News Roundup and Notes: August 20, 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

The Wall Street Journal (Dion Nissenbaum and Matt Bradley) reports that the U.S. success in assisting Kurdish and Iraqi forces recapture the Mosul Dam is “creating momentum for a broader [American air] campaign” to safeguard the Haditha Dam in Iraq’s Anbar province, which is in danger of coming under Islamic State control.

However, in an act of retaliation for American airstrikes, Islamic State militants have released a video that claims to show the beheading of American journalist James Foley, who was captured in Syria in 2012. The video also shows a second prisoner, identified as American journalist Steven Sotloff, whom the militants’ threatened to kill depending on Obama’s “next decision.” National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said that the intelligence community is working to determine the video’s authenticity, but said that if genuine, the U.S. is “appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist” [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung and Adam Goldman].

Iraqi troops failed in their efforts to retake the town of Tikrit from Islamic State fighters yesterday, highlighting the terrorist group’s “continuing strength,” reports The Guardian (Matthew Weaver).

Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency has launched one of its largest humanitarian aid operations in Iraq, citing the “immense hardship and untold human suffering” of civilians in the country [UN News Centre].

The New York Times (Julie Hirschfeld Davis) reports that both President Obama and Congress seem reluctant for a vote on military involvement in Iraq, reflecting a “significant shift” by the President, who lobbied lawmakers last year to back military action in Syria, but has “little patience for repeating the episode now, three months before midterm congressional elections.”

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that his country will decide this week whether to arm Kurdish troops fighting against Islamic State militants [Deutsche Welle].

The Islamic State has a new ally in Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which published a statement pledging support to “our Muslim brothers in Iraq against the crusade” [Yemen Times’ Ali Ibrahim Al-Moshki]. At the same time, the top Saudi Islamic leader has called the organization the “enemy number one of Islam” [Al Arabiya News].

Fox News (Catherine Herridge) reports that Islamic State members are exposing Middle East intelligence agents by publishing their identities and locations on social media.

Nour Malas [Wall Street Journal] reports on the rivalry between the Kurdish and Iraqi forces, which has been reignited following the defeat of Islamist fighters at the Mosul Dam. And Azam Ahmed [New York Times] takes a look at the impact of American airstrikes around the Iraqi dam.

Israel-Palestine

Israeli and Palestinian officials are trading blame for the collapse of the Egyptian-led peace negotiations, following the breakdown of the temporary ceasefire yesterday, as dozens of rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip, matched by airstrikes from Israel. Israel recalled its negotiators from Cairo as soon as the first rockets were launched from Gaza, stating this was “a clear violation of the ceasefire [and] it also destroyed the premise upon which the talks were based” [Al Jazeera; Associated Press].

One Israeli airstrike appears to have targeted the home of Hamas military chief, Mohammed Deif, with reports stating that Deif’s wife and child have been killed [BBC]. Amir Oren [Haaretz] considers that the Deif assassination attempt “may backfire and strengthen Hamas resolve.”

In the wake of the failed truce, Barak Ravid [Haaretz] argues that it is “not too late” for Israel to turn toward the UN Security Council to seek a resolution that “resembles Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War.”

Hamas fighters have shown Reuters (Nidal Al-Mughrabi) an underground tunnel in an apparent bid to refute Israel’s claim that it has destroyed Hamas’ infiltration network.

The Wall Street Journal (Nicholas Casey and Adam Entous) reports on how the current hostilites in Gaza has seen the Al Qassam Brigade, “the secretive guerrilla army of Hamas,” in battle for only the second time.

The Associated Press notes that at the end of this conflict, Israel may determine that its relationship with the U.S. is “one of the biggest casualties” of the war.

Be sure to check Haaretz for live updates on developments in the conflict.

Russia and Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko will meet next week in Belarus for the first time since June, amid growing calls for a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine [Wall Street Journal’s James Marson and Anton Troianovski].

As peace efforts continue, Ukrainian troops carried out major attacks targeting the rebel strongholds of Luhansk and Donetsk yesterday [Associated Press], forcing civilians to flee the area [Al Jazeera].

Alison Smale [New York Times] reports on how German Chancellor Angela Merkel is “emerging more and more as a pivotal leader on the Ukraine conflict,” while President Obama’s attention is split between a number of foreign and domestic problems.

The Economist cautions that even if a negotiated settlement is reached to end the war, “it is unlikely the impulses that drive the conflict will disappear,” noting that “the certainty in the righteousness of the rebel cause has hardened into something unshakable.”

And Strobe Talbott [Politico Magazine], deputy secretary of state in the Clinton administration, explores “the making of Vladimir Putin.”

Afghanistan

President Obama is sticking to his 2016 deadline for withdrawal from Afghanistan, rejecting calls in Washington that the situation in Iraq should be cause to reconsider the timetable in Afghanistan, according to a senior administration official [New York Times’ Mark Landler].

Reuters (Ahmad Sultan) reports that more than 700 Taliban fighters have launched an offensive against Afghan security forces in Logar province, south of Kabul.

Pamela Constable [Washington Post] covers the growing concern in Afghanistan that the uncertainty over the political transition process could break down into violence, as the deadline to install a new president is fast approaching.

Following a New York Times report discussing some Afghan officials threatening to form an interim government, Afghanistan has prevented Times correspondent Matthew Rosenberg from leaving the country, asking Rosenberg to identify his sources  [New York Times’ Rod Nordland].

Ferguson Protests

The New York Times (Robert Mackey) covers how scenes from the protests in Ferguson are being used by Russia, Iran and Egypt to expose what they portray as U.S. hypocrisy on human rights standards. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry statement, which called on U.S. authorities to “exercise restraint and deal with the protests in accordance with U.S. and international standards,” mirrors language used by Washington last summer to caution against the excessive use of force by Egypt in responding to Islamist protestors [Reuters].

Previously, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also urged all those involved to exercise restraint and for authorities “to respect the right to peaceful assembly” [UN News Centre].

The Pentagon sought to defend its program that transfers excess military equipment to law enforcement agencies from criticism yesterday, with Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby stating that there is “a lot of due diligence” and that this is not some program “run amok” [Stars and Stripes’ Jon Harper].

Peter Baker and Matt Apuzzo [New York Times] report on how President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have adopted different approaches to the issues underlining the unrest in Missouri, with Holder seen as outspoken in contrast to Obama, who has proceeded cautiously on the race issue.

Other Developments

The Associated Press (Eileen Sullivan) reports that the Justice Department has said it will change the process by which travelers can be removed from the no-fly list of suspected terrorists, following the Oregon district court ruling that the process fails to afford adequate due process.

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Josef Joffe writes that the recent reports of Germany spying on its allies may “lower [Germany’s] Self-Righteousness Quotient.”

An air force controlled by the former Libyan general, Khalifa Haftar, was reportedly responsible for air strikes targeting rival militia groups in Tripoli earlier this week [Al Jazeera America].

The UN will send 7,600 troops and police to the Central African Republic next month to take over peacekeeping duties from the current African-led mission in the country [Al Jazeera].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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