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Iraq and Syria

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has told the BBC that the process of buying U.S. jets has been “long-winded” and that the advance of ISIS militants could have been halted if air cover had been secured. Maliki expressed hope that jets, expected from Russia and Belarus in the coming days, would help turn the tide against the insurgents.

Secretary of State John Kerry met with his counterparts from Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE yesterday, where he sought to persuade them to assist in Iraq [Washington Post’s Anne Gearan]. Meanwhile, Saudi’s King Abdullah reportedly ordered “all necessary measures” to be taken to protect Saudi Arabia against terror threats, amid concerns about ISIS’s gains in neighboring Iraq [CNN’s Mohammed Jamjoom].

The Obama administration has requested Congress to authorize $500 million in direct U.S. training and equipment for “appropriately vetted elements” of the Syrian opposition, marking a significant expansion of the U.S. role in the civil war that is spilling over into Iraq [New York Times’ Helene Cooper; Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes et al.; Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung].

President Obama also told Congress of further measures being taken in Iraq, including increased intelligence; deployment of troops to train and advise Iraqi forces; and joint operations centers with Iraq to co-ordinate the effort to counter ISIS. Indicating congressional authority is not required [Roll Call’s Steven Dennis], Obama said:

“This action is being undertaken in coordination with the Government of Iraq and has been directed consistent with responsibility to protect U.S. citizens both at home and in furtherance of U.S. national security and foreign interests, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.”

A Pentagon official said that armed Predator drone patrols had started flying over Baghdad in order to offer additional support to the first American military assessment team in Iraq [New York Times’ Rod Nordland et al.].

U.S. officials have told Reuters (Mark Hosenball and Phil Stewart) that American intelligence on the Sunni insurgency has improved, but that it would take time to build a detailed assessment of ISIS’s intentions and deployments. Officials also said that the possibility of U.S. airstrikes did not appear imminent.

According to current and former CIA officers, the Iraqi government has carried out surveillance targeting the U.S. agency and other security personnel in Iraq for several years, using sophisticated monitoring equipment acquired most likely from Iran  [Newsweek’s Jeff Stein]. 

Human Rights Watch reports that photographs and satellite imagery provide strong evidence that ISIS conducted mass executions in Tikrit after taking control of the city.

Robert F. Worth [New York Times] notes that the development in recent weeks is leading toward the “de facto partition” of Iraq into Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish regions.

Surveillance, privacy, & technology

The Associated Press reports that the German government is ending a contract with Verizon over concerns that the phone company is allowing U.S. intelligence agencies to spy on private communications. The German Interior Ministry spokesperson said it is ending the contract because “[t]here are indications that Verizon is legally required to provide certain things to the NSA.”

The New York Times (Vindu Goel and James C. Mckinley Jr.) covers Facebook’s ongoing legal dispute with the government over its demand for the contents of the accounts of 381 users. A New York judge ruled last summer that the social networking company had no standing to contest the search warrants since it was not being targeted by the criminal investigation.


Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has signed an association agreement with the EU, the deal whose reversal last year triggered the crisis in Ukraine [CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark et al.]. Georgia and Moldova also signed similar EU agreements. A Kremlin spokesperson said that the conclusion of the agreements was a “sovereign right” of the countries involved, but noted that Russia will take measures “if its market is negatively affected by the Agreement.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for a long-term ceasefire in Ukraine to enable talks to continue between Kiev and rebel leaders in the East [Reuters]. 

Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine have released four of the eight observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, who were captured over a month ago [Al Jazeera].

The Washington Post editorial board argues that the U.S. “must take the lead and … pull allies in the right direction,” if Moscow “does not back down” and Europe “shrinks from acting.”

Other developments

According to information obtained by Al Jazeera (Jason Leopold), Guantánamo military personnel have been instructed to inform visitors to the detention center that the majority of detainees use their lawyers and the media to “discredit the U.S. government,” and that the ongoing hunger strikes are similarly part of the detainees’ “offensive tactics” to attack the government.

Politico (Philip Ewing et al.) reports on President Obama’s amendments to the FY 2015 defense budget, which requests more than $65 billion to support the war in Afghanistan and other global security programs.

Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the suspected mastermind of the 2012 Benghazi attack, is expected to arrive in the U.S. as early as this weekend, according to a senior law enforcement source [CNN’s Evan Perez and Greg Botelho].

The Dawn editorial calls on Pakistan’s senior leaders to address the “unfolding humanitarian tragedy” caused by the military operation in North Waziristan, which has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee the region.  And the Washington Post (Tim Craig and Shaiq Hussain) reports that the military offensive is being complicated by “fresh tension” with Afghanistan, as Pakistan places blame on its neighbor for failing to do enough to track militants who may have escaped across the border.

The U.S. is set to downsize its elite counterterrorism unit in the Phillipines, which was set up post-9/11 to train and advise the country in its battle against al-Qaeda-linked extremist groups [New York Times’ Floyd Whaley and Eric Schmitt].

The Guardian (Richard Norton-Taylor) has learned that the UK’s Chilcot inquiry into the 2003 Iraq invasion has faced further delays, and is unlikely to release its report until next year.

Israel’s security service has revealed the identities of two Hamas militants, who are suspected of carrying out the recent kidnapping of the three Israeli students in the West Bank [Haaretz’s Gili Cohen].

A Kenyan regional governor has been charged in relation to the country’s recent coastal attacks, despite Somalia-based militant group al-Shababb claiming responsibility [BBC].

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, writing in the Washington Post, states that his government and intelligence services “have spared no resources” in the effort to rescue the abducted school girls.

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