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Prime Minister Abadi: Iraq welcomes Russia in Islamic State fight

September 30, 2015 at 6:35 PM EDT
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi joins chief foreign correspondent Margaret Warner to discuss Russia’s launch of military action in Syria, whether Iraq would allow Russian forces inside its borders to fight the Islamic State and the announcement of a pact to share intelligence with Iran, Syria and Russia.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And now we get the view from Baghdad on Russia’s bombing and the fight against the Islamic State, or Da’esh, as the group is called in Arabic.

NewsHour chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner spoke today with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. He is in New York attending the U.N. General Assembly.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for joining us.

HAIDER AL-ABADI, Prime Minister, Iraq: Welcome.

MARGARET WARNER: It’s been confirmed today that the Russians launched an airstrike in Syria right outside the city of Homs. Is that kind of thing helpful, do you think, to the common fight against the Islamic State?

HAIDER AL-ABADI: Well, of course it is beneficial. Don’t forget, Iraq was attacked from across the Syrian border into Iraq by Da’esh, by ISIL.

And that cost us a lot of human costs in terms of people killed, people being kidnapped, people being enslaved, women, children. So, any joining of this fight against Da’esh by anyone, we very much welcome. We established this international coalition.

MARGARET WARNER: You’re talking about the U.S.-led coalition?

HAIDER AL-ABADI: Correct. That’s to help Iraq to stand in the face of Da’esh.

And if the Russians are moving against Da’esh now in Syria, we very much welcome this.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, that is really the question. The U.S. government was saying today that, in fact, that’s not a Da’esh, or ISIS, stronghold where they bombed; in fact, it’s held mostly by the opposition to President Assad.

What do you think are the Russian intentions?

HAIDER AL-ABADI: Our message to the Russians — I met with Putin — please join this fight against Da’esh.

Da’esh is a dangerous terrorist organization, not only against Iraq, against Syria, against the whole region, against the whole world. It is time that we all join the same forces to fight Da’esh.

MARGARET WARNER: But do you think that the Russian intention is only to do that or to also prop up the Assad government?

HAIDER AL-ABADI: I cannot be in the mind of what the Russians want. But what I have been told by President Putin, yes, they consider Da’esh a very dangerous organization. It is threatening the national security of Russia, and the Russians are in it to fight Da’esh.

MARGARET WARNER: Can you foresee the day that Iraq might ask the Russians to come in and bomb in Iraq, to assist what your ground forces are doing?

HAIDER AL-ABADI: Well, if the Russians are prepared to join the international coalition, which is helping Iraq, they are welcome. I think I would welcome the Russians to do that.

MARGARET WARNER: But, I mean, they’re not part of the U.S.-led coalition. They have a different group. Are you saying they’d have to first join the U.S.-led coalition or just that, if they say they want to defeat Da’esh, that in fact you would welcome their help, including bombs?

HAIDER AL-ABADI: Yes, I think I would welcome that, but that they need a lot of work to liaison between everybody there.

We need, like, a common platform, where there should be no conflict. We have to deconflict any misunderstanding between the countries which are helping Iraq inside Iraq.

MARGARET WARNER: Another thing, of course, that happened over the last few days was news that Iraq had entered an intelligence pact with Russia and Iran and Syria to share intelligence about ISIS. Why did you join that?

HAIDER AL-ABADI: ISIL is an international terrorist organization. As far as the intelligence is concerned, we can only gather information about ISIL inside Iraq.

We need the help of other countries. Russia now considers ISIL as a national threat to them. It is a national threat to Syria. And, of course, it is a threat to Iran as well. Now, to share this intelligence with these countries is going to help us. I will do whatever it takes to protect the Iraqi people.

And there are many terrorist networks all over the world and fighters coming across different countries, to Syria, to Iraq. I need the help of that intelligence, as well as the intelligence of the international coalition, which is…


MARGARET WARNER: But doesn’t most of your intelligence in fact come from the Americans? And are you worried that the U.S. will become more wary and less forthcoming sharing intelligence with you if they know it also goes to Iran and Russia and Syria?

HAIDER AL-ABADI: No, we will be careful not to share this information which comes from other parties with another party.

But, you see, Russia has an interest. We have about 2,500 Chechen fighters from Russia who are taking part with Da’esh inside Iraq and inside Syria. Inside Iraq, they are very dangerous guys. They do detonation. They kill a lot of people. So, I think to have the Russians on board will help me, will help my government to protect Iraqis and to save more lives.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, you met with President Obama privately after this news came out. Did he seem upset, annoyed?

HAIDER AL-ABADI: Well, I think there is some political enmity between probably the United States and Russia. That is very much understood.

The Russians want to play a role in the Middle East. They want to play another role in Russia. I understand that. But, for me, these minor political differences, I should put aside.

MARGARET WARNER: What the U.S. was upset about is that you, for whom, you know, the U.S. is providing air cover for your troops, retraining of your troops, didn’t even give the Americans a heads-up. Why not?

HAIDER AL-ABADI: I think, no, they knew about it, about this intelligence sharing of information.

MARGARET WARNER: They say they didn’t in advance.

HAIDER AL-ABADI: I mean, they were — advance — well, probably not in advance before we have done it, but later, after we have done it.

I mean, this has been going on for about three months now. This is not new. I don’t know why the news was broke recently. It’s very low-level. It’s very low-level. It is not high-level. There is no military cooperation whatsoever.

MARGARET WARNER: So, if I might, back to the meeting with President Obama, what did he say?

HAIDER AL-ABADI: It’s mainly to do with American and international coalition support to Iraq. We need more equipment. We need more support.

And I think that the president was very much forthcoming in escalating the support for Iraq, for our forces to achieve victory on the ground. We are, I think, the only army in the region who are fighting Da’esh.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about your fight in Iraq. It seems to have hit a stalemate. You had a little early success, sort of freezing ISIS in place last summer, but, since then, you have been unable to retake some major cities like Ramadi. Why is that?

HAIDER AL-ABADI: Well, I think, last time was in April, when we took back Tikrit. And, since then, of course, we lost Ramadi.

But after — a month-and-a-half after we lost Ramadi, we started a counteroffensive, and we have almost encircled not only Ramadi, but manyfold areas other than Ramadi to kick Da’esh out. Of course, this summer, in particular, was very hot, extremely hot.

I don’t think, when soldiers are carrying about eight, 10 kilograms of equipment and of body armor, you wouldn’t expect them to fight in such a heat weather. We have made progress, but not as much as we anticipated because of the weather.

MARGARET WARNER: Many Americans wonder, why should we keep getting involved, losing lives and treasure, trying to help these countries resolve their differences? Why not just walk away and let them resolve themselves? What would you say to those American taxpayers and voters?

HAIDER AL-ABADI: See, Da’esh, or ISIL, is not only threat to Iraq or the region. It’s for the whole world.

We have blocked the advance of Da’esh to the south. If they are allowed to go to the south, they would control all the Gulf areas, all the oil supply of the world. They will threaten the whole world. They will establish what they consider their rightful state, which is, of course, terror state, in the whole region.

We have blocked that in Iraq. We not only stopped it, but we are reversing it. We are the only country now reversing the acts of this terrorist organization. If we don’t receive this international support, I’m not sure we can stand on our own. We gave a lot of sacrifices. We are prepared to give more. Iraqis are sacrificing themselves to defend their land and to push Da’esh out.

If we don’t receive this international support, God knows what is going to happen in this region and what’s going to happen in the rest of the world.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you.

HAIDER AL-ABADI: OK, thank you.