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Militants gain ground in Iraq near Syrian border

June 21, 2014 at 5:32 PM EST
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ALISON STEWART: To analyze the latest on the situation in Iraq, we’re joined now by Gideon Rose, he is with the Council of Foreign Relations and the editor of Foreign Affairs Magazine.

Gideon we got right into this as soon as you came into the studio. Let’s talk about the most recent information, that a border town along Syria — the Syria and Iraqi border — was captured by Sunni Islamists. How important is this power grab?

GIDEON ROSE: You know the Sunni jihadists the ISIS group they’re taking a lot of territory but the areas they’re taking are ones that are Sunnis,  they’re largely desert and they’re not particularly strategically important. There’s going to be a balance of power in Iraq between the Shia government in the south the Kurds in the Northeast and the Sunnis in their areas.

ALISON STEWART: Well something’s happening within the Sunni extremists that you predicted that there’s a splintering starting to happen between Saddam Hussein loyalists and between ISIL. Why is this happening and what is the long term significance of it?

GIDEON ROSE: So the Sunnis are united in not particularly liking the Shiites or the Kurds and wanting their own sort of autonomy but there are different groups within the Sunni community and there are different religious groups that are more or less radical. We shouldn’t forget that ISIS has been disowned by Al Qaeda because of its brutality so these are really bad people. And different Sunnis at some times have fought their own extremists and so the question is will there be enough unity in the Sunni community to build even a coherent Sunni state or are we just going to see chaos in this whole area.

ALISON STEWART: And then who benefits from that?

GIDEON ROSE: Well that’s an interesting question nobody really benefits except the groups or the most extreme groups who benefit from chaos because they can thrive by providing protection to their little areas.

ALISON STEWART: Secretary of State John Kerry is going to spend five days overseas to talking about this going to Jordan. Let’s talk about Jordan’s part in this whole conflict.

GIDEON ROSE: Jordan wants to stay out and it wants to not be affected–it always gets refugees it always gets the collateral damage and it just really wants not be destabilized further and I think we’ll be able to keep Jordan from being too destabilized. But Kerry’s broader negotiations on an overall policy settlement probably likely to be about as successful as the average of his Ukraine negotiations and his Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

ALISON STEWART: What’s the best case scenario that could come out of these negotiations. He’s going to go to Paris and talk to Arab Gulf nation leaders.

GIDEON ROSE: Best case scenario is you get people to agree not to fuel the conflict by backing their local proxies the Sunni governments backing the Sunnis the Iranians backing the Shia and everyone trying to fuel a civil war there. If you can keep a lid on it that would be ok.

ALISON STEWART: One of the things that you and I were discussing before we started the formal interview was what is Iraq to the United States right now? Is it is what it is? Should we approaching this based on our history? Should we be approaching this based on what we want Iraq to be? What is it right now?

GIDEON ROSE: It’s a fascinating question because what’s really going on now is the question of defining what America’s core interests are. The president remarkably seems to have no particular interest in sunk costs: either saying I told you so we shouldn’t get back in or saying we have to go in in order to validate our previous commitment. He’s basically saying what’s the current threat and what’s the future threat and how should I assess this and the real question that Americans have to ask themselves is if Iraq does go into chaos how much will this blow back to us and is there really anything we can do about it?

ALISON STEWART: Gideon Rose from foreign affairs magazine thank you so much.

 GIDEON ROSE: Thank you.