Zakaria: Obama faces tough decision on Iraq
June 12th, 2014
06:06 PM ET

Zakaria: Obama faces tough decision on Iraq

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the latest developments in Iraq, what the takeover of Mosul by the Islamist State in Iraq and Syria means for the country’s future, and whether the United States should get involved militarily. This is an edited version of the transcript.

So what is going on in Iraq right now, because it seems like, almost overnight, the Islamist State in Iraq and Syria has moved from Syria into Iraq and is making dramatic progress.

You know, part of it isn’t as unexpected as it seems. This group has been making some progress, associated groups have been making progress, over the last few months. Careful military analysts have been warning of these kinds of things.

But the basic condition is this: The Iraqi government under Nuri al-Maliki has excluded and persecuted the Sunnis. As you know, any insurgency grows on the discontent of the population. And what has happened is that the population in Iraq has gotten more and more discontented. They're joining up with radical groups in Syria. And they are now moving to Baghdad. The second-largest city in Iraq has already fallen.

One shouldn't exaggerate it in the sense these are a few thousand people. But here is the big deal – in Mosul, they robbed a government treasury of $500 million in cash. In Iraqi dinars, but in cash. They also got a lot of gold. So they might now be the most well-funded terrorist organization in the world. And you can buy a lot of the allegiance of the tribes in this area. So all of a sudden, they may find they have a lot more followers than they had just a couple of days ago.

These U.S.- trained, U.S.-armed Iraqi military personnel, at least in Mosul and other parts, we've seen them take off their uniforms, put down their weapons, and they simply ran away. Why are they doing this?

Because they are corrupt, inefficient, and they don’t have the same determination that the opposition does. You know, we saw this in Vietnam with the South Vietnamese government. When a government lacks legitimacy, when a government isn’t inclusive, the opposition is much more determined, much more ruthless than the government. And al-Maliki undid almost all the good that Gen. Petraeus did in Iraq with the surge.

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The surge was mostly a political operation where you were bringing the Sunnis back into the fold by bribing them, by promising them jobs, by doing all kinds of things to include them. Nuri al-Maliki reversed almost all of those measures and then went after the Sunni elites, went after the vice president, the finance minister. So what has happened is all the gains of the surge – the political surge – were lost. The Sunnis feel excluded. And they are now mounting this ferocious opposition.

And the key thing to remember, the Shia are the majority in Iraq, so they thought they could oppress this Sunni minority easily. But in the broader Middle East, it’s the Sunnis that are the majority.

If they're commandeering the area, what is the threat to the U.S.?

It would mean more chaos and more complexity. I don't think it means some single dramatic thing. For one thing, I don't think Baghdad will fall. You never know. But remember, the Iraqi army is an army we trained, funded and sustained. It's somewhere between half a million and a million troops. We're talking here about 2,000 or 3,000 fighters, not particularly well equipped. So the Iraqi army has got to be able to hold Baghdad. It would be inconceivable to me that they wouldn't be able to do that.

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But what about the towns around increasingly falling into the hands of ISIS? It adds to the complexity. It adds to the reality that you have chaos in Syria which has now spilled over and created chaos in Iraq. And the United States has to ask itself, yes, this is terrible for us, but if we jump into the middle of this, are we going to make much difference? Do we even know which side to support? This is a very tough one for the president. And it is easy to take pot shots, but the mistakes have been a decade in the making, from the actual invasion of Iraq, on.

So does the U.S. get involved militarily?

I think with the current government in Iraq, it would be a mistake to offer major support like air strikes and things like that. Because ultimately, I don't think al-Maliki can put this back together again. I think what we should demand is a national unity government. Al-Maliki step down as prime minister. A more conciliatory figure takes his place. Bring in Sunnis as well. Under those circumstances, I think that the United States should support, but not this government.

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Topics: Iraq

soundoff (91 Responses)
  1. greg

    Just what exactly is so "tough" about Obama's decision over Iraq? We simply need to do nothing at all!

    June 12, 2014 at 6:09 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      It's "tough" for Obama to make a decision. Whatever it is, it will never suit everybody. To do nothing would be seen as weak. Besides it may jeopardise the whole region's security. To be engaged would get rid of the militants, but it would also infuriate the Sunni allies in the region, as the US might have to cooperate with Iran to persuade Nouri al-Maliki to change his policies.

      June 16, 2014 at 11:19 am | Reply
  2. Debbie

    Sometimes inaction is the best action.
    I feel so bad for the Sunnis. They are people too. I wish I knew more but I believe in fairness to all and avoid conflict as much as possible.
    I pray to God that they have good clean drinking water. But I know some don't.
    God bless and help all the people there.
    Excuse me, I mean Allah bless them all.

    June 12, 2014 at 7:07 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Allah and God are one in the same, Debbie. Allah is Arabic for Jehovah (or Yaweh). We, the Jews and the Muslims all worship the same God. It doesn't appear that the right-wing thugs in Washington do. They worship only themselves and their lavish lifestyles and will stop at nothing in order to feather their nests!

      June 12, 2014 at 8:40 pm | Reply
      • Debbie

        I guess the politicians in Washington could use a little more faith and religion. I see what you are saying...sadly this great nation of ours is moving in the wrong direction when it comes to religion, Joseph. I dread the day that they remove the....In God We Trust...caption on our currency.

        June 12, 2014 at 9:28 pm |
      • desertvoice

        God is the same God always. It is people who grow a fatally flawed conception of Him. This is what is happening in Islam and to Islam!

        June 13, 2014 at 9:14 am |
      • Alan S

        Joseph: "Right wing thugs in Washington"? Feathering their nests? What do those phrases have to do with the article about Obama's choices regarding Iraq? The choices facing Obama and the U.S. aren't about U.S. partisan politics, or politicians making money.

        June 13, 2014 at 10:42 am |
      • Joseph McCarthy

        Alan S. That was my imposter and please ignore him. He thinks he's funny.

        June 13, 2014 at 4:54 pm |
      • George patton

        Don't you respect anything, Phunnie boy (Joseph McCarthy 4:54)? It seems that you have to make a joke out of everything, even religion, which you apparently don't have or care about.

        June 13, 2014 at 7:18 pm |
  3. chri§§y

    You already know what the problem is @ greg. Hes damned if he does and damned if he doesnt. No matter what decision he makes he cant win!

    June 12, 2014 at 7:18 pm | Reply
  4. zcyrus

    The supreme leader of Iran sent the Sepah ghods of Iran troops and Hezbollah inside of Iraq to occupy the Iraq like they got in Syria.

    June 12, 2014 at 9:02 pm | Reply
  5. hurrya1

    Fareed Zakharia is spot on. Nouri Al Maliki, Iraq's shiite sectarian PM, is the root cause of the problem. Any US involvement that sustains Al Maliki's sectarian regime without reform will only exacerbate the problem and alienate the Sunni population further. Let's hope that Obama listens to this sane advice and conditions any US assistance with the removal of Al Maliki and the formation of a national unity government under the leadership of a secular leader.

    June 12, 2014 at 9:22 pm | Reply
  6. chri§§y

    Amen @ Debbie! And we've seen how well todays young people are without a religous/spiritual influence!

    June 12, 2014 at 10:28 pm | Reply
  7. Ferhat Balkan

    I use to believe that the best answer to Iraq's problems was a unified democratic Iraq with Sunni, Shia and Kurds working together to solve their problems. As time went on and events unfolded, I'm starting to believe more and more in a split Iraq. A region to the north belonging to the Kurds and 2 other regions to the south belonging to the Shia and Sunni. The way things stand right now, this is going to turn into a full blown civil war with many casualties. In order to minimize the casualties, both Sunni Arabs, Shia and Kurds will have to come together under pressure from Iran, Saudi Arabia and form some sort of treaty to split the lands... It's not going to be easy, but it will be a step in the right direction. Political infighting and instability will only promote more extremism and open the door for terrorist groups. Drone strikes or a military invasion is not the right answer.

    June 12, 2014 at 10:42 pm | Reply
  8. Ferhat Balkan

    Currently the only military presence in Iraq that can stand up to the ISIS threat are the Kurdish peshmerga. I believe they number about 1/4 million (I could be wrong), but they certainly have the capability of wiping out ISIS for good. The Kurds just need an incentive. Something worth fighting for. A promise of a independent homeland will be in my opinion, a worthy cause for their struggle. This in turn will open an opportunity for negotiations between Shia and Sunni. Just my 2 cents.

    June 12, 2014 at 10:52 pm | Reply
  9. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    I trust President Obama to make the best decision regarding Iraq.
    I doubt that the best decision will create an image of weakness for the USA, although such an image would please many USA citizens.

    June 12, 2014 at 11:19 pm | Reply
  10. purna

    It is their problem. They need to solve themselves. Keep our hand off for now. We lost enough of our man for foreign wars. This is not worth.

    June 13, 2014 at 12:28 am | Reply
  11. what really was our objective in Iraq?

    When Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait, we (the US) were out to get him and his country. Since then, we have destroyed Saddam and we have ruined the nation of Iraq, leaving it in a state of utter chaos and mayhem. So frankly, our long term mission was accomplished. It is just the ridiculous cost ($3 trillion) that was totally out of whack! If just a few well-aimed hellfire missiles, shot from US unmanned drones, could take out Gaddaffi, leaving the nation of Libya in a similar chaotic state, was not that a much cheaper alternative? I sincerely hope that the knuckleheads in our military and government have analyzed both Iraq and Libya and figured out that the next time around we need to use the cheaper alternative to achieve similar results. 5000 US soldiers KIA and 30000 soldiers wounded, in Iraq, is extremely serious stuff, as out over-burdened VA hospital network is finding out, the hard way........... 😦

    June 13, 2014 at 2:38 am | Reply
    • Alan S

      To What Really was: You suggested we need to use a cheaper alternative to achieve similar results. More easily said than done. But that was Secretary Rumsfeld's plan: to use far fewer troops than the U.S. used in Desert Storm and achieve similar results. But by using far fewer troops the U.S. didn't have enough people in Iraq to control Iraq during the occupation, and therefore the U.S. thought it wise to disarm and eliminate the Iraqi army, thus leading to a power vacuum in that country. I agree with you completely that we should use a cheaper alternative to achieve similar results, but sometimes there is no cheaper alternative. Being cheap comes with a price.

      June 13, 2014 at 10:49 am | Reply
  12. greg

    I agree. Missiles shot from drones is the answer.

    June 13, 2014 at 4:44 am | Reply
  13. banasy@

    I agree greg. Although sending in troops is much more effective and glorious, fighting the war from the sky is so much safer. Just aim and let it fall where it may. Ok. So they will miss some times. But hey, it happens. That's war.

    June 13, 2014 at 4:49 am | Reply
    • banasy©

      Keep your video-game notions of war confined to your own name, and stop using mine.

      June 13, 2014 at 9:33 am | Reply
  14. George Patton

    I don't know greg, banasy. Seems to me that fighting a war from behind some military computer to control drones isn't the answer. The American attackers don't get a real feel for the war. Real Americans love battle. Once you have men sitting in their underwater sipping soda with a bag of chips in an aircraft carrier fighting the war like a computer game then all the fun is taken out.
    One needs to see and smell the burned flesh, the flaming bodies that just moments ago were terrrrorists. Now that is beautiful and that's what war is all about!

    June 13, 2014 at 5:00 am | Reply
    • banasy©

      Flaming bodies isn't all you enjoy.

      June 13, 2014 at 9:41 am | Reply
  15. Joseph McCarthy

    Now George, you must be a reincarnated soul of some past great military leader that knows what war is all about. You hit it right on the money. War is supposed to be more sensory to get the full enjoyment of battle rather than just a technology fought war.
    I say Washington needs to enhance our military budget three-fold what the Reagan Administration had, adjust for inflation and let her rip! Enjoy life, enjoy war. That's my motto.

    June 13, 2014 at 5:10 am | Reply
    • banasy©

      Your motto is "I've never seem a name I didn't promptly steal."

      June 13, 2014 at 9:39 am | Reply
  16. banasy@

    George, Joseph, I suppose you're right. Your points are valid and well taken. Lol, what's war if you can't smell it or see the red ooze.
    Thank you both for such a convincing argument.

    June 13, 2014 at 5:12 am | Reply
    • banasy©

      I am firmly against war unless the US is directly attacked; and I would never applaud smelling it nor seeing. "Red ooze".
      Please refrain from using my name for posting your bloodthirsty fantasies.

      June 13, 2014 at 9:30 am | Reply
  17. Peter42y

    Americans get it all wrong. The real threat is Iran , not isis.Iran is the one who almost has nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.Iran power streches from Lebanon to Iran proper, and goes through Iraq and Syria. Instead of trying to contain Iran as Saudis are doing , the US is helping the shia.US is feeding the monster. in 4 or 5 years I wonder what US will do when Iran dominates the midlle east .

    June 13, 2014 at 5:20 am | Reply
    • George Patton

      So true Peter42y. The Iranian government has been spared the wrath of our military. Let's hope one day we see carnage of thy true enemy, Iran.

      June 13, 2014 at 5:28 am | Reply
      • TiredOfPaying

        I'd rather see us support Iran. Muslims are 70% Sunni and 30% Shia. We need a lot more Shia, or more effective ones, so they can destroy the 70% Sunni. Because let's face it – until one of these sects destroys the other there will be no reason for the cult called islam to reform and join the modern world. Regardless of the outcome, the current situation where Muslims are killing Mulsims is the best that Humanity can hope for.

        June 13, 2014 at 9:04 am |
  18. greg

    Carnage, carnage, carnage. It can be so beautiful when the evil enemy has been put down. I have so many images of this saved in my computer. I still have pictures of Saddam's dead sons. Sadly the bodies were in tact. Not something I can say for the other thugs.
    thank you George and Joseph for such an enlightening prospective.
    God bless you both. And you as well banasy.

    June 13, 2014 at 5:21 am | Reply
    • greg

      There goes my Tea partying impostor above, trying to be funny as usual. This bozo makes a joke out of everything.

      June 13, 2014 at 7:50 am | Reply
    • banasy©

      I'm sure you fap daily to those images. Being a Brony isn't enough for you.

      June 13, 2014 at 9:38 am | Reply
  19. sandstorm

    hey obama you irish ghanaian n i g g e r you want to hit someone you should hit iran then you will have a real fight when iran nukes your a s s back to ghana. iran will make your childrens bones pay.

    June 13, 2014 at 7:21 am | Reply
    • greg

      Thank you, sandstorm. That would be true justice if it only would come true. Barack Obama along with George W, Bush and his father George H.W. Bush all need to be indicted and brought to justice and then dealt with appropriately!

      June 13, 2014 at 7:49 am | Reply
    • banasy©

      You are quite a confused fellow, aren't you?

      June 13, 2014 at 9:45 am | Reply
  20. Zapp

    This is NOT the first Muslim on Muslim jihad for either Baghdad or Damascus. Let this 1400 year old feud rage without the help and treasure of the INFIDEL. Muslims will ALWAYS blame the infidel when Muslims attacks, it's better to get blamed for free than at the cost of blood and money.

    June 13, 2014 at 9:03 am | Reply
  21. The GOP Solution

    The GOP Prayer/Mantra/Solution: Dear God...With your loving kindness, help us to turn all the Old, Sick, Poor, Non-white, Non-christian, Female, and Gay people into slaves. Then, with your guidance and compassion, we will whip them until they are Young, Healthy, Rich, White, Christian, Male, and Straight. Or until they are dead. God...Grant us the knowledge to then turn them into Soylent Green to feed the military during the next "unfunded/off-the-books" war. God...Give us the strength during our speeches to repeatedly yell........TAX CUTS FOR THE RICH!!!..........and........GET RID OF SS AND MEDICARE!!!
    In your name we prey (purposely misspelled, or is it?)........Amen

    June 13, 2014 at 9:13 am | Reply
  22. Harry Legg

    God will not help this situation and has never helped no matter how many times you beg and pray for help. There is no god it is just a figment of the believers minds and wishful thinking. Innocent people, men, women and children will die and suffer with injuries for the rest of their pitiful lives and no god will do anything to stop them. It is humans who must take charge to solve earths problems and it seems the corruption on all governments are nothing more than lip service. Good luck with your god praying.

    June 13, 2014 at 9:33 am | Reply
    • Are you too stupid?

      Are you too stupid to understand the post?

      June 13, 2014 at 12:26 pm | Reply
  23. RT Colorado

    There is no pleasing the media, one minute it's "They're a proud and responsible capable of making their own decisions, the US shouldn't intervene in their political process" and then when the guy turns out to be a dud, it's "He should be in there, we need to get him out of there". You can't fight their battles for them, they've got to grow a pair and stand up to the bad guys themselves. We've done all we're willing to do, the Iraqi's essentially ordered us out by not signing the "Forces" agreement, well it's time to see what they can do after years of training and billions of dollars. With that kind of time and money, if they ain't ready, they ain't never going to be ready.

    June 13, 2014 at 9:49 am | Reply
  24. Eduardo Linares Batres

    With his ideological preconceptions against the use of military force, so against American pragmatism, Obama is utterly at fault. He is masterly at the trivial, like opining on the name of a baseball team, but deadly wrong for the U.S. in the crucial, like when choosing Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State or about when and how to quit Iraq. We will pay dearly—lives, money—for his ideological, liberal-leftist biases.
    Furthermore, Obama neither is nor will be reliable or trustworthy.
    To keep the trust of the American people he should do what Juan Carlos, King of Spain, told his people when he was caught out some time ago—he concealed an expensive elephant-hunting trip in Africa, while Spain is still in financial straits; he first admitted his mistake, apologized and said, “It will not happen again.”
    A noble stance such as that is way past Obama’s avowed “desire to be politically astute.”

    June 13, 2014 at 9:53 am | Reply
  25. James free *

    I agree with Fareed 100%. We should not get involved in this war again. Let them sort it out. This government is Courpt and do need to help the government
    We need to help someone, we need to help the people

    June 13, 2014 at 10:15 am | Reply
  26. palintwit

    Testing 121,123...

    June 13, 2014 at 10:16 am | Reply
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