By Mick Krever, CNN
Amanpour’s full interview with Ambassador Simon Collis airs at 2pm ET, 7pm London, 9pm Baghdad time on CNN International.
The United Kingdom consistently warned the Iraqi government about the threat posed by ISIS before that group swept across large swaths of the country, UK Ambassador to Iraq Simon Collis told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.
“I’m not suggesting that anybody saw quite the speed and scale of the advances that took place, which were in part also a result of the collapse of very significant numbers of Iraqi security forces.”
“But the fact that Mosul was vulnerable was known. The fact that ISIL were already holding territory from last year in parts of western Iraq, in Anbar and elsewhere, was well known.”
“We were aware of the threat and we gave clear advice at the time and throughout about the best way to tackle it, the only effective way to tackle it.”
The UK told Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government that the only way to defeat ISIS was through a “comprehensive counterterrorism strategy,” involving political, economic, and security measures, Ambassador Collis said.
Al-Maliki’s government has appeared thus far to prioritize the security situation over a political solution.
“Iraq needs a broad-based government that can show national unity,” Ambassador Collis said. “The idea that you can tackle the security part first and come back to the politics in due time is part of the reason why Iraq’s in the situation it is today.”
Meanwhile, leaders in Iraqi Kurdistan are giving their strongest-ever indication that they will seek full independence for their region.
“We did not cause the collapse of Iraq,” Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani told Amanpour. “It is others who did. And we cannot remain hostages for the unknown.”
Ambassador Collis, who just recently met with Barzani, said he did not believe Kurdish political leaders are discussing full independence “as an imminent matter.”
The future of the region, whether in Iraq or Syria, “looks very serious,” Ambassador Collis said.
“The message is a consistent one, that defeating extremist terror requires moderate democratic political leaders to come together. Autocratic governments are not the answer in Syria or anywhere else. The only thing that can defeat extremist groups is national cohesion.”
Amanpour asked whether “dealing with the Syria piece” is necessary to defeat ISIS.
“As far as tackling the threat that ISIL pose to the region, the secret’s in the name,” Ambassador Collis said, referring to the group by an alternate acronym.
“It operates in both Iraq and in the Levant, in Syria. And tackling it will require coordinated action in both countries. The only people taking on ISIL inside Syria, incidentally, are the Syrian moderate opposition.”
“There’s no doubt about the seriousness of the situation in both Iraq and Syria, and therefore beyond borders of those two countries. It’s been a disaster for millions of people in both countries, who’ve been so badly affected. It’s a humanitarian disaster.”
People can debate, he said, whether “straightforward military intervention” would bring a better reality on the ground, “but it’s not obvious at all that that would solve the problem.”
“It is about working with moderate people. It’s clear that the Assad regime, for example, cannot be part of the solution. ISIL’s rise is a direct result of that regime’s behavior in many ways.”
“But supporting people who are in the middle, people who are moderate, people who simply want security in their lives and personal freedom and the right to choose their leaders – this must be our goal in the West, it seems to me.”
“And that’s going to require activity across the range of political action with leaders, direct support to people inside Syria.”