Al Qaeda-affiliated militants have seized control of two cities in Northern Iraq, including Mosul the nation’s second largest and Tikrit, the hometown of Sadaam Hussein. Despite the increased violence, all three network morning shows did their best to downplay or ignore the Obama Administration’s Iraq policy for potentially contributing to the violence.
On Thursday, June 12, ABC, CBS, and NBC all provided extensive coverage on the latest violence on and the danger of the radical Jihadists taking over parts of Iraq. However, only NBC briefly noted President Obama’s decision to quickly withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. ABC didn't use the word "Obama," and the only CBS reference to the president was to fret that the administration has "no current idea" on whether or not to send in military support to aid the Iraqi government. [See video below.]
On ABC’s Good Morning America, reporter Terry Moran hyped “Radical Islamic militants have declared this morning that they will march on Baghdad...They want air power, bombing of the radical Islamists who are now taking town after town across Iraq. Like a fierce desert wind, the Jihadists advance. The Iraqi army is in full retreat. Simply melting away.” Despite promoting the severity of the crisis, nowhere in Moran’s report was President Obama referenced, including whether or not the administration’s decision to remove troops from Iraq quickly contributed to the spike in the deadly violence.
Instead, the ABC reporter played up how “The lightning speed of their conquest has shocked the government here and in Washington. They've now taken Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city. Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown. Baiji, an Iraqi oil refinery town. And today, they are taking direct aim at Baghdad. They are well-equipped and disciplined.”
On CBS This Morning, Major Garrett, CBS News Chief White House Correspondent, fretted that “There is deep concern in The White House about the swift moving and brutal advance of these Al Qaeda-inspired insurgents across Iraq, but there's no new policy to counter that insurgency and The White House is conflicted over its military options.” Much like ABC, Garrett never questioned whether Obama’s decision to vacate Iraq contributed to the escalation in violence but he did manage to point out that “The White House concedes it’s dangerous, adding volatility to the entire region, but it has no idea currently how to confront.”
In addition to Garrett’s report, CBS’s Holly Williams noted the dire situation in Iraq without referencing Obama’s Iraq policy: “Islamic militants swept into Kirkuk, an oil-producing city, and seized control of government buildings. And then they overran Tikrit, the hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein. They’re now stampeding south towards Iraq’s capitol.”
On NBC’s Today, reporter Jim Miklaszewski went so far as to actually mention Obama’s decision to quickly pull troops out of Iraq, but never considered that this contributed to a serge in violence: “This is going to be a tough call for the president. He campaigned on ending the war in Iraq. He pulled all U.S. forces out of Iraq nearly three years ago. So to send American forces back into Iraq would be a very tough decision for him to make. And perhaps a hard one for Americans to accept.”
Richard Engel, NBC's Cheif Foreign Correspondent, struck a similar tone and ignored President Obama's Iraq policy for potentially contributing to the violence: "The U.S. fought a nearly decade-long war, costing thousands of American lives and a trillion dollars for this not to happen. Many of the radicals are the same insurgents U.S. troops battled for years. They're now aligned with militants from Syria creating a single front. Their leader? Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was once held by American forces. Some say he's the real heir to Osama Bin Laden."
See relevant transcripts below.
CBS This Morning
June 12, 2014
7:02 a.m. Eastern
CHARLIE ROSE: We begin in Iraq where Iraq is asking for help from the United States this morning to avoid a possible civil war. An army of militants inspired by Al Qaeda threatens to march on Baghdad. They started by capturing the key northern city of Mosul then they moved south. The latest city to fall is Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein.
NORAH O’DONNELL: The militants are now less than 100 miles from Baghdad and Iraq's army has collapsed in front of them. Holly Williams is in northern Iraq in the Kurdish controlled city of Irbil. Holly, good morning.
HOLLY WILLIAMS: Good morning. The Islamic militants announced their plans to march on Baghdad after a string of victories across northern Iraq. This country’s government is looking increasingly weak despite billions of dollars in American military aid. Islamic militants swept into Kirkuk, an oil-producing city, and seized control of government buildings and then they overran Tikrit, the hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein.
They’re now stampeding south towards Iraq’s capitol. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the fighting, streaming across the desert to nearby Iraqi's Kurdistan, which is relatively free from violence. Amongst them we met Amariiad [sic] Hussein, a soldier in Iraq's army who told us he fought against the militants when they captured Mosul, the country’s second biggest city, on Tuesday. They're terrorists, he told us, and they have better weapons than us. But the truth is many Iraqi officers have laid down their guns and run away from the battle zone, including these soldiers, deserting the fighting in Kirkuk.
The militants belong to the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria or ISIS. The group began as an Al Qaeda affiliate and is trying to establish a state based on Islamic law. Just over the border, fighting against the regime in Syria’s civil war, they carried out public beatings and summary executions but even Al Qaeda has condemned ISIS for excessive violence. They now controls a sway of territories straddling Syria and Iraq and is moving its fighters freely between the two countries.
They come from across the Middle East and also include hundreds of European Muslims thought have been radicalized in Syria. Iraq's government says it is carrying out military air strikes against militant strongholds and they released video of that today. But there are also report this morning that ISIS is attacking the city of Samarra, which is just 80 miles north of Baghdad. Norah?
O’DONNELL: All right, Holly. Thank you. And now Iraq's government is also asking the United States for air strikes against the militants. So far the Obama Administration is saying no. Major Garrett is at The White House where officials are considering other aid for Iraq. Major, good morning.
MAJOR GARRETT: Good morning. There is deep concern in The White House about the swift moving and brutal advance of these Al Qaeda-inspired insurgents across Iraq, but there's no new policy to counter that insurgency and The White House is conflicted over its military options. For now the administration will focus on providing more weaponry to the government of. Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq.
Top officials said yesterday al-Maliki had again asked the United States for air strikes to attack the insurgents and there was a brief indication those air strikes were under serious consideration. Then officials said the emphasis would remain on providing military weaponry and equipment to the Maliki government to confront the insurgents. Here with the final word last night from Deputy White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. “We'll also continue to provide and as required increase, assistance to the government of Iraq to help build Iraq's capacity to effectively and sustainably stop ISIL’s efforts to wreak havoc in Iraq and the region." ISIL stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, one of the many umbrella terms for this insurgency, an insurgency The White House concedes it’s dangerous, adding volatility to the entire region, but it has no idea currently how to confront.
Good Morning America
June 12, 2014
7:01 a.m. Eastern
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: We have a lot of news to get to, beginning with that growing war in Iraq. A mounting crisis posing new threats to our homeland. The government there now asking for the U.S. military to come back. They want American air strikes against Al Qaeda militants, marching towards Baghdad right now. ABC’s Terry Moran is in northern Iraq with all of the latest. Good morning, Terry.
TERRY MORAN: Good morning George. Iraq right now is gripped by desperation and fear. Radical Islamic militants have declared this morning that they will march on Baghdad. And the Iraqi government, which three years ago, told U.S. forces to get out of this country, is now asking for American help again. They want air power, bombing of the radical Islamists who are now taking town after town across Iraq. Like a fierce desert wind, the Jihadists advance.
The Iraqi army is in full retreat. Simply melting away. The victorious fighters are part of the Al Qaeda-founded group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIL and they are fueled with ruthlessness and religious zeal. We will not stop they say and they call this the blessed invasion. The lightning speed of their conquest has shocked the government here and in Washington. They've now taken Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city. Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown. Baiji, an Iraqi oil refinery town. And today, they are taking direct aim at Baghdad.
They are well-equipped and disciplined. And they now have heavy weapons abandoned by the Iraqi army. And $500 billion in cash seized from local banks. Chaos reigns here. In this refugee camp, wounded children. Families with nowhere to go. And fear that their government will now bomb their home.
UNKNOWN PERSON: They will kill all of the people here.
MORAN: People here say it took just an hour for the Iraqi army to desert the city of Mosul, dropping their weapons, stripping off their uniforms and fleeing. American taxpayers paid $14 billion to train and equip that army. George?
STEPHANOPOULOS: And Terry, U.S. officials believe this Al Qaeda army has become the single-greatest terrorist threat to the United States. I was struck by the quote from one U.S. intelligence official to "The Wall Street Journal." It says, “when you look at this intelligence, it makes you want to kill yourself.”
MORAN: It is a frightening prospect. Not just for the people of Iraq and this region, but for the world and for American interests. They are ruthless. They are well-funded. Well-organized. And they now have a gigantic patch of territory across two countries to launch further attacks.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay thank you, Terry. You know, the fear’s that Iraq will now become the same kind of breeding ground for attacks against the United States, that Afghanistan was before the war began there.
June 12, 2014
7:01 a.m. Eastern
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: First we want to get to today’s top story. That new violence raging in Iraq, major parts of the country now in the hands of militants, once again. After all the years the U.S. spent there, all that was lost there, The White House once again being asked to intervene. We'll go live to NBC's Jim Miklaszewski at the Pentagon in a moment. But let’s begin with NBC’s Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel who has made his way into northern Iraq this morning, Richard, good morning to you.
RICHARD ENGEL: Good morning, Savannah. This very aggressive militant group is continuing its offensive. And so far, the Iraqi government seems powerless to stop it. The prime minister is calling on average citizens to take up arms to try and recapture their citizens. He's also asking the United States to intervene with aircraft, with drones, intelligence, whatever is necessary.
The Iraqi government is losing control of large parts of northern and central Iraq. Some Iraqi security forces are fighting. But most appear to be stripping off their uniforms in the streets, abandoning vehicles and weapons. They're retreating from Islamic extremists, an offshoot of Al Qaeda, which took over Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul and then overnight advanced further. Occupying large parts of Tikrit and Beiji. Civilians are fleeing the area.
Officials say up to 500,000 displaced already. The U.S. fought a nearly decade-long war, costing thousands of American lives and a trillion dollars for this not to happen. Many of the radicals are the same insurgents U.S. troops battled for years. They're now aligned with militants from Syria creating a single front. Their leader? Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was once held by American forces. Some say he's the real heir to Osama Bin Laden.
The U.S. has a $10 million bounty for him. Why is this happening? Sunnis ruled Iraq for 13 centuries until the U.S. invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, ushering in a Shiite regime. The Sunnis want their country back. They hate the Shiite government, which has excluded them from power and there are no U.S. troops around anymore to stop them. This militant movement, Savannah, is not just a problem for Syria and Iraq. Many of the fighters are also very anti-American and there are thousands of them operating now openly between Syria and here in northern Iraq.
GUTHRIE: And Richard, in fact this is something that you and I talked about a few weeks ago. Now I'm hearing experts saying the same thing, that this region, right now with these Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq, is actually more dangerous than pre-9/11 Afghanistan.
ENGEL: That should be a warning to many. Afghanistan of course, before 9/11 was where the 9/11 attacks were hatched. Many experts I've been speaking to believe this region now, the open battlefront between Iraq and Syria is the new breeding ground, where the new Bin Ladens are being born. And there are about 10,000 foreign fighters, including 3,000 with European passports who could easily come into Europe and then perhaps make their way into the United States. Most security officials and definitely military officials are now acutely focused on this region and what is happening right now with the Iraqi government and with this movement, which is called ISIS, the Islamic state in Iraq and Syria.
GUTHRIE: Richard Engel in northern Iraq for us this morning, thank you very much.
MATT LAUER: We want to bring in Jim Miklaszewski, he’s at the Pentagon. Mick, the Iraqi government wants the U.S. to consider intervening with air support against these militants. What's the talk about that at the Pentagon and do you think the administration has any appetite for this?
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: Well you know Matt, There is a real possibility that the U.S. could somehow be drawn back into a war in Iraq. But so far, the president has not made that decision according to the officials we're talking to. Now the Iraqi government has asked the U.S. military to fly combat missions with man fighter aircraft and armed drones over those militant encampments, launch air strikes against those groups. But so far, The White House has said no. And official here says look, we're not going to war in Iraq any time soon.
But the issue does remain under consideration. And as Richard mentioned a minute ago, the real fear here is that these militants are going to turn Iraq into a safe haven from which they could launch terror strikes against western targets, including the U.S. And I said this is going to be a tough call for the president. He campaigned on ending the war in Iraq. He pulled all U.S. forces out of Iraq nearly three years ago. So to send American forces back into Iraq would be a very tough decision for him to make. And perhaps a hard one for Americans to accept. Matt?
LAUER: Jim Miklaszewski at the Pentagon, Mick, thank you very much.