Breaking down the latest ISIS message
November 14th, 2014
03:35 PM ET

Breaking down the latest ISIS message

CNN speaks with Fareed about a message on an ISIS social media account, which claims to be from the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, saying that the U.S.-led coalition is "terrified, weak and powerless." This is an edited version of the transcript.

What are your first impressions when you hear this message, supposedly from al-Baghdadi, using the words weak, powerless, failed and going as far as mentioning the additional 1,500 troops the president has announced?

This is an old tactic. Al Qaeda used to do it all the time. There’s always a lot of bluster and braggadocio. But I also think it's important to remember something I have often said. They are trying to set a bait – they want the United States more involved. It helps them recruit.

Remember, ISIS has gone from nothing to becoming the replacement for al Qaeda, the most well-known jihadi organization in the world. How? By taking on the 800-pound gorilla of the world, the United States of America. FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • Syria
Zakaria: Iraq's army has collapsed
October 13th, 2014
10:31 PM ET

Zakaria: Iraq's army has collapsed

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about reports over new advances by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. This is an edited version of the transcript.

There is reportedly one base remaining in Anbar Province under Iraqi control. Talking to a general, he said it isn't so significant. You disagree.

It's very significant. It’s not significant militarily, because Baghdad will hold for reasons we can talk about. What's significant here is that it tells you that the Iraqi army has collapsed, that there’s no real Iraqi army. Because those bases where people are giving up, surrendering, these are all Sunnis who don't want to fight ISIS, Sunnis who don't want to fight fellow Sunnis.

What you're seeing is that if you scratch the surface of the Iraqi army, it's a bunch of sectarian militias, and the Sunnis will not fight against ISIS because they don't like the Baghdad government.

They don't have that regard for a nation. It's like a sect nation.

They think at this point the Iraqi government is being run by Shia. And so they in a sense don't like ISIS, but they like the Shia government in Baghdad less. So what we have to come to grips with is, this army that doesn't really exist. FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • ISIS • Turkey
September 24th, 2014
05:30 PM ET

Zakaria: ISIS policy 'remains somewhat troubling'

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about President Obama’s speech on the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria delivered at the United Nations on Wednesday. This is an edited version of the transcript.

Many were surprised that the Obama administration did in fact put together a coalition including five Sunni Arab countries to not only express support, but military support against ISIS. They got involved in striking these ISIS targets in Syria. That certainly is going to put enormous pressure on the rest of the world and friends of the United States to at least voice support for what the U.S. is trying to achieve.

Frankly, I wouldn't mind seeing the United States leading a little bit from behind on this one, which is to say having the Sunni Arab states in the front confronting ISIS, rather than having what ISIS would regard as the crusader capitalist Western Christian power do it.

The issue here, though, is that the strikes are fine, and I think the president will find there's broad support in a campaign against ISIS. There's broad support for the kind of talk about world order. But what's the regional strategy and follow up?

These addresses before the U.N. General Assembly are usually pretty good speeches, well written, there's a whole laundry list of international issues they want to get through, make some points, but then a few days later, certainly a few weeks later, very few people remember what they said. Will this speech be remembered down the road?

I think it will because of that very distinctive piece of it, the call on the Muslim world to cleanse itself of extremism. Very unusual. Many presidents have thought about talking in those terms, but have always been deterred – I know this was a conversation that took place within the Bush White House – because [they] always felt it would seem too anti-Muslim.

But I think it's also important to point out that this was a great speech, the kind Obama gives well. It's Obama as professor. It's a public education speech. It's coherent. It arches over lots of subjects, talks about world order. FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • ISIS • Syria • Terrorism
U.S. must not jump when ISIS asks it to
September 16th, 2014
04:04 PM ET

U.S. must not jump when ISIS asks it to

CNN’s New Day speaks with Fareed Zakaria about recent developments over the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and what the U.S. response should be. This is an edited version of the transcript.

What is the perspective from Arab states about who is willing to join the coalition against ISIS and put boots on the ground?

Let's think about it from this point of view. What is ISIS’s strategy? What are they trying to do to put out these videos, by doing this kind of brutality? They are trying the goad the United States in. What they want to do is say, there America goes again, invading another Arab country, bombing Muslims, and we are the defenders. They want to make it us against them.

What we have to be careful not to play into the game, not to jump when they ask us to.


The most important thing is that we have to make sure that the other Arab states are involved. We have a few countries like Saudi Arabia that say they would be willing to participate in the bombings. FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • Syria
Why U.S. should support independence for Kurds
August 14th, 2014
10:51 AM ET

Why U.S. should support independence for Kurds

By Sen. Conrad Burns (Ret.), Special to CNN

Editor's note: Conrad Burns was a U.S. senator for Montana from 1989 to 2007. The views expressed are his own.

In his first inaugural address, Ronald Reagan laid out his vision for re-establishing the United States as an "exemplar of freedom and a beacon of hope for those who do not now have freedom." This was hardly a new concept in 1981, yet as President Reagan assumed the presidency, the notion that the United States could, and should, serve as a guiding light to help guide peoples and nations in their quest for freedom was much in need of revival.

Today, as headlines are dominated by the growing threat posed by the extremists of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria to Iraq's Kurdish minority and the region, the United States faces a similar crisis of character.

America still serves as a guiding light against the stark backdrop of an increasingly troubled world, but I often wonder if the American people are fully aware of just how brightly this beacon shines or the effect it has on people from all walks of life, from every corner of the globe. It is time we as a nation concentrated our efforts on leading by example and renewing our commitment to helping those that continue to fight for freedom and the right to self-determination. FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq
Why U.S. is wary about intervening in Syria
August 14th, 2014
10:38 AM ET

Why U.S. is wary about intervening in Syria

CNN speaks with Fareed about the latest developments in Iraq and U.S. involvement in the region. This is an edited version of the transcript.

So, aren't these boots on the ground in Iraq? 

You know, they are boots on the ground. But I think in a way that's a kind of weird shorthand that we’ve developed to try to understand whether or not this is an open-ended mission. The really important question is, what is the nature of the mission? You go into a country and say we are going to save the country, restore it to its normal functioning, nation build – those are vast open-ended missions. It's not clear how you would do them. It's not clear how you would ever know you had succeeded.

Here, you have a very defined mission. The idea is to try to save these Yazidis, to perhaps bolster the Peshmerga, the Kurdish forces. That seems to me pretty doable. There is a great danger, and I understand it, a wariness about getting more involved in Iraq. But you don't slip down every slippery slope.

Once they come off the mountaintop, what do we do for the Yazidis?

Where they will go is probably the ones that want to leave will go into Kurdistan, the Kurdish part of Iraq, which is very tolerant, but also very secure, and will become increasingly secure because we are now supplying the Kurdish forces with arms.

Remember, because these guys are an autonomous part of Iraq, the United States wouldn't sell them weaponry, wouldn't give them weaponry, because the idea was that that's violating the central government. You know, we're meant to be giving money to the Iraqi army, not to this group of militias.  Well, we have gotten over that now. The United States is helping the Kurdish Peshmerga. The Yazidis will go there. That's a secure, safe, tolerant place and can be defended.  FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • Syria
Middle East set for a great sorting?
August 12th, 2014
10:55 PM ET

Middle East set for a great sorting?

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about Iraqi President Fuad Masum's decision to nominate a new Prime Minister on Monday. This is an edited version of the interview.

Nuri al-Maliki, the current Iraqi prime minister, may not go quietly. He may try to use the forces loyal to him to effectively engage in some sort of coup. What's your analysis?

My own sense is that he won't do that. There are many, many forces within the Iraqi political system that would be very strongly opposed to them. Most importantly, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the chief Shiite cleric of Iraq, has always been clear that Iraq needs to be on a democratic path. You remember early on, when we were watching Iraqi politics begin, Sistani was very clear on the need for elections, for democracy. So I would suspect that he would come out strongly opposed to this. And in that case, al-Maliki's support would collapse.

Indeed, Al-Maliki's support has largely collapsed. What he’s now holding onto is the thin reed that says technically he was meant to be asked first because he's the leader of the largest bloc. That's an academic issue because his bloc, the support, has disintegrated. I would suspect he might mount some kind of legal challenge, but he won’t try to use his position as commander in chief to do what you rightly say would be effectively a military coup.

So let's see what he does in the next few days. Haider al-Abadi, the nominee to be prime minister, is a Shiite. Can he unite the country? There's a Kurdish new president. There's a Sunni speaker. Can this group effectively take Iraq to a position that all of us had hoped it would be at, but clearly has not reached.

That's the million dollar question because what we have focused a lot on is the fact that al-Maliki is the bad guy, he didn't reach out to the Sunnis and, you know, we need change. And that's true. Al-Maliki has been a very sectarian and also somewhat incompetent leader. But there’s a larger sectarian dynamic in Iraq, which is to say al-Abadi is himself a Shiite from the same party that al-Maliki is from. The party is a pretty tough, hard line party. These guys spent most of their time in Iran before, in exile. So they're often somewhat pro-Iranian. They're pretty tough in terms of viewing themselves as Shia first and Iraqi second.

The other positions in the government aren't very important – the speaker and the deputy speaker and all these positions. So what we've seen in the past is, you have a lot of personalities and you have the right ethnic mix, but it doesn't matter because the dynamic of the system is making the Shiite politicians act more sectarian. That makes the Sunnis act more sectarian. The Kurds essentially trying to retain their independence. So I'm not very hopeful.

I think that it might be better. But you have a sectarian dynamic at work in Iraq. If you just look at the people who are guarding these various groups, it's the Shiite soldiers who are essentially guarding the Shiites. The Sunnis are more in the Sunni areas. Even the army, in other words, has fragmented into kind of sectarian units.

So when all is said and done, what Joe Biden and others recommended years ago – some sort of partition if you will of Iraq into a Sunni area, a Shiite area, a Kurdish area – may be the best solution when all is said and done.

I think there's a lot of wisdom there. I think people do need to take a second look at what Joe Biden was suggesting, which was, by the way, to be fair to him, a loose federation. He always understood you couldn't really partition as cleanly because, as you know, the middle of the country, which would be the sort of Sunni land, is actually full of Shias. Baghdad has lots of Shias in it.

So how would you do it? Historically, the way these happen is you have a certain amount of ethnic cleansing. In other words, the Sunni leave the Shia areas. The Kurds are, in any case, pretty much sealed. Maybe there's going to be a great sorting out in the Middle East. It's very sad to see. But think about what's happening. Hundreds of thousands of Christians have already left Iraq, even before these latest strategies. You've seen Christians flee Syria. You're seeing Kurds flee Syria. You're seeing the Sunnis flee out of Shia areas.

In other words, what you're seeing is the end of any kind of polyglot, multicultural Middle East. And what you're seeing is a very stark division where people are moving into their ethnic and religious corners.

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Topics: Iraq
August 9th, 2014
11:38 PM ET

On GPS Sunday: Latest from Iraq, analysis of ISIS, and future of the space program

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

On GPS this Sunday: First, the latest on Iraq and the advances made by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, as well as the U.S. military’s response. Also, Fareed offers his take on what the United States should be doing and why bolstering the Kurds is the key to success.

Then, Fareed will speak with counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen before hearing from Ambassador Peter Galbraith, author of The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War without End, and the London School of Economics’ Fawaz Gerges about what we might be able to expect next.

Next, Fareed will be joined by The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart and Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens about U.S. policy over Iraq and Gaza.

Also, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium, discusses the state of the U.S. space program.

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Topics: GPS Show • Iraq
August 9th, 2014
11:39 AM ET

Why U.S. should help the Kurds

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

By Fareed Zakaria

The situation in Iraq today is perilous, but also chaotic and confusing. Should the United States do more to help the communities under threat of destruction? If it does intervene for humanitarian reasons here, then why not in a place like Syria, which has seem many terrible atrocities and massacres as well? How should we think through the issue?

I have been cautious about urging the United States to get back into Iraq, but I believe that in the current circumstances, the Obama administration should intervene more forcefully and ambitiously, use air power, offer training support and weaponry if needed.


The humanitarian crisis unfolding in Iraq is terrible enough. But sometimes, as in Syria, it is unclear whether U.S. military intervention could really help matters, whether there’s a clear plan that would work. In Iraq now there is such a path, one that also offers the strategic rationale for U.S. action. FULL POST

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Topics: GPS Show • Iraq
Zakaria: We need more ambitious strategy in Iraq
August 8th, 2014
12:55 PM ET

Zakaria: We need more ambitious strategy in Iraq

CNN’s New Day speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the advances made by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. This is an edited version of the transcript. For analysis of the latest developments, watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

If Iraq falls, what happens?

If Iraq falls, you have a catastrophe because you would have this very, very extreme jihadi group that would be in control of vast not just territory, but one of the five or six largest oil-producing countries in the world with access to revenues in the tens of billions of dollars.

But let's focus on the part that's most threatened right now, which is Kurdistan. The United States, since 1991, in collaboration with Britain and France established a no-fly zone to protect the Kurds. Since then, it has been a bipartisan foreign policy supported by a large part of the international community that the Kurds should be protected. So I think there’s a humanitarian issue here, but there's also a strategic issue.

The Kurds are an extraordinarily vibrant, independent-minded, quite democratic force in the region. They're extremely pro-American, pro- Western. I think there’s a strategic interest making sure that the Kurds do not fall to ISIS. FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • United States
Iraqis don't want their country broken up
July 16th, 2014
10:57 AM ET

Iraqis don't want their country broken up

By Amal Mudallali, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Amal Mudallali is a senior scholar at the Wilson Center. The views expressed are her own.

The conventional wisdom in Washington is that Iraq is heading for partition. The argument is that Iraq is on the cusp of being broken into three states: a Sunni, a Shiite, and a Kurdish state to replace the current state of Iraq. But while many of the proponents of this view contend that the Iraqis themselves want this because they simply cannot live together, I believe nothing could be further from the truth.

Sunni Iraqis do not want to be separate, they want to be equal. And for the Shiite Iraqis, the definition of equal is for Iraq to remain whole, but under a Shiite-dominated government. These views may appear somewhat inconsistent, but a regional and international coalition that sees the dangers of dismembering Iraq two sides should be able to help them walk back from their positions.

I know this is possible because Lebanon, another Arab country that suffered a bloody 15 year civil war, managed to step back from the abyss through a political settlement. Thirty years after the end of that civil war, and despite the suicide bombings that have blighted the country in recent months, Lebanon is still united.


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Topics: Iraq • Middle East • Syria
Time to rethink approach to Iraq's displacement crisis
July 11th, 2014
12:09 PM ET

Time to rethink approach to Iraq's displacement crisis

By Elizabeth Ferris and Vittoria Federici, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Elizabeth Ferris is the co-director of the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement and a senior fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution. Vittoria Federici is a senior research assistant at the Brookings Doha Center. The views expressed are their own.

In a scene reminiscent of Iraq’s 2006-2008 displacement crisis, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are again fleeing violent conflict for perceived safer areas. Indeed, more than 1.2 million Iraqis have been displaced since fighting erupted in Anbar Province between Sunni insurgents and the Iraqi army at the start of this year, a situation dramatically worsened by the lightning advances of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Sadly, this mass displacement looks like it will be even more complicated than the previous one.

For a start, ISIS fighters have quickly and brutally taken over large swathes of territory in order to establish an Islamic Caliphate straddling Syria and Iraq. Taking advantage of widespread discontent among the local Sunni population, the group is fighting an open sectarian war against the Shia-led government in Baghdad. As it consolidates its powerbase, ISIS is demanding that Muslims pledge allegiance to its movement, live according to its harsh interpretation of Islam, and wage international jihad. FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • Syria
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