Kurdish deputy prime minister urges U.S. leaders to remain engaged in Iraq

While Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Baghdad to meet with Iraq's new prime minister, Kurdish Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani came to Washington in hopes of shoring up support for the fight against the Islamic State. Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner talks to Talabani about battling the militants and political divisions in Iraq.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    A top Kurdish leader was in Washington today to meet with members of Congress, in hopes of shoring up support for the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq.

    Qubad Talabani is the Kurdish deputy prime minister.

    "NewsHour" senior foreign affair correspondent Margaret Warner met with him earlier today.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Talabani's visit comes as Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Iraqi government forces and Shiite militias battle to roll back Islamic State gains.

    The militants moved into Northern and Western Iraq in June, sending Iraqi troops fleeing. In August, U.S. warplanes joined the fray, targeting Islamic State units. Yesterday, on a visit by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Iraq's new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, asked for more U.S. airpower and weapons.

    But Hagel warned that U.S. firepower is not the solution.

    CHUCK HAGEL, Secretary of Defense: As Iraqi leaders and the people of Iraq know, only they can bring lasting peace to their country.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Baghdad did take a step to reconcile with the alienated Kurds last week with a deal to share the country's oil revenues between them.

    Meanwhile, the U.S. is deploying 3,000 trainers and advisers to Iraqi forces and may join them in the field if and when they try to recapture the large northern city of Mosul.

    I spoke today with Deputy Prime Minister Talabani in Washington, where he's urging U.S. leaders to remain engaged in Iraq.

    Deputy Prime Minister Talabani, thank you for joining us.

  • QUBAD TALABANI, Deputy Prime Minister, Kurdish Regional Government, Iraq:

    Thank you.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The U.S. defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, is in Iraq this week. And your prime minister, Abadi, told him yesterday that Iraq needs more heavy weapons from the United States.

    Do you agree with him on that?

  • QUBAD TALABANI:

    I think Iraq, and including the Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga, do require heavier weapons. But we have to also understand that this fight against ISIL and against these terrorists is not just a military fight.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Well, Secretary Hagel said his response to the prime minister was to say, we gave you lots of weapons last time and it didn't work. So is he right?

  • QUBAD TALABANI:

    Well, he is right.

    And, again, it shows that ISIL filled a political vacuum in Iraq and not a security vacuum. Iraq didn't lack weapons. But what it lacked was a political cohesion as a country, which ultimately created this — this groundwork for ISIL to come in and take over a big part of the country.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The United States finally got involved in this fight in, really, August. How is that fight going now?

  • QUBAD TALABANI:

    The fight has certainly changed from it looked like in August, with the U.S. airstrikes and the coalition strikes. It had turned the tide of the conflict.

    It had changed ISIL's tactics. They're no longer on the land-grabbing mission, as they were early on in this conflict. I think they're being forced underground. But we are expecting this conflict to go on for a considerable amount of time longer.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    One of the largest cities they took was the city of Mosul. And reports are the Iraqi government is pushing in fact to mount an offensive to retake Mosul much sooner than the Americans think is feasible. What is your view on that?

  • QUBAD TALABANI:

    It's not going to be an easy operation. Mosul is a very big city.

    The challenge is there, there is acquiescence to some of the ISIL's elements from within these territories in Iraq, from certain Sunni groups and tribes. So that means that there is a political issue here that has to be addressed for any military operation to be successful and sustainable.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, who have been quite effective, with the help of U.S. airpower, in their areas of operation, would they take part in a fight to retake Mosul?

  • QUBAD TALABANI:

    We currently have eight fronts against ISIL now.

    But there's going to come a time where we will be limited in how far we can go without increased level of support and coordination from the U.S. and also with the Iraqi side.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    But is your answer really no, that the Kurdish Peshmerga have a reluctance to even get into that morass? That's a very mixed city, as we know, Sunni, Shia, Christian, and Kurd.

  • QUBAD TALABANI:

    It's a very mixed city. It's a very big city and it's also going to require a very bloody battle to liberate it.

    And, again, without any sort of political endgame in sight for what the future of Iraq is going to look like, how we're going to eliminate that mentality of that population that is supportive to ISIL, I think any military operation is going to not be sustainable.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    You have been deeply involved in the negotiations in Baghdad with the government of this new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi. Is he different from Maliki, his predecessor? How is he doing in terms of reaching out to the disaffected groups, both the Kurds and the Sunnis?

  • QUBAD TALABANI:

    In his very short tenure, he's been able to reach an agreement with us. There's been some progress on the oil issues. There's been some progress on the budget issues, limited progress, but it is progress.

    And it's progress that Iraq has not had for eight years now. We find him to be a pragmatic and practical person.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    What about with the Sunnis? This is still a Shia-dominated government. That reconciliation seems stalled.

  • QUBAD TALABANI:

    It's a Shia-dominated government, which is why the Shia-dominated government needs to more to convince the Sunni that it is not intending to rule them and to bring under their rule.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    If the Sunnis aren't brought into the fold and aren't willing to be participants in the fight, including physically, against I.S., isn't the U.S. prospect for driving I.S. out of Iraq doomed?

  • QUBAD TALABANI:

    It's very limited, because without taking away the support that this group is getting from the local population, any military operation is going to be fraught with enormous difficulties.

    That atmosphere has to change. That mind-set from Baghdad has to change. There has to be a greater effort to win over the people of those territories where ISIL are currently occupying.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    vice President Biden in a speech last night said, you know, in the case of Iraq, I said nearly a decade ago, and I was criticized for it, but I still believe it, that the answer for Iraq is really a very loose federal system of at least three different entities.

  • QUBAD TALABANI:

    That's the only solution for Iraq.

    And we wish that people had listened to the vice president when he presented this when he was still a senator. I think Iraq does have one last chance to make this country work in a new way, not in the old centralized, authoritarian ways, but every day, every week, that chance is diminishing and that window is shrinking.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, thank you.

  • QUBAD TALABANI:

    Thank you.

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