Iraq and Syria

The United States began its expanded campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq on Monday night, conducting an airstrike that took out an ISIS fighting position near Sinjar, southwest of Baghdad [Central Command] [BBC].

Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday night that the Obama administration is open to talks with Iran on the crisis in Iraq, despite Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s angry statement rejecting discussions with the U.S. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon and Thomas Erdbrink].

The U.S.-led coalition of 30 countries, who gathered in Paris yesterday to discuss their strategy, said that they would fight ISIS “by any means necessary” [Al Jazeera].

U.K. Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond said yesterday that the U.K. will play a “leading” role in the coalition but that it has not yet decided how it would best contribute [Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Winning].

The Wall Street Journal (Stacy Meichtry et al) discusses the sectarian friction between Arab states at the Paris meeting, and Russian concern over strikes against Syria without the regime’s consent.

House Republicans will today try and convince skeptical members of their plan to grant President Obama’s request for the authority to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels, with conditions [The Hill; Reuters]. The proposal can be read here.

The New York Times editorial board cautions Congress against hiding the Syrian aid vote as an amendment to the spending bill, suggesting that it will force lawmakers to “choose between paying for the rebels and shutting down the government.”

Fox News reports that U.S. officials said yesterday that should the Assad regime go after American planes conducting airstrikes in Syria that the U.S. would retaliate.

NATO’s Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said yesterday that military intervention against the Islamic State could be justified on the basis of preventing a campaign “pretty close to genocide” [Reuters’ Adrian Croft].

The UN is withdrawing many of its peacekeepers from the Golan Heights over safety concerns about further attacks or mass abductions.

The U.S. is making concerted efforts on the ground in Iraq to find Sunni allies, but “talking to insurgent groups who killed U.S. troops will be contentious in the United States as well in Iraq” [Reuters’ Oliver Holmes et al].

Foreign Policy (Shane Harris and John Hudson) tackle the opaque language used by the Obama administration concerning U.S. policy toward the Assad regime in Syria, focusing on the confusion around Secretary of State John Kerry’s use of the words “deconflict” and “coordinate.”

The Washington Post editorial board describes President Obama’s coalition against the Islamic State as “underpowered,” arguing that “in the end the Islamic State will have to be defeated on the battlefield.”

Josh Rogin [The Daily Beast] writes that the Obama administration lacks any justification in international law for its proposed airstrikes in Syria, pointing out that nothing has been said about why Syrian airstrikes could not violate international law on armed conflict.

Ukraine and Russia

The Ukrainian parliament is set to ratify a “landmark” European Union associated deal, on what President Petro Poroshenko described as an “historic day” [BBC].

President Poroshenko yesterday put forward a number of significant concessions, including offering a “special status” to the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk for three years, in the hopes of ending the pro-Russian separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine [New York Times’ Neil MacFarquhar and Carlotta Gall].

Fighting broke out in the rebel-held city of Donetsk again yesterday, putting further strain on the 10-day-old ceasefire between the government and pro-Russian separatists [Reuters’ Richard Balmforth].

Former Russian finance minister, Alexi Kudrin, said today that the Russian government will be unable to support all state companies who have come under pressure due to Western sanctions [Reuters]. Conversely, the Wall Street Journal (Alexander Kolyandr and Andrey Ostroukh) reports that the Russian government said it planned to create a multibillion dollar emergency fund to support companies challenged by Western sanctions, indicating the country is preparing itself for an extended period of economic isolation.

NATO Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove, speaking at the Atlantic Council yesterday, said that if Russia attempts any further stealth invasions in NATO allied countries along its border, it would risk invoking Article 5 of NATO’s charter [The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake].

Russia said today that any weapons delivered by NATO to assist Ukraine would be “abet[ting] war crimes that are being committed” in eastern Ukraine [Reuters].

Candidates loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin dominated governor elections in Russia held Sunday, winning in each of the 30 regions which held elections [New York Times’ David M. Herszenhorn].


A Taliban suicide bomb this morning in Kabul, Afghanistan, killed at least three NATO soldiers when the bomber attacked a foreign military convoy [BBC]. 16 civilians were injured, though none killed.

Yaroslav Trofimov [Wall Street Journal] questions the allegiances of the Afghan army, drawing parallels with the divided loyalties apparent in the U.S.-trained Iraqi army.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit yesterday denied a motion to allow hearings on the legality of the NSA’s mass collection of information from being televised [Politico’s Josh Gerstein].

During a raid on Saturday conducted with U.S. assistance, Ugandan forces seized suicide vests and improvised explosive devices as they foiled a coordinated terror threat from a suspected al-Shaabab terror cell in Kampala [Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Bariyo].

A roadside bomb in the northern Sinai, Egypt, killed six policemen early today [Reuters].

The Long War Journal (Bill Roggio and Oren Adaki) writes that jihadists thought to be connected with al-Qaeda’s senior leadership have reported on Twitter that a paramilitary commander and propagandist of the group in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region were killed in airstrikes earlier this year.

Al-Qaeda official, Abu Sulayman al Muhajir, tweeted in support of the Islamic State in recent days, in posts similar to those put out by AQIM, Boko Haram and AQAP [Long War Journal’s Caleb Weiss].

Four airstrikes were conducted on Monday near Tripoli, Libya, by unidentified aircraft which were ostensibly aimed at militias [Associated Press].

Reuters reports that Qatar has denied allegations made by the Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni that it sent weapons to an airport in Tripoli which was under the control of a militant opposition group.

Members of an elite military intelligence unit have been described as “criminal” by Israeli leaders for refusing to spy on Palestinians [Al Jazeera America’s Renee Lewis].

An Iraqi detainee at Guantánamo Bay has been appointed a Marine lawyer who was part of the U.S. invasion of Iraqi in 2003 as his new defense counsel [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].