News Roundup and Notes: August 19, 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

Earlier today, Iraqi troops launched an offensive to retake control of the city of Tikrit from Islamic State fighters [Al Jazeera].

Kurdish and U.S. officials confirmed yesterday that Iraq’s strategic Mosul Dam had been recaptured by Kurdish and Iraqi forces, who were aided significantly by American airstrikes over the weekend [Reuters’ Ahmed Rasheed and Michael Georgy]. Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said:

President Obama welcomed the capture of the dam as a “major step forward” in the fight against Islamic State militants, stating that the U.S.-backed operation was evidence that “Iraqi and Kurdish forces are capable of working together and taking the fight to ISIL” [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly; Wall Street Journal’s Nour Malas and Tamer El-Ghobashy].

Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham issued a joint statement yesterday to “applaud President Obama’s decision to step up U.S. air strikes in support of Kurdish and Arab Iraqi forces.”

According to a new Pew Research Center/USA Today poll, 54% of Americans say they approve of the U.S. airstrikes against Islamic extremists in Iraq, although 51% worry that the U.S. will get too involved in the situation.

The Hill (Kristina Wong) notes that the President is “tiptoeing around” the War Powers Resolution, allowing for prolonged U.S. involvement without congressional authorization, according to legal experts.

The State Department has designated Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the official spokesperson for and a senior leader of the Islamic State, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.

Peter Bergen and David Sterman [CNN] consider that while ISIS “is surely a major problem for Iraq, and its tactics and strategy are abhorrent … that doesn’t mean it is a serious threat to the American homeland.” On the other hand, Gerald F. Seib [Wall Street Journal] explains why the extremist organization “represents a long-term danger to the U.S.” as well as “a more immediate threat to America’s friends and foes alike across the Middle East and even Europe.”

Pope Francis suggested yesterday that it would be legitimate for the international community to stop the “unjust” aggression in Iraq, but cautioned that “[o]ne single nation cannot judge how [it] is to be stopped [Reuters’ Philip Pullella]. The Daily Beast’s Christopher Dickey covers how this statement might play into the Islamic State vision for a “true holy war on both sides.”

Syria

Yesterday, President Obama announced the complete destruction of Syria’s most lethal declared chemical weapons stockpile aboard a U.S. vessel, “several weeks ahead of schedule.” Obama said that this marked a “major milestone” in the OPCW-led international effort “to rid the Syrian regime of its chemical weapons.” The New York Times’ Alan Rappeport refers to the development as “a rare foreign policy achievement for President Obama at a time when the Middle East is embroiled in violence and political turmoil.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration has barred all American airlines from flying through Syrian airspace, citing “[a]rmed extremist groups” who are “known to be equipped with a variety of anti-aircraft weapons which have the capability to threaten civilian aircraft” [Bloomberg News’ Alan Levin].

Russia and Ukraine

Ukraine has accused pro-Russian rebels of carrying out a deadly attack on a refugee convoy in eastern Ukraine yesterday, which has claimed dozens of civilian lives [New York Times’ Andrew E. Kramer et al.; Reuters].

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that his government has confirmed that Moscow recently sent military reinforcements to rebels in Ukraine, including 1,200 trained personnel [Kyiv Post’s Christopher J. Miller].

Speaking in Latvia yesterday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised to support the Baltic countries against possible Russian aggression, but rejected calls for a permanent NATO presence in the region [Wall Street Journal’s Juris Kaža].

In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Keith B. Payne and Mark B. Schneider argue that Russia consistently violates international arms treaties and describe Moscow’s policy as one of “compliance if convenient.”

Israel-Palestine

Israel and Palestine have agreed to a 24-hour extension of the ceasefire in Gaza in order to allow the negotiations in Cairo to continue, as the parties failed to reach a lasting agreement by last night. Haaretz has live updates on the ongoing Cairo discussions, where key issues include removing the Gaza blockade and Israel’s calls for Hamas’ disarmament.

The Economist comments on the “propaganda war” in Israel and Gaza, noting that “both sides consume fantasy news.”

And Richard Cohen, writing in the Washington Post, argues that Israel is being held to an “impossible standard” and that Israelis are “only human.”

Surveillance, Privacy, and Technology

Alexander W. Joel [Politico Magazine], the civil liberties protection officer for the ODNI, argues that Executive Order 12333, which governs certain overseas intelligence surveillance, “plays an important role in America’s intelligence oversight framework.” Joel outlines how EO 12333 “requires procedures to minimize how an agency collects, retains or disseminates U.S. person information.”

Der Spiegel reports on “embarrassing revelations” that show how Germany has deliberately spied on Turkey, in addition to inadvertently spying on Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. Turkey has summoned the German ambassador in Ankara, stating that if proved true, “such practices would in no way be acceptable in an environment that requires mutual trust and respect between friends and allies” [Wall Street Journal’s Emre Peker and Harriet Torry].

David Francis [Foreign Policy’s “The Cable”] notes that the reports of German spying on a NATO ally “should dispel any notion that spying on allies violates the unwritten rules of international espionage, despite Berlin’s numerous suggestions otherwise.”

Meanwhile, Australia and Indonesia have agreed to resume their intelligence and military cooperation, which was suspended last year after revelations that Australia had carried out high-level spying on Indonesia [ABC’s Karen Barlow].

Other Developments

Greg Miller [Washington Post] reports that the Yemeni government paid more than $1 million to victims of U.S. drone strikes last year, according to Yemeni documents. The documents, which detail the “secret condolence payments,” offer new proof that civilians without any ties to al-Qaeda were among the casualties. U.S. officials declined to comment on any U.S. role in the payments.

Hayes Brown [Think Progress] reports that President Obama will host a UN Security Council meeting next month, which will focus on the threat of foreign fighters joining terrorist organizations in conflict zones.

Airstrikes from unidentified warplanes targeted several locations in the Libyan capital of Tripoli yesterday. The strikes, which are beyond the capacity of the Libyan forces, suggest foreign intervention, although the U.S., France, Italy and Egypt denied responsibility [New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick and Suliman Ali Zway].

A petition on the White House website to require all state, county, and local police to wear a camera has received more than 100,000 signatures, in the wake of the Ferguson shooting, thus warranting an official response [The Hill’s Jesse Byrnes]. Meanwhile, The Economist describes how America’s police have become “so well armed.”

The Los Angeles Times (Matt Hansen) reports on the federal terrorism trial of two men accused of plotting to join al-Qaeda and planning to commit terrorist acts overseas.

The New York Times (Matt Apuzzo) covers a defamation lawsuit involving an anti-Iran advocacy group, which has “taken on larger importance as it threatens to reveal government secrets,” with the Obama administration temporarily preventing the release of the group’s internal documents.

The Washington Post journalist and two others detained in Iran last month are reportedly being held over “security issues,” according to Iran’s judicial spokesperson [Associated Press].

A number of Afghan ministers and officials have threatened to form an interim government if the stalemate over the presidential election results is not resolved quickly through compromise between the rival candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani [New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg].

The Washington Post (Adam Taylor) explains WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s comments yesterday, when he said he will “soon” be leaving the Ecuadoran Embassy in London.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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