News Roundup and Notes: June 16, 2014

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

Iraq

Sunni militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) claimed to have killed 1,700 Iraqi soldiers, posting gruesome pictures online of a mass execution in Tikrit as evidence [New York Times’ Rod Nordland and Alissa J. Rubin]. The claims have not been independently verified.

Militants have captured the northern town of Tal Afar, marking the latest loss for the Shiite-led government [Associated Press]. However, Iraqi military leaders said that the army has halted the advance of ISIS forces towards Baghdad [The Telegraph’s Robert Tait].

Kurdish military officials have accused Iraqi forces of firing missiles at Kurdish fighters, killing six, although Iraqi officials said the attack was a mistake [Washington Post’s Loveday Morris].

As the situation in Iraq worsens, the Wall Street Journal (Jay Solomon et al.) reports that the Obama administration is preparing to hold direct talks with Iran this week on possible co-operation to counter the ISIS insurgents. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has previously adopted a tough stance on Iran, said that the U.S. is likely to need Iran’s help to hold Baghdad [CBS’ “Face the Nation” with Bob Schieffer].

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered an aircraft carrier to move into the Arabian Gulf, with spokesperson John Kirby stating that the order will provide “additional flexibility should military options be required to protect American lives, citizens and interests in Iraq” [American Forces Press Service]. And the State and Defense Departments have taken measures to boost security at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, while ordering some personnel to relocate or leave the country [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung].

Meanwhile, several Republicans outlined their criticism of the Obama administration on the Sunday shows, arguing that inaction on Iraq could lead to ISIS launching attacks in the U.S. [Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery].

A senior U.S. administration official said that as President Obama considers his options in Iraq, he has concluded that any military assistance will be conditioned on mending Iraq’s sectarian rifts, reports the New York Times (Mark Landler and Michael R. Gordon].

Hayes Brown [Think Progress] outlines the pros and cons of the possible solutions available to Obama on Iraq, and notes that the decision is a matter of choosing “the least horrible” option.

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Chelsea Manning argues that the “current limits on press freedom and excessive government secrecy make it impossible for Americans to grasp fully what is happening in [Iraq].”

Martin Chulov [The Irish Times] reports that two days before the fall of Mosul, the interrogation of a messenger for ISIS led to the discovery of 160 flash sticks containing the most detailed information about the militant group.

Jalal Talabani, a top Kurdish official and the son of Iraq’s president, told The Daily Beast (Eli Lake) that “[p]ractically speaking [Iraq] has broken apart,” with significant territory now “governed and secured by forces that are not loyal to the federal government in Baghdad.”

According to analysts, the strategic and financial gains in Iraq could provide a significant boost to ISIS’ fight in eastern Syria [ABC News’ Karen Leigh]. The Economist also covers how the group “is creating a proto-state on the ungoverned territory straddling the borderlands between Syria and Iraq.” And on a related note, Arab officials have warned that the group’s increasing control in Iraq is a threat to regional security across the Middle East [Wall Street Journal’s Ellen Knickmeyer].

The New York Times (Tim Arango et al.) covers how ISIS’ gains in Iraq are “actually the realization of a yearslong strategy of state-building that the group itself promoted publicly.”

The Wall Street Journal (Matt Bradley) reports on the rise of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, who emphasizes practical gains in the battlefield over ideology.

Time’s Andrew Katz covers the six key things to understand the crisis in Iraq.

An Iraqi soldier who previously fought alongside U.S. forces spoke to McClatchy DC (Hannah Allam and Mohammed Al Dulaimy) about the “humiliation” of abandoning his post after ISIS took control over Mosul.

Ukraine

Russia has cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine, and said it would only deliver gas paid for in advance, after Kiev and Moscow failed to reach agreement on the price of future deliveries [Reuters’ Natalia Zinets and Vladimir Soldatkin].

The State Department confirmed on Friday that Russia had sent a convoy of tanks and other heavy weapons to separatists in Ukraine, calling the move “unacceptable” and warning that a failure to de-escalate the situation would lead to “additional costs.”

On Saturday, pro-Russian insurgents shot down a Ukrainian military cargo plane near Luhansk, killing all 49 people on board, including servicemen [Kyiv Post]. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko vowed that “the terrorists will get an adequate response.”

European leaders have called on Moscow to broker a cease-fire between pro-Russia militants and Ukrainian troops, following the downing of the military plane [Wall Street Journal’s Alan Cullison].

Guantanamo Bay

The Pentagon’s chief war crimes prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins said that “a successful prosecution” of the five Taliban detainees, recently released in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, was not possible [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

Lawyers representing Guantanamo detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab have filed as evidence three classified videos of Dhiab being force-fed, as part of a lawsuit on his behalf [Al Jazeera America’s Amel Ahmed]. Meanwhile, lawyers for detainee Ahmed Rabbani said that authorities have stopped filming the force-feeding sessions in response to U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler’s recent order to hand over 28 videos.

Other developments

A suspected U.S. drone strike in southern Yemen killed five alleged al-Qaida militants on Saturday, according to Yemeni security officials [Associated Press’ Ahmed Al-Haj]. Officials said the targets included suspected al-Qaida leader, Musaad al-Habashi.

The New York Times editorial board argues that “many things can go wrong” with the administration’s new $5 billion Counterterrorism Fund, noting that the program “already seems too heavily dependent on military responses.”

Politico (Burgess Everett) covers how relations between the Obama administration and intelligence watchdogs in the Senate are at a low point, particularly after the prisoner swap with the Taliban.

A defense official has told NBC News (Jim Miklaszewski et al.) that a two-star general has been appointed to investigate the circumstances around Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s disappearance from his base in Afghanistan in 2009.

An attack on hotels and a police station in a Kenyan coastal town, Mpeketoni, has left at least 48 people dead [Al Jazeera; BBC]. Officials believe the attack was carried out by al-Shabaab militants.

Dawn (Zahir Shah Sherazi) reports that a further 27 suspected militants have been killed in airstrikes by Pakistani jets in the North Waziristan tribal region. A total of 167 suspected fighters have been killed in the military operation, which was launched last evening, a week after the deadly terrorist attack on the Karachi international airport.

The Washington Post (Greg Miller) covers how the FBI, CIA, State Department and other agencies attempted to apprehend Edward Snowden last year. U.S. officials hoped that Snowden would take a plane out of Moscow, as he could then be forced to land in an ally country.

Haaretz has live updates on the search for the three kidnapped Israeli students. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blamed Hamas for the abduction. CNN (Ralph Ellis and Michael Schwartz) reports that over 150 Palestinian suspects have been detained by Israel so far in the search for the three teens.

Afghans voted in the runoff presidential election on Saturday, amid Taliban attacks that killed at least 68 people [Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).