Iraq close to conditions that sparked civil war
June 13th, 2014
02:51 PM ET

Iraq close to conditions that sparked civil war

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

CNN speaks with Fareed about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), President Barack Obama's remarks on the latest developments, and what Iran’s alleged intervention means for the United States. This is an edited version of the transcript.

One development that has occurred that further complicates this already very complicated situation is we've now learned that Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops, some units, have allegedly moved into neighboring Iraq to help the government of Nuri al-Maliki deal with the threat from al Qaeda-inspired terrorists. How does that play into the president's decision making?

It highlights the central problem we face with regard to Iraq which is that the government of Iraq that we are supporting – we would be potentially aiding and helping and maybe even acting as the air force for – is a pro-Iranian government. And it's a Shia government that has persecuted the Sunnis of Iraq.

Remember, this is a few thousand fighters from ISIS who are up against a 600,000 or 700,000-man Iraqi Army – and they are winning. And the reason they are winning is because they have local support among disaffected Sunnis. So in the Shia-Sunni context, you have a Shia government in Iraq supported by a Shia government in Iran. And as you point out, elite guards from Iran are coming to support the Iraqi government. And the U.S. would be placed in the extremely awkward position of being the air force for essentially Iran's Revolutionary Guard and the Iraqi government. That's the dilemma.

This government hasn’t been inclusive or democratic, has been pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian. So before the president decides he wants to act to support it, he's going to have to ask if there is something he can ask of this government in terms of reform.

U.S. officials are deeply worried that some Shiite shrines, mosques, other shines inside Iraq right now could be in danger from this ISIS terrorist group, one reason presumably why Iranian Revolutionary Guards, elite forces, are moving in to help the government of Nuri al-Maliki. Explain what would happen if one of these major shrines were attacked.

This is a movie we’ve seen before. I think it was in 2006, Sunni militants affiliated with al Qaeda blew up what is regarded as one of the holiest Shia shrines. It has a beautiful golden dome. And when they blew it up, it produced an incredible reaction from the Shia population, who are the majority in Iraq.

So now you had a disaffected Sunni minority, but also an enraged Shia majority. And that's what began the Iraqi civil war that continued for a few years, until Gen. David Petraeus was able to stabilize the situation militarily, but most importantly also politically, by reaching out to those Sunni tribes and groups, bringing them in, trying to create a government of national unity.

More from CNN: ISIS attacks cause mass exodus

And what has happened since then is that al-Maliki has once again turned on the Sunnis. He stopped funding them, persecuted them. So we're back very close to those conditions that sparked the civil war. And if that happens, violence will probably go up five-fold and it will become as deadly and dangerous a place as Syria. So you will have this vast stretch of land, Iraq and Syria, which becomes essentially a battle.

The president says this is going to take us a few days before the United States decides what military action to take, if it takes any.

I think what you saw was the president was using what he sees as his moment of maximum leverage with the Iraqis. This is when the Iraqis need the United States.

We got a fascinating window into some of the past U.S.-Iraqi negotiations when he said the Iraqi government was resistant to accept U.S. offers of any kind of help – military training and things like that. When they have now faced this crisis with this terrorist group, they've changed their minds, and they're willing, and they actively seek American help.

So the president is saying, we now have leverage, so we are going to ask you to make some of the political deals and the political compromises that you have not been willing to make. And unless you make those, don't expect major American assistance. It feels as though he is putting the pressure on al-Maliki and staying pretty cool in the face of this very turbulent situation.

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Topics: Iraq

soundoff (156 Responses)
  1. fiskenmann

    Is no one seeing past Iraq being over run and the wave of extremist taking aim at Kuwait?

    June 15, 2014 at 12:12 am | Reply
  2. SocratesOfNY

    This is a gross misrepresentation of what went on in Iraq at the time of the "surge" when Petraeus was there. The surge and Petraeus had close to nothing to do with the lessening of hostilities during the same general time period.

    June 15, 2014 at 12:32 am | Reply
  3. Andy

    US military must never be sent to fight on the behalf of Tehran's ayatollahs.

    June 15, 2014 at 1:20 am | Reply
  4. Iraqi

    So what this article is trying to say
    1)America wont intervene because it may be supporting a future Iran.
    2)The prime minister Nouri Al maliki is attacking the sunni arabs.

    First of all, if America has hatred behind its motives, then it should not even bother thinking about intervening because they are being selfish about it.
    PLUS Iran has no motive to conquer Iraq in any way and any assistance they offer is limited to provide them with assistance and thats all.

    Also by stating Nouri Almaliki is attacking the sunnis only makes the situation worse. This should not come out of a developed country that has all the means to study things with no bias at all.

    I am a Shia Iraqi and all I ever dream of is for all Iraqis to live toggether happily and peacefull regardless of whether they are shia or sunni. And I am 100% sure that if you really love your country you have to put all those hatreds behind because those hatreds are only coming from those people who want to divide Iraq to make it weaker. Plus those terrorists are not Sunni people. They come in the name of sunni people so as to make trouble in Iraq. Shia sunni we all stand together in the face of our enemies. And our main motives as Iraqi people is to protect each other as much as possible for united we stand and divided we fall.

    Love and peace for all Iraqis

    June 15, 2014 at 3:47 am | Reply
    • David Rand

      I don't care what ethnicity you may be, if you train 600,000 soldiers and the soldiers are all cowards and have no love of country, then they run in the first sign of threat! This is truly sad to see. How in the hell can 600,000 soldiers be intimidated by a few thousand thugs? Amazing. I wish them well. If none of this was true, then why in the hell is the Iraqi Gov't calling on Iran to help?? Crazy.

      June 16, 2014 at 6:38 am | Reply
  5. Ali Ali

    Fareed Zakaria can not leave his Sunni roots when writing this article , he is misleading the CNN readers that the Iraqi government is fully made of Shia and is persecuting his Sunni brothers ....you are distorting facts Zakaria .

    June 15, 2014 at 7:47 am | Reply
    • David Rand

      If you are believing that the Gov't is not Pro Shia... then you must be crazy. Why are the Sunni's so disenchanted? Why are they killing people in the streets of Baghdad? Why did the majority Sunnia soldiers just walk away from fighting? Obviously, Malilaki has disenfranchises other ethnic groups or else there would not be so many troubles in Iraq. USA told him and Told him..and he would not listen. Its their world... let them pay the price.

      June 16, 2014 at 6:41 am | Reply
  6. William Bellah

    The best thing the U.S. can do is become a peacemaker. We start making friends with all sides, most of all Iran. We stop being afraid to criticize Israel, we stop demonizing Muslims, we stop with the military threats, we stop looking for people to kill. We start rewarding "good behavior", we start including the other big powers in the peace process, we get the Media involved. The World is ready for the peace process, let's lead the way.

    June 15, 2014 at 10:00 am | Reply
    • David Rand

      You may just be correct.. it is kinda pathetic to see how we fail to press and insist on peace between the Palestineans and Israel. Both sides are so wrong..that they should be able to find compromise. Just as I think there is room for peace, one part or the next makes another stupid move.

      June 16, 2014 at 6:42 am | Reply
  7. FW

    THESE TRIBES HAVE BEEN FIGTING EACH OTHER FOR 4,000YEARS. THE US SHOULD STAY OUT OF THE WAY AND DEFEND OUR OWN BORDERS. WE CANNOT POLICE ALL OF THE IGNORANCE AND WAR MONGERING IN A WORLD WHERE THE HUMAN DNA IS ONLY 1.6% DIFFERENT FROM THE CHIMPAZEE.

    June 15, 2014 at 11:48 am | Reply
    • AR

      Stop being a donkey. Im an American and I must say for as long as I can remember we have been medling in peoples affairs, starting wars and profiting. We are the war mongers and you are the chimp.

      June 15, 2014 at 6:36 pm | Reply
  8. edlf2014

    Obama dug the hole when he fulfilled his promise to remove our military from Iraq, then bragged about fullfilng his promise. Iran now entering to assist Iraq! Have our soldiers who were killed in Iraq died for no purpose? Those who were wounded in Iraq wounded for no purpose? We have let them all down, as well as Iraq, with our complete military withdrawal. Good work, Obama! Now let's see what you can do to help the Taliban take over their country. Or maybe there will be a laying down of one of our Community Organizing president's Red Lines on the Taliban? If Assad returned his maybe that one can be used.

    June 15, 2014 at 11:58 am | Reply
    • David Rand

      Dug the hole? Bush trained these Iraqis for 8 yrs! Its the Iraqi's fault. If you are born to be weak and cowardly....no matter how much training you have, you will fail. These people have no love for country. They are just weak as hell! So I suppose we should keep training cowards??

      June 16, 2014 at 6:35 am | Reply
  9. chri§§y

    EXACTLY @ William Bellah! And Happy Fathers Day to you and all fathers (especially dads) who visit here!

    June 15, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Reply
  10. chri§§y

    A month ago Obama was being chastised for NOT pulling our troops out of Iraq and now hes being chastised FOR doing so! If you people cant make up your minds how the he!! is he supposed to do it for you? Damned if he does and damned if he doesnt!

    June 15, 2014 at 1:05 pm | Reply
  11. glen

    The reality is that the radical Islam is a grass root movement much like communism in the 1920s. So, there is no political compromise – this will be a war to the finish and millions will suffer. After a few generations of failed social and economic growth the remnants of radical Islam will fall to the wayside like other failed idiologies. However at what cost?

    June 15, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Reply
    • David Rand

      We should be asking the Iranians, Iraqis and Turks.. to deal with the issue and we simply provide some air and/or drone support. Let them deal with this situation...but damn, I am concerned now with timing.

      June 16, 2014 at 6:44 am | Reply
  12. Yoda

    Guys not to worry. Going by past record, Americans will wear flag lapel pins, stick yellow ribbon bumper stickers, and go rah rah rah and support a war in some other unrelated country and break that as well. And, it will all be to protect freedom fries.

    June 15, 2014 at 5:29 pm | Reply
  13. BubbaShakur

    Bush's fault no doubt.

    June 15, 2014 at 10:32 pm | Reply
  14. chri§§y

    Nah @ Bubba its ours! We voted that dumba55 in!

    June 15, 2014 at 10:48 pm | Reply
  15. David Rand

    600,000 soldiers vs. a few thousand? And Iraqi's run? Jeesh..honestly, they should just oustource their security. How pathetic is that! Friggin Iraqis are weak and cowards. i am happy if Iran steps in, protects Iraq..and the USA is able to stay out of things. But what happens next? Will the Iranians leave? Kurds/Sunnis hate the Iraqi's.. ahh, this is gonna be interesting !!

    June 16, 2014 at 6:34 am | Reply
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