Vice (2013–…): Season 3, Episode 18 - VICE Special Report: Fighting ISIS - full transcript

VICE presents this authoritative look at how the Islamic State was made, and what its future holds as the world's Superpowers struggle to find a common strategy in the global war on terror....

Iraq continues to flaunt
its hostility toward america

and to support terror.

This is a regime that has something
to hide from the civilised world.

The risks of inaction are far
greater than the risk of action.

We will take whatever action
is necessary

to defend our freedom
and our security.

It is not knowable
how long that conflict would last.

It could last six days, six weeks.

I doubt six months.

I really do believe
we will be greeted as liberators.

Reporter: As the Americans

a rebellion against US occupation
was brewing.

Sunni and shia
began to fight each other,

and Iraq became fertile territory
for the American's greater enemy.

Reporter: The black flag
of al-qaeda was this week raised

over two Iraqi cities

which are now
under the control of jihadists

bent on creating
a new islamic nation.

Al-qaeda is diminished
over where it was,

say, certainly several years ago.

Reporter: An American
intelligence official told CNN today

that Isis is,
and I just want to quote them,

now a credible alternative
to al-qaeda.

Man: Allahu akbar!

Men: Allahu akbar!
Allahu akbar!

Reporter: The extremist group

made important new gains this weekend
in Syria.

Reporter: And in Iraq, Isis
now controls 80% of anbar province,

just to the west of Baghdad,

and the terrorist group
is still advancing.

So right now, there are many
countries, and different groups,

fighting against Isis,

and they are saying
they will defeat Isis.

What do you think will happen?

Since the US withdrawal,
the islamic state swept across Iraq,

gaining control
of almost a third of the country,

including its second-largest
city, mosul.

There are now three major frontlines

between Iraq and the territory
controlled by the islamic state.

We visited all of them.

This post is the dividing line
between the anbar fighters and Isis.

They are just putting up a flag
which is 400, 500 metres away -

an Isis flag.

Is that mortars?

These local tribal fighters

are all that's stopping Isis
from getting to Baghdad.

This corner. This corner here.

The threat from Isis
snipers was very real.

Only three months earlier,

this video was recorded
during a similar firefight.

He was firing wildly and looking
like they were enjoying themselves,

and suddenly someone got hit
in the head by a sniper and killed.

They said that was right here.

Do you think you can hold on here?

When you say "short",
what do you mean?

You're close to running out?

There is a tree line about 250 metres
in front of these sandbags.

That's the house
where they said the sniper was.

And they are saying
they are now going to use...

A tank to fire at the position
where the sniper was.

If a mortar lands now,
you'll lose half of your men.

Everyone's together.

He said we lost 27.

To find out how Iraq
went from mission accomplished

to the islamic state,

we spoke to Ryan Crocker,

one of the most decorated
diplomats in US history.

He worked alongside
general David petraeus

during the worst years of the war

and was appointed
by President George W. Bush

to try to turn things around.

No-one would deny

that Saddam was a brutal dictator,

killed hundreds of thousands
of people in unimaginable ways.

Is life in Iraq, for many Iraqis now,
worse than it was then?

Iraq today

exceeded my worst nightmares.

I think all one has to do
is look at the casualty counts.

As many as died in Saddam's prisons,

or at the hands of his death squads,

far more are dying each day
in Iraq now.

As bad as things were under Saddam
they were never this bad.

The invasion of Iraq
was supposed to lead

to a Democratic and pluralistic state
in the middle east,

a shining example to its neighbours

in a country that posed no threat
to the United States.

What it actually achieved
was the exact opposite.

And in your view, is the US more
likely to face a terrorist attack

from Iraqi soil today

than it was under Saddam Hussein?

I never saw a terrorist threat
from Iraq. Now there is.

The greatest of those threats
now comes from Isis,

who were able to take huge areas
of sunni-dominated Iraq

with astonishing ease.

Though they had much greater numbers,

the US-trained and supplied Iraqi
army crumbled as Isis advanced,

often leaving huge amounts of weapons
and vehicles behind as they fled.

Crocker: When we pulled out,

and when Iraqi politics
increasingly became denominated

in sectarian terms,

that was a very fertile ground
for the islamic state.

Since the invasion of Iraq,

the problems there
have increasingly become a conflict

between sunni and shi'ite,
the two main sects of islam.

This has been exacerbated
by Iraq's mixed population

and its geographical position between
the two competing regional powers,

sunni Saudi Arabia and shi'ite Iran.

It shouldn't have been too hard
to see

that this highly tenacious
al-qaeda element

would feed on an environment

in which sectarian policies
from Baghdad

would lead to a highly disaffected
sunni community

and a great recruiting ground
on the one hand,

and a demoralised population that
would not resist them on the other.

following almost 13 years of war,

Iraq is effectively divided
into three separate states,

divided along
sectarian or ethnic lines -

sunni, shi'ite and kurd.

80% of anbar province
is currently under Isis control.

The only way in to
the few areas that have yet to fall

is across
a narrow and temporary bridge.

Because of the ongoing violence,

over 3 million people
have fled their homes

and many
are now living in makeshift camps.

They are saying
there are 250 families living here,

mostly from fallujah.

And each tent is housing
between eight and 15 people.

The main force stopping Isis
from taking over completely here

are these sunni tribal fighters,

who are supposed to be
getting support from Baghdad

after the US withdrawal.

There are 600 volunteers here
preparing to join the front line.

So, we are on our way to see
a volunteer force, just volunteered.

Apparently they get
some very basic training, no salary.

They haven't even got weapons.

So, this is not the Iraqi army,

this is just local people
who have to fight Isis?

These men have to share guns
to do target practice.

600 men. They've got six old ak-47s.

All a volunteer army.

No supplies from the US
or from the Iraqi government.

They are saying that every male who
can fight is volunteering to fight.

Their youngest volunteer is 17.

I suspect
he's probably younger than that.

And their oldest is 73.

These recruits will join
the sunni tribal fighters,

who are part of the anbar awakening,

when former insurgents
were persuaded to join US forces

in the fight against al-qaeda.

This was one of the most successful
efforts of the entire war,

and these men were supposed to be
rewarded for the role they played.

But they were largely abandoned.

With nowhere left to turn,

they initially welcomed
the rise of Isis.

At this frontline, a small number
of Iraqi government troops

had been sent to anbar to help,
but nowhere near enough.

What are they like as fighters?

That's Isis, in those trees?

So, there is an armoured vehicle in
a kind of no man's land between here

that's been blown up and burnt.

They said they attacked it
with an Abrams tank.

So we've got anbar awakening
tribal fighters,

and some Iraqi army fighters,

using American-supplied tanks
to attack Isis fighters

in American-supplied,
and then stolen, armoured vehicles.

There is fighting here
almost every day,

and with such little support

the tribes have to make do with
whatever they can get their hands on.

I was introduced
to a man called the lion of amriyat,

who is the main weapons maker
for this front.

So this is it? This is your workshop?

Who did this belong to?

Who attacked it?

So, these used to be
Saddam's weapons? Wow.

These are the weapons
of mass destruction.

Shortly after we left, ramadi,
the capital of anbar province,

also fell to Isis.

Having failed to get support
from either Washington or Baghdad,

many anbar tribal leaders
declared their allegiance to Isis.

At the end of 2015, the Iraqi army,

aided by US air strikes and special
forces, retook ramadi.

We interviewed
a captured Isis fighter.

He claimed that recent gains by
the Iraqi government are meaningless.

Do you think Isis will win?

In north-east Iraq,
another group is fighting Isis.

The peshmerga
are the army of Kurdistan,

a semiautonomous state within Iraq,
established after the first Gulf war.

So, we are on our way
to another frontline with Isis,

one of the many frontlines,

this one
manned by the kurdish peshmerga.

And before we've even got there,
there's black smoke on the horizon.

The peshmerga have so far been
successful against Isis.

Starting as a resistance
fighter against Saddam,

commander dler has been
a peshmerga for 33 years.

He showed US an example

of the dangers they face
on the front line every day.

The peshmerga have had real success
against Isis recently,

but they are getting no support
from the outside world.

They haven't been paid salaries
from Baghdad in over a year

and they said
america's not given them

anything like the equipment
and weapons that they need.

Like the anbar tribes, the peshmerga
have to defend themselves

with whatever
they can get their hands on,

often constructing war machines
from ordinary parts and vehicles.

These bombproof trucks
and humvees were stolen from Isis,

who stole them
from the Iraqi government,

who were supplied by the Americans.

There is an air strike
in a nearby village,

which is controlled by Isis.

You can still hear the planes above

So, this is the closest position
to the Isis positions?

One little piece of decoration here,
a sign made out of bullets

saying "kurdish peshmerga."

While this is all good news
for the fight against Isis

it could be bad news
for the future of Iraq as a state.

The peshmerga fight under their
own flag, not the flag of Iraqi.

So any success they have,
further destabilises the region.

Are you fighting to defeat Isis
now, for Iraq,

or are you fighting to defeat Isis

and then have
a free, independent Kurdistan?

Masrour barzani,

the chancellor of the Kurdistan
region security council, agrees.

For hundreds of years they have
tried to make this country work.

It doesn't because it is built
on the wrong foundations.

And as it now time to admit or accept

that Iraq
is now three separate states?

Well, admitting it or not,
this is the reality.

Iraq has been divided, practically.

If you look, shias
are controlling the shia areas.

Isis is controlling
most of the sunni areas.

And kurds are controlling
the kurdish areas.

It is a failed state.

And if everybody
wants to create their own force,

that is a reinforcement
of dividing the country.

So, this is daesh, here? Daesh here?

And this as well?

So, just at the bottom
of this small hill is a village,

and that's controlled by Isis.

It's barely 2km away.

There are several suvs or pick-ups
driving around

and they're saying they're all Isis.

There's no sign of civilians.

How many fighters are there?
Do you know? Do you have any idea?

So, for the time being, this
is the new border between Kurdistan

and the so-called islamic state.

Everyone's getting ready
for their night shifts.

7:00pm to 7:00am
is apparently the most likely time

they are going to get attacked,

so no-one's allowed to sleep
during those 12 hours.

They've heard about people
coming from all over the world,

coming back to their homeland.

Everybody able-bodied, it seems,

they have volunteered
to come back and help out.

Iraqi Kurdistan has become a
sanctuary for many of the minorities

whose lives are in danger,

like this family of yazidis,

a small religious sect who Isis
have attempted to exterminate.

So they walked eight days through
the mountains when they fled Isis.

I think it is three elderly women,
two younger women, one young man

and, I don't know, 10 or 12 kids,
including several babies.

So I don't know
how they made the journey.

Four tents.

Three more kids.

So, how many people are living here?

But they managed to escape Isis,
they have their lives.

But what lives now?

The problems in Iraq today can be
traced back to several decisions

made at the start of the campaign.

Days after president bush

announced the end
of combat operations

he installed I. Paul bremer,
a former diplomat

who had never served
in the middle east,

to lead
the coalition provisional authority.

Within weeks, he announced the
disbanding of the Iraqi military,

and a process
called de-ba'athification.

The ba'athists were
Saddam Hussein's political party.

Nearly everyone who worked for the
Iraqi government had to be a member.

Therefore, most of the capable,
experienced people

running Iraq's government or military
were purged.

500,000 active duty members

of the security forces

were suddenly fired.

The de-ba'athification campaign

the initial anti-coalition
insurgency in those years.

It wouldn't take
a great stretch of imagination

to think that an officer dismissed
for no good reason

except suspicions about his loyalty

is going to say,
"I know where I'm going,"

and wind up in the opposing camp.

Desperate for an Iraqi prime minister
who could stem the violence,

the US settled on nouri al-maliki,

an almost unknown member of one
of Iraq's main shia opposition groups

who'd been living in exile
for over 23 years.

This would have a huge effect
on US policy,

which was supposed to be creating
a government to represent all Iraqis,

irrespective of their creed
or ethnicity.

Prime minister nouri al-maliki,

who had come of age
in a clandestine religious party

that was relentlessly pursued,

nearly exterminated,
by Saddam Hussein.

Why is this important?

As commander-in-chief,

when he looked at senior
field positions in his armed forces,

he cared about one thing only -

The maliki government
used their new-found power

not to unite the country but to take
revenge on the sunni minority

who had ruled Iraq for decades.

There was a generalised view
that if you were sunni,

you were going to have
a very, very hard time

trying to live in Iraq
in the maliki years.

The sectarian violence
spiralled out of control.

Entire areas were purged of shias
or sunnis.

Thousands of Iraqis were killed
every month,

as the country
looked to be collapsing.

Exhausted by the bloodshed,

when Iraqis
turned out to vote in 2010,

they voted for the non-sectarian
candidate, ayad allawi.

But though he won more votes
than anyone else,

he didn't have enough
to form a majority.

Despite his awful record
and his second-place finish,

nouri al-maliki
was allowed another term in office.

To find out what effect this had,
we spoke to Ali khedery.

Former adviser
to five US ambassadors,

he was the longest continuously
serving American in Iraq.

We were, I believe,
this close to strategic victory,

or at least
avoiding strategic defeat.

The Obama white house chose
to ignore the election results.

Nouri al-maliki became
prime minister for a second term

and drove the country over a cliff.

Of all the major events in Iraq,

I'm not sure how well-known that is
in the US

and yet you're making it sound like

that was one of the biggest mistakes
of the entire war.

So, bush's original sin
was invading in 2003

and Obama's original sin

was not respecting
the Iraqi election results

or the constitutional process
in 2010,

without any shadow of a doubt.

We spoke to a Christian family
who had fled their home in mosul

about what life was like
under the maliki government.

One of the captured Isis fighters
who we interviewed

said the same thing about life
under the maliki government.

And can you explain why you joined?

I understand that for many Iraqis, if
you're Christian or a sunni or a kurd

life under the maliki government
could be very bad.

I don't understand then joining
a group who are beheading people

and burning people to death
and making young girls into slaves.

I mean, the things I described,

they published videos
of them doing these things

with smiles on their faces.

So if you were free now, would
you go back and join them again?

We met other refugees

who had been lucky to escape Isis
with their lives.

They had fled not from Iraq -
all the way from Syria,

a journey of over 400 miles.

It's incredible standing here
because just on this one street,

you've got yazidi families
who've fled Isis.

At the end of the road here,
there are christians,

and here is a kurdish family
from kobane in Syria.

It's just a tiny, tiny hint

of how many people's lives
have been lost or destroyed.

Another group having success against
Isis other shi'ite militias,

who've played a major role in the
insurgency, killing many US troops

and then, in the sectarian war,
killing many sunnis.

They maintain close ties to Iran

and are sometimes even commanded
by major general qasem soleimani,

the leader
of the Iranian quds force,

in charge
of all foreign military operations.

Since these militias

are so closely linked to the
shi'ite-led government in Baghdad,

they are also indirectly supplied
by the US.

The most organised parties

happen to be
the shi'ite islamist parties

who had been created
or subsidised by the Iranians

since the 1970s,

and they took advantage
of that investment.

The dividend
has paid off quite well.

Iraq is more polarised than ever

and Baghdad is falling under
an Iranian orbit,

which is furthering the polarisation
of society,

which is strengthening Isis

and radical militant shi'ite groups,
like the Iraqi militias.

We were able to meet up

with one of the most notorious
shi'ite militias,

the badr organization,

as they were preparing to retake
the city of tikrit from Isis.

We were taken on a tour of a town
they had recently recaptured.

So, these are all American supplied,
either directly or indirectly -

humvees, mrats.

And we didn't just see
US-supplied weaponry.

We also saw Iranian weapons
on display

and it was clear
where the fighters' loyalty lay.

There we met with the leader
of the badr organisation,

hadi al-amiri.

How confident are you that Isis
will be defeated in Iraq?

While the leaders of these militias

were confident in their ability
to beat Isis,

the captured fighters we spoke to
were not shaken by the threat.

Right now, there are many different
groups attacking Isis,

saying they will defeat Isis.

Even if he is wrong
and shi'ite militias do defeat Isis,

that may not be good news
for the future of Iraq.

Hadi al-amiri, in the 1970s,

was a radical militant shia islamist
who defected to Iran.

Amiri fought on the Iranian side
during the Iran-Iraq war.

His political party, his various
allegiances are to Tehran.

In fact, he was videotaped

kissing the hand
of the Iranian supreme leader

who happened to repeatedly vow
to destroy america and Israel

and its allies.

The state department in a cable

said that hadi al-amiri used to
kill people using an electric drill

on their skulls.

Do you think that's true?

I can't comment on classified
documents or information

but I can tell you I heard
from a wide variety of Iraqi sources

that indeed the badr core and amiri

had a preference for using power
drills to kill their victims.

This area has now become known
as the "killing zone"

because anyone that's still here
is assumed to be Isis

or an Isis supporter.

And the civilians who fled -

over 80,000 have fled so far,
who are sunni -

are afraid to come back

because they say that these guys

just assume they're Isis
because they're sunni,

and will kill them.

The argument that is being made
by Washington

is that we are not cooperating
directly with the militias,

that what we are doing is that
we're backing the Iraqi government.

But in reality, what's happening

is the Iraqi government

is fully penetrated
by these Iranian-sponsored groups

and many of them are now
in charge of the security services,

they're on the front line
to these militias,

they're receiving American weapons,
they're receiving American tanks.

They have American air support,
they have American diplomatic cover.

So in this case, we're backing
the Iranian-commanded shia militias

to defeat Isis.

But the Iraqi security forces
and the Iranian-backed militias

are guilty of the same atrocities
and war crimes

that Isis is known for.

They're beheading individuals,
they are torturing

and evidence of this
emerges every day.

And yet they are receiving
billions of dollars

of advanced military equipment
from the United States.

What you seem to be saying

is that not only
should we stop financing this

and acting as an air force
for these people,

but we should almost treat them
as a very dangerous enemy.

They are.

A critical mass of the government
in Baghdad

is a strategic threat to American
interests and to allied interests.

If you are leveraging one radical
militant islamist group

to defeat another radical
militant islamist group,

then what you're going to still end up
with is a radical militant islamist group.

We are creating monsters and these
monsters will come back to haunt US.

These shi'ite militias are a sign
of Iran's dominance in Iraq today.

I don't have a very sanguine view
of the islamic republic

but they're there.

They are powerful,
and they are not irrational.

They can be dealt with.
We have dealt with them.

After all, you don't make
peace with your friends,

you make it with your enemies
if peace is to be made.

Iran's influence goes beyond Iraq,
to Beirut, Damascus

and Sana'a in Yemen,

all of which has startled its local
rival, the US ally Saudi Arabia,

raising sectarian tensions
throughout the region.

And as the international coalition,

including the US, britain and France,

stepped up their bombing campaign
against Isis,

in the aftermath
of the attacks in Paris,

one of the United States' oldest
rivals is using the failures in Iraq

to take a leading role and use it
for their own strategic advantage.

Former Russian president
and current prime minister

and Vladimir putin's right-hand man,
dmitry Medvedev,

sat down and elaborated
on Russia's new policy on Isis.

But whereas the US and many others
are targeting Isis,

Russia's aim is to remove
all opposition to their ally,

president bashar al-Assad,
a notoriously brutal dictator

infamous for using chemical weapons
on his own people.

We were granted access
to Russian military forces

as they continue to build up
their presence in the region.

So, this is latakia airbase,
a Russian air base in Syria,

and there is so much activity here.

There are jets taking off constantly.

And everyone we've seen so far
has gone out armed with heavy bombs

and come back empty.

We've seen lots of jets leaving
with heavy bombs attached

and they're coming back empty.

Are they striking targets
every time they fly?

With so many powers now involved,

the chances of the conflict
escalating further are great.

In November last year,
Turkey, a member of NATO,

sparked an international incident
when they shot down a Russian jet

that they claimed
had entered its airspace.

Russia has since moved large numbers
of much bigger weapons into Syria.

So, this warship is the flagship
of the Russian black sea fleet.

This warship is armed with torpedoes
with long-range anti-aircraft guns.

So they're no good against Isis
and al-nusra

and the other
Syrian opposition groups.

It seems like
the Russians are prepared for a war

against national armies and navies,

not just the rebel groups
they're supposed to be here for.

For their part, Isis promise attacks

against anyone who joined
the coalition against them.

And these are promises
they have so far fulfilled.

In the last few months,

there have been attacks
in Paris, in Beirut.

A Russian civilian airliner
was shot down.

Will there be more attacks,
do you think, in the future?

If you captured me or either
of my friends, what would you do?

If Isis are defeated there -
and I know it's a very big if -

but what happens next?

There are things worse than Isis

in occupation of large swathes
of Iraqi territory.

What is worse would be

the ignition of a major, unstoppable
sectarian-denominated war.

The argument we hear a lot in the US

is let them sort out their
civil war, let them kill each other,

and why is it always US
that has to go in and intervene?

While it might be nice,
if cold-blooded,

to think they'll all just
kill each other, well, they won't.

And whoever emerges on top,
the most determined,

the most extreme, the most ruthless

will then turn its sights
to something really tempting,

and that would be US.

Reports out of Paris
that there have been three attacks.

An ongoing situation...

I think it is a question of when,
not if,

there is an al-qaeda-
or Isis-launched terrorist attack

on American soil.

You just have to look
at the thousands of foreign fighters

who carry western passports

with a capability that al-qaeda
pre-9/11 could only have dreamed of.

There are a lot
of passionate intensities

out there in the middle east
right now.

They will prevail.

We will not like the outcome.

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Sbs Australia 2018