News Roundup and Notes: September 10, 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

President Obama has told congressional leaders that he has the necessary authority to conduct an expanded operation against the Islamic State, the details of which will be set out in his address to the nation tonight [Reuters’ Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Wall Street Journal’s Michael R. Crittenden]. The Washington Post (Juliet Eilperin and David Nakamura) reports that the president is ready to carry out airstrikes in Syria as part of the expanding campaign, which he does not believe requires congressional approval, according to those who have spoken with Obama. And Politico (Manu Raju and John Bresnahan) has learned that the White House is circulating a proposal seeking new authority to equip and train moderate Syrian rebels.

Ahead of the congressional briefing, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said that Obama “should be seeking congressional approval, period, for whatever he decides to do” [The Hill’s Alexander Bolton].

The New York Times (Mark Landler and Jonathan Weisman) considers the number of challenges still facing Obama, as he plans how to take the fight against the Islamic State “into new and unpredictable terrain” in Syria.

The U.S. military continues to carry out airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq, conducting five airstrikes on Monday and Tuesday in support of operations protecting the Haditha Dam [Central Command].

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived this morning in Baghdad as he begins a tour of the Middle East intended to build support for an international coalition against the Islamic State [Reuters’ Jason Szep]. The U.S., along with European allies, is ramping up efforts to cut off funding reaching the militant group, including blocking oil revenues, in a campaign heavily dependent on the cooperation of allies in the Middle East [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon]. The U.S. has also requested that China support its efforts to form a coalition against the Islamic State, after a visit to Beijing by National Security Advisor Susan Rice [Wall Street Journal’s Jeremy Page].

The first consignment of U.K. arms to be supplied to Kurdish forces in northern Iraq is expected to arrive today, the first time the country has directly supplied arms to the Peshmerga [Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Winning]. Joe Parkinson [Wall Street Journal] discusses the surge in Kurdish patriotism, as Iraqi Kurdish forces face the Islamic State along a 600 mile border.

The leader of a Syrian hardline Islamist rebel group, part of the Islamic Front, has been killed in a suicide attack in the town of Ram Hamdan. The death is a serious blow to the rebel movement against the Assad regime [BBC].

The Washington Post (Liz Sly) reports on the uncertainty faced by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as the U.S. “snubs” his attempts to forge a partnership, while the Islamic State retains a hold on significant tracts of land.

The release of 45 Fijian UN peacekeepers captured in Syria’s Golan Heights is wrought with confusion as the government and military appear to have received different information regarding negotiations for their release [BBC].

The White House has said that initial intelligence regarding the beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff does not support rumors that he was handed over to ISIS by moderate rebels in Syria, contrary to the belief of the Sotloff family [The Hill‘s Justin Sink]. The Sotloff family spokesperson criticized the Obama administration in an interview on Monday, saying that it “could have done more” to save the journalist’s life [Politico’s Jonathan Topaz].

The Wall Street Journal editorial board argues that “the mere fact that Mr. Obama feels obliged to send Americans to fight again in Iraq acknowledges the failure of his foreign policy” and writes that “Dick Cheney was right all along.”

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll suggests that two-thirds of the American public believe confronting the Islamic State to be in the country’s national interest.

Kevin McDonald [The Guardian] posits that the Islamic State is not a “medieval” return to the origins of Islam, but rather a  “modern, anti-traditional ideology” which owes much to “western political history and culture.”

Tim Arango [New York Times] discusses how the threat posed by ISIS has forced longtime rivals within Iraq to cooperate against the common enemy, a “powerful symbol” of how much ISIS has, at least temporarily, reordered the region.

Australian authorities arrested two individuals today on suspicion of preparing to travel and join Islamists in Syria, as national security officials said that the country may raise its terrorism threat level [Associated Press].

Christopher Dickey [Daily Beast] writes about a French jihadist, considered the epitome of an ISIS terrorist: “not very smart, not very religious, certainly sadistic, [and] hugely egotistical.”

Russia and Ukraine

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said this morning that he will submit a bill to parliament next week to offer “special status” to rebel areas in eastern Ukraine, but emphasized that the country would remain united [RFE/RL]. The Associated Press notes that Poroshenko’s proposed concessions are “minor” when compared to the requests of the pro-Russian rebels.

Ukraine has asked the European Union to implement its latest proposed sanctions against Russia “without delay,” following a decision by the bloc to hold off on imposing the new measures until it could assess the situation on the ground [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman].

The Washington Post editorial board similarly urges unity among EU members to implement the sanctions that were adopted on Monday.  The Economist proposes stronger action that could be taken by the West against Russia, noting that the sanctions thus far have had “no discernible effect on Mr Putin’s military strategy,” and instead have prompted counter-measures from Moscow.

The New York Times (Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt) reports that despite increased requests for military support from Kiev, the U.S. has so far only pledged limited nonlethal assistance, much of which is yet to arrive in Ukraine.

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Brenda Shaffer suggests that Russia’s “next land grab” is “unfolding” in the South Caucasus, where Moscow appears to be “aggravating a longstanding conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.”

Israel and Palestine

The Associated Press writes that a Palestinian was killed early today by Israeli troops during an arrest raid on a refugee camp in the West Bank.

Four Gaza fishermen were arrested by the Israeli military on Tuesday, in what Palestinian officials called a violation of the ceasefire agreement, and what Israel maintained was a legitimate enforcement of fishing restrictions around the Gaza coast [New York Times’ Fares Akram].

Dimi Reider [Reuters] questions why Israel has chosen now to seize 1,000 acres of land in the West Bank. Isabel Kershner [New York Times] also discusses the land grab, describing it as a “new emblem of an elemental conflict” between Israel and Palestine.

Daniel Estrin [Associated Press] reports that a surge in violence, stoked by this summer’s kidnappings and Gaza conflict, is still plaguing Jerusalem.

Other Developments

The House voted yesterday to condemn President Obama for failing to give Congress 30 days’ notice about the exchange of five Taliban commanders detained at Guantánamo Bay for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl [Politico’s Jeremy Herb]. The Hill (Cristina Marcos) reports that 22 Democrats broke ranks, voting for the resolution condemning the president.

The Associated Press reports that Pakistani airstrikes near the Afghan border have hit three militant hideouts in a Taliban stronghold, killing 35 fighters.

Iran indicated that it was taking steps to subvert Western sanctions on its nuclear energy program, by engaging in talks with Russia, raising further concerns over the round of negotiations scheduled for next week in New York [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone].

Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on the two presidential candidates yesterday to make a deal and prioritize national unity. However, the ceremony Karzai was speaking at collapsed due to discord among the audience [New York Times’ Rod Nordland].

Reuters reports that the son of the ex-President of Nigeria has been wounded in the second day of fierce clashes between Nigerian ground forces and Boko Haram.

China has requested that the United States end its “close-in” aerial and naval military surveillance of the country, asking that the U.S. adopt the “correct” view of the development of the Chinese military [New York Times’ Jane Perlez].

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).

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security