News Roundup and Notes: September 8, 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 and Syria

Iraqi government forces say they have “cleared” Islamic State fighters from a large area around the Haditha Dam, with the assistance of U.S. airstrikes [BBC]. The U.S. military conducted five strikes on Sunday, destroying a range of Islamic State military vehicles and artillery, along with a number of fighting posts [Central Command]. The Wall Street Journal (Matt Bradley) reports that Sunni tribes joined Iraqi forces in the U.S.-backed operation.

Kurdish forces in northern Iraq have retaken a strategic mountain from Islamic State forces, also with the assistance of American airstrikes [BBC].

The Associated Press reports that Syrian airstrikes on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa killed at least 25 people on Saturday, at least 16 of whom were civilians.

President Barack Obama will make a speech on Wednesday laying out the administration’s strategy for defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [Politico’s Jennifer Epstein].

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” with Chuck Todd, President Obama said that the American response to the current crisis is “not the equivalent of the Iraq war” and ruled out the presence of U.S. ground troops. The president said he will notify Congress of his strategy on Tuesday. The Washington Post (David Nakamura) provides more details on the interview.

The Wall Street Journal (Siobhan Hughes and Gautham Nagesh) discusses the President’s scheduled meeting with Congress, suggesting it will be “politically fraught.” Obama is expected to seek approval from Congress for his request for $500 million to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation”, called for a strong response to the beheading of two American journalists by militants of the Islamic State. Also on CBS, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla) described Obama’s response to ISIS as “presidential malpractice.” Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Mitt Romney said that the President “has not been engaged” on the ISIS threat. On the other hand, Sen. Dianne Feinstein congratulated the President on putting together a coalition of nine countries to tackle ISIS, which she said represented a “major change in how ISIS is approached” [CNN’s “State of the Union”].

Reuters (Lin Noueihed and Omar Fahmy) reports that Arab League foreign ministers vowed yesterday to cooperate with international efforts and take all necessary measures to confront ISIS. However, Jay Solomon [Wall Street Journal] reports that the Arab response to Obama’s efforts to galvanize a coalition has so far been “lukewarm.”

The New York Times (Eric Schmitt et al.) reports that senior U.S. officials have said that destroying ISIS may require a sustained effort over several years, and could continue after President Obama has left office.

David D. Kirkpatrick [New York Times] discusses Qatar’s support of Islamist extremism and the challenges this poses to its allies, including in the context of the Syrian conflict.

Simon Tisdall [The Guardian] poses ten questions that NATO must face in order to combat the Islamic State.

Jack Shafer [Reuters] discusses the complexities the U.S. faces in choosing its allies to counter the Islamic State, and questions “why exactly must [the U.S.] join the Arab world’s great civil wars?”

Peter Bergen and David Sterman [CNN] explain why the ISIS threat to the U.S. is “mostly hype.”

Ishaan Tharoor [Washington Post] reports on a “slightly new geopolitical wrinkle:” the release of an ISIS video challenging Russian President Vladimir Putin, which states that the leader’s “throne has already teetered.”

Russia and Ukraine

Clashes between government forces and separatist rebels in at least two eastern Ukrainian cities have threatened to collapse the ceasefire agreement which came into force late Friday [Al Jazeera]. However, the Associated Press reports that the ceasefire appears to be holding today, with Donetsk city council stating that there had been no casualties overnight.

The New York Times (David M. Herszenhorn) reports on the “formidable” task of shaping a new political system in Ukraine, involving some form of decentralized government, that would be acceptable to Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as the people of Ukraine.

According to documents seen by the Wall Street Journal (Stephen Fidler and Laurence Norman), new EU sanctions will prevent three major Russian oil companies from raising money in the bloc’s capital markets. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has warned that Moscow will respond “asymmetrically” to any new Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis [Reuters].

Jim Yardley [New York Times] explains why European leaders do not wish to undermine broader economic ties with Russia, even as wider sanctions are being threatened, noting that Russia’s rich have transformed several European cities into their “playgrounds.”

American and Russian officials are due to meet in Moscow on Thursday to discuss the future of the 1987 nuclear arms control treaty, which the U.S. has accused Russia of violating [Reuters].

Surveillance, Privacy, and Technology

Glenn Greenwald [The Intercept] reports on a secret 2009 ODNI report that contemplates economic espionage with a view to benefiting American corporations, a form of spying that the U.S has repeatedly said it does not engage in.

The Justice Department released a newly declassified version of the 2004 legal memo authorizing the NSA’s “Stellar Wind” surveillance program, approved by President Bush after the 9/11 attacks. Charlie Savage [New York Times] considers the questions still remaining about the program.

Israel-Palestine

Speaking ahead of an Arab League meeting, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accused Hamas of operating a “shadow government” in the Gaza Strip and executing individuals without trial, raising further doubts about the future of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal [Al Jazeera].

Jesse Rosenfeld [The Daily Beast] reveals new details about the reported summary execution of Palestinian fighters—who appear to have belonged to the Islamic Jihad—by Israeli soldiers in late July.

Other Developments

Following the death of al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane by a U.S. drone strike last week, the group has named Ahmed Omar Abu Ubeyd as its new commander [Wall Street Journal’s Abdalle Ahmed Mumin]. The Associated Press reports that shells hit a Mogadishu neighborhood one day after al-Shabaab named its new leader and vowed to avenge Godane’s death. AFP (Stefan Smith) has more details on the group’s new leader, who has been described by experts as being one of Godane’s most trusted lieutenants.

The ODNI has published its latest statistics on the reengagement estimates of detainees formerly held at Guantanamo.

The Associated Press reports that Boko Haram has grabbed further towns in northeastern Nigeria, along the border with Cameroon, in pursuit of the group’s new aim to carve out an “Islamic caliphate” in the region.

A Taliban suicide attack in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan last evening killed a district police chief and two guards [Associated Press]. Afghan officials have said that a key district in the Helmand province in southern Afghanistan risks falling to the control of the Taliban, amid fierce fighting that has gripped the region all summer [New York Times’ Rod Nordland and Taimoor Shah].

Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court has jailed six individuals for security offences linked to Islamist extremism, including traveling to join jihadist fights abroad [Reuters].

The Libyan government has declared a Sudanese military attaché persona non grata and accused Sudan of supporting Islamist rebels in the country, after Libya intercepted a Sudanese military plane carrying ammunition in its airspace [Al Jazeera].

North Korea said it would put one of three Americans known to be detained in the country on trial for committing a “hostile act” against the country [New York Times’ Choe Sang-Hun].

Ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi will be tried for leaking national security secrets to Qatar while in office, according to Egypt’s top prosecutor [Associated Press].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security