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U.S. Prepares for Battle in Iraq; Obama Authorizes Targeted Air Strikes in Iraq; Cease-fire Over in the Middle East

Aired August 8, 2014 - 08:00   ET



CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Breaking news, the U.S. prepares for battle in Iraq.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When the lives of American citizens are at risk, we will take action.

CUOMO: Air strikes approved as terrorist group ISIS takes more towns. A million people now displaced, many of them Christians fleeing for their lives. The U.S. military in a daring humanitarian aid drop to save the tens of thousands surrounded on a mountaintop. New fears U.S. personnel on the ground may be in danger. The latest on the crisis.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Also breaking, cease-fire over.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST, "THE LEAD": Israeli defense forces says that this is a violation of the cease-fire.

BOLDUAN: Rockets fired into Israel even before the clock expired, and the barrage didn't stop there. Israel is now responding with force in Gaza, and the peace negotiations seem to be over. The Israeli delegation has left the talks. So what next?

CUOMO: Your NEW DAY continues right now.


BOLDUAN (on-camera): All right, good morning, and welcome once again to NEW DAY. It's Friday, August 8,.8:00 in the East now. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Breaking news this morning, as we've told you, the United States is taking on the fight against ISIS in Iraq. President Obama has now approved targeted air strikes to stop the advance of ISIS militants who have been taking over land and terrorizing, killing civilians. The president deciding to act because militants are getting dangerously close to Irbil, where American personnel remained to help the Iraqi military once Iraqi troops pull out.

CUOMO: These terrorists aren't just taking land, they're taking lives. They've launched a horrific campaign in Sinjar, that's in the Northwest near Syria, they're rooting out Christians and religious minorities. Tens of thousands have been driven out of their homes. They face a simple but ghastly choice -- imagine this -- run or convert to what we call Islam or face execution. Many who did flee are now stranded on a mountain for days, and they are fearing for their lives.

The U.S. military is offering help overnight, dropping in food, water, basic supplies, but if more is not done and soon, the dead may well outnumber the living.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has the details of the president's announcement and the next steps in the fight against ISIS. Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. A significant military order from the president overnight, air strikes are authorized. What does that mean? That means it could happen at any time without the military going back to the White House for another round of approvals.


OBAMA: We do whatever is necessary to protect our people.

STARR (voice-over): This morning, U.S. forces at the ready. President Obama authorizing targeted air strikes to protect American personnel in Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, now threatened by ISIS militants.

OBAMA: We intend to stay vigilant and take action. These terrorists have continued to move across Iraq and have neared the city of Irbil, where American diplomats and civilians serve at our consulate, and American military personnel advise Iraqi forces.

STARR: Overnight, a humanitarian aid drop was already made atop a mountain near Sinjar, where thousands of Yazidis, a religious minority group, have fled to escape a massacre by ISIS, actions which Obama says could constitute genocide.

OBAMA: And these terrorists have been especially barbaric towards religious minorities. These innocent families are faced with a horrible choice -- descend the mountain and be slaughtered, or stay and slowly die of thirst and hunger.

STARR: Three Air Force cargo planes escorted by two fighter jets supplied over 70 bundles of critical aid, including thousands of gallons of water and food. A race to stop catastrophe, after 40 children have reportedly already died from thirst, the president also authorizing more targeted air strikes to help Iraqi forces as they attempt to break the mountain siege.

OBAMA: Today, America is coming to help.

STARR: ISIS also targeting Christians, and attacking in areas around Ninevah Province, Iraq's Christian area, overrun by militants, forcing thousands of Christians to flee. ISIS fighters posing this ultimatum to Iraqis -- convert to Islam or die.

A reign of terror continues as ISIS gains control and takes over key parts of the country, including Iraq's largest dam, according to the militants, a key source of electricity and water.


STARR (on camera): Now the White House continuing to rule out any U.S. military boots on the ground. If there is military action, it will be air strikes at this point. And now thousands, tens of thousands of Iraqis on the run with nowhere to go. Chris?

CUOMO: The looming concern, Barbara, what if the air strikes are not enough? Then what to save all these lives. Thank you for the reporting. Let us know what changes. Kate, over to you.

BOLDUAN: All right, so the threat to American personnel obviously is a huge concern for President Obama, but the humanitarian crisis that's going on in this region is also devastating. Militants taking control over so much land in the north over here, driving hundreds of thousands of people away, as Barbara was just laying out. Will they ever get their lives back? That question remains to be known.

CNN's Ivan Watson, he's joining us on the phone now. He's in Iraq; he's in Irbil actually. Ivan, you were able to spend time with some of these people who have fled for their lives. What are they up against?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Kate, let me describe the image I'm looking at right now. I've been (INAUDIBLE) Kurds along the (INAUDIBLE) community, which is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. (INAUDIBLE). There are hundreds of displaced people -- men, women, children elderly, sitting in the (INAUDIBLE), some of them have mattresses on the floor. They have fled here within the last 30 hours --

BOLDUAN: All right, we're going to get back to Ivan in a second, clearly having communications issues there. He is Iraq. He's on the ground there. We're going to get back to Ivan as soon as we can reconnect.

CUOMO: Yes, with good reason. He's in a remote place, comms are very difficult and really dangerous. He and his crew taking great risk to get this story out over there.

We got a lot of perspective on what's going on in Iraq. Now, earlier we spoke with the spokesman for the Pentagon about the situation. Here is what he had to say about the authorization to use force in Iraq. This is Rear Admiral John Kirby.


REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY (via telephone): We're prepared to do what the president has authorized us to do, and as I said, it's to provide -- to -- well, we've already provided these air drops of supplies to those Iraqi citizens on Mount Sinjar. And planners at central command are doing the necessary work to plan and be prepared to conduct air strikes against ISIL targets if and when required.

CUOMO: Is that enough? You think you can get this done from the air with a force that is spread out so wide and so random in its attacks and has no real base of power?

KIRBY: Well, remember, though, Chris, the mission really is to protect American personnel in Erbil and potentially even in and around Baghdad. And also -- and this is an important point -- to try to help Iraqi security forces as they go after this threat.

CUOMO: Right, but you also know that they seem to be losing it by larger and larger margins. And ISIS or whatever you want to call them, these terrorists, are getting more and more American assets that we gave to the Iraqi army. So at what point do you think that that country just falls to the threat?

KIRBY: They're -- ISIL's progress in Iraq has been swift, there's no question about that. They're well led, they're well resourced, but it's also been mixed, Chris. Yes, they've move swiftly and, yes, made progress in the north, but not so throughout the rest of the country.

CUOMO: Is from your understanding of what the mission is from the White House at this point, is the fact that these people are being hunted down and killed our problem? Is the U.S. going to protect them?

KIRBY: It is a -- it is a problem for the international community. And the international community has also responded with some humanitarian assistance. The government of Iraq provided some humanitarian assistance; we're chipping into that effort as well.

I mean, this is something -- and, again, the president was very clear about this. This is something the whole world needs to take note of.


CUOMO: What's the whole world going to do about it? Right now, we're only hearing about U.S. actions and undoubtedly not enough. John Kirby, the Rear Admiral that you were just listening to, is traveling with the Secretary of Defense right now in India. Might that military want to step up and help here?

Let's discuss the possibilities. We have Fareed Zakaria, host of course of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS," also the "Washington Post" columnist and contributing editor for Atlantic Media. You're a busy guy but you'll be talking about this on all of those venues for sure coming forward.

Now, on the U.S. political side, we're hearing the usual in response to the president. You argue about who's to blame for the past, you question the plans of the current, when you have no plan yourself for the future. So let's not play their game. If Iraq falls, what happens? FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": Oh, if Iraq falls,

you have a catastrophe, because you would have this very, very extreme jihadi group that would be in control of a vast not just territory, but one of the five or six largest oil-producing countries in the world with access to revenues in the tens of billions of dollars.

But let's focus on the part that's most threatened right now, which is Kurdistan. The United States, since 1991, in collaboration with Britain and France established a no-fly zone to protect the Kurds. Since then, it has been a bipartisan foreign policy supported by a large part of the international community that the Kurds should be protected. So I think there is a humanitarian issue here, but there's also a strategic issue.

The Kurds are an extraordinarily vibrant, independent-minded, quite democratic force in the region. They're extremely pro-American, pro- Western. I think there is a strategic interest making sure that the Kurds do not fall to ISIS.

CUOMO: But that looks like what's happening right now, because they're outgunned. So do you train them? Do you arm them? And, if so, why aren't you doing it?

ZAKARIA: I believe we need to get more ambitious here, because we've been stymied, we've been stopped in terms of our involvement because of the fact that Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, is a sectarian Shiite who is not creating a national unity government. He's pissing off the Sunnis, but that's not true with the Kurds.

Historically, the United States has succeeded in its interventions abroad when the locals are legitimate and want to fight. Think of South Korea, where that was true, versus South Vietnam, where the locals didn't want to fight. There wasn't an authentic. The Kurds are authentic, they're independent. As I said, they're fierce fighters and they're very pro-Western. We should tie our policy in the region to the idea that we're going to make a much more ambitious effort to ensure that Kurdistan survives as an independent entity.

CUOMO: And just to make the stakes clear to the audience, this group ISIS -- or now they're calling themselves the Caliphate because they want, again, to create an extremist religious state and they want to rule it, which makes them different from terror threats of the past -- they are trying to hunt down and kill these Christians and other minorities. Make no bones about it; that is their goal and it will happen if they're not stopped, true?

ZAKARIA: Oh, absolutely. Understand the depth of the tragedy -- Christian life in this part of the world has existed from the time of the Bible. Part of the tragedy is that, because of this highly sectarian government in Baghdad, Christians have been fleeing anyway, hundreds of thousands even before this, but what ISIS would do would be to literally extinguish Christian life in its original lands.

CUOMO: So where is everybody, Fareed? I mean, we always talk about what the bar is that triggers international action, right? We haven't seen it in Syria. We haven't seen it in the Middle East. But what about this? What about the fact that it's Christians -- and the United States, right, what are they always saying about themselves, the United States? We're a Christian country first. We're a Christian country first. Where is the outrage here?

ZAKARIA: Well, I think that in the short term, nobody can act but the United States, and I think I would support --

CUOMO: Why? Why can't India come in? Why can't the U.N. come in?

ZAKARIA: Nobody has the kind of military capacity the United States has to do something -- in humanitarian sense, in terms of aid, they can. But I do think that the next item on the agenda for the Obama administration, god knows this is complicated, should be to assemble an international coalition.

Because you're absolutely right. If you think about it strategically, as I say the position of the Kurds, if you think about it in humanitarian terms, the extinction of Christian life in Iraq, are important enough goals that you should be able to assemble an international coalition. We're going to have to do the heavy lifting.

CUOMO: A military source says to me, you know, the humanitarian part gets everybody's heart going, but if you don't do anything else, you're just fattening people up to be slaughtered.

ZAKARIA: Absolutely true. I think that's why I favor a more ambitious strategy. You know, Napoleon once said if you're going to take Vienna, take Vienna. In other words, if you're getting involved in a fight, fight to win. And so I would like too see more aid drop. Because if your goal is to defeat ISIS and protect the Kurdish people and these Christians, you got to do something to make sure that happens.

CUOMO: Now, a question that we'll raise here for people as they're starting their NEW DAY here, but that you're going to take on this weekend for sure, is if there is a vacuum of response to this, Iran may well come in and join with their Shia brothers and sisters and take on this fight. And then what would that mean for U.S. interests if you had Iran in control of Iraq?

It's a question that Fareed is going to take on. Thank you for helping us here this morning. Fareed, of course, you get to watch him on "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" Sundays 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. So good we air it twice, Sunday at 10:00 and 1:00 p.m. Eastern, and that will be this weekend of course.

Now, we'll take a break here. When we come up on NEW DAY, loud explosions rocking the Middle East once again. This morning, air strikes resume from Israel after it says militants violated a three- day cease-fire. Who started it this time? And what is the best chance to end it? We have late breaking developments next.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back. We are following all the breaking developments coming out of the Middle East. Rockets and air strikes happening again over Israel and Gaza after a three-day cease-fire expired and truce talks have fallen apart.

So what now? Is there any hope for a cease-fire and for the peace talks to start back up? We're joined by Jake Tapper; he's been on the ground for us in Jerusalem of course for days now, as well as Peter Beinart, CNN political commentator and a senior columnist for Israeli newspaper "Haaretz." Aaron David Miller also joining us from Washington, a former adviser to both Democratic and Republican administrations on Arab-Israeli peace negotiations. He's now the vice president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center.

Gentlemen, hold on one second. I want to get to Jake first to find out exactly, Jake, what are you seeing on the ground? I know you spoke with Netanyahu's spokesman in a very, very important, timely, interesting interview a short time ago.

TAPPER: Well, right now what we're seeing is basically where this war was before Israel launched the ground campaign. We're seeing militants in Gaza firing rockets at Israeli population centers. Israel responding with air strikes. So far we have word of some casualties on both sides -- one death, a 10-year-old boy in Gaza.

But things are, compared to where they have in this conflict, things are fairly low level as of right now. That's not to say that if you're next to one of those rockets or missiles that goes off, it's not very serious. But compared to where it's been, it has not been as heated.

In terms of whatever cease-fire talks were going on in Cairo, those seem to be on hold for now. Israel has -- its delegation has returned to Israel, so there are no longer any individuals there speaking on behalf of Israel with the Egyptians indirectly speaking with Palestinian groups.

There was a move, as you know, Kate, by Palestinians to push Hamas to allow this cease-fire to be extended, but Hamas said no. And we heard last night, they said unless their demands were met and the blockade, or what they called the siege of Gaza, was lifted, they were going to consider the cease-fire expiring at 8:00 a.m. this morning, which it did. And, in fact, some militants in Gaza, although it's unclear who specifically was responsible, some militants broke the cease-fire several hours before it was set to expire. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Jake has been making a really interesting and I think an important point, Peter. I want to get your take on it. So Hamas is saying meet the demands, lift the blockade, or we're going to let the cease-fire expire.

OK, that happened. They let the cease-fire expire. But is that kind of defy logic in how negotiations happen? That's one the main demands coming from Hamas. There's another main demand coming from Israel. How do you sit down at a table and negotiate if you say we're not going to negotiate until you meet our first demand?

TAPPER: Right, it's hard to see how Hamas by relaunching more rockets is going to get in a better position. I think in fact it's going to create a political environment in Israel in which Benjamin Netanyahu feels pressure to go and take an even harder line.

If there is a deal here, it's some trade between some lifting of some aspects of the blockade, not fully but some aspects, like allowing the fishermen to go further off the coast, for instance, and having Palestinian Authority, that's Mahmoud Abbas' guys, at the border crossings between Egypt and Gaza. So therefore you get Abbas rather than Hamas on the ground in Gaza, which gives the Israelis a little more confidence. But Hamas can say we've opened up that crossing a little bit.

But for whatever reason, you weren't able to make that deal in Cairo and now it seems like it's going to be even harder.

BOLDUAN: And where is the motivation, Aaron, at that point for Israel to head back to the negotiating table, do you think?

AARON DAVID MILLER: Well, there is none. The Israelis aren't going to negotiate under pressure. Look, I think in a way we're not reading this correctly. Hamas' military wing is ascendant. They actually think they're winning. They've killed more Israelis now than in both previous operations combined. They've temporarily closed Ben Gurian Airport. They've basically kept the Israelis on edge for almost a month. And the reality is they do not want to cede power to the Palestinian Authority and to allow the P.A. to be the agency that delivers Gaza's redemption through billions in economic assistance, support --

BOLDUAN: But, Aaron, do you see there being any quiet if the P.A. does not become the power again?

MILLER: No, but then again, I'm not entirely sure you can get a solution to this. What you're going to get is an outcome. Maybe you'll buy some additional time.

But, look, we're going to see I think over the next several weeks an off again/on again war of attrition. And the reality is the Israeli/Hamas standoff and struggle is just part of the broader piece. Until you can find a way to solve the Palestinian issue, Hamas is going to be there and they're going to continue to cause significant trouble.

BOLDUAN: Jake, when you spoke to Mark Regev, the spokesman for Benjamin Netanyahu, he said that the premise for moving forward is nonviolence. I mean, he's stating very clearly exactly what Aaron is alluding to, that they don't see any motivation to move forward.

Do you see any room -- are you sensing any room for getting back to the negotiating table? Because Saeb Erakat, he says that the talks are not dead yet.

TAPPER: Well, the talks are never dead. I mean, even when they're fighting each other, the talks theoretically are never dead.

But here's the point. If you're in Hamas, OK, and I'm not excusing the group. It's obviously a group the U.S. considers to be a terrorist group. But if you're in Hamas and you look at Fatah, the party in power in the West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas' party, he agreed to demilitarize the West Bank. You look at the West Bank experiment. You look at the fact that the settlements are still being built, that there is no Palestinian state there, there is no airport even that has been built. And you say what is the incentive for us to demilitarize? The last ones who did that in Oslo didn't get anything.

So I'm not saying that the Israeli request or demand for demilitarization of Gaza is unreasonable. I certainly think it makes a lot of sense for Israel. They're sick of their people being fired upon by rockets. But, from the perspective of Hamas, that is their last card to play, the fact that they can fire rockets at Israel. So that's the conundrum when it comes to demanding demilitarization.

BOLDUAN: Well, and also part of the conundrum, Peter, is the fact that do you think that what Hamas and the Palestinian people are calling for, demanding, lifting the blockade or on some level easing the restrictions, is that unreasonable on its face?

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Israel is concerned about weapons going in there. They're also concerned about dual use things like concrete being used for tunnels.

BOLDUAN: If lift it, how do you control it?

BEINART: Right. That's understandable.

The problem is when you create a blockade that basically shuts down the economy in Gaza -- for instance, almost impossible to export out of Gaza to Israel in the West Bank -- what you do is you create a population that's more desperate, more enraged, which ultimately I think strengthens Hamas.

The business class in Gaza, which could have been an alternative center of power to Hamas, has basically been destroyed because they can't export out of the country. So that's the balance. Yes, Israel has legitimate security concerns in Gaza, but at a certain point, when you punish the entire population too much, I think it rebounds from a security point of view and you ultimately create more security problems for yourself.

BOLDUAN: But you can't keep firing rockets, Aaron, and expect Israel to want to negotiate. Israel's going to come back harder, right?

MILLER: Well, the prime minister has a problem. I mean, he doesn't want to reoccupy Gaza. He doesn't want to launch a massive ground incursion which could quadruple the number of Israeli IDF casualties and increase exponentially the number of civilians in Gaza that are going to be killed, and yet at the same time he's promised to some degree this won't end in a tie. He's looking for a definitive ending, unlike Lebanon in '06 and the two previous rounds. So he really is facing a dilemma.

One additional point, Kate, I looked at where the story appears on "The Rundown." You know, it's no longer the top of the hour. You got Ebola and you got something else. You have -- this administration on the cusp of what could be a major and encumbering set of new initiatives in Iraq, and in a way, this is going to reduce this story to a degree of scale that may well -- and I'm not sure this is a great idea -- leave the Israelis and the Palestinians more and more to their own devices. And that, frankly, only portends additional clashes and confrontation.

BOLDUAN: You don't think, though, if there's less attention on this, that it offers them an opportunity to make a better deal?

MILLER: Well, you know, if there was a major incentive on the part of the two major combatants, Israel and Hamas, to cut a deal, the answer would be yes. I'm not entirely persuaded though -- again, back to Hamas' military wing -- that they're quite ready to stand down. And they see escalation as a way to increase the pressure on Israel. I think they're wrong and that's why I think we're headed for a significant uptick in the level of violence.

BOLDUAN: I think you make a very important point. We'll end on that, though, that it doesn't seem that Hamas' military wing at least thinks they are losing in continuing this fight at all. They don't see a reason to go to the negotiating table because the rockets are their negotiating tactic.

Aaron, Peter, Jake, thanks so much. Jake, be safe over there. We'll get back to you. Thanks, guys, really appreciate it.

And be sure to watch "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper of course every day 4:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. Jake's going to continue his great reporting from the ground in Jerusalem.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, President Obama has authorized targeted air strikes against ISIS forces wreaking havoc in Iraq right now. We're going to get the perspective from a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq about the situation, what's changed, what should the U.S. do?

And also a big one-two punch headed for Hawaii right now. A tropical storm is already soaking part of the island and a hurricane is looming out in the ocean. We're going to have more on that, more on what's to come. That's ahead.