Return to Transcripts main page


Former Iraqi Ambassador to U.S. Explains Why He Left Post; Names and Faces of Turkey's Media Crackdown; Finding Faith in Humanity

Aired August 1, 2016 - 14:00:00   ET


[14:00:00] MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight on the program, the former Iraqi ambassador to Washington tells me why he quit and says the U.S.

should have been more decisive early on in the battle against ISIS.


LUKMAN FAILY, FORMER IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: The fight we have against ISIS is an essential threat, and we wanted the U.S. to appreciate that and

to understand the ramification to the geopolitics of the region.


HOLMES: Also ahead, Syrian rebels push to break the siege of Aleppo as thousands remained trapped and without food. A report from inside the

country. And the journalist who is tweeting the names and faces of Turkey's media crackdown. Who they are? And why they are being arrested?

Good evening, everyone. Welcome to the program. I'm Michael Holmes in for Christiane tonight here from London.

Now, this is where the city's police chief has warned that a terror attack in Britain is a question of when, not if. There's no doubt ISIS is

expanding its global reach in spite although because of it being on the defensive in Iraq.

Now Iraqi forces had been making big territorial gains against the group and may even be ahead in scheduling their campaign to take back the key

city of Mosul.

Some reports suggest it could happen as soon as October. No doubt the recapturing of Mosul would be a significant win in the fight against ISIS

that our next guest says Mosul might not have fallen in the first place if the U.S. and Iraq had had a better relationship as ISIS grew.

And he would know. He served as Iraq's ambassador to the U.S. up until July. He joined me earlier from Washington for his TV interview since.


HOLMES: Lukman Faily welcome to the program.

You speak of the disconnect between the U.S. and the Iraqi governments early on in this fight against ISIS. But warnings were not heeded or taken

seriously enough.

Tell me what was ignored.

FAILY: It is primarily what I might call a mental block against the whole Iraq project, and this was clear for us after 2008. And it was manifested

further in 2011 with troop withdrawal.

So to us, the fight we had against ISIS is an existential threat. And we wanted the U.S. to appreciate that and to understand the ramification to

the geopolitics of the region.

HOLMES: Why do you think that didn't happen? Do you think it was partly because of Nouri al-Maliki, the former prime minister?

FAILY: Part of it was to do with an intern Iraqi projects and it was projected and partly to do with the whole 2008, the sort of President Obama

coming to power. And partly to do with that the Iraqi themselves were so much engage in their internal politics and didn't allow for us to project a

unified front.

And also don't forget that ISIS have been able to manipulate the politics in the region including some of the geopolitics and making sure that some

of the players in the region are not against them openly.

HOLMES: I'm wondering how different the battle against ISIS would have look today on the ground if the U.S. in your view had taken it more


FAILY: I'm sure that, for example, when we ask the Americans that setting camps need to be destroyed and other type of operations that have taken

place, I'm sure their capabilities would have been the greatest, strongly and certainly they would not even have thought about the ambition of moving

in to cities and towns, let alone, the whole third of Iraq.

HOLMES: So you think, you think that we would not have the ISIS problem we have now if the U.S. government had acted more decisively.

FAILY: Not in the scale of it. Not in the distraction of heritage and minorities and so on and displacement and so on. Not to that scale.

We would only have an issue of terrorism, it was partially home-grown, partially regional. We always had issues with our neighbors and relation

to supporting terrorism from their side or allowing for them to come across borders. So we have that. And nobody should shy away from that attack.

But at the same time, the scale and the viciousness of their attack plus our inability to counter it.

Let's not forget, when they are making troops left, there was not even a single fighter plane at the end of 2011 owned by the Iraqis. Not a single


HOLMES: You and I spoke less than a year ago now on this program and you spoke of the need for more support for the Iraqi government. More urgency.

As I say, that's less than a year ago. That situation surely now has change.

Why did you decide to leave the post of ambassador now?

FAILY: Most certainly it has. My leaving the post, I wouldn't say, has to do with the current politics. My leaving the post overall to do with the

type of relationship we want across both predictability of it.

I was, two days ago, at the Aspen Institute. I asked the current SITCOM commander to give me a reading of the relationship in three to five years.

And he was not in a position to give me such a reading.

[14:05:20] How do we want to have such a scale addressing such an important issue such as security in the region without having predictability of the

relationship moving forward.

HOLMES: And you've spoken of doing something, I think your words were something very exciting, you hope very productive. What does that mean?

What are you going to do now?

FAILY: The key issue we have now is that we don't have enough people who understand both cultures, can communicate, can become interlocketers, can

describe the drivers for both societies. We at this moment can't say that we confidently read each other.

HOLMES: If you're now free of the shackles, if you like, of diplomacy, tell me what you make of the battlefield, in particular when it comes to


A lot of people thought this would not happen until next year, perhaps February, March, even later. But now there's a lot of talk it'll happen in

October, November perhaps. Mosul and Raqqah.

What do you see is the timetable, and what factors are in play?

FAILY: If you remember, some time ago, some senior officials, American officials, said that the Iraqis don't have the will to fight. And we

reflected and we told everybody that we do have the will to fight. And what we see now is a clear sign that we have been taking the fight, we are

paying dearly for it, and I think in addition to that, you have also a clear embracement of this support from President Obama himself and all of

that, all these factors all fit into the narrative that ISIS is being defeated.

So I think the liberation of Mosul is a clear sign that we are on the right projection and path.

HOLMES: You know, I'm wondering also whether you believe Iraq has enough leaders at the moment who have a vision for the future, men or women who

could be, for want of a better description, founding fathers of the nation.

FAILY: What we miss is that a lot of the American engagement early on was with those people whom they were comfortable with, not who were needed to

be on the ground. And to that, unfortunately, wrong generation of political leaders came up.

What we need now -- I'm not saying they don't have good ones. We do. But I'm saying we need a bigger, larger, deeper type of leaders who think about

the next generation and not just the immediate politics.

HOLMES: But do you think Iraq, to that point, can ever truly lose the sectarian barriers that existed before, exist now, were exacerbated under

Nouri al-Maliki? And really those barriers have to go to Iraq to continue to exist within borders as a contiguous state under central government.

FAILY: Michael, the formula which was to do with Arab, Kurds, Sunni, Shi'a is a wrong formula. It's one dimension. I'm a Kurd and a Shi'a. Where do

you pick me in this 2x2 metrics?

I think we need to look at the commonalities. What we have. Don't forget, we are a very old nation as well. So to that extent, it wasn't always

about Kurds and Shi'a and Sunni. It's some significant injustice took before with Saddam Hussein. Some people thought that justice should be

given in such a way.

And let's not forget, the Americans didn't have any experience in Iraq before. So we should not rely on a model imported from elsewhere. We

should create our own model in relation to our social on contract between the communities, intra and inter-communities.

HOLMES: Well, good luck in your future endeavour, whatever form that may take.

Lukman Faily, thanks so much.

FAILY: Thank you, Michael.


HOLMES: And now to Syria, where it is the single deadliest incident for the Russian military since it became involved in the Civil War.

Moscow says one of its helicopters has been shot down over Syria, killing all five people on board.

State television reporting they were on their way back from delivering aid to civilians in Aleppo when the chopper was hit. Rebels are trying to

break a Syrian army siege of that rebel-held part of the city.

For those trapped inside, there are fears of a human catastrophe unfolding.

Earlier, I spoke to Pavel Krzysiek, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Damascus. He gave us this update about what

it is like in Aleppo right now.


HOLMES: Pavel Krzysiek, thanks so much for being with us on the program.

You've got Aleppo cut off. You've got a rebel counteroffensive to break that siege. What is the situation for civilians who can't get out?

PAVEL KRZYSIEK, SPOKESMAN, INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF RED CROSS: I think Aleppo right now is facing one of the fiercest escalations of fighting

since months. We should remember this is the city that has been very, very hardly affected by the ongoing fighting for years now. But what we have

seen in the past couple of weeks really exceeded our expectations.

[14:10:10] Shelling, mortars, air strikes, medical mission attacks. You know, large swaths of civilians being cut off essential, you know,

humanitarian aids. This really sounds like (INAUDIBLE).

HOLMES: There are reports of so-called humanitarian corridors but also reports that many people don't trust them.

I wanted to ask you about the medical situation. In particular, reports from the physicians for human rights' Web site, for example, documenting

that from March 2011, 373 attacks on medical facilities in Syria, 750 medical personnel killed.

You know, how many facilities are left now? How much in terms of medical resources remain?

KRZYSIEK: This is a very difficult question to answer because, in fact, nobody really covers the statistics or follow the statistics anymore in

Syria because the attacks are so frequent. The situation is so cultic that it's just basically impossible.

I promised myself that I would not compare, you know, various places affected by the conflict because pretty much, you know, elsewhere,

everywhere in Syria, you know, the suffering of both human beings has been enormous. But I think Aleppo is one of those places where medical

missions, where doctors, where patients really suffer the most as a result of this really ruthless, fearless fighting.

HOLMES: Do you believe, as many do, that these facilities are not collateral damage. That they are being targeted? There are reports of

four hospitals and a blood bank, just for example, being hit several times back in July.

KRZYSIEK: Listen, I don't think it's up to me to judge whether it's collateral damage or not. What I can tell you is that this has to stop

because it's absolute madness. I mean, it's unbelievable that overnight you can have four medical facilities hit, that, you know, in the past four

days as we've seen two months ago, four hospitals have been hit as a result of the fighting. I mean, this has to stop.

HOLMES: And what about, I was going to ask you about that for the people of Aleppo, that loss of facilities, but also medical knowledge, that

ability. What does that mean for the locals? We talk a lot about the food situation, but losing those facilities and those medical people.

KRZYSIEK: That's a great concern, not only for us, for the ICRC but I think for every single humanitarian organization that is responding in the


I mean, imagine, Aleppo has been a scene of one of the heaviest, heaviest fighting since the years in Syria, the situation, the health situation has

been already dramatic.

So, I mean, now from dramatic, where the situation can go from dramatic, I really don't know.

HOLMES: Yes, many, many medical staff we say have been killed, and many of those who have not been killed have fled. I can't imagine the level of

bravery for those who remain.

What would it be like knowing that as you work to safe lives, you could lose yours at any time?

KRZYSIEK: Well, that's a very good question. I mean, it's the question that we sometimes ask our self when in the field. But you know, we ask

them sometimes, and many of those doctors ask those questions every single day.

HOLMES: I don't know if you do, but do you have any sense of optimism? I mean, when you look at parts of Aleppo, the destruction is almost total.

Can you see any light at the end of the tunnel? Is there anything left?

KRZYSIEK: I hope that the people, that there will be some sort of respite in fighting, that there will be some sort of relief for the people, you

know, wherever they are. We've been talking about the humanitarian corridors.

That's a very, you know, by definition, very positive, let's say, development. Only if, you know, the people have actually the choice to go

for it or not. And those who decide to stay, wherever they are, they should be really allowed to receive humanitarian aid. They should be

allowed to leave.

HOLMES: Pavel Krzysiek, thanks so much.

KRZYSIEK: Thank you.


HOLMES: And coming up, we cross the border to a domestic crisis in Turkey, as tens of thousands lose their jobs in the post-coup purge by President

Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.

I talk with a journalist speaking about the growing number of his colleagues who have been arrested. That's next.


[14:16:30] HOLMES: Welcome back to the program, everyone. It is a staggering statistic. More than 60,000 people in Turkey have been detained

or fired or suspended from their jobs following the failed military coup 2- 1/2 weeks ago.

Many of them work for state-run institutions. We're talking about teachers, judges, university deans. Others were from the military. And 89

arrest warrants have been issued for journalists like those you see behind me.

My next guest says it is all part of a government purge and crackdown on the media specifically.

Turkish reporter Mahir Zeynalov who was expelled from the country two years ago has taken to social media to highlight the journalists' causes.

In a series of tweets which have now gone viral. He joins me now from Washington, D.C.

And thanks for doing so, Mahir.

Well over 100 media outlets suspected of, quote, "Inciting or sympathizing with the coup," unquote, have been shut down, including I think your own


What's been the impact of that in terms of what Turks are hearing and reading about events happening in their own country?

MAHIR ZEYNALOV, TURKISH JOURNALIST AND ANALYST: Well, it's exactly right. More than 131 media outlets have been shut down and only in the past week.

I mean, that's a continuation of the crackdown, massive crackdown that's been imposed upon the Turkish media, the critical media.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not only cracking down on dissenters and trying to crush critical media, but he's also building his

own loyalist media.

And the number of the journalists that are detained or arrested in the past few weeks made Turkey number one in the world, surpassing China in the

number of jailed journalists. It's very dangerous and risky at the moment to the journalism in Turkey.

HOLMES: And when we hear of, quote, "inciting or sympathizing with the coup," what does that mean? Does that mean simply reporting on it? Does

it mean simply giving an alternative point of view to the government's?

ZEYNALOV: Look, Michael, those journalists that I wrote story of them, I went through their social media accounts on the night of July 15 when the

coup was unfolding. Almost all of them categorically rejected the military coup attempt, and they supported the civilian government. It's absolutely

ridiculous to call them supporters of the coup. Because most of these journalists were excellent reporters, and they have been always supporting

the civilian government. They were always promoting the lesser role for military in politics.

So it's unacceptable that they are charged for supporting coup and detained.

HOLMES: I will get to a couple of the specific journalists in a moment and get you to speak about them. But before I do, your tweets about them went

absolutely viral, went all around the world.

Why did you decide to take that approach?

ZEYNALOV: Look, most media outlets all over the world just provided numbers and statistics. And the extent of the crackdown on the media was

absolutely jaw dropping.

And when I saw that, there are like 88 journalists are assault and wanted for arrest. I felt like why not the world is doing anything. And then I

thought that there's actually a story behind all these reporters and columnists.

I mean, these are my colleagues that I worked with in the same newsroom. These are the colleagues, some of them I ask questions during press

conferences, worked together, were tear gassed by police during demonstrations.

I mean, these are the reporters that I worked with for years. And I went on Twitter and tried to tell their stories, that they are not only

statistics, they are not only numbers but these are excellent columnist and journalist and they don't deserve to be detained.

And at the end of each tweet, I wrote one word, arrested, as a price they paid for standing up to the government.

HOLMES: And the whole idea was to put a face and a name to these individual journalists. And so let's honor that.

Tell me about Sahin Alpay. The word you put out there was, "I don't know anyone else who fought for Turkish democracy more than him."

Tell me about it.

ZEYNALOV: Well, Sahin Alpay has been a long-time columnist for "The Mondale (ph)," which was shut down this way by the Turkish government.

He's a left-wing columnist.

I mean, he has always been supporting democracy, has always been promoting civilian governments because Turkey is known for -- notoriously known for

its military dictatorships in the past.

I mean, Sahin Alpay was -- I mean, if there's anyone that should be blamed for a coup, Sahin Alpay would be the last one.

HOLMES: Tell me about another one. Nazli Ilicak, I think is how you say it. A staunch supporter, you wrote, of liberal democracy.

ZEYNALOV: That's correct. I mean, Nazli Ilicak is a conservative one. She's 72 years old. She has been columnist and writer for dozens of

newspapers. And everyone knows her. She is absolutely terrific in promoting democracy. She's very liberal. And it's absolutely horrifying

that someone like her right now in jail, someone who supported and who backed Turkish democracy for almost decades are now in jail.

HOLMES: Mr. Erdogan, of course, says he's defending democracy, and many would say the failure of the coup was a triumph of democracy. Is what

we're seeing now, I don't know, a slow strangulation of democracy?

ZEYNALOV: That's right. I mean, it seems that a failed military coup d'etat is as bad as a successful military coup d'etat would be. The amount

of crackdown is so massive that teachers, faculty, deans, judge and prosecutors were dismissed or sacked, suspended or detained. And nearly

20,000 people were arrested. Most of them have no any relationship with any type of coup attempt.

And it seems that President Erdogan is capitalizing his popularity at the moment and because the coup attempt has failed, he is now trying to use

this opportunity and seize the moment to consolidate his power.

HOLMES: You know, there are these cuts in freedom of speech. There is freedom of the media to report and these detentions and so on, but how

concern are you about the risks of a further move away from Turkey's secular roots, the very foundation of what Kemal Ataturk wanted to see in


Separation of church and state. Do you fear that there is a move towards a more Islamist Turkey?

ZEYNALOV: I mean, we -- Recep Tayyip Erdogan is himself an Islamist, but when he came to power in 2003, he said that he's no more an Islamist and he

wanted to be a member of the European Union and he will be a more Liberal Democrat.

But as we see, as he built his own loyalist media, as he consolidated his power, he increased his executive presidency. He's now talking like an

Islamist would talk.

And on July 15 when there was a coup, when people flocked into the streets to confront the military, the entire Turkey cheered it as a victory for

democracy. But I've seen lots of disturbing images of those Jihadists, of these Islamists who were chanting religious slogans. And there were just,

you know, as some of them were very violent.

So these probably are symptoms that somehow an Islamist agenda is on the way in Turkey. But those 1 percent or 2 percent are -- they are very

marginal segment of a society, but they are boring developments that Erdogan is using the Islamist rhetoric to crackdown on dissent and to

solidify his electorate.

HOLMES: Mahir Zeynalov, thanks so much.

ZEYNALOV: Thanks for having me.

HOLMES: When we come back here on the program, a moment of unity. Imagine a world coming together to heal after great trauma. France's Catholics and

Muslims under one roof after this.


[14:26:48] HOLMES: Finally tonight, in our world haunted by terror in the name of religion, we sometimes see the question, where is the Muslim


Well, the reality is that time and time again, they have shouted out, denouncing the horrors inflicted in the name of their faith, but all too

often they are ignored and their rejection of such terror goes unheard. Well, tonight we imagine a world where Muslim voices again attack extremism

and are heard as they push for unity once again.

Across France on Sunday, Muslims went to churches and cathedrals to attend Catholic mass in an extraordinary show of interfaith solidarity after the

murder of the Catholic priest Father Jacques Hamel last week.

Nice's top imam also leading a delegation to mass. An important healing moment in France's City on the sea, where just over two weeks ago 84 people

were killed in a terror attack.

This action spread far beyond France. In Italy, 15,000 members of the Muslim community went to churches on Sunday. A world standing together

across race and creed, giving us all a little faith in humanity.

And that is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can see us online at Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @HolmesCNN. Thanks for

watching and good-bye for now from London.