TOPICS > World > iraq

Maliki resignation clears way for new government, but doesn’t eliminate huge differences

August 14, 2014 at 6:49 PM EST
Chief foreign correspondent Margaret Warner joins Judy Woodruff, ahead of a reporting trip to Iraq, to discuss Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s resignation and the improved situation for stranded Yazidis on a mountaintop in Northern Iraq.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to more on Iraq, the United States’ involvement there, and the surprising announcement by the country’s prime minister.

I’m joined by our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner, who’s heading to the country on a reporting trip tonight.

Margaret, so we’re glad to have this chance to talk to you.

MARGARET WARNER: Great.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So big developments from Baghdad this week.

MARGARET WARNER: Huge.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The announcement of a new prime minister, and then just late today, the surprise word from Prime Minister Maliki he’s stepping down.

What does the administration see the state of play is?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, for them, Judy, this is the second pleasant surprise on the political front they have had in a week.

First of all, I’m told they were surprised at how quickly, relatively quickly, the Shiite parties recognized that Maliki had to go and coalesced around somebody else. They really thought it was going to take longer, even though there was a deadline of last Sunday. And so you had both Sistani, you know, the grand ayatollah, weigh in and be critical of Maliki. You had Iran and Saudi Arabia both endorsing this new fellow.

So, — so there was — there was relief at that. But, secondly, then, to have Maliki actually resign after, as you probably pointed out in the setup, he had originally called the army out into the streets, and there was a fear that there would either be that kind of a coup.

Or even after he withdraw that, he talked about challenge it in a court. So it does clear the way for the formation of a new government. That said, as an administration official said to me, look, there are huge differences within the Shiite coalition, not to mention among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

And you just take Abadi, the new P.M.-designate. Even though he spent most of his exile in the West during the rule of Saddam Hussein, not in Iran, as Maliki did, he comes from the Dawa Party, and he comes from a history of being repressed. Two of his brothers were executed by Saddam Hussein.

So, the fissures run deep. And, as some have said, we’re not — they’re not going to get all together and sing kumbaya just because it’s not Maliki.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s turn — and let me ask you about this ethnic minority group the Yazidis.

MARGARET WARNER: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: They were trapped on the mountain in Northern Iraq.

How did the administration come to conclude, after originally saying they were going to have go in and rescue them and have a major operation, that that wasn’t going to be needed?

MARGARET WARNER: It is — it is kind of amazing, Judy, because I believe, though I don’t know for sure, they were only on the mountain about 24 hours.

There were apparently 18 to 24…

JUDY WOODRUFF: The advisers.

MARGARET WARNER: The advisers.

Well, there were special forces — special operations forces and also some AID people. This is a big, long mountain of 60 miles long. And it’s very, very rugged terrain. And at least they were on the more — the northern side, where a lot of these Yazidis have been escaping.

They found, as you no doubt reported, 4,000 to 5,000, and half of them are herders. I have to say that some Yazidi spokesmen are questioning that and saying, ah, but they couldn’t have possibly gotten to the south side, where people are in much more desperate shape. And most of the ISIL, or ISIS, positions are more along the south rim.

So — but this was very much the conclusion, and, again, a pleasant surprise, because the White House, which had already — was looking at a lot of different options, from bringing in large U.S. military aircraft.

I mean, I talked to people on Wednesday, when they were really looking at these options. So, this wasn’t a feint at all. And the fact that the president will not have to do that, as well as the fact that, in their view, these people aren’t as in desperate shape, was — was a relief.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just, finally, another big question, and that is the rest of Iraq.

MARGARET WARNER: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: ISIL, the Islamic State, this group that is threatening big chunks of the country, what does the administration think that it needs to do?

MARGARET WARNER: Yes.

Well, it holds a third of the country, a huge chunk of the country.

And the administration you know, the president has essentially promised that if this new government coalesces, and everyone buys in, Sunnis and Kurds as well as Shiites, that the U.S. is ready to support an Iraqi Peshmerga an Iraqi-led military operation on the ground.

So, they are looking at airstrikes. They are looking at even increased intelligence cooperation, which they’re already doing, more training, more weapons. A Kurdish leader said to me yesterday, ah, but the airstrikes can’t be totally effective unless the U.S. puts some special ops, intelligence people, whatever, on the ground to call in the airstrikes.

The official I talked to late today said, well, that’s certainly on the table, but no decision has been made on that yet, because that of course runs can be seen as running afoul perhaps of the administration of the president’s promise not to put American combat boots on the ground.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you have done a lot of reporting, and you’re going to be doing a lot more.

MARGARET WARNER: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You are going to be on the ground. You’re going there, as we said, tonight.

MARGARET WARNER: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You will be reporting for us all next week, Margaret, and we look forward to that. Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: I hope I hope I can say the same.

(LAUGHTER)