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A step forward in ISIS fight? Iraq lawmakers approve Sunni, Shiite ministers

For more on the Iraq parliament’s approval of Sunni and Shiite ministers, ISIS’s presence in Anbar province and the group’s encroachment on Baghdad, Douglas Ollivant, a partner with global strategic consulting firm Mantid International, joins Hari Sreenivasan from Washington.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And now more of our continuing series, "The War on ISIS." Detailed analysis of the administration's efforts to halt the advance by Islamic extremists who have captured large portions of Syria and Iraq.

    For the latest, we are joined once again tonight from Washington by Douglas Ollivant. He served with the National Security Council under President Bush and President Obama and is now a partner with Mantid International.

    The Iraqi parliament today approved nominees for the interior and defense ministry positions.

    So what's the significance of that and what can be done now that they are in place?

  • DOUGLAS OLLIVANT:

    Well, it's very significant. We've not had a parliamentary-approved minister of defense or minister of interior since 2010.

    So to have the Sunni minister of defense and Shia minister of interior is very important moving forward. President Obama has talked about getting an inclusive government, and the hardest part of that was the security ministry.

    So now that we have a parliamentary-approved minister of defense and minister of interior, we have yet another step to go forward on really coordinating the response to the Islamic State in Iraq.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    OK. Well, we've been talking a lot about ISIS in the context of Syria and Iraq. It seems that Lebanon is starting to get dragged into this fight as well.

  • DOUGLAS OLLIVANT:

    Well, that's right. The Islamic State has made no bones about the fact that it has designs on Lebanon and Lebanon has a very fragile stability from its own civil war 20 years ago. It's taken in a lot of Syrian refugees, which has put great strain on its state, its service and its balance.

    And again now you have the Islamic State probing the Lebanon border, clearly trying to bring them into this conflict.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    OK. We're going to put a map up on the screen that illustrates that ISIS advanced through the Anbar province west of Baghdad during the last seven weeks.

    What is important about the Anbar province?

    And what is the Iraqi military army doing to stop ISIS there?

  • DOUGLAS OLLIVANT:

    Well, Anwar's always been important. It is a very large province in the west of Iraq and it borders a number of other provinces. It borders Baghdad, most notably, but also Babel, Karbala, Najaf.

    It's a very significant, very large province, and ISIS first moved here in January, long before its sweep into Mosul that garnered everyone's attention. So ISIS has been here a long time.

    And in fact, some would say ISIS never really left, that even when the former AQI, now ISIS, the former Al Qaeda in Iraq, went to ground, it never really left Anbar. It always had a foothold there.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    OK. Now they also control a town just about 12 miles west of the Baghdad airport, and they've been able to fire mortars into the green zone on the eastern side of Baghdad, where the U.S. embassy is.

    How safe is Baghdad now from ISIS?

  • DOUGLAS OLLIVANT:

    Well, in the mega-picture, Baghdad is not going to fall to the Islamic State like Mosul did. That's simply not going to happen. Baghdad is a majority Shia city that is just — whose citizens find ISIS to be absolutely anathema and it will not be welcomed in any way, shape or form.

    Now, that said, ISIS does have sanctuary in and around Baghdad and can do harassing attacks. What everyone is most concerned about, of course, is the Baghdad airport. The western edge of the Baghdad airport is just a few kilometers from Anbar province, and it is not inconceivable that ISIS is trying to not capture but interdict the Baghdad airport.

    You put one or two artillery rounds on the runway at Baghdad airport and, all of a sudden, international air travel shuts down for that city, which would send into a tizzy the international community that's in Baghdad, all the embassies, all the military assistance, et cetera. So that's a very real problem that we're watching.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Doug Ollivant with Mantid International, thanks so much.

  • DOUGLAS OLLIVANT:

    Thank you so much, Hari.

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