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CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the advances made by militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria over the past week, what role the United States can play in assisting Iraq's government, and whether the latest violence was inevitable. This is an edited version of the transcript.
What can the U.S. do?
I think that what the president is trying to do is to force the Iraqis, particularly Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, to make some political overtures to the Sunnis. Because I think he recognizes at the heart of this problem what you have is a disaffected population – about 20 percent of Iraq that is fueling and supporting the insurgency.
Remember, the problem is not arms or men. The Iraqi army is about three-quarters of a million men strong. They have been trained in equipment supplied by the United States for ten years. The insurgents are about 2,000 or 3,000 people. So the fact that the insurgents [are] taking this down tells you that the basic problem is not a military one, it’s a political one. The army won't fight. The Sunnis in the area are providing support for the insurgency.
Explain the interest of Saudi Arabia in this conflict.
Saudi Arabia has been fueling the Sunni opposition, both to the Iraqi government but also to the government in Syria. So the Saudis have in a sense been at the heart of what one could call "a Sunni revolt." The Sunnis, remember, are a minority in Iraq, but they're a majority in the region.
And the principle Sunni power is really Saudi Arabia. It used to be Egypt, but now, with Egypt in turmoil and Saudi Arabia rich, it’s Saudi Arabia. And the Saudis have, generally speaking, supported Sunni groups that are pretty nasty, quite violent, quite radical. They have backed off of some of the most extreme versions. Remember, they famously supported what were the precursors to al Qaeda in the 1980s when they were battling the Soviet Union.
More from CNN: ISIS fanatical, with a weakness
So the Saudis have always been part of the mix here, and in many ways, what you're witnessing is a Saudi versus Iran war that is being fought by these proxy groups, so that the Iranians fund certain governments and certain groups on the one side, and the Saudis fund other groups on the other side.
That piece of it is actually quite simple and strategic. It's Shia versus Sunni. It's Arab versus Persian. The part that's complex is that we're sort of in the middle in a somewhat incoherent way, so that when ISIS is battling the al-Assad regime in Syria, we sort of think at least they're battling our enemy.
When ISIS crosses a nonexistent border from Syria to Iraq and battles the government of Iraq, now they're our mortal enemies. So we've got a problem here that's not just about the tactical issue. There's a strategic incoherence.
Is this a surprise something like this would happen, or is there a bubbling of problems that sent a signal this is inevitable, this kind of scenario?
It was inevitable in the sense it was predictable because we’ve seen this movie before. This is exactly what happened in '04, '05, and '06 when the Shia government in Iraq essentially started persecuting the Sunnis, purging them from office, disempowering them in various ways, and the Sunnis started fueling and funding insurgency. That's what created the civil war in Iraq.
And the solution to it was General Petraeus coming in – a very important set of military moves, but also political outreach, crucially, political outreach to the Sunni community. The problem of the last three years is Prime Minister al-Maliki undid all that good work. He stopped paying off the Sunni tribes, stopped providing patronage to the Sunni groups. He started persecuting Sunni politicians, jailing them, in many cases killing them through death squads and all kinds of mechanisms.
More from CNN: 'Foreign legion' may spread jihad
So you're back in exactly the same problem – disaffected minority, moves to insurgency, al Qaeda moves in, and they tacitly support al Qaeda. The solution is General Petraeus’ solution. They have to show some military strength, but they have to do political outreach.
So it sounds like al-Maliki was simply the wrong choice, the wrong leader. Or was there a feeling that he was going to be able to appeal to Sunnis, and somehow in your view he turned on the Sunnis along the way?
In my opinion, he was the wrong man always. I met with him before he was prime minister. I wrote a column in The Washington Post at the time saying this guy is a Shiite thug, hard line, shows no signs of compromise…I think that you have to look at these parties, these Shia religious parties. They are hard line religious parties that were funded by Iran for 20 years, and they're showing their true colors. The United States in a sense picked a side in a very complicated sectarian society, and we’re reaping the consequences.
And there is a danger for this administration or any administration to taking sides in this case. Is this what is in large part keeping the White House or the U.S. military from engaging, making a commitment to engage again, because the U.S. would be picking sides?
Absolutely. If the United States were to go in full-bore and provide support to Prime Minister al-Maliki, what it would be doing is acting as the air force for a very sectarian, very oppressive, ruthless regime in Baghdad, which by the way is allied with Iran.
So how does this end in your view? What is the next chapter?
Unless the Iraqi government makes major political overtures to the vicinities, I think what you are going to see is the de facto partition of Iraq. The Kurds will keep their northern part, which is Kurdistan, the Shia will keep the southern part, which is all "Shiastan" if you will. And in the middle, there will be a bad land, which will encompass not just Iraq but Syria. It will be badlands ruled by a variety of crazy radical Sunni groups, very messy, very chaotic. And a place where nobody should go and travel.
I think at that point the United States' best strategy would be to try to give security and support to the stable parts of the region and just accept that there are going to be some places that are essentially badlands.
The colony of Iraq was never a state so how can it be a failed state. States are formed through self determination, colonies are not. A colony is not designed to be a stable place but a place a foreign power can control.
tribalism does not make a nation, ask the sioux, apache, comanche, etc....
They will be a nation, a radical Islamic nation. All the countries in the middle east will eventually be radical Islamic. They will unite and attack Israel. Read your bible, it was prophesied at least twice. You can read about it in the 38th chapter of Ezekiel, Daniel spoke of it and Revelation.
That is really stupid. We live in the real world, not in your comic books.
Moderates will of course wipe out the 1% religious fanatics in the Arab nations, just like we'll wipe out the 1% TeaKKKlan domestic right wing terrrorists, who of course are our #1 enemy in this world.
The anti-government right wing has been responsible for the last 15 terrorist attacks on American soil.
Know you enemy – they are here, and must be eradicated.
Lefties don't like, own, fire or allow themselves to be around
So how are you going to wipe us out?
Better exercise your 2nd Amendment Right
and start practicing.
BTW, the military is Republican.
Lefties don't like, own, fire or allow themselves to be around
All the Dems I know, own guns.
Why do people make up lies ?
I own guns. I'm a democrat.
Do you have a timetable on when that prophesy will happen? Seems a long time coming. Maybe we're seeing it now because our time is so "special".
After videos of mass execution of the surrendered surfaced, will see if the remaining Iraqi military is still daydreaming about saving their behinds by not fighting.
Saudi men attacked USA on September 11 2001. Every terror act was inspired or financed by Saudis. Every terror act targeting civilians were done by Sunnis that supported somehow by Saudi Arabia. Yet Mr. Zakaria and company talking about Shiaa, Maliki, this and that... The bottom line is USA attacked Iraq (Secular) in retaliation for being attacked by Saudi religious fanatic. USA is attacking Assad in favor of ISIS. USA is discussing the root-cause of terror instead of calling Maliki to crush terrorists.
Most observers believe that it's the rich Sunni individuals in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Gulf region, who support the ISIS and other Islamist extremists. Saudi Arabia itself supports countries fighting extremism. It backs Egypt to topple the Muslim Brotherhood. It had driven Osama bin Laden out of Saudi Arabia, because he and the al Qaeda wanted to overthrow the House of Saud. However reactionary the Saudi kingdom is, it doesn't seem to support the Jihadists.
Well said. But I disagree about US. Yes Saudi is a major culprit. They are creating problem every where. In Islam, you should not kill any person even animal without any cause. ISIS is following Saudi's Islam, killing innocent people slaughter and eating heart of innocent people. There is a simple example of butcher house where one slaughters animals but they used to ask them at least a sip of water. Saudi's are really cruel. US should thing about them. As far as other countries like Syria,Iraq, Iran, India, Lebanon and many more except few not even few only one SAUDI are well mannered, educated co-operative. Saudi is following their own Islam. Not Prophet Mohd S.W.S. Zakaria is totally biased on SA. WHy he didn't raised question on Bahrain administration. There are Shias in Majority but the ruler is WAHABI KING, not allowing Shia's in their government. He should condemn Bharain Ruler too before pointing finger to innocent people.
Religious fanatics should be forced to watch the "pale blue dot" segment of Cosmos..
We should just stay out of Iraq. There really is no good side to take. We definitely should not go on some bombing campaign and really I don't think we should be sending any aid. We need to stop wasting money and let other countries deal with their own problems. All the money we are spending on these failed states could be better spent on growing our own economy.
Your point is way to complex for our community organizer. He would rather bomb someone so he can keep playing golf in peace.
George the Lesser was the big golf-player and vacation-taker. Your hipocracy is showing.
Ted, according to conservative magazine Forbes, the 10 least educated states voted for Romney, while 9 of 10 highest educated states voted for President Obama.
You are an excellant illustration of this.
Are you are seriously ignorant of the fact that President Obama is the 1st President since before Ike to NOT start any foreign wars?
Wow ... no wonder the GOP is sitting around 14% approval right now. Short of brains.
Saw on the news where "oblamby" is going to send Americans over there again. This is Iraq's problem, if the rest of the world wants to do something, let them. Iraq wanted us out of their country and we should leave it at that. Their own people "flee" instead of standing up to the terrorists so why are we getting involved again. oblamby is going to kill more Americans for a bunch of people that do not care about us. WHY, let them figure it out on their own
Happy birthday, you just turned six.
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
Seek professional help.
You don't like your party's platform?
Please stick to the topic at hand.
The topic is how republicans' only solution is war. Spot on topic.
You must be Jay The Weasel Carney,
are you related to the comic, Art Carney?
It sure seems that way.
That is so funny, and sadly true... of course for fraction of Republicans!!!
There is a solution but US wants to look the other way.
1. Stop sending arms to Syrian Rebels. No matter who we provide the arms to they end up in the hands of ISIS/ISIL. We need to discuss a compromise with Assad.
2. Co-operate with Iraq, Syria and Iran to exterminate ISIS. If we do not we would be indirectly pushing Iran to go nuclear specially if it turns out to be existential threat for them.
3. Put sanctions on Saudi Arabia. All terrorism seems to originate from there. If we do not we are pretty sure once Iraq and Iran are done Israel will be next.
Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: To get to the other side.
Q: Why did the tea party patriot cross the road?
A: He forgot where his trailer park was.
Q: Why did Sarah Palin cross the road?
A: To get flattened by a Peterbilt.
And that relates to this story...how???
Tea Tards want to go to war.
Let us know when you graduate high school.
Let us know when you don't want war.
So @ sfg by lefties im assumming you mean liberals? If thats the case you couldnt be more wrong! Most liberals i know DO own guns and they know how to use them!
Maybe thats whats wrong...the "right" wing is really "wrong" ! Or maybe they just base their policies on what they percieve to be right and not on what is true! That is why they are called CONservatives and the left is called PROgressives!
The War that Bush started may take years and years to burn itself out. Let the fire burn itself out. Stop sending American young people to their deaths for nothing at all but oil and Pride.
The Iraq War will go down in history along with Vietnam as one of the wars that broke America. America will not be broken militarily but it sure can be broken financially. Stay out of the Middle East and spend the money rebuilding America and putting our Citizens back to work.
Are schools, roads, infrastructure and the overall health of America is poor and declining. Stop wasting money on Nations that hate us and just kill our young people and trillions of dollars and just spit in our faces.
Thanks Bush you moron. Anyone with a brain could see this coming. Just like Vietnam.
Its easy to be correct after the fact isnt it?
What is Obama going to do about the mess?
As the nation sees a never-ending stream of illegals crossing our southern border, aided and abetted by Obama officials who are sending them in droves to other states and giving them attorneys rather than sending them back home, Barack Obama will honor illegal aliens at the White House today. The Hill reports on this honor being bestowed on 10 young adults who are in this country due to the nation’s laws being broken. Each qualified for the program to defer deportation actions implemented by Obama via yet another abuse of executive orders.
Each person has qualified for the government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, which delays removal proceedings against them as long as they meet certain guidelines.
They will be honored as “Champions of Change,” the White House said in a statement Monday because they “serve as success stories and role models in their academic and professional spheres.”
Nothing – all of his immigration reform bills are vetoed by Republicans.
Just like Benghazi – President requested 3 (THREE!) times to increase that embassy security, and the Republicans vetoed it. GOP blood in Libya.
When will Americans realize that Republicans are the types who say "just let that POW stay in enemy hands and be tortured until he dies"? That's how they roll.
Blinded by the light.
My point tho was we can point fingers all day long but, at the end of the day nothing has changed everything is the same. The problems are still with us the only thing different is the opposing party has their feelings hurt BY WORDS! Am i proud of hurting someone else's feelings? He!! no! I dont feel any better than when i hear those things thrown in MY face! So we need to stop the blame game and fix the problems!
And then here we go again with Dean! "what is Obama going to do?" Well @ Dean "what is Congress going to do? WHEN is Congress going to work on imigration reform???
We have a boatload of immigration laws that just need to be enforced. That is unless you want to give them all amnesty and remove the borders.
More people have been deported under Obama than under Bush. Way more.
America and Israel have too much money and weapons. They don't know where to spend them. Addiction with wars are always in their blood.
And we cant exactly call Congress the Obama administration now can we? If that were the case he could...and after their romper room work ethics the last several years...WOULD be quite justified in replacing them!
Lol @ sly of course! How else will they be able to continuelly work at convincing everyone that the POTUS is a failure if they dont keep throwing roadblocks in front of his efforts? Seriously! Its like children trying to get attention...one tantrum after another!
I think our plan is working. Every Shiite and Sunni who fights in the Middle East isn't attending a U.S. university and isn't taking flight lessons in their spare time. Eventually, the conflict will turn nuclear between Iran and Saudi and burn itself out.
Hmm you had this planned??? Lol you dont really think anyone is gonna buy into that implication do you? Well yea, maybe....someone like palintwit lmao.
Oh an added note @ sfg...the military is AMERICAN not repugnant oops i mean regublican....BTW! Lol
Oops meant *republican* honest mistake for real that time.
A permanent, omnipotent U.S. presence (base) in a state of Palestine will suffice.
Israel leases the West Bank to The United States of America for a one-hundred year period; such a lease is on a condition that Palestinians from the Gaza and other locations (Israel?) move to their much awaited homeland of Palestine.
The United States, with the assistance of The United Nations, builds the infrastructure for a “Trial-State” of Palestine. Simultaneously, the U.S. introduces a formidable defense-base in the West Bank, to protect Israel and to keep a close watch over the entire Middle-East.
“A Big Carrot” on one hand, “A Big-Stick” on the other hand policy.
Jerusalem remains Israeli owned and is not part of the lease agreement, with the exception of a small area (as the Vatican grounds within Italy), which becomes the capital of Palestine.
The Global Public Square is where you can make sense of the world every day with insights and explanations from CNN's Fareed Zakaria, leading journalists at CNN, and other international thinkers. Join GPS editor Jason Miks and get informed about global issues, exposed to unique stories, and engaged with diverse and original perspectives.
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Check out all of Fareed's Washington Post columns here:
Obama as a foreign policy president?
Why Snowden should stand trial in U.S.
Hillary Clinton's truly hard choice
China's trapped transition
Obama should rethink Syria strategy
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