News Roundup and Notes: September 9, 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

The Iraqi parliament has approved a unity government to be led by Haider al-Abadi as prime minister, with members of Iraq’s Shi’ite majority and its Kurdish and Sunni minorities in the new cabinet [Reuters]. Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the move as a “major milestone” for the country.

The UN Security Council plans to require states to “prevent and suppress” foreign fighters from joining extremist militant groups, according to a draft U.S. resolution circulated ahead of the September 24 meeting to be chaired by Barack Obama [Reuters’ Michelle Nichols].

Lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced separate bills yesterday authorizing the use of military force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]. Josh Rogin [The Daily Beast] notes that while lawmakers are “tripping over themselves” to grant military authorization, the President is “not really interested in getting Congress’s permission.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times (Jonathan Weisman et al.) reports that Congress remains divided on the U.S. campaign, with Democrat and Republican leaders wishing to avoid a public vote on authorizing force only two months before the midterms. Politico (Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan) similarly covers how House and Senate leadership are reluctant to pass any legislation on tackling the ISIS threat, believing instead that Obama has authority as commander in chief to act without congressional action.

Tim Mak [The Daily Beast] notes the “strange alliances” forming over the possible Congress vote on military force. And Reuters (Patricia Zengerle and David Lawder) reports that Congress is likely to approve any funding requests from the President if required for the Islamic State campaign.

President Obama hosted a bipartisan group of foreign policy experts at a White House dinner last night, to lay the groundwork and rally support ahead of his address on Wednesday [New York Times’ Mark Landler]. Obama also spoke with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon yesterday, the two agreeing “on the need for a broad coalition to counter the threat posed by” ISIS [The Hill’s Justin Sink].

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in Turkey yesterday to strategize with President Recep Tayyip Erdogen on a coordinated campaign against the Islamic State [Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock].

The Guardian (Paul Lewis and Tom McCarthy) discusses the expansion of the U.S. military campaign against ISIS, quoting White House spokesperson Josh Earnest who likened the anticipated action to “other counterterrorism operations,” including the killing of Osama bin Laden. The Hill (Justin Sink) draws attention to Earnest’s comments regarding the proposed $5 billion counterterrorism fund, which was described as “a core component of the President’s strategy for dealing with … issues like this.”

The Daily Mirror reports that the individual responsible for the beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, dubbed “Jihadi John,” was known to British intelligence officials for more than a year. Robert S. Leiken [Wall Street Journal] discusses the “homegrown jihadist” problem faced by the British government.

The Wall Street Journal (Andrew Grossman and Devlin Barrett) reports that U.S. counterterrorism efforts to track Western jihadists travelling to Iraq and Syria are facing complications due to differing international policies on security and information sharing. Josh Gerstein [Politico] discusses the “propaganda war” faced by Obama and the importance of dissuading foreign fighters, including Americans, from joining the Islamic State in the first place.

The Washington Post editorial board welcomes President Obama’s “more sober view” in support of destroying the Islamic State, and puts forward a number of steps the President must adopt to demonstrate his commitment. The New York Times editorial board discusses the Islamic State threat, writing that the challenge facing President Obama will be “to persuade American and foreign listeners that he has an effective strategy to eliminate the threat.”

Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that more than 7 in 10 Americans support airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq, with support spanning Democrats and Republicans, while 9 in 10 believe the group poses a serious threat to U.S. interests.

Nawaf Obaid and Saud Al-Sarhan [New York Times] discuss the role of Saudi Arabia in tackling ISIS, arguing that “Saudi Arabia is not the source of ISIS, it’s the group’s primary target” and calling on the international community to “form a solid coalition” with Saudi Arabia.

The Wall Street Journal (Joe Parkinson and Adam Entous) explains how the Kurds have come to occupy a key position in the U.S. strategy to combat the Islamic State.

Russia and Ukraine

The Dutch Safety Board’s preliminary report into the Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine points toward an “external cause.” Investigators say the crash was likely the result of “structural damage caused by a large number of high-energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside.” The Guardian (Matthew Weaver) provides more details on the report’s conclusions.

Speaking in the eastern port of Mariupol yesterday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko vowed to deliver a “crushing defeat” to pro-Russian rebels if they violated the terms of the ceasefire agreement that came into force late Friday [Reuters’ Aleksandar Vasovic and Gabriela Baczynska].

The Ukrainian government said that hundreds of prisoners captured by the rebels had been released since the start of the ceasefire, which appears to remain in place despite reports of shelling in Donetsk [Wall Street Journal’s Olga Razumovskaya and Matthew Dalton]. Interfax news agency reports that four Ukrainian servicemen have been killed and 29 injured since the agreement on Friday, according to a defense ministry official [Reuters].

The OSCE has released the 12-point protocol agreement reached between Ukraine, Russia and separatist rebels in Minsk last week [Kyiv Post].

The Associated Press analyses why the latest ceasefire in Ukraine may last, explaining that this agreement is in line with Vladimir Putin’s objective of “keeping Ukraine in Russia’s orbit.”

The EU has formally adopted new sanctions against Russia—aimed at “promoting a change of course in Russia’s actions destabilizing eastern Ukraine”—which will come into force “in the next few days” [BBC].

Rick Noack [Washington Post] considers the implications of Russia closing its airspace to Western airlines, which Moscow threatened to do in retaliation to any new sanctions.

The New York Times’ “Room for Debate” considers whether NATO should be defending Ukraine, a non-member nation, against Russian aggression. In the Wall Street Journal, John Vinocur argues that NATO’s response thus far is “certain to be understood [by Moscow] as weakness rather than as an inviolable tripwire against new aggression.”

Other Developments

The Intercept (Ryan Gallagher) reports on new research, published by the London-based Remote Control Project, which reveals that the U.S. Special Operations Command is paying private companies billions of dollars to assist secretive military operations through drones and surveillance technology.

Yesterday, a roadside suicide attack in Somalia, aimed at a convoy southwest of Mogadishu carrying African Union troops and Somali officials, killed at least 12 people and wounded more than 27. Terrorist organization al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack which killed four Americans in an apparent retaliation for the U.S. airstrike last week [Al Jazeera].

Germany’s attorney general said that authorities have arrested three citizens at Frankfurt Airport suspected of being members of al-Shabaab [Wall Street Journal’s Andrea Thomas].

The House committee tasked with investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks will have its first hearing next week. The hearing will focus on the State Department’s Accountability Review Board, responsible for reviewing the government’s security systems abroad [Politico’s Lauren French].

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah declared yesterday that he would reject the results of the UN-brokered election audit, and any government based upon it, insisting that he was the victor of the disputed vote [New York Times’ Rod Nordland].

Cameroon’s army killed “over 100” Boko Haram fighters during an attempted intrusion by the militants across the Nigerian border into its territory, according to a government statement on Monday [Al Jazeera].

Ehab Zahriyeh [Al Jazeera America] explores the “growing pressure” on the Israel-Palestine ceasefire, the terms of which have not been made public and are likely to be challenged by opposing parties.

A leader of the outlawed Muslim brotherhood was sentenced today by an Egyptian court to 20 years in prison for attempting to kill two police officers during the protests last summer [Reuters’ Shadi Bushra].

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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