News Roundup and Notes: June 30, 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.

Ahmed Abu Khattalah

Over the weekend, Ahmed Abu Khattalah, the suspected ringleader of the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, was arraigned at a federal courthouse in Washington, D.C. (New York Times) The full indictment can be read here.

Some Republican lawmakers are still calling for Abu Khattalah to be detained at Guantanamo Bay. (Wall Street Journal; The Hill). Eric Tucker (Associated Press) provides the political backdrop to the unfolding Abu Khattalah trial.

On Sunday, House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers said that Abu Khattalah has been “compliant but not cooperative” but has not provided much intelligence value (The Guardian; The Hill).

Be sure to check out Jonathan Hafetz’s guest post on Just Security over the weekend on Abu Kattalah and the evolution of ship-based detention.

ISIS, Iraq, & Syria

On Sunday, ISIS declared the establishment of a new “Islamic caliphate” that stretches from Diyala, Iraq to Aleppo, Syria. ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani said the move signifies “a new era of international jihad” and that the ISIS group will henceforth be known as “the Islamic State” (Al Jazeera; Washington Post; The Hill; Reuters). However, The Daily Beast’s J.M. Berger writes that the move to declare a caliphate risks the group’s recent gains in territory, weapons, and cash.

As the battle to retake Tikrit from militant fighters enters its second day, it appears the Iraqi government’s offensive has stalled (Washington Post; Wall Street Journal). NBCNews provides compelling video from the battlefield. While the battle for Tikrit rages, Andrew Slater (Daily Beast) gives the background on how ISIS originally took the city without a fight.

The BBC provides helpful visual maps to show areas where ISIS and Iraqi forces continue to clash.

The ongoing fighting is causing political divides in Iraq to widen. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is calling for supporters to boycott an upcoming crucial parliamentary vote “unless the political powers put a road map to stop the security deterioration and save the country” (Al Jazeera).

Rod Nordland of The New York Times reports that, in a move that is an implicit rebuke to the U.S., Russian experts have arrived in Iraq to assist the Iraqi military to prepare 12 new Russian warplanes to fight against ISIS militants. While Dion Nissenbaum (Wall Street Journal) notes that the U.S. is accelerating shipments of 800 Hellfire missiles to Iraq to help in the fight against Islamic militant group.

Amid growing fears of “homegrown ISIS,” the Jordanian government is putting the country’s border guard on alert and reinforcing troops along its border with Iraq (Washington Post).

Speaking to ABC’s This Week, President Obama said that militants in Iraq and Syria pose a rising threat to the U.S. because fighters, many of whom hold passports from Western countries, will be able to enter the U.S. more easily (full transcript of Obama’s interview on “This Week”).

According to a new UN estimate, more than a million Iraqi’s refugees have been displaced this year, half within the last few weeks, as ISIS forces advance through Iraq. This is only worsening the preexisting regional refugee crisis stemming from Syria’s civil war (Tim Arango, New York Times).

In an opinion piece over the weekend of The New York TimesSunday Review, Juan Zarate and Thomas Sanderson describe where and how ISIS has obtained the money necessary to fund its operations.

The rising threat of insurgent militants is continuing to cause political upheaval in Saudi Arabia. Over the weekend, the Kingdom fired its fourth deputy defense minister in less than 15 months (Wall Street Journal’s Middle East Real Time).

ISIS has claimed responsibility for last week’s suicide bombing of a hotel in Beirut that wounded 11 people. In a statement, the group warned that Lebanon would see similar attacks saying, “this is only the beginning” (Associated Press).

With almost everyone asking “Who Lost Iraq?” Stuart Gottlieb (Daily Beast) says the Obama Doctrine is to blame.

Former U.S. Representative Jane Harman writes an op-ed for CNN.com warning that the U.S. shouldn’t let ISIS distract from al Qaeda, particularly the threats from AQAP and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Meanwhile Fareed Zakaria argues that it’s time for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to resign.

Ukraine

On Friday, Ukrainian President Poroshenko extended a weeklong ceasefire through Monday in an effort to stop the fighting between government troops and Russian-backed separatists. But on Sunday, several hundred Ukrainian soldiers and activities protested in Kiev calling for an end to the ceasefire (Associated Press).

European leaders are urging Poroshenko to extend the ceasefire beyond Monday’s deadline. (Al Jazeera) However, despite the ceasefire, violence flared up over the weekend in eastern Ukraine. In response, Poroshoenko is urging Putin to tighten Russia’s border (Thomas Grove, Reuters).

Sabra Ayres (Al Jazeera America) reports that members of the Donbass Battalion, a former Ukrainian homegrown volunteer paramilitary that is now a special unit the Ukrainian National Guard, is preparing to fight pro-Russian separatists.

Other developments

In a shocking revelation from The New York Times’ James Risen, just weeks before Blackwater guards killed 17 civilians in Nasour Square in Baghdad in 2007, the State Department began an investigation into Blackwater’s operations in Iraq. However, the investigation was abandoned because a top manager of the company threatened to kill the State Department’s chief investigator.

Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, who has been charged with desertion twice, has reportedly turned himself into Naval Criminal Investigative Service over the weekend to return to the U.S. to face charges under the UCMJ (NBCNews; Associated Press).

According to NSA Director Michael Rogers, while the NSA has seen some terrorist groups alter their communication behavior, the damage done to national security as a result of the Snowden revelations does not lead him to “conclud[e] that ‘the sky is falling’” (David Singer, New York Times).

The Financial Times’ Richard McGregor provides an in-depth report from inside Guantanamo on the current state of the detention facility and its ongoing military commission trials.

The Israeli air force struck targets in the Gaza strip over the weekend in response to rockets fired by Palestinian militants into Israeli territory (Washington Post; Al Jazeera).

While noting that questions still remain about whether Syria retains hidden weapons, The New York Times Editorial Board praises the deal “they said [] couldn’t be done” to remove Syria’s chemical weapons. Last Monday, Syria delivered the last of its known chemical weapons stocks.

In defiance of a UN ban, North Korea fired two ballistic test missiles off its east coast on Sunday, reports Choe Sang-Hun of The New York Times.

Following weeks of deadlock and accusations of fraud after the Afghan presidential runoff election, candidate Abdullah Abdullah has announced he is rejecting all decisions by the Independent Election Commission going forward (Azam Ahmed, New York Times).

On Saturday, two were killed in a blast from a homemade bomb in the outskirts of Cairo (Associated Press). 

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Earnest

Former Managing Editor of Just Security (2013-14) Follow him on Twitter (@thomasdearnest).