News Roundup and Notes: August 18, 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

Over the weekend, the U.S. military carried out further airstrikes in Iraq, targeting Islamic State militants near the Mosul Dam, involving “a mix of fighter, bomber, attack and remotely piloted aircraft.” The nine strikes on Saturday and 14 strikes on Sunday were carried out under authority “to support humanitarian efforts in Iraq,” to protect U.S. personnel and facilities, and to support Iraqi and Kurdish defense forces [U.S. Central Command].

President Obama notified Congress of the latest American involvement yesterday, stating that “[t]he failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians, endanger U.S. personnel and facilities, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.” Obama said the operations will be “limited in their scope and duration.”

The significantly expanded air campaign, including the first reported use of U.S. bombers, has strengthened the Kurdish forces’ ground offensive to reclaim the strategic dam from Islamic State control [Wall Street Journal’s Matt Bradley et al.; Washington Post’s Liz Sly et al.]. Iraqi state television reported early today that Iraqi and Kurdish forces are now in control of the dam [Reuters], although there are reports of continued heavy fighting around the Mosul Dam [Al Jazeera].

Joe Parkinson [Wall Street Journal] covers how the U.S. has gained a “controversial new ally” in the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as a number of PKK fighters joined the U.S.-backed Kurdish battle in northern Iraq over the weekend.

Texas Governor Rick Perry [Politico Magazine] writes that “[c]learly more strikes will be necessary, with nothing less than a sustained air campaign to degrade and destroy Islamic State forces.”

The Hill (Alexander Bolton) notes that Democrats in both chambers have called for a vote in Congress over military strikes in Iraq, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid “almost certainly wants to avoid [a vote] as he seeks to keep the upper chamber majority in his party’s hands.”

The United Kingdom has also expanded its military involvement in Iraq, with Defence Secretary Michael Fallon confirming that British warplanes are no longer confined to the initial humanitarian mission to assist Iraq’s Yazidi minority [The Guardian’s Nicholas Watt].

The UN Security Council has placed six individuals affiliated with extremist organizations in Iraq and Syria, including the Islamic State, on its sanctions list [UN News Centre].

Army Col. Joel Rayburn, writing in the Washington Post, considers the legacy of Nouri al-Maliki. While Maliki has agreed to step down as prime minister, Rayburn argues that “the damage he has wrought will define his country for decades to come.” Mike Hanna [Al Jazeera America] explains why Maliki’s ouster “is no magic bullet for Iraq,” noting that a “change of prime minister doesn’t in itself alter Iraq’s political or security equation.” And Ali Khedery [New York Times] writes how the latest change in government “really is Iraq’s last chance.”

Russia and Ukraine

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that agreement has been reached on delivering Russian humanitarian assistance to eastern Ukraine at ministerial talks in Berlin, although no ceasefire deal has yet been concluded. Western leaders had previously expressed concern that Russian aid convoys would be used to arm Ukraine’s rebels [BBC]. The Wall Street Journal (Anton Troianovski) has more details on the diplomatic efforts in Berlin, which it considers offer “little hope” amid “a weekend of fierce battles and heightened cross-border tensions.”

Ukrainian troops made important gains in the rebel stronghold of Luhansk over the weekend, in what could be a “breakthrough development” in the conflict. However, the military also acknowledged that another fighter plane had been shot down by pro-Russian separatists [Associated Press].

In a video posted online, the rebel leader in Donetsk said that “150 items of military hardware, 30 of which are tanks and the rest are infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers” are on route from Russia [Kyiv Post’s Christopher Miller].

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, NATO leaders Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Gen. Philip M. Breedlove stress the need for an alliance that is “fitter, faster and more flexible,” in light of Russian aggression.

Former national security advisors Brent Scowcroft and Stephen J. Hadley and former senior nuclear advisor Franklin Miller [Washington Post] explain why “NATO-based nuclear weapons are an advantage in a dangerous world.”

Israel-Palestine

With the five-day truce between Israel and Hamas set to expire tonight, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are continuing discussions in Cairo, although significant gaps remain between the two sides. While Israel is pushing for tougher security measures, Palestine is demanding an end to the Gaza blockade without preconditions [Associated Press; Reuters’ Nidal Al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller].

Israeli troops have demolished the homes of two Palestinians suspected to have been behind the abduction and killing of the three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June [Haaretz’s Gili Cohen]. An IDF spokesperson said that the demolition “conveys a clear message to terrorists and their accomplices that there is a personal price to pay when engaging in terror and carrying out attacks against Israelis” [Al Jazeera].

Haaretz’s editorial board notes how the Israeli offensive in Gaza has generated “a very public crisis in relations between Israel and the United States” and warns that “Netanyahu must ease the tension with Washington and act to repair the rift with Obama.”

The Wall Street Journal (Joshua Mitnick) explores how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “containment strategy” in the ongoing conflict is “a contrast from the tough talk against terrorism that fueled his political ascent.”

Julian Borger [The Guardian] notes how the potential International Criminal Court investigation into alleged war crimes in Gaza by both Israeli and Hamas forces has become a “fraught political battlefield.”

Marwan Bishara [Al Jazeera] explains how and why the UN has been “sidelined” in the Middle East conflict.

Meanwhile, the British government is facing a legal challenge over its decision to not suspend existing licenses for the sale of military hardware to Israel following the launch of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza last month [The Guardian’s Jamie Doward].

Surveillance, Privacy, and Technology

According to German news outlets, the country’s intelligence service has intercepted at least one phone conversation held by John Kerry, in addition to a phone call involving Hillary Clinton, while she was Secretary of State. Unnamed German officials said that the interceptions were accidental and that Kerry’s recorded conversation was immediately deleted [CNN’s Ralph Ellis and Frederik Pleitgen; Reuters].

Other Developments

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has signed an executive order deploying National Guard troops to Ferguson, due to the increasing violent unrest that has followed the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager last week [Washington Post’s DeNeen L. Brown et al.]. In a “rare move,” President Obama has returned to the White House for meetings on the situation in Ferguson, as well as the ongoing operation in Iraq [Julie Pace, Associated Press].

The practice of transferring surplus military equipment to local police departments is set to be reviewed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, amid intense criticism last week of the police tactics used to counter demonstrations over the fatal shooting in Missouri [Politico’s Burgess Everett]. The Hill (Tim Devaney) takes a look at the military equipment that local police have been receiving from the Pentagon, which includes armored tactical vehicles and AR-15 rifles.

Guantánamo’s prison intelligence unit is reviewing whether a letter written by detainee Khalid Sheik Mohammed about his views on the Gaza situation can be sent to President Obama [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

A U.S. drone strike in eastern Yemen has killed three suspected operatives from the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula [The Long War Journal’s Bill Roggio].

The Washington Post’s editorial board makes a case for why the “coup clause” in relation to foreign aid, which requires the suspension of aid in the wake of military coups, should not be amended to allow aid resumption in the interest of U.S. national security.

Journalist James Risen, who faces prison over his refusal to reveal the source of a CIA operation story, has called President Obama “the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation” [New York Times’ Maureen Dowd].

The International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iran has promised to co-operate with an investigation to be carried out by the nuclear watchdog, following a “useful” meeting in Tehran [Reuters’ Fredrik Dahl and Mehrdad Balali].

Sky News reports that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is planning to “soon” leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London, after spending more than two years inside the building. Assange said he is planning to meet with the British government to resolve his “lack of legal protection.”

Troops from Chad have rescued 85 Nigerians kidnapped last week by Boko Haram, according to security sources in Nigeria [CNN’s Aminu Abubakar].

Violent clashes are continuing in several parts of the Libyan city of Tripoli, notwithstanding international calls for a ceasefire to end more than a month of fighting [Al Jazeera].

A suicide attack in Mali directed at international forces killed two UN peacekeepers and injured nine others on Saturday [CNN’s Pierre Meilhan and Greg Botelho].

If you want to receive your news directly to your inbox, sign up here for the Just Security Early Edition. For the latest information from Just Security, follow us on Twitter (@just_security) and join the conversation on Facebook. To submit news articles and notes for inclusion in our daily post, please email us at news@justsecurity.org. Don’t forget to visit The Pipeline for a preview of upcoming events and blog posts on U.S. national security. 

Filed under:
About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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