Return to Transcripts main page


U.S. World Cup Team Advances; Crisis in Iraq

Aired June 26, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: CNN takes you inside a notorious army that's targeted Americans and now is on the same side as the U.S.

Plus, startling new scenarios about the final hours of Flight 370 and the pilot's condition as the plane went down. We're digging deeper into an official new report in the next phase of the search.

And team USA fans celebrating after losing a crucial World Cup match. We're going to have brand-new results telling you what's next for America's underdog team.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

This hour, nearly 500 U.S. troops, they are now on the ground in Iraq to help local forces battling ISIS terrorists. But the country's embattled prime minister appears to be encouraging additional help from one of the most ruthless regimes in the world, the regime being in Syria.

At the same time, the White House just asked Congress for half-a- billion dollars to train opponents of Syria's Bashar al-Assad. The battle lines in the region are blurry and potentially troubling for the United States right now.

CNN's Nima Elbagir is standing by with an exclusive report from Baghdad.

But, first, let's go to our chief national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, who has just returned from Iraq -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Secretary Kerry told us repeatedly on his trip to the Middle East that military action by the U.S. must be coupled with political compromise among Iraqi leaders.

And what we're seeing in the meantime is a very measured, incremental deployment of U.S. American force, the American forces on the ground now a combination of the military advisers the president authorized last week, additional security personnel sent in to protect the U.S. Embassy, plus others who have already been on the ground to protect American diplomats for the last two years, no U.S. airstrikes yet, though now one other country is stepping in.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO (voice-over): Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki

welcomed Syrian airstrikes like this one targeting ISIS militants now threatening his country.

NOURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): We actually welcome any Syrian strike against ISIS, but we didn't make any request to Syria. They carry out their strikes and we carry out ours, and the final winners are our two countries.

SCIUTTO: But the deadly risks were immediately clear, 57 Iraqi civilians killed in the Syrian air assault this week, more than 120 others wounded.

Traveling in Iraq this week, Secretary of State John Kerry vowed intense and sustained support. With 90 American servicemen arriving today, 220 U.S. military advisers are now on the ground, though, so far, the U.S. has avoided airstrikes.

(on camera): You said sustained and intense would be -- U.S. military action would be sustained and intense if the president decides to go forward. I wonder if you could better define the time frame, but also the measure of success of military action. Is it ISIS destroyed, ISIS retreating? Is it a partial retreat?

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, that's precisely the strategy that needs to be defined as we go forward.

What I said would be intense would be the support to the government of Iraq and our efforts to try to help rebuild the military structure, as well as hopefully support a new unity government.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): ISIS militants are now warning that any U.S. strikes will be met by attacks on Americans. Sitting on a terrace at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Paris, Kerry met with the foreign ministers of Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, pulling the Gulf leaders together to reinforce the point that ISIS is not just a threat to Iraq, but to the entire region and in fact the globe.

KERRY: Iraq obviously is one of the predominant ones. The move of ISIL concerns every single country here.


SCIUTTO: Iraq's parliament has been a called to meet next week. The question is, is this a meaningful first step in forming the unity government the U.S. has been asking Maliki to do, or is symbolic?

It's a real question, Wolf. Speaking to U.S. diplomats, they say this next week or two is crucial, watching what steps Iraqi leaders, including the prime minister, take. Are they substantive steps, or is there more bickering? And are we going to end up with the same kind of government we ended up with so far, Shiite-dominated?

BLITZER: And, as you know, the White House is now asking Congress authorization for a half-a-billion dollars. That would be $500 million to train and equip these -- these moderate rebels in Syria. But there's deep concern, as you know, that some of that equipment could wind up in the hands of ISIS if these guys lose.

SCIUTTO: Well, that's been the president's principal reason for delaying until this point, until this point, arming rebels in Syria, which is something, as you know, that some of his advisers, Hillary Clinton included, Secretary Kerry included, has been pushing for, for some time.

Now that he's doing it, there will be critics who will say ISIS is already strong. In effect, Assad has already won that conflict to come degree and that it may be too late to arm these rebels. But who knows. Clearly, the administration is realizing that they and the various parties involved are digging in for a long battle, and they need this pressure to come from inside Syria as well, in addition to whatever they do in Iraq.

BLITZER: Well, and we know, in Iraq, ISIS has taken over lots of U.S. equipment that were -- that was hands in the Iraqi military. They simply abandoned those tanks, those armored personnel carriers, those missiles, and ISIS has control of that right now and there's concern about that, could happen in Syria as well.

SCIUTTO: No question.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

In the battle against ISIS, the United States is winding up right now, hard to believe, but it's on the same side as some of its most dangerous adversaries. That would include the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and the army of a firebrand anti-American cleric.

CNN's Nima Elbagir spoke with commanders of that notorious Shiite military group.

Nima is joining us now live from Baghdad. She has an exclusive report.

Share with us, Nima, what you have learned.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's almost unimaginable, when you think about the alliance that is shaping up, Wolf, Iran, Syria, the U.S. with a common goal and a common enemy. But who would have predicted all those years ago when the Mahdi army were fighting their pitched battles against U.S. soldiers in these very streets here in Baghdad that they might find themselves on the same side?

Some of these men looking to join this alliance against ISIS are just fresh from fighting alongside Bashar al-Assad's forces in Syria. Take a look at this, Wolf.


ELBAGIR (voice-over): The Mahdi army on the move. They have come together to answer the call of their leader, Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. For years, he and his army fought pitched battles against

American soldiers. Today, as the threat from the Sunni extremist group ISIS grows, they could find themselves unlikely allies.

A neighborhood on the outskirts of Baghdad, this is a Shia stronghold, as is much of the Iraqi capital. We have come to meet with Mahdi army commanders. On the wall, Muqtada al-Sadr looks down. On the television, anti-U.S. films play.

One of the commanders tell us he's just returned from fighting ISIS in Syria alongside another U.S. foe, Hezbollah, along with what are believed to be thousands of other Iraqi Shias. He's asked that we conceal his identity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I fought alongside Iraqi Hezbollah, the Syrian army and Lebanese Hezbollah. And I'm willing to go back. I will fight here. I will fight there and anywhere to defend the Shiite and what is sacred to us. We're just waiting for our marching orders and at any time we will emerge, at any place.

ELBAGIR (on camera): These are pictures he took when he was fighting in Syria.

(voice-over): And this is the video he says the ISIS fighters took of him and his unit coming under attack in Aleppo He and his unit found a memory stick with it and other videos on the body of an ISIS militant.

Ali Jaffar was detained by U.S. forces for six months in Najaf during the war. For him, the U.S. will always be the enemy.

ALI JAFFAR, MAHDI ARMY (through translator): The Americans are not here for the sake of the Iraqis. The Americans are here because they have national security interests.

ELBAGIR: But he also can't deny the reality that faces his country.

JAFFAR (through translator): As soon as the order is given to fight, we are ready to sacrifice our blood and even our children. Even him, my child, I'm willing to sacrifice him for the nation.

ELBAGIR: As ISIS continue on their fight towards the country's capital, the Mahdi army await al-Sadr's orders. If he says fight, they will, regardless of who fights alongside them.

If they want to protect what they hold dear, the enemy of their enemy will have to become a friend, at least for now.


ELBAGIR: And just this evening, Wolf, a suicide attack dangerously close to one of the holiest of Shia sites here in Iraq, bringing the day that the Mahdi army could join the fray even closer -- Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, for days, U.S. officials have been deeply

concerned about some of those Shiite holy sites and ISIS going after them. That could spark who knows, even worse -- a worse civil war than is currently under way.

Nima Elbagir in Baghdad, be safe over there. Thanks very much.

Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, there are new theories about the pilots' final hours before Flight 370 went down. We're going to talk about the surprises in a brand-new official report from Australian authorities on the scene.

And the win went to Germany, but team USA isn't dwelling on its defeat. It's getting ready to play the next match, thrilling twists at the World Cup. Rachel Nichols is standing by to join us.


BLITZER: We're digging deeper into a brand new report on the mystery of Flight 370. It lays out a theory that the plane was on autopilot for hours before it crashed in the ocean, and that's renewing serious questions about the captain and what role if any he played in the jet's disappearance.

Here's our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh.


RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A startling scenario, the pilots of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 unconscious, the plane not under human control, as it flew more than five hours across the Indian Ocean.

WARREN TRUSS, AUSTRALIAN DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: It is highly, highly likely that the aircraft was on autopilot. Otherwise, it could not have followed the orderly path that has -- that has been identified through the satellite sightings.

MARSH: A 64-page report details the assumptions leading to a new search area. The plane still flying if somehow sucked of oxygen. Everyone on board passed out. It happened on golfer Payne Stewart's Learjet in 1999 and again in 2005 on a Greek passenger flight. All 121 people killed.

KEITH WOLZINGER, COMMERCIAL AIRLINE PILOT: When you get above 35,000 feet, we're talking five to 10 seconds of useful consciousness. As a pilot suffers hypoxia, the motor skills decrease, the judgment decreases.

MARSH: The Australian government is only focused on finding the plane. The cause is being left up to Malaysian investigators.

MARTIN DOLAN, ATSB: But the questions as to why this occurred are not ones that we need to address in determining the search area which has been our focus. MARSH: The assumptions lead here, the new search area

highlighted in orange still along the seventh arc where Flight 370 made its final satellite connection.

TRUSS: This site is the best available and most likely place where the aircraft is resting.

MARSH: But we've heard that before, when the focus was 500 miles northeast, where Bluefin-21 searched with no sign of Flight 370. This new search zone is massive, roughly the size of West Virginia.

Search crews were here before months ago looking for floating debris. But nothing was found.

Now, the search returns to go miles underwater.

TRUSS: The search will still be painstaking. Of course, we could be fortunate and find it in the first hour, or the first day. But it could take another 12 months.


MARSH: Wolf, they believe the pilots did not communicate because they were simply incapacitated, a lack of oxygen.

Pilots tell me that you can get tunnel vision, where you gray out. Essentially, you can only see your center field of vision. You also experience this feeling of euphoria. But even if passengers had time TO get those oxygen masks on, we know, Wolf, that there's only enough air That lasts roughly 12 minutes. And we know that that plane was flying for many hours.

BLITZER: Many hours, indeed. All right. Rene, stand by.

I want to bring in our aviation correspondent Richard Quest, our aviation analyst Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the NTSB.

Richard, why did it take so long to put out this comprehensive report and what jumped out at you?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think it took so long because they were collating all the evidence.

What this report is, is a summary of what's been done so far, the new evidence that they have used to find the next search position. So, if you like, this takes us to year dot. This is the beginning point for the search moving forward.

What struck me was the care and detail with which they're putting into where the plane may have gone into the rest. For instance, you talk about the hypoxia scenario, but that's only being used to determine how the plane would have fallen out of the air. What would have been the occasion when it ran out of fuel?

Wolf, what they are not saying in this report is which scenario actually took place. They have taken mechanical failure, they have taken hypoxia, they have taken I'm running out of fuel, and they have to work out where the plane would have come down, in which configuration, after it ran out of fuel.

BLITZER: You have believed all along, Peter, that this was a human, a human result, a human decision for whatever reason that this plane disappeared, went down with 239 people on board, a Boeing 777, a U.S.-made plane. Costs about $250 million. One -- there are, what, 1,200 of them flying around the world right now. But you can't be 100 percent sure. It could be a mechanical problem. They have to figure this out to make sure that this wouldn't happen again.


They have to find the plane. They have to make a determination. We can't have a vacuum over an aircraft like the 777. It's too important an aircraft to the fleet.

BLITZER: They're not even going to resume the actual search, Rene, for, what, until August or so? Then they're going to start mapping out this whole region. This could go on and on.


MARSH: Right.

So, private contractors, they're going to take over the search. We know that that's not expected to start until August. And this is going to be -- not going to be an easy task at all. We're talking about water that is as deep as three miles in some areas. And this particular part of the ocean, there's a part of it called Broken Ridge.

Just speaking to David Gallo, one of our analysts, and he says that that is a mountain which has a very steep decline. It means the decline could be, you know, two, three miles just from top to bottom.

So it's going to be tough. But the good thing is they do have a ship there that's mapping the ocean floor, so at least they know what they're going to be up against when they do start the underwater search.

BLITZER: And, Richard, if in fact everyone on that plane lost oxygen, everyone in effect was dead, the plane was on autopilot, it would fly until it ran out of gas.

QUEST: Right.

BLITZER: But then it would glide for a while too. It could glide for a significant time, right?


QUEST: That's the significance of this report.

It goes into those scenarios. What would have happened? First of all, the left engine probably would have flamed out. Then the right engine would have flamed out. And to your point, Wolf, if nobody was at the controls -- and this is the significance of the hypoxia theory. If nobody was at the controls, the autopilot would have disengaged, and the plane would not have glided just gently down.

This report says it would have started to spiral down. And that's why they have looked at these various scenarios, to see what could have happened, given different parameters on how to plane would have entered the water. When you know that, you know where to look.

BLITZER: And, Peter, very quickly, this would -- if in fact everyone died on that plane because there was no oxygen for whatever reason, that wouldn't be the first time something like that happened.

GOELZ: No. It's happened before. We have looked at these kinds of accidents. But Richard makes a good point. If the plane spiraled down, it would have been a lot of wreckage in the ocean. And we were searching there. It's still a mystery.


BLITZER: All right.

MARSH: And still nothing floating either.


BLITZER: Well, nothing -- well, they haven't found anything yet.


BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very, very much.

Just ahead, a very different story. Fans are celebrating even though team USA lost today.


BLITZER: Across the United States, indeed around the world, millions and millions of people were glued to today's critical World Cup match between team USA and Germany.

The U.S. lost, but it still came out a winner, advancing to the next round of 16 teams.

CNN's Rachel Nichols is joining us now to explain.

How could this possibly happen? I know how it happened, but I want you to explain to our viewers that the United States loses, but still moves on to the next round.

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think in the States, we're so used to the idea of hey, it's the playoffs, right? We just got done with the NBA and NHL playoffs. You win, you advance, you lose, you go home.

Well, in the World Cup they have this round-robin round at the beginning. And you can almost think of that like the regular season. Right? You could lose your last game of the regular season in the NFL, but still make the playoffs and go to the Super Bowl.

And that's exactly what happened here. They played well enough through the beginning of their round-robin. That win against Ghana was huge. And that enabled them to now move on to what is now the knockout round. And this, you can start to think of as kind of the playoffs, because this is do or die. And they're going to be facing some stiff competition.

BLITZER: In the NCAA, they call it the Sweet 16, as we know. This is going to be the final 16.

So who does team USA play on Tuesday?

NICHOLS: Well, they're going to face Belgium, which is the top seed coming out of their group. The U.S., because of this loss to Germany, it did cost them being the top seed.

So, they are now the number two seed coming out of Group G that you have been hearing so much about. And Belgium is tough. Belgium has beaten the U.S. the last two times that they have played. They had a really good lead-up to this World Cup. But here's what the Americans have going for them. They just made it out of the group of death, which is what everybody called their group, because it was the toughest in the entire World Cup.

They have got a ton of confidence. And ,by the way, they made it out of that group of death without arguably their best player, Jozy Altidore, who is a great scorer for them. Remember, he went down with a hamstring injury in their very first match. So, coach Jurgen Klinsmann says he does expect Jozy to be back for Tuesday's match. That's huge.

And he's joining a team that's riding very high.

BLITZER: I want to put two pictures up on the screen, Rachel.

The president of the United States, he watched the game. There he is aboard Air Force One with some of his aides. You see Valerie Jarrett sitting right there next to him. They're watching the game aboard Air Force One. The speaker, John Boehner, he was watching the game with a bunch of his aides as well up on Capitol Hill.

Here's the question. Are Americans now beginning to love soccer?

NICHOLS: Well, first of all, politicians are no fool, right?

Wolf, watching -- showing yourself watching American soccer, it's like the new kissing babies. Everyone is popular because of it. But I don't know how much it's going to extend beyond this World Cup. We have seen this in the past with big events, right?

Look at the miracle on ice, considered a seminal event in U.S. sports history. Even the Olympic Games, the NHL -- I mean, the Olympic Games, the final hockey match in Vancouver in 2010 between the U.S. and Canada, that did a huge, enormous, spectacular rating, didn't really have a huge impact on NHL ratings in the following months and years.

So, this is exciting, this is fantastic, and certainly we have seen World Cup ratings and interest build over the past 12, 15 years. And I think we're going to see that continue into the next quadrant. The major league soccer in the United States, well, you might have a little bit of carryover, but that's going to build a little bit too at its own pace. I don't think you can expect some sort of crazy explosion next season.

BLITZER: All right, Rachel, thanks.

We will continue our conversation tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

That's it for me. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.