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Iraq on the Brink of Civil War; U.S. and Iran Working Together on Iraq Crisis; Team USA to Face Ghana in World Cup

Aired June 16, 2014 - 05:30   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Iraq in crisis. Terrorists throwing the country in chaos turning city streets into battlefields. This morning the U.S. trying to help the Iraqi government stop civil war from breaking out. And in the process, finding an unlikely partner.

We are live in Iraq and Iran with what's happening right now.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. Thirty-one minutes past the hour right now. A lot going on this morning. The fight against ISIS militants in Iraq kicking into high gear as these extremists claimed another city in northern Iraq.

They used a deadly assault to take the city of Tal Afar. The group spreading its message of fear on the Internet as well posting terrifying photos that appear to show the execution of Iraqi Security Forces.

Meanwhile, the U.S. evacuating some of its staff and bringing in extra security in the embassy there around the time the pictures went public. Reports overnight say a few hundred militants have been killed. But will that slow the march of these terrorists toward Baghdad?

Let's get to Nic Robertson live now. He is live in Baghdad.

Nic, give us a sense of the situation on the ground.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, I think we can learn a lot from the fact that ISIS have taken Tal Afar in the north. They're working to a very clear strategy. To get to Mosul in that big sweep, fast swift south they did. They bypassed Tal Afar because they knew that the army would stand and fight. The army did stand and fight in Tal Afar so they sent a sort of mopping up force after that rapid advance to take care of it.

They've done that now. They've even reached a town 45 minutes drive just northeast of Baghdad. The army were told to pull out of the base and evacuate with their weapons in the town of Baqubah. ISIS within an hour moved in to take control of that military base close to the town of Baqubah. The whole of Diyala Province just north of the city now, there are many contested parts of that province.

The government on the other hand says it is fighting back against ISIS. It's released video that it says a helicopter airstrikes against ISIS targets. We don't see interestingly any people that are being targeted here, just buildings, and the very fact that these images are taken from helicopters rather than on the ground does tell a story, if you will, about the lack of control that the army here has on the ground.

But the prime minister is telling his countrymen that he will take the country back. But the facts on the ground seem to indicate that it's very much in play and that ISIS is still able to keep up its fight and keep moving to the city here, which they say is the ultimate target. They are getting closer -- John.

BERMAN: The Iraqi prime minister with defiant rhetoric, Nic. Any sign that he's following the advice of President Obama in trying to unify the different sects in that country politically? Because the president has made clear her that unless Iraq gets its act together politically, it cannot expect U.S. help.

ROBERTSON: There's no indication whatsoever that he's doing that. The very rhetoric that he's using is not inclusive rhetoric. The Kurdish, northeast of the country, has not -- they've now, the Kurds have now moved to take control of Kirkuk. That's something that Maliki really cannot be seen to be giving into at this state.

The sectarian nature of the anger with the Sunnis, that's not something he can back down on. Most people here do not believe that Nouri al-Maliki is the man that can make the compromises. We're seemed to be quite some time away from a political phase. This -- what is happening here is very much in a military phase at the moment. The government ramping up more security, putting more fighters into the battle front.

No one, at the moment, seems to be talking the situation down. Every leader that takes the microphone seems to be amping up the situation. Nouri al-Maliki, very clear, he'll take control of the country but is not indicating he's going to do that by consensus in any way -- John.

BERMAN: Take control of the country, if he can. That very much in doubt this morning.

Nic Robertson for us in Baghdad. Terrific having you with us. Really appreciate it.

ROMANS: With Iraq in crisis, the U.S. could be turning to Iran for help. Direct talks are set to begin this week between these two nations despite a frosty relationship, to say the least. There's mutual ground to be gained by slowing these militants.

CNN's Reza Sayah joins us from Tehran with more.

Reza, bring us up to speed on what the U.S. and Iran can do together on this front against ISIS.

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, we should point out that it hasn't happen yet and it may not happen. But there's been a lot of talk here in Tehran and also in Washington about a remarkable what-if scenario.

What if the United States of America joins the Islamic Republic of Iran and cooperates militarily and politically to help push back the rising Sunni insurgency in Iraq? And those talks really heated up when two U.S. officials told CNN that Washington is considering doing this, although neither side has said anything is happening yet. If this remarkable scenario happens, it would be the first time in 35 years if these two countries are cooperating with one another in such a scenario. Of course they've been bitter enemies for more than three and a half decades.

But all of a sudden they seemed to have very urgent common causes when it comes to Iraq. Obviously the U.S. has invested a lot of blood and treasure in this government. They don't want it to be toppled by Sunni insurgency into Iran. And then you have Iran next door to Iraq. They don't want a spillover of the Sunni insurgency into Iran. Iran takes pride in its internal security its stability. They rarely, if ever, see suicide attacks here, mass killings, militant attacks. And they want to keep it that way.

And you also look at Iran's very close ties between the Shia dominated government here and the Shia-led government in Iran. So for those reasons, there's a lot of talk that maybe it makes sense for these two countries to cooperate. Co-incidentally, you have the Vienna talks in the nuclear issue today. Could these two countries go on the sideline and discuss this issue? We'll keep an eye on things and tell you what happens.

ROMANS: A lot of talk, but it might not happen. That's a way to put it.

Reza, Sayah -- thank you so much, Reza.

Oil prices are climbing as the conflict in Iraq escalates. Up about 4 percent since the start of the month. Crude oil now more than $107 a barrel, the highest since September of last year. Now so far oil exports in Iraq have been mostly unaffected. But if you see -- look at this map we've made for you.

Attacks by insurgents have already shut off exports from the northern oil field. That was earlier this year. What we're looking at now, the exports in the south. That's what analysts are starting to get worried about. That's really the heart of the country's oil industry. If it took a hit there, you could see prices skyrocket. And, you know, AAA just yesterday during a press release saying motorists in the United States should be prepared for five to 10 cents higher gasoline here in the near-term.

BERMAN: Yes, almost definitely happening if this crisis doesn't resolved quickly. Doesn't look like it will.


BERMAN: While it's happening Pakistan taking on the Taliban. More than 100 militants were killed as Pakistani jets launched a major operation along the Afghan border. This comes a week after two attacks on Pakistan's busiest airport by the Taliban left dozens dead. The Pakistani Taliban is promising revenge for these militant deaths.

Breaking overnight, Russia set to cut and crane supply of national -- natural gas. Russia state-run gas company says the Ukrainians owe them $4.5 billion and the sides could not reach a deal last night. This latest rift comes days after pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine shot down the Ukrainian military transport plane that killed 49 people.

ROMANS: A two-star Army general has been appointed to investigate how and why Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban. Questions of course have been swirling about just the condition or the circumstances in which Bergdahl became a prisoner of war.

He was freed two weeks ago as part of a Taliban prisoner exchange after being held almost five years in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A senior Defense official declined to name the general before the formal announcement.

BERMAN: Now a Pentagon prosecutor says the five Taliban members freed in the swap that freed Bergdahl likely would not have been convicted anyway. Brigadier General Mark Martin cited a study showing roughly 200 Guantanamo detainees would have likely escaped formal conviction and would have been released when that detention center closes. Lawmakers slammed the prisoner swap saying that it does put U.S. troops at risk.

ROMANS: All right. Time for an early Monday look at your money. Stocks are getting a tough start to the week, most likely. European stocks lower. Asian shares ended the day lower. Futures down this morning here in the U.S. Growing concerns about those tensions in Iraq is driving stocks down and oil prices up.

And more problems for Target. A glitch in a check out system caused long lines at some Target locations last night . Customers reacting on social media complaining about those lines and closed cash registers. Target's image took a hit, of course, after that massive data breach exposed 110 million customers' information. That was last holiday season. A Target spokesperson, though, assures us this glitch is not a security issue. It just looked like a mess.

Imagine spending Father's Day in line at Target.

BERMAN: No, I don't want to imagine that.

All right. Forty minutes after the hour right now. Breaking news overnight, hundreds of people evacuating their homes and the fast moving wildfires spread. We are tracking the very latest.

ROMANS: Those violent storms could hit millions of people today. If you are in the path, Indra Petersons is going to tell you who needs to be on alert.


ROMANS: Welcome back. Good morning. A fast moving wildfire threatening a thousand homes in central California. This flame is eating away 2,000 acres of terrain in and around the Sequoia National Forest. Police went with bullhorns and sirens nearby streets urging residents to evacuate. Crews have the fire about 10 percent contained. They are trying to have it under control before a hotter, higher, drier weather arrives.

BERMAN: A lot of weather to tell you about. Residents cleaning up after a powerful storm rocked western Missouri.

Raytown, which is the suburb of Kansas City, was hit hard with heavy rain and wind knocking down trees and power line. At one point, 20,000 customers were without power.

ROMANS: More violent storms in the forecast today. Happy Monday.

Indra Petersons, bring up to date what you need to know about your weather.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You said it, not me, right?


PETERSONS: Happy Monday, everybody. We are going to be talking thunderstorms. The pattern is really going to be a high pressure in the east, a low pressure out towards the west. The biggest focus today is going to be the threat for severe weather, again.

So possibly a heightened risk area. We're talking about 14 million of you looking for these bigger thunderstorms. Minneapolis, Madison, Des Moines, all the way back even in through Omaha. The threat for tornadoes will be out there but most likely again strong, straight line winds. So those big thunderstorms with large hail.

What are we looking at? All that humidity is returning, right? We got relief for a little bit but once again we see all that moisture pulling out of the Gulf. That low moving in will actually bring that threat for severe weather. So that's what we're going to see, of course, the heavier totals. But it doesn't mean it's dry on the eastern half of the country. It's just that time of year. It's hot, it's muggy.

So what do you get? Those typical afternoon type. Thunderstorms, you'll notice on the northeast, you're going to see some scattered showers over the next several days.

It was a gorgeous weekend. But now the big story, what you're all going to be talking about is the heat. And that's a little bit -- look at these temperatures. D.C. starting up at 92 today. This is the starting point. Notice these temperatures only climb. We start talking 97 and of course that's not a dry heat. You know dry heat that's kind of comfortable, it's not that one.


BERMAN: That's just bad, awful nasty.

PETERSONS: Happy Monday. ROMANS: Indra Petersons, thanks.

BERMAN: Have fun there. All right, Indra.

Let's take a look at what's coming up on "NEW DAY." Speaking of 97 degrees of hotness, Chris Cuomo, what's going on.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, NEW DAY: 97.6 actually run a little cool there, JB. Happy Monday to you and Christine. You know, I'm trying to dig in this morning and see if we can get you the best information about exactly what are they up against with the group ISIS in Iraq. It's really hard to tell how many soldiers they have, what their equipment is. Of course, they keep getting better armed as the Iraqi army flees and abandon a lot of U.S. offered military assets. But there's word that they've taken another city in the north.

What's the difference between the north and the south? We're going to dig in with General Anthony Zinni, a former National Security adviser. Sandy Berger as well, so we'll talk politics and the military strategy there. Is it realistic that the U.S. can help without being on the ground? That's the big question for us here on at home. Right? And there's word that the U.S. may approach Iran for help. Is that smart?

And then we have a story that's one of those that you just almost never think you'll hear about. Someone is piloting a plane. They are going to allow people to sky dive outside the plane. Something happens. The plane takes a huge hit to its ability to stay in the air, to elevate. It starts crashing. What does Shawn Kinmartin, the pilot, do? You will not believe how he survived this crash. He did something he'd never done before. Tried it for the first time in the most urgent circumstances of his life.

BERMAN: That was incredible.

CUOMO: I hope that tease is tantalizing enough, John Berman.

BERMAN: It is very tantalizing. I want to know what happens. I will tune in for sure.

All right, Chris. Thank you so much.

CUOMO: Tantalizing.

BERMAN: It is tantalizing.

ROMANS: All right. Happening today the United States kicking off its first game of the 2014 World Cup but there could be a big problem ahead for Team USA. We'll explain, next.


ROMANS: Good morning, welcome back to EARLY START.

Protesters making their presence felt at the World Cup. About 150 protesters marched toward the main stadium with anti-FIFA banners. They were actually tamed compared with Thursday when police used stun grenades and teargas.

Also, there are flood concerns in the coastal city of Natal where the U.S. is set to kick off its action tonight. Two days of rain have left some city streets looking more like rivers. More rain coming today.

Team USA getting set to kick off its competition at the World Cup. The Americans set to face Ghana later today.

So how high are hopes for the United States?

Our Lara Baldesarra is in Brazil with more.

LARA BALDESARRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Good morning, Christine. Today is finally the day that the World Cup begins for the USA. We waited long enough. And now today is the day. It's right behind me that the USA will be playing their very first game. That is against Ghana. It should be a very interesting match.

Now this is a game that's going to be quite crucial for the USA. They are of course the Group of Death. That's the group that is most difficult for teams to progress. To survive in the World Cup. It's called the Group of Death also because these are really the strongest teams playing all in one group in the World Cup.

This game is also a little bit of a revenge match, let's say, for the USA. They have lost to Ghana in the last two World Cups. In fact, the USA was knocked out of the last World Cup by Ghana. So there's a lot of redemption that's at stake here for the USA.

Now the American side, they're not the favorite. The big line going into this was Jurgen Klinsmann saying that it's not reasonable to expect the USA to win the World Cup. But all of that aside, the USA does expect to win their games. Klinsmann expects for his squad to win their games. These players, the 23 men on this squad, they want to win their game. And Jurgen Klinsmann, he spoke in his press conference on Sunday about exactly how that drive does not change.


JURGEN KLINSMANN, HEAD COACH, TEAM USA: Well, you come in with the same -- definitely with the same drive, the same energy, and the ambition to do well. You know, and we want to do really well. This is step one. And that's why we worked more than four weeks in preparation to time it the right way to give the players all of the confidence that they need in order to beat Ghana tomorrow. And then comes Portugal, and then comes Germany. And then we'll see. You know. Take it one at a time. So you want to go far. That's definitely our goal. So I booked my flight after the final.


BALDESARRA: Now the odds for the USA to make it to the finals are actually 100-1. So they're not very good. But of course the goal is to make it to the finals. The USA, they're going to be led by their captain Clint Dempsey. Look for him really this year to really break out and become the face of American soccer now that Landon Donovan is no longer on this U.S. men's national team squad. So a big game ahead of us. And should be certainly very, very exciting, guys.

ROMANS: It should be. All right. Thanks so much for that. We'll be watching.

All right, how would you like to get college classes for free? A big named U.S. company is giving that chance to thousands of its employees and the stock is down because of it. We'll explain, next.


ROMANS: All right. Welcome back. Stocks off to a tough start this morning. European shares are down. Asian stocks ended lower. Futures are down in the U.S. The Dow and the S&P 500 ended last week in the red, the first loss in four weeks. Driving that, growing concern about tensions in Iraq. That's pushing stocks lower and oil prices higher.

Oil price is up about 4 percent since the start of the month. Crude oil now more than $107 a barrel, the highest since September of last year. If this climb continues, it'll affect prices at the pump. Experts telling us we could easily see prices jump 20 cents or more in the next few weeks. That jump comes when demand is highest during summer vacation.

All right. The corporate story to watch today. Starbucks has a new program that's going to offer full and part-time employees tuition reimbursements. It's going to cover two years of online classes at Arizona State University. Starbucks says it's worth about $30,000 an employee.

Interestingly, the shares of Starbucks are down almost 2 percent in pre-market trading on this news. A lot of questions, too. How many employees this program will help. Starbucks says most employees in the U.S. are eligible. It's unclear really how many are interested in taking online classes paid for by the boss.

Look for that announcement later this morning.

"NEW DAY" starts right now.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now. U.S. Marines moving in to help protect the American embassy in Baghdad. This morning the terror group ISIS has taken another Iraqi town. The big question, should the U.S. turn to Iran to help stop the insurgency?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Retail madness. Another black eye for Target with many of its cash registers crashing across the country. Long lines, angry customers taking to social media. So what happened?

CUOMO: Heat iced. Dreams of a three-peat dash as the Spurs trounced the Miami Heat taking home the NBA championship. Tim Duncan now the only player to win championships in three different decades. Your NEW DAY starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan and Michaela Pereira.

CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to NEW DAY. It is Monday, June 16th. 6:00 in the East.