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ISIS Gains in Iraq; U.S. Considers Iran's Help in Iraq; The Invisible Sheik, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Aired June 16, 2014 - 11:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Iraq in crisis @ THIS HOUR, another U.S. warship is heading to the region, some embassy personnel evacuate, and as the U.S. weighs its options to intervene, Iran is already there.

Then Senator Lindsey Graham has this to say about the crisis in Iraq.


SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This is another 9/11 in the making.


BERMAN: So is he on point? We will ask our experts.

Plus, "I'll see you in New York." That's what the key terrorist leader in Iraq said before leaving a U.S.-run detention center there. It wasn't taken as a threat until now.

And, Hillary Clinton, she's standing by the president on Iraq and has stood by him on other issues as well, but a new poll suggests she may want to rethink that if she wants to run in 2016.

Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman. Michaela Pereira is off today. Those stories and more, right now, @ THIS HOUR.

And let's get straight to Iraq and the claims of human slaughter there. The militant group ISIS is boasting about its conquests and its killings as its fighters capture yet another key city in their brutal, bloody, war march toward Baghdad.

That's where we find our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, in Baghdad, helping cover this crisis as only CNN can. Nic, give us a sense of the latest on the ground.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, absolutely horrific and barbaric images released by ISIS, they purport to show the killing Iraqi servicemen.

They were in civilian clothes. They were led along. They were then clearly told to lie down next to each other in what can only be described as a shallow grave out in a field somewhere. And then gunmen with automatic weapons spray them with bullets. They are holding the ISIS black and white flag. They are clearly claiming this.

The intent there very much appears to be to intimidate Iraqi security forces and to foment more sectarian violence here.

Meanwhile, they are continuing to make battlefield gains, Tal Afar in the north, Baqubah military base about 45 minutes drive from Baghdad. The threat from them continues.

The government says it's pushing back. It's released video footage of what it says are helicopters targeting ISIS sites. We see buildings being blown up. We don't see ISIS fighters, but the government says so far it has killed 200 ISIS fighters. That's yet to be backed up by verifiable evidence.

This is the message that the Iraqi leadership is putting out. We can do it. We can clean the country, top to bottom. Reality, ISIS is still advancing, John.

BERMAN: If nothing else, we have the sense of incredible turmoil right there now, Nic.

Nic, you are in Baghdad. The U.S. has its largest embassy in Baghdad, some 5,500 personnel. We know that a new contingent of U.S. Marines, headed to the Persian Gulf on a war vessel right there. What's the goal of that?

ROBERTSON: Yeah, 550 Marines aboard this amphibious dock ship, the USS Mesa Verde. It has these vertical-takeoff, V-22 Osprey rotor aircraft variant that can airlift people out of -- let's say -- the embassy or any other location, so it really seems a precautionary measure that, if there needs to be evacuations under emergency situations, this becomes a possibility with this aircraft and those 550 marines and players.

While you have those additional hundred Marines rushed here, additional staff moved out to the south, Basra to the north, (inaudible) across the border to Jordan in the city of Amman there.

But the embassy here, I've got to tell you, it is one of most secure buildings in the city. It has, of course, high walls. It's fortified. It's got the Marines there. And it's behind concentric ring of security at the heart of the Green Zone in Baghdad.

If there's any location that can withstand heavy fire, it's going to be that one in this city, John.

BERMAN: It's really a fortress inside a fortress.

Nic Robertson in Baghdad, thank you so much, keeping abreast of the situation on the ground there. It is fast moving.

U.S. air strikes are on the table. That's what Secretary of State John Kerry said just a short time ago. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, they are not the whole answer, but they may well be one of the options that are important to be able to stem the tide and stop the movement of people who are moving around in open convoys and trucks and terrorizing people.

I mean, when you have people murdering, assassinating, in these massacres, you have to stop that, and you do what you need to do, if you need to try to stop it from the air or otherwise.


BERMAN: We say air strikes are on the table, unclear from those comments how front-and-center they are on the table.

Our military analyst, James "Spider" Marks, joins us. He's a retired general, and he was the senior intelligence officer during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

We're also joined by former Governor Bill Richardson on the phone. He was ambassador to the United Nations for a while, among many other senior posts in different administrations.

Spider, I want to start with you there. We just heard the secretary of state saying the U.S. is considering air strikes.

From your experience, what would an effective strike look like here, given what we hear from people inside the Pentagon that specific targets are fairly hard to find?

MAJOR GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Good morning, John. Thanks for having me.

I think the situation that we're seeing in Iraq with ISIS and its advances toward Baghdad, clearly they have gained a lot of momentum. They have had some immense victory. ISF in those engagements has collapsed and disappeared.

But the thing about ISIS is this is not a counterinsurgency. This is very much what appears to be the incipient stages of a civil war. They are heavily armed. They have self-propelled artillery. They are up- armored with armored vehicles, so they kick up a lot of dust, in military terms, which means they can be targeted.

They have to have weapons stockpiles. They have to have secure lines of communications as they advance. So all of those become very, very vulnerable.

And, frankly, at this point, air strikes should not be on the table. They should be in the air, so that we can give Maliki some breathing room so he can get his act together, militarily.

Political discussions need to be a secondary part of all of this.

BERMAN: Well, let me use that as a segue then to bring in Governor Richardson here.

Spider thinks that air strikes should be under way right now before there's a political situation. Not according to President Obama, Governor Richardson.

President Obama seemed to set a very high bar here. He essentially called on the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to get his political house in order, include an inclusive government with Sunnis and Kurds.

Essentially the president told Nouri al-Maliki, be different than you are. That seems like an impossibly high bar to reach before air strikes.

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS (via telephone): Well, I do agree with the president, although I share the general's frustration. I do think that targeted military air strikes are going to be important at some point.

However, what I think should happen is the secretary of state or the secretary of defense should go to Baghdad and really lean on Maliki. I heard Maliki's speech last night.

I read about it, and he is not in my mood to share power, end the sectarian violence, bring the Kurds and the Sunnis and the Shias together in some kind of coalition. He persists in wanting to be stubborn and retain his power.

I think some kind of political intervention by the United States, we're the only peace maker in the area that can make a difference, and that has to happen very soon. Otherwise, I think as the general mentioned, this is going to degrade into a civil war.

BERMAN: But, Governor, the president already told the prime minister you are not getting air strikes until you reform the situation, and you said it. Last night, he was speaking, making no indication at all that he was about to change.

How can you force him to do something that he doesn't want to do?

RICHARDSON (via telephone): I think a high-level envoy or the secretary of state to put this compromise together, maybe Maliki won't give in, and if he doesn't give it in, I think a disaster is going to happen.

Then I believe military air strikes are going to have to inevitable, although I think the last thing American people want is another military engagement in a situation that is heading in the direction of a civil war, a collapse of the Maliki government.

What we need is a political solution. What we need is high-level diplomacy at this last minute to try to make a difference. I don't even know if targeted air strikes right now are going to be critical.

I think they would help, no question. But I think some kind of move on Maliki or threaten him with lack of support is absolutely necessary right now.

BERMAN: No, it's ironic, you are basically calling for the peaceful overthrow of a government that you may be using air strikes to support.

Governor Richardson, General Spider Marks, stick around with us. There's a lot more to talk about here.

Coming up, while Iraq is in sort of a political meltdown mode, you heard about it right there, Iran now helping -- offering to help the U.S. fight the terrorism there, but is it a good idea to get into bed with this country once called part of the "Axis of Evil?"

Then, "I'll see you in New York," that's what the leader of the terror group causing all this chaos in Iraq said back in 2009. It wasn't taken as a threat then, but that has changed now, big time.

We're going to take a look at what some people are now calling the new bin Laden.



KERRY: We're open to discussions if there's something constructive that can be contributed by Iran, if Iran is prepared to do something that is going to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Iraq.

Let's see what Iran might or might not be willing to do before we start making any pronouncements.

I think we are open to any constructive process here that could minimize the violence, hold Iraq together, the integrity of the country, and eliminate the presence of outside terrorist forces that are ripping it apart.


BERMAN: That was Secretary of State John Kerry on the possibility of working with Iran to deal with the problem in Iraq.

Let's bring back "Spider" Marks and Bill Richardson here. "Spider," let me ask you this, Iran by some accounts already has some troops on the ground inside Iraq battling these Sunni terrorists, a couple of hundred people, Iranians perhaps on the ground now fighting.

If you are the United States, how much do you want to coordinate with the Iranians on the ground there? What's the risk? And once you let the Iranians in, can you get them out?

MARKS: Well I think United States has very few options at this point, as the ambassador indicated, that there has to be a political solution, but before any of that can occur, what we're talking about is a timeline for Maliki.

You've got the potential collapse of the government, and the only way you are going to hold that thing up is if he gets, again, some tactical breathing room.

The Iranians clearly are available and they want to help. So I think the situation right now is if militarily Iran gets involved, we've now entangled and inflamed this thing much more. They need to stay away, but I don't know the United States enjoys any type of influence over Tehran to ensure that doesn't take place. I don't know what we bring to the table other than the fact that we want collectively both Tehran and Washington wants to keep Maliki, keep him vibrant, and keep him in charge. If that is not the case then he is going to end up being a prime minister in exile. And he is probably going to end up in Tehran.

The United States clearly shares with Tehran a political view in terms of what the future looks like. And right now, militarily, we can't afford to have revolutionary guards or some form from Iran, some military coming across the border, but it's already occurred. So the irony is we've got the U.S. potentially providing air support directly for Iranian forces in support of Maliki. Not a good situation.

BERMAN: Governor Richardson, former Ambassador Richardson in this case, you have talked to a lot of people all around the world, negotiated with a lot of people around the world. What deal would you try to strike now with Iran, this former member of the axis of evil to fix the situation in Iraq?

RICHARDSON: First, I would talk with them. I think we need some kind of coordination with Iran. But as the general said we have to be very careful because Iran is obviously allied against the Sunni majority there and what you want is a political solution of inclusiveness, and there are Shia ties, Iran's with Maliki are not going to help in a political solution. So we have to be very clear about what we do together. Military coordination less so, more diplomacy. I think what's also a factor is we have to be careful not to totally a alienate the Qataris, the Saudis, some of our allies in the region that could be helpful that have been helping us , for instance in the Syrian situation.

So I would say proceed with caution, see what the Iranians are able to do. If they want to do the military heavy lifting, so much for that. That's fine. But I think we have to be careful about appearing to be too much in tandem with them. But at the same time we don't have too many options. We don't want the collapse of Iraq right now and what we want is a political solution of the highest order.

The best thing they could do, the Iranians is say to Maliki, share power, end this sectarian violence. Stop the stubbornness that is leading your country into ruins.

BERMAN: So tell the Iraqi government, the Shia government in Iraq, to accept the Sunnis. That, to me, doesn't seem very likely but the beginning stages right now of these negotiations and discussions, we'll see what happens. Governor Bill Richardson, thank you so much for being with us. General Spider Marks, always a pleasure to have you. Thank you for joining us.

Coming up for us next, some call him the invisible sheik. Coming up, the leader of the terror group threatening now to take over Baghdad. Is this man the next Osama bin Laden? His message to U.S. soldiers that once held him prisoner, that is now being considered a threat. We will tell you what that was.


BERMAN: He's being described by some now as the most successful terrorist since Osama bin Laden. In his final words to a U.S. Army unit as he left an American detention camp in Iraq were, I'll see you guys in New York. That was back in 2009. Now, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is leading the brutal ISIS militant group on its bloody rampage across Iraq.

Michael Daly of "The Daily Beast" interviewed the head of the detention camp where Baghdadi was held, and Michael that quote that we keep seeing, I'll see you guys in New York, it sounds like Baghdadi was making this threat to fulfill al Qaeda's mission of attacking the U.S. on U.S. soil.

MICHAEL DALY, THE DAILY BEAST: That's what I thought at first when the Colonel Kent King, who was then the CO of Camp Booker. He said, actually, he didn't take it as a threat. He took it as more of Baghdadi's way -- Baghdadi knew that the guards of that last unit that were watching him were largely from New York City. A lot of them were reservists who also served with the FDNY and the NYPD and the firefighters. He thought it was his way of saying this is all just kind of a joke. I knew I just had to wait it out, I'm going to go back to what I was doing. I'll see you guys on the block. That's the way he took it.

BERMAN: Still rather threatening there, and it makes it seem almost mundane. Which brings me to my next point. There's a paragraph in your article where Army Colonel Kenneth King say quote, I'm not surprised that it, Baghdadi, is someone who spent time in Camp Bucca, that the came he was being held.

But I'm a little surprised it was him. It continues, he was a bad dude, but he wasn't the worst of the worst. What this is essentially saying is Baghdadi was not one of the guys they had their eyeballs on right there. Does that mean they missed something at the time or does that mean he's evolved into something much worse than he was?

DALY: It's possible they missed something. These are guys -- They were watching these guys every minute of every day for any clue who is the leader, what group they are for, and they are constantly trying to break it up. They had a compound 14 where they put the worst of the worst and Baghdadi was not one of them. My sense form talking to the colonel, seems like a pretty sharp guy, and you have to remember there were some New York guys there, generally pretty sharp too, who watch him.

And I think he probably evolved and he learned and I think those four years where Mafia guys talk about going to prison, going to college, I think those four years might have been college for this guy. He might have learn the importance of being discreet as a leader and the importance of being patient and watching your enemy and planning your moves before you do it. There are probably a lot of things that later translated into this blood shed that took form within this guy during those four years.

BERMAN: Terrorist training inside Camp Bucca. There is not a $10 million reward for the capture of Baghdadi. Based on your relationship with these Army personnel who were guarding him, is it frustrating to them at this point that this man that they custody of is now behind this enormous chaos in Iraq?

DALY: The colonel told me it was a very personal frustration. He also said imagine the effort that went into capturing this guy in the first place and you have got to wonder were there Americans hurt in the effort to capture this guy in the first place. Then you got him, you hold him for four year, you watch him. And you are moving him and his comrades around. You are trying to make sure nothing is happening. They happened to build the camp on top of a junk yard, so these guys are constantly able to dig up homemade weapons. You spend all that time, all that effort, and then you find yourself putting this guy on a plane to get flown back to Baghdad and freedom and he turns to you and he says see you in New York. That's got to be personally devastating.

BERMAN: And now he is causing all these problems, problems that do not look to end anytime soon. Michael Daly, thank you so much for being with us. As for the soldier who spoke with Baghdadi himself back when he was in U.S. detention in Iraq, he will speak with CNN at 1:00 p.m. today, on "WOLF". A brilliantly produced show, do not miss it.

Coming up for us, Facebook, that's where the terror group causing the blood shed across Iraq posts it's latest propaganda video. We are going to show you the brutal truth about this hardcore terror group. It is tough to look at, but it is important to learn about. That's coming up next.