News Roundup and Notes: June 24, 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

Secretary of State John Kerry is holding talks with Kurdish leaders in the northern city of Irbil, as Sunni rebels continue to expand their control [BBC]. While Kerry is urging the Kurdish leadership to support Baghdad, Iraqi Kurdish President Massoud Barzani told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that with the country “obviously falling apart,” the “time is here for the Kurdistan people to determine their future.”

Following yesterday’s talks with Iraqi leaders, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has committed to begin forming a new government by July 1. Kerry also emphasized that “if there is evidence that requires some kind of action prior to [the government formation] process being completed, the President maintains the prerogative of making that decision.” The New York Times (Michael R. Gordon), Wall Street Journal (Jay Solomon and Matt Bradley), and Washington Post (Anne Gearan and Karen DeYoung) provide more details.

The administration has secured an immunity deal from Iraq’s government for the 300 U.S. special operations forces being sent to advise the Iraqi military [The Hill’s Kristina Wong and Justin Sink].

Sources told Al Jazeera that ISIS-led Sunni rebels have seized control of the Baiji oil refinery and have offered Iraqi troops safe passage if they surrender their weapons, but the Iraqi Foreign Minister has denied the reports.

A new CBS News/New York Times poll finds low approval rates for President Obama’s handling of the Iraq crisis.

And The Economist considers the longer-term impact of the crisis on oil prices.

Drones

Yesterday, the 2nd Circuit published a redacted version of the long-sought Department of Justice OLC memo that authorized the killing of U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi [NPR’s Eyder Peralta; Politico’s Josh Gerstein].

The New York Times editorial board criticizes the “thin rationale” provided by the administration, arguing that the memo has turned out to be “a be a slapdash pastiche of legal theories—some based on obscure interpretations of British and Israeli law—that was clearly tailored to the desired result.”

The Daily Beast (Eli Lake) covers why the drone memo is unlikely to cover Americans who have joined the extremist group ISIS in Syria and Iraq, as ISIS has not been linked to the terrorist organization al-Qaeda.

A new report from Craig Whitlock [Washington Post] covers the rise in close and dangerous encounters between civilian airplanes and drones flown in contravention of FAA rules intended to safeguard U.S. airspace.

Ukraine

Kyiv Post (Christopher J. Miller) reports that pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine agreed to abide by the government’s cease-fire, as peace talks got under way in Donetsk.

The Russian parliament’s upper house will revoke its resolution authorizing military intervention in Ukraine on Wednesday, reportedly owing  to a request submitted by Russian President Vladimir Putin [Reuters].

In a phone call with Putin, President Obama called on Moscow to “to halt the flow of weapons and materiel across its border into Ukraine” and to press the separatists in eastern Ukraine to abide by the ceasefire. According to a statement from the Kremlin, Putin “stressed that ending military actions and starting direct talks between the conflicting sides would have priority significance for normalising the situation in the southeast regions.”

EU foreign ministers have also urged Russia to seize the current “opportunity” to de-escalate tensions in Ukraine, although there is disagreement among ministers about what should trigger further sanctions [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman].

Syria

The OPCW-UN joint mission announced that 100% of Syria’s declared chemical stockpile has been destroyed or removed from the country, bringing an end to the “most operationally challenging task” within the effort to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program [UN News Centre].

The EU has issued fresh sanctions against 12 Syrian government ministers in relation to “serious human rights violations” [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman].

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman blamed the Syrian forces for Sunday’s attack that killed an Israeli boy [Reuters]. According to Syria’s state news agency, four people were killed by Israel’s retaliatory air strikes yesterday. 

Other developments

Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein said that the CIA has finished redacting the summary of her committee’s report on the agency’s post-9/11 interrogation techniques [Politico’s Burgess Everett and Josh Gerstein]. The White House will now conduct its own review, and Feinstein said the report could be declassified “sometime during the summer.”

Guantánamo detainee Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, accused of a series of war crimes, has requested a civilian lawyer to help him gather evidence in Iraq and Afghanistan, where uniformed U.S. military counsel could face resistance [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

The conviction of three Al Jazeera journalists by an Egyptian court has sparked international outrage [Al Jazeera], and has been criticized by Secretary of State Kerry as “chilling” and “draconian.” The White House called for the immediate release of the three journalists and 15 other defendants. However, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi said he will “not interfere in judicial rulings” and will “not criticize them even if others do not understand this” [The Guardian’s Patrick Kingsley].

An Afghan police officer opened fire inside a security compound yesterday, wounding two NATO advisers, according to the authorities [CNN’s Qadir Sediqi]. In a separate development, the claim of fraud allegations has forced Afghanistan’s chief electoral officer to resign, with presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah ready to resume cooperation with the election authorities [Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov and Nathan Hodge].

The African Union mission in Somalia said Kenyan jets have attacked two al-Shabaab bases in Somalia, killing at least 80 suspected militants [Reuters]. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reports on a further attack on a Kenyan coastal village that has killed five people.

Polish leaders sought to reassure the U.S., after a leaked recording appeared to show the Polish Foreign Minister dismissing the U.S.-Polish alliance as “worthless” [Wall Street Journal’s Marcin Sobczyk].

A bomb blast at a medical school in northern Nigeria has killed 8 people [Los Angeles Times’ Aminu Abubakar and Robyn Dixon]. No group claimed immediate responsibility, but militant group Boko Haram is suspected as being behind the attack.

A suicide car bomber targeted a Lebanese army checkpoint in Beirut earlier today, as the country faces rising sectarian tensions fuelled by the conflict in neighboring Syria [BBC].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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