News Roundup and Notes: June 17, 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

Iraqi forces are engaged in heavy clashes with Sunni insurgents of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), as the group advances toward Baghdad [BBC]. According to reports, the rebels gained temporary control of parts of the city of Baquba, 37 miles from Baghdad.

In a letter to congressional leaders, President Obama said that he was deploying up to 275 U.S. Armed Forces personnel to Iraq “to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.” Obama said the force is “equipped for combat” and “will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed” [New York Times’ Rod Nordland].

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered an amphibious transport dock ship into the Arabian Gulf, adding to the other U.S. naval ships already there, in order to “protect American citizens and interests in Iraq” if required [American Forces Press Service].

A senior U.S. official confirmed that the U.S. and Iran “briefly” discussed the Iraq crisis yesterday, on the sidelines of the separate nuclear negotiations in Vienna [The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman et al.; Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman and Jay Solomon]. In an interview with Yahoo News (Katie Couric), Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. would be “open to any constructive process [with Iran] that could minimize the violence.” However, administration officials quickly ruled out any joint military actions, while lawmakers remained split over the possibility of working alongside Iran in Iraq [The Hill’s Alexander Bolton and Justin Sink].

The Associated Press (Lara Jakes and Julie Pace) reports that the White House is considering sending a small number of special forces soldiers to Iraq to help counter the insurgency, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the discussions.

Former military commanders said that airstrikes could help prevent ISIS’ march toward Baghdad, but warned that conducting strikes would be complicated if the fighters stay within cities, increasing the chances of civilian casualties [Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock].

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay condemned the reported “systematic series of cold-blooded execution” in the Tikrit area, which she said “almost certainly [amount] to war crimes” [UN News Centre].

According to analysts and local residents, the jihadist militants could not have succeeded in northern Iraq without the support of other anti-government groups, including the underground network of remaining members of the former Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein [The Telegraph’s Richard Spencer]. The Wall Street Journal (Matt Bradley and Bill Spindle) also covers the “uneasy alliance” between Sunni ISIS fighters and local tribes who seek to oust the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

On a related note, Asharq Al-Awsat (Hamza Mustafa) reports that a tribal chief in Anbar province has denied that ISIS is in control of Mosul, arguing instead that a “tribal revolution” is responsible for the city’s fall.

Tracy Connor [NBC News] offers details on ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was previously held at the U.S. detention facility, Camp Bucca in Iraq in 2005.

The Washington Post editorial board dismisses co-operation with Iran as a “dubious idea” and argues that “a more inclusive Iraq presents the best hope for the country.”

However, the New York Times (Alissa J. Rubin and Rod Nordland) reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has not spent time on the political reconciliation process with the Sunni Arabs and Kurds, which allies have said is the country’s only possible route to recovery.

Spanish police have arrested eight people suspected of recruiting jihadist militants for ISIS’ fight in Iraq and Syria [Associated Press].

A senior Iraqi official has told The Daily Beast (Eli Lake) that “the highest levels of the Iranian government” have made an offer to help Iraq “with everything” it needs to counter ISIS.

Iranian news agencies reported yesterday that an Iranian elite branch soldier has been killed in the fighting in Iraq [Wall Street Journal’s Farnaz Fassihi].

And in the media, commentators consider the implications of the Iraq crisis. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Steven Simon argues that ISIS will fail in Iraq, while Iran will emerge as the ultimate victor. Barbara Slavin [Al Jazeera America] contends that the situation in Iraq “presents Tehran and Washington with opportunity to manage differences for greater good,” including on the nuclear negotiations. While Jack Keane and Danielle Pletka [Wall Street Journal] argue that Baghdad needs to be protected from ISIS and Iran, by means of a U.S.-aided counteroffensive to reclaim lost territory.

Guantanamo Bay

At the pre-trial hearing in the case of the alleged 9/11 conspirators, a federal prosecutor sought to assure the judge that the FBI had not planted any spies in the defense teams of the five accused men [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

Al Jazeera America (Amel Ahmed) reports that lawyers for Guantanamo detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab have filed an emergency motion seeking a temporary order that would require the prison staff to videotape Dhiab’s force feeding sessions until Wednesday, when the next hearing in the case is scheduled. According to the motion, Guantanamo officials stopped recording the force-feeding sessions in response to U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler’s recent order to hand over the videos.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on foreign operations is weighing new restrictions on the transfer of enemy combatants from Guantanamo [Associated Press’ Donna Cassata].

Surveillance, privacy, & technology

A federal appeals court has overturned a district court judge’s ruling that required the government to disclose to defense lawyers classified evidence under the FISC [Politico’s Josh Gerstein; Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima]. Judge Richard Posner wrote that FISA is “an attempt to strike a balance between the interest in full openness of legal proceedings and the interest in national security, which requires a degree of secrecy concerning the government’s efforts to protect the nation.”

The British government has reportedly claimed the right to intercept any communication made through social networks based outside the country, even if it is between people inside the UK, on the basis that this constitutes “external communication,” according to a new report from advocacy groups [New York Times’ Mark Scott].

Syria

Activists report that barrel bombs dropped by Syrian government helicopters targeting opposition-held districts in the city of Aleppo have killed at least 60 people, including children [Al Jazeera].

The UN’s chief aid coordinator, Valerie Amos has said that delivering humanitarian aid in Syria “has actually become more difficult” since President Bashar al-Assad’s re-election earlier this month [New York Times’ Nick Cumming-Bruce].

Ukraine

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has announced that he will propose a ceasefire with separatist rebels at the end of this week, once government forces regain full control along Ukraine’s border [The Independent’s Kashmira Gander].

Reuters reports on ongoing clashes between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

The White House has expressed support for the EU-brokered natural gas talks to continue between Ukraine and Russia, following Russian-owned Gazprom’s decision to suspended gas supplies over the pricing dispute [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

Other developments

The Pentagon has formally announced its investigation into the 2009 disappearance of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who will not be interviewed until he has completed his recovery. Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl will lead the investigation, which will not be operating under a set timeline.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has announced that the UK’s embassy in Iran will be re-opened “as soon as practical arrangements are made,” following the “increasing confidence” in the relationship between the two countries [BBC].

Somalia-based al-Shabaab militants have launched a fresh attack on Kenya’s coast, killing at least eight people [Reuters’ Ben Makori]. The group claimed responsibility for both recent assaults and pledged to continue its campaign of violence in Kenya.

Pakistan has asked the Afghan government to refrain from offering refuge to Pakistani tribesmen fleeing from the North Waziristan region, where the military is targeting Taliban and other insurgents, in response to last week’s terror attack on the Karachi international airport [Dawn’s Zulfiqar Ali].

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has publicly condemned the reported kidnapping of the three Israeli students, but also criticized the Israeli military response to the abduction, which resulted in the killing of one Palestinian and the detention of more than 150 others [Washington Post’s William Booth and Ruth Eglash]. And Haaretz’s Amos Harel covers how Israel’s response to the kidnapping is “aimed at driving a wedge between Abbas and Hamas.”

Egypt’s prosecutor general has ordered the release of Al Jazeera journalist Abdullah Elshamy due to “health conditions,” bringing an end to almost a year of detention without charge.

South Sudan’s rival sides have boycotted the latest round of peace talks, according to mediators [Al Jazeera].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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