CNN’s FAREED ZAKARIA GPS features an interview with Barham Salih, former prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan and former deputy prime minister of Iraq, about the strength of ISIS, the role the Peshmerga could play in fighting ISIS, and the prospects for Kurdish independence.
Salih on the Iraqi army: “At the end of the day, the military needs to be a professional institution, the type of leadership that we have had in Iraq over the past few years has politicized the army, has divided the army on sectarian lines and simply was not able to stand up to the challenge.”
Salih on the Peshmerga’s fight against ISIS: “Kurdistan has emerged as the most reliable partner of the international coalition in the fight against ISIS.”
Salih on Kurdish Independence: “Every Kurd wants independence. That’s a — that’s a reality of it. But I genuinely do believe that the Kurds will be the ones who will have least problem with a united Iraq, a decent Iraq. To date, the Kurds want Iraq to succeed, a democratic federal Iraq will be good for the Kurds and we want to be partners in making Iraq a success.”
A full transcript of the interview is available after the jump.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: If, and it is a big if, the United States and its allies are going to defeat ISIS without Western combat boots on the ground, they’re going to have to rely heavily on the Kurds. But will the Kurds play along? Are their Peshmerga fighters up to the task? Let’s ask somebody who certainly knows. Barham Salih is a leading Kurdish power broker who has held very powerful positions there. He was the former prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan and also the former deputy prime minister of all of Iraq. Barham, pleasure to have you on.
BARHAM SALIH, FORMER PRIME MINISTER, KURDISTAN: Thank you, Fareed, for having me.
ZAKARIA: First, give us your assessment of whether the U.S. airstrikes and this military campaign is having an effect. Is ISIS weaker, because on the ground so far, it doesn’t appear that way?
SALIH: I think it’s fair to say that these airstrikes have slowed down ISIS advances, but they are nowhere enough to defeat ISIS. And what we see, also, in Kobani, in neighboring Syria, is also a statement to the fact that these airstrikes, while welcome, while important, but nowhere enough to defeat ISIS.
ZAKARIA: Now, let’s first talk about the Iraqi Army. One of the problems, as I understand it, was that Maliki, the former prime minister, had fired a lot of very good Sunni generals and colonels, replaced them with Shiite loyalists, the army lost morale. People weren’t willing to fight. Has this been mended? Because people say we have a new Iraqi government, but it seems to me that the concessions that were supposed to be made to the Sunnis to draw them back have not yet been made. Has the army been fixed?
SALIH: I think we need to be absolutely honest and direct about these issues. The Iraqi Army has collapsed, has evaporated. This is not to take away from the good men and — men in Iraqi uniform that have been there and have been fighting ISIS. But basically the structure, the command structure has totally evaporated and collapsed. At the end of the day, the military needs to be a professional institution, the type of leadership that we have had in Iraq over the past few years has politicized the army, has divided the army on sectarian lines and simply was not able to stand up to the challenge. Another factor which is very important in all of this, as well, corruption. Iraq has access to easy money. And this money has often been used to buy loyalty. And this corruption has reached the army and, in fact, it has created a shell, in a sense, that was not able to withstand any real pressure. Therefore, we need to really go back to basics.
ZAKARIA: What about the Peshmerga? Are — will the Kurdish Army — this is the force that protects the Kurdish part of Iraq — is it going to be willing to go into battle in Iraq — potentially even into Syria – to fight ISIS, since you do need an effective fighting force on the ground?
SALIH: My own sense is, I can say this definitively, Kurdistan has emerged as the most reliable partner of the international coalition in the fight against ISIS. There may be a number of reasons for that. One of the issues that I’m proud of, Kurdistan represents a tolerant society, tolerant values, and we do have real interest in taking on ISIS. So the Kurdish Peshmergas are taking on ISIS. They are fighting ISIS across nearly 1,000 kilometers of lines. But I have to say, also, the mantra is that Kurdish Peshmergas should not be relied upon to go to Mosul or should not be relied upon to go to the heartland of the Sunni areas or to Baghdad. We can be there to support. We can be there to support. But at the same time, the communities there needs to be empowered. The same thing about Syria…
ZAKARIA: Because you would be seen as an almost foreign army…
SALIH: Absolutely —
ZAKARIA: — if you were to go into…
SALIH: I think one has to also acknowledge this reality. This is payback time. Over the last 10 years, there were lots of communities, particularly in the Sunni areas, who felt marginalized. ISIS and these extremists have taken advantage of that — of those grievances and are — this has become an incubating ground for them. The fundamental answer is to empower these communities, to take on these extremists.
ZAKARIA: Final question. You are absolutely right that the Kurds of Iraq have proved to be the most reliable partner for the United States for a while now. Is the payback after all of this going to be that you would like to declare independence?
SALIH: Every Kurd wants independence. That’s a — that’s a reality of it. But I genuinely do believe that the Kurds will be the ones who will have least problem with a united Iraq, a decent Iraq. To date, the Kurds want Iraq to succeed, a democratic federal Iraq will be good for the Kurds and we want to be partners in making Iraq a success However, what is tearing Iraq apart is corruption, is sectarianism and is a lot of regional interventions, but above all, a political elite that has failed to seize the moment in building a nation from the ashes of genocide and the terror that Saddam Hussein has left us.
ZAKARIA: Barham Salih, a pleasure to have you on.
SALIH: The pleasure is all mine, sir.