still subject to great danger. Thanks to the United States and the air drop aid, there has been a corridor opened to these people to escape to safety. Unfortunately, the process is slow.

We also have deployed Peshmerga units. There were some Peshmerga units left with the people already that prevented ISIS from advancing into the mountains to commit massacres in that area. But at this time, there is ongoing process of rescuing these people on the mountain and, so far, thousands of families have been rescued.

BLITZER: One final question, Mr. Barzani, before I let you go. Tell us what you want president to do right now to help this situation.

BARZANI: I hope -- well, we are thankful. We are all grateful to the brave decision that President Obama made in terms of supporting Peshmergas with the air strike. We hope this air strike will continue and the cycle of strikes against ISIS targets will be expanded to the areas where the bases of ISIS are located and not necessarily only at the line of battle between ISIS and the Peshmerga. So we hope that the area of operation is going to be expanded and this will be an ongoing process.

BLITZER: And what kind of weapons do you want from the United States?

BARZANI: Well, weapons that are effective against all this armed vehicles that have been seized by the ISIS. They, by far, have, you know, an upper hand and they were outgunning the Peshmergas, so any effective weapon that can defeat the enemy will be appreciated and needed for the Peshmergas.

BLITZER: One final question. Any help you're getting, substantial help from the Iraqi central government in Baghdad yet? We saw one -- Ivan Watson was on board with Peshmerga fighters. That seemed to be a little bit encouraging to me that there was some cooperation between the Iraqi military and the Peshmerga, the Kurdish fighters. What's the latest on that front?

BARZANI: Yes, there is cooperation but, unfortunately, the capabilities of the Iraqi army are limited. There are a few helicopters that are here to help, you know, with the refugees and the mountain to bring aid to them and also in the battle to help the Peshmerga in several areas. Unfortunately, the level of cooperation or the ability of the Iraqi military is limited. We hope this will continue and will expand.

BLITZER: Masrour Barzani, is the director of security and intelligence for the Kurdish regional government.

Mr. Barzani, thank you so much for joining us. We will stay in very close touch with you. Good luck to all the people of Kurdistan. Good luck to all the people in northern Iraq right now. So many of the Christians, the Yazidis, the Kurds, other groups in

northern Iraq, they face potentially, according to this Kurdish official, genocide at the hands of these ISIS terrorists.

The breaking news will continue right here on CNN right after this.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. An historic rescue effort. They continue. The Yazidis, Christians, Kurds, Shiites, other minorities in Iraq, northern Iraq, are being rescued right now. The Kurdish regional government accusing the ISIS terrorists of engaging in genocide against so many of these people. If you don't convert to their brand of Islam, you will be killed. That is the word from these ISIS terrorists.

Just a little while ago, our correspondent, Ivan Watson, and our photojournalist, Mark Phillips, they were on board a helicopter with Peshmerga into a dangerous area. I want you to see what was going on as they flew over the Iraqi military, firing machine guns as they were going in. They then dropped some food, other supplies, and brought back with them about 20 civilians, including some young kids who managed to get on this helicopter and were flown to safety. Watch this.





BLITZER: What a scene. The whole world is watching this video.

Thanks to Ivan Watson and Mark Phillips, our photojournalist.

Gloria is with us. Elise is with us.

This is going to put enormous pressure, not only on the United States, Gloria, but on the world to do something about this because tens of thousands of people right now, including Christians, Yazidis, others, they are in danger of being killed, slaughtered by these ISIS terrorists.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, you're an eyewitness now to what this Kurdish official was warning about. I mean, we can now see it for ourselves. And the question now is, what can the rest of the world do? Not only with humanitarian drops, but the question is, what is the president also willing to do, either alone or with allies about some kind of air cover for these people, as they try and rescue folks. And what -- you know, up to -- where is the president's line here in -- we know what he won't do. You know, we know he went put boots on the ground. We know that he doesn't want to get into a protracted military situation. We know that he will do a humanitarian drop. What we don't know is what he will affirmatively do, particularly now that the world is seeing these pictures.

BLITZER: And the way this Kurdish official we just spoke to, Masrour Barzani, head intelligence for the Kurdish regional government, he said, yeah, the CIA is providing ammunition, but it's too late to save the lives of these people. It sounded almost like a drop in the bucket, not much going on. The U.S. still reluctant to give heavy armor weapons that could go after these ISIS terrorists.

LABOTT: I think this situation with the Yazidis really took them by surprise, Wolf. You know the president has been waiting for an Iraqi government to get formed, for a new prime minister. And then they were hoping then they will be able to support that government. So when this situation with the Yazidis on this mountain came, the president had to make the kind of swift, decisive action that is really not a hallmark of this administration and take these U.S. air strikes and do those air drops. But now that the president has come out and said, I will, on behalf of the United States, take action to prevent genocide, as we have been discussing, this one rinky-dinky helicopter that took those 20 people off that mountain is not going to be enough.

And it's not just the United States here. It's really going to be I think an international effort that's going to have to really --


BLITZER: Any progress at getting rid of Nouri al Maliki in Baghdad?

LABOTT: Well, today, you saw the Iraqi president appoint a new prime minister designate, which has the support of this large Shia block, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's block. The question is, is he going to go quietly? It looks like he will not.



BLITZER: Hold on, Gloria.

BORGER: -- what can we do now.

BLITZER: Yeah, there's a limit to what the U.S. can do.

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: If no boots on the ground, no ground forces, there is a limit what you can do with air power alone.

Thanks very much.

We're going to continue to watch the breaking news.

That's it for me this hour. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. eastern, a special two-hour edition of "The Situation Room." For our international viewers, "Amanpour" is next.

For our American viewers, NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts after a quick break.