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Iraq PM Defies U.S., Clings to Power; Fatal Police Shooting in Missouri Sparks Protests; Interview with State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf

Aired August 11, 2014 - 08:00   ET




Losing all my papers here, trying to get them into place.

It is Monday, August 11th, 8:00 in the East. A lot of news we're getting to this morning.

We begin, though, with the political crisis in Iraq overnight. A swell of ground troops and tanks entered Baghdad neighborhoods, including the Green Zone, apparently, as a power play by the embattled Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.

He's under pressure from the United States to step down in favor of someone who can unite the country as it fights ISIS militants in many parts of the country. It comes as the United States carries out a new round of air strikes against ISIS targets in northern Iraq.

CNN's Barbara Starr has more for us live from the Pentagon this morning.

What are you looking at now, Barbara?


Well, Iraq now clearly a full blown military and political crisis for the Obama administration.


STARR (voice-over): This morning, political chaos in Iraq. The prime minister of the country in crisis, Nouri al Maliki, flexing military muscle amid fears of being ousted. Maliki, who's in charge of the Iraqi military, increased the numbers of Iraqi troops, security forces and tanks in Baghdad on Sunday, including in Baghdad's Green Zone, the location of the Iraqi parliament and the largest U.S. embassy in the world. A troubling sign after Iraq's new president allowed more time for the national coalition to find a replacement for the prime minister.

Maliki said the extension is a violation of the constitution that would lead the political process into a dark tunnel. The U.S. says they back the new Iraqi president. Only 220 miles to the north in Irbil, one apparent consequence of a government divided.

ISIS' murderous rampage hampered by U.S. airstrikes over the weekend. The U.S. conducting five strikes near Irbil to defend Kurdish forces protecting U.S. personnel. And four airstrikes near Sinjar, defending Yazidis civilians.

The U.S. response helping to partially break the siege by ISIS and allow thousands of the religious minority Iraqis trapped on Mount Sinjar to be rescued. Over the weekend, Kurdish forces were also able to recapture two towns south of Irbil pushing back ISIS militants. The U.S. also conducting its fourth air drop of food and water, as the humanitarian crisis worsens, totaling over 70,000 meals and 15,000 gallons of water now delivered.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our military obviously can play an extraordinarily important role in bolstering efforts of a Iraqi partner as they make the right steps to keep their country together. But we can't do it for them.


STARR: ISIS not down and out, not by any measure. In fact, U.S. intelligence agencies are increasingly worried about the number of additional fighters including foreign fighters that may be rushing to join the organization -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us this morning -- Barbara, thank you so much.

Coming up in a few minutes, we'll be speaking live to the state department spokesperson about what the U.S. can do now, what is the U.S. view, what's going on the ground in Iraq. That's in a few minutes.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Back here at home, protests turned violent in a St. Louis suburb. Overnight, angry crowds took to the streets looting, confronting police. Why? Because of the fatal death of an unarmed teen, fatal shooting that led to the death.

Police say a violent struggle occurred before the officer shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. But there are two versions to this story at least. And family members are outraged, sparking renewed debate about police brutality and in minority neighborhoods.

We're going to talk to the mayor from there in a moment.

First, CNN's George Howell is live in Ferguson, Missouri, with more.

I know it's quiet there now, George. But you were in the thick of it last night. What is driving it?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, you put it there quite precisely. Two different versions of the story that have sparked outrage that have sparked unanswered questions that inspired thousands of people to come out to this street and initially for a peaceful rally. But, again, we were here to watch it all happen as things degenerated

into anger, into violence, and some people who came to just take advantage of the moment.


HOWELL (voice-over): Across the city, a night of pure chaos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is your warning. Leave the area, disperse!

HOWELL: People pushing the limit with police.

Racial tensions, nerves on edge. Even an officer we caught on camera gave in to his rage calling protesters animals. Listen.



HOWELL: Many here are angry about what witnesses say was an unprovoked attack on an unarmed teenager. Michael Brown, shot and killed Saturday by a Ferguson police officer.

We watched as a struggle played out Sunday night. Some protesters who took to the streets trying to keep the peace while taking a stand against police.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is really a peace march. It's nothing started to hurt a police officer. This is all about peace.

HOWELL (on camera): It's not a peace march anymore. I mean, you hear what's happening. You see them, these confrontations between people and police officers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, and then it got outrageous.

HOWELL (voice-over): Others who simply came to cause trouble.

(on camera): Police are still stationary right now. But I want to show you what's happening at that JC Wireless. People broke through the glass. And right now, you can see people running in and out, apparently looting that store.

Cell phone video captures the frenzy, stores being looted. Some people threw rocks and bottles. The sound of gunshots rang out several times Sunday night. We had to take cover.

All of this started as a peaceful march Sunday for Michael Brown's family.

LESLEY MCSPADDEN, VICTIM'S MOTHER: You took my son away from me. You know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school and graduate? You know how many black men graduate? Not many. Because you bring them down to this type of level where they feel like they don't got nothing to live for anyway. They're going to try to take me out anyway. HOWELL: The victim's friend says they were walking together when

Brown was stopped by a police officer. Witnesses say the teen had his hands in the air at the time he was shot and killed.

But police tell a different story, that Brown instigated the altercation, physically assaulting the officer while in his car and struggling to take his gun. The unanswered questions sparked people to take action.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're (INAUDIBLE) for the community, Caucasian, African-American, Asian, everyone, it doesn't matter what color you are. Get out here and support your people.

HOWELL: Police made several hours of arrest, several hours of insanity, for the moment distracting from the greater call for justice.


HOWELL: With the light of day now, the looting has certainly stopped. The Main Street here through Ferguson is much quieter than what we saw several hours ago. But fair to say the frustration, the anger and outrage remains for many in this community who want answers to those unanswered questions.

And, again what we're expecting today, another peaceful, we're told, rally that will happen at 10:00 a.m. local time in front of the police department, the hope for many organizers is that today, we do not see a repeat of what we saw overnight.

CUOMO: All right, George. But as you're saying, the mood of that community only as good as their confidence in the process of finding answers and ultimately justice.

Today, Brown's family will hold a news conference with their new attorney, Benjamin Crump. You'll remember that name. Crump represented the family of Trayvon Martin.

So, how will the town handle this situation? Is there going to be another chaotic scene, is there going to be calm?

Let's bring in the mayor of Ferguson, James Knowles.

Mr. Mayor, you were largely in control of this situation. It's your community. You're a young man yourself.

You're in your second term. You were 30 years old when you were elected, 34 now. That will give you an opportunity to appeal to a wide cut of your community. Being young yourself, and being a leader. Leadership is needed right now.

What is the message to your community?

JAMES KNOWLES, MAYOR, FERGUSON, MISSOURI: The only thing I can tell my community now is to remain calm and obviously the events of last night are not indicative of what we are in Ferguson, what we have done to bring our community around the past 10 years.

I can tell you that what's going on last night I understand the rage and anger of people, but this is not constructive. This is not doing any good for our community. It is only bringing the community down.

And, unfortunately, it is not going to do anything for the process involved right now and investigating the untimely death of this young man.

CUOMO: But it is helpful for you to be out there about what that process is, and showing ownership. I know it's the cops. I know they're investigating it. But it's your city.

What can you do to give this community confidence that this is not going to be forgotten, that you're going to know what's happening, that you're going to keep them updated so that they don't need to use flashpoints like last night to get attention?

KNOWLES: Well, I think the biggest concern from protesters, speaking to people involved in some of these events is that this, you know, this investigation will be whitewashed or won't be impartiality. We turned this over obviously to the next highest authority, which will be St. Louis County police and government.

We have taken a hands off approach now to this investigation because we want people to have faith in the process, we want them to know that is going to be looked in, it will be impartial, that justice will be served and that, you know, we as a community are trying to move forward and calm people. As a government, we are not going to be involved in this investigation because we want people to be confident in the process.

CUOMO: But you do have to be there coaxing it forward, making sure there is an urgency to it, otherwise the longer it goes, the more are trouble there are -- there is, especially when you have these types of flashpoints and I'm calling that to use a more gentle word, because, you know, people want to call it something ugly, but the motivation counts as well.

You had your cops caught on tape screaming at the -- not screaming at the crowd but talking back to the crowd saying bring it, bring it, you want to come over here, I'll show you what happens. The cops have to be better than the people around them. What is your message to those cops?

KNOWLES: Well, there is 15 different police agencies that were here last evening. I believe many more actually came throughout the night. So, not all of them are Ferguson police officers, but I can tell you this, we have been lauded by local media and others that our officers and officers around this area have shown a great deal of restraint.

We're trying to not allow this to escalate. We're trying to give people an opportunity to speak their mind and protest, to let out some of that anger in a constructive manner. But last night obviously everything lost control. The officers did their best. They are only human. They are here to serve the community and that is what they're doing.

CUOMO: But you do know that you need to get the message out there, Mr. Mayor, that the cops can't be yelling back at the crowd like that. It is not going to make anything better.

KNOWLES: Absolutely. No, absolutely not. But that's something we'll deal with internally.

But, absolutely, until the flashpoint last evening, our officers and other officers acted with a great deal of restraint.

CUOMO: Now, but of course now that takes us back to the original question here is, what kind of restraint was used by the officer involved in this altercation? Obviously, the young man dead. The question is why. Have you met with the family?

KNOWLES: Have not been able to meet with the family yet unfortunately. As you can see, tensions are a little high. We did have on the day of the incident our police chief was able to make contact with the mother and the father.

I do hope to be able to meet with the mother and father in the next day or so. I know they are calling for an end to protests. They're not happy with what is going on right now obviously in this community. We're all in this together as far as that is concerned. You know, as far as what happened with the officer, there is an investigation taking place and we have to allow that to play out. We cannot get involved in that. That will home tank the process.

CUOMO: Understand you want to keep a step away from it so people don't think there is any corruption involved, it is done somewhat by an objective body. I get that.

But as a lifer from Ferguson yourself, and you know how much leadership means to that community, is this something you're going to try to own not from a culpability standpoint or responsibility standpoint but leadership, of meeting the family, bringing them in, let people know they're being shown respect?

KNOWLES: Absolutely. We met with people last night. We met with clergy. I've been meeting with some of the area clergy and some African-American elected officials and leaders in the area tomorrow evening. We'll hopefully move that up, considering last evening's events.

But, you know, what we will own in this process is when the investigation is complete, and whatever is the outcome of that investigation, at that point it is our police officer and we will own that situation, we will take the outcome of that investigation and deal with it. We will own that.

But the investigation itself, like I said, the people here are wanting an impartial investigation. To have me or anyone else politically get involved in that, I don't think it does anybody any justice and a disservice to both the young man and the officer himself. CUOMO: And the pace matters. We heard that expression, justice

delayed is justice denied. Push the pace, Mr. Mayor. We'll stay on the story and we're here to tell it for you when you're ready. Thank you for joining us, Mayor Knowles.

KNOWLES: Thank you very much.

CUOMO: All right. We'll take a break on NEW DAY.

Iraq in dire straits to say the least -- you have instability growing within the government. You have the U.S. that is doing more and more to take on ISIS militants. How far will they go?

We're going to hear from the State Department spokesperson on what's the next step.

And, the latest on the investigation into the horrific death of a race car driver hit and killed by NASCAR star Tony Stewart. What happened? Why did it happen?

We're not going to show it to you, but why it happened very importantly. There is an investigation by police. The latest, ahead.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is slamming his country's new president, claiming that he is violating the constitution. Well, now, there are fears that al Maliki himself will be abusing his authority to hang on to power. This as the U.S. hits more ISIS targets over the weekend.

So, let's get the very latest in the latest view coming from the U.S. State Department. State Department spokeswoman Maria Harf is joining us now.

Marie, thank so much for coming in.


BOLDUAN: Of course.

So, I want to ask you, the secretary -- Secretary Kerry is in Australia. And he said, I mean, it's pretty clear that al Maliki lost the support of Washington, but he also urging al Maliki to not stoke political tensions there. He said, "Our hope is that Mr. Maliki will not stir those waters."

But to be clear, is it the secretary's view that Nouri al Maliki must go?

HARF: Well, it's not up to us to decide who the next prime minister of Iraq should be. And I think an important point that has happened since the secretary made those comments is the Shiite block in Iraq has nominated someone else to be the next prime minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi.

So, we want this process to continue. I know there is a lot of tension on the ground, certainly very tense situation. But there is a path forward here to form a fully inclusive new government, and we stand ready to work with that new government as soon as it is in place.

BOLDUAN: What you're looking on the ground is you're looking at tanks in the streets, you're looking at Iraqi special forces even in the Green Zone.

What will the U.S. do if al Maliki won't budge?

HARF: Well, what we want to see here, Kate, as I said, is the Iraqis move forward themselves with an inclusive process to form a new government. And we have seen some progress on that front just today. We have had a number of conversations with Prime Minister Maliki, with the new president of Iraq, with all of the leaders in Iraq, about how they can move forward here.

And to be clear, as we said yesterday, we would not support any attempts to use coercion, to use the constitutional or judicial process to coerce a different outcome than the Iraqi people themselves and the constitutional process indeed warrants at this point.

BOLDUAN: Right, I mean, you -- the administration has wanted to see that though for months. I mean, when I sat down with President Obama, he said very much this very same thing, he wanted to see the process move forward. What we're looking at now is a different situation on the ground. You're not only looking at violence in the north, but you're also looking at what could be the makings of a political coup in Baghdad.

What will the United States do if Nouri al Maliki will not leave?

HARF: Well, let's not get ahead of what we see here. I understand that Prime Minister Maliki made strong comments last night. We knew this would be a difficult process. We always said that. We never knew -- or never thought it would be easy.

But what we have seen today is the Shiite bloc nominates a new candidate for prime minister. There is a process in place here in place where they can get a new government, formed very quickly. So you're right. While we have seen a very tense situation over the last 24 hours, I really think we need to take a step back and see if the Iraqis themselves can make progress politically over the next 24.

BOLDUAN: What is the conversation with Nouri al Maliki? I know the State Department has communications with him. What are you -- are you talk about making a deal with him? Are you talking about helping to keep him safe if he does leave? I know that is a bit of a question there on the ground. Some concerns about that. What is the conversation with Nouri al Maliki today?

HARF: The conversations with Prime Minister Maliki, but also with other Iraqi leaders. Because to be clear, this isn't just about Prime Minister Maliki. This is about all of Iraq's leaders, putting aside their --


BOLDUAN: Right. But what first step is very clear and the secretary made very clear today that this first step does include not having Maliki there.

HARF: It includes having a new government in place. We see a path forward for that now. The conversation is about putting aside personal ambitions. We know this is very difficult. We know there is a lot of tension and a lot of personal things that play on the ground here.

But what the Iraqi people need in order to fight ISIL in the best way possible is a new government as soon as possible so that's the conversation we're having, not just with Prime Minister Maliki, but with all of Iraq's leaders.

If you look at what is happening in the north particularly, this is the time to put aside politics and put the people of Iraq first.

BOLDUAN: Is the secretary, is the State Department concerned when they see tanks moving through the Green Zone? Iraqi special forces moving through the Green Zone, or do they -- or is the view that this is more of a political muscle flex coming from Nouri al Maliki?

HARF: Well, look, we're always concerned about reports coming from the ground like this and we're obviously concerned about our people that are in Baghdad and in Irbil.

Some of this is actually quite frankly not new. We have some of this military presence in the Green Zone already. So I would caution people from assuming some of this is new.

But what the president has said is we have a couple of objectives right now with our action. One of which is protecting our people in Baghdad and Irbil. We're very focused on that. It's something we watch all the time. And we'll take additional steps as we did over the weekend to re-adjust our staffing, move people in, move people out, to help us with our goals here.

BOLDUAN: And important part of that the very same time, it comes -- it is interesting that this also came, the president of the Kurdish region in Iraq, he actually wrote a piece for "The Washington Post" and said they need more help, they want specifically weapons to come from the united states, to help better arm them so they can fight off is. Is the United States directly sending weapons to the Kurdish forces?

HARF: Well, Kate, as we said last week, we're working with the government of Iraq to increasingly and very quickly get urgently needed arms to the Kurds. This includes the Iraqis providing their own weapons from their own stocks, and we're working to do the same thing from our stocks of weapons that we have.

So, it's really a team effort here. We have seen an unprecedented level of cooperation between the Iraqi forces and the Kurdish forces. Quite frankly, we hadn't seen that in the past. They're helping each other out.

So, any way we can get the very urgently needed arms to the Kurds we are actively working on, we'll work with the government of Iraq to do that, but we believe again there is such an urgent situation that we need to do this.

BOLDUAN: You call it an urgent situation -- of course, I mean, we can see it on the ground. We know also one of the objectives of U.S. involvement there is to protect U.S. personnel. If there is such a concern for U.S. personnel, especially in Irbil, why not move them all out?

HARF: Well, because we believe it is important to have a presence there. We have a joint operation center in Irbil that is currently sharing very critical intelligence with the Iraqis, to help them fight ISIL. That's a key national security priority. So, we want to have people on the ground there who can carry on this mission.

Over the weekend we removed some people from Irbil, but we sent an additional team to Irbil that could work on some of the challenges fighting ISL right now.

So, look, we constantly re-evaluate. That's why we have taken steps as ISIL moved on Irbil. But we believe it is important to have people on the ground helping the Iraqis, helping the Kurds fight this very serious threat.

BOLDUAN: Maria Harf, coming from the State Department for us this morning -- Marie, thank you very much for your time.

HARF: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

We take a break. Coming up next on NEW DAY, horror on the racetrack. A race car driver hit and killed by star Tony Stewart as he walked on the track. You see him right there. We're going to have the very latest on the investigation, coming up.