News Roundup and Notes: November 17, 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.


The U.S. is speeding up the training of Iraqi security forces, with plans to open four training bases in Iraq after Congress approves funding for the deployment of the additional 1,500 American troops, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has confirmed. In the meantime, U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Lloyd Austin is considering reassigning special operations forces already in Iraq to begin the training early. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes]

U.S. troops have begun advising Iraqi forces in Anbar province. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that a small number of American advisers are now in the Ain al-Asad air base in the western Iraqi province which is largely under Islamic State control. [Reuters’ Phil Stewart]

The Islamic State has begun withdrawing from the area around the Baiji oil refinery in the north of Iraq; a retreat which, if completed, would mark a significant victory for pro-government forces. [Washington Post’s Erin Cunningham]

Islamic State militants have beheaded U.S. aid worker, Peter KassigPresident Obama confirmed the death of Kassig, also known as Abdul-Rahman, in a statement released yesterday, describing his murder as “an act of pure evil.”

The footage, showing Kassig’s severed head, was notably different from the group’s previous “slickly produced” videos. [New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi]  Martin Chulov suggests that the footage of Kassig’s death masks a series of defeats and setbacks being faced by the Islamic State, and that the video was intended to make a statement. [The Guardian]

A British medical student is believed to have been among the Islamic State jihadists shown in the footage of Kassig’s murder, according to a father who says one of the men appears to be his son. [Reuters]

An Islamic State car bomb exploded close to Baghdad’s international airport yesterday, wounding five people, according to security officials. [Reuters]

Islamic State fighters have been seizing international humanitarian aid intended for Syria’s most needy, redistributing it under their black flag, according to aid workers based in areas controlled by the group. [Wall Street Journal’s Maria Abi-Habib]

The U.S.-led coalition continued airstrikes in Iraq and Syria last Wednesday-Friday. U.S. and partner nations carried out 19 airstrikes against Islamic State targets and the U.S. carried out one airstrike against the Khorasan Group in Syria. American forces and partner nations conducted a further 16 airstrikes in Iraq. [Central Command]

Coalition airstrikes in Syria risk deepening tensions between Sunni and Shi’ite populations in the Middle East, as Sunni Muslims increasingly view the campaign as biased against efforts within Syria to topple the Assad regime, according to Qatar’s Foreign Minister speaking yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon]

Congress should vote “now” on authorization for the battle against ISIS, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Durbin said the bill should put “a timeframe and some limitations on what we’re doing in the Middle East.” [The Hill’s Peter Sullivan]

The “five principles” that should govern any new authorization of force are outlined by Jack Goldsmith, Ryan Goodman, and Steve Vladeck in an op-ed in the Washington Post.

Leila Fadel explores the ethnic and sectarian divisions between Arabs and Kurds in the city of Zumar, northern Iraq, where fierce fighting against the Islamic State has deepened splits. [NPR]

Separating fact from fiction in news reporting on the Syria and Ukraine wars is increasingly difficult, write Christopher Dickey and Anna Nemtsova. [The Daily Beast]


Russian President Vladimir Putin left the G-20 summit in Australia early, following significant criticism from Western leaders over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine. President Obama accused Russia of failing to abide “by the spirit or the letter” of September’s ceasefire agreement. Obama also stressed that one of the “core international principles” is:

“[Y]ou don’t invade other countries or finance proxies and support them in ways that break up a country that has mechanisms for democratic elections.”

The Washington Post (Karoun Demirijian) provides more details. Meanwhile, Putin blamed both sides in Ukraine for violating the ceasefire deal. [AP]

The EU may impose further sanctions against separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, in response to this month’s “illegal election,” but will hold off on additional sanctions on Russia’s economic sectors. [Bloomberg News’ James G. Neuger]

Heavy shelling hit the rebel stronghold of Donetsk on Sunday, while three officers from Ukraine’s special forces were killed in the separatist Luhansk region after rebels attempted to break into Kiev-controlled territory. [Reuters]

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has ordered state institutions and banking services to close in separatist regions in the east, further cutting links with territory held by the rebels. [Washington Post’s Alessandra Prentice and Pavel Polityuk]

The New York Times“Room for Debate” questions whether the U.S. and Russia should continue cooperation on nuclear security despite the growing dispute over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board comments on the Kremlin’s “aggressive media effort” to advance its “signature blend of propaganda and tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorizing.”

Chrystia Freeland considers Putin’s efforts to “erect a new Iron Curtain,” but stresses the positive lessons that have been learned since the fall of the Berlin Wall. [Politico Magazine]


The State Department announced a breach of its computer systems on Sunday, the fourth agency to announce such a breach in recent weeks; the breach did not affect the department’s classified systems [New York Times’ Nichole Perlroth]

NSA reform will face its “biggest test” to date, with Sen. Patrick Leahy’s USA Freedom Act likely to face opposition from both sides as it heads to the Senate floor this week. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]


Iran and the P5 +1 are meeting this week in Vienna for “the last stretch of marathon negotiations” on a comprehensive nuclear accord. A collapse in negotiations could have “serious and rapid” consequences, making it likely that if complete agreement is not reached by the Nov. 24 deadline, parties will wish to extend the talks. [The Guardian’s Julian Borger]

An “array of opposing factors” challenges the creation of a comprehensive nuclear pact, and even if a deal is reached “it will be the beginning of an argument, rather than the end of one,” report David E. Sanger et al. [New York Times]


An EU sanctions document suggests recalling ambassadors if Israel advances settlement construction in sensitive areas. According to diplomats, the document includes two chapters of “sticks” that can be employed against Israel, and a chapter of “carrots” to offer Palestine. [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is pushing ahead with a Jewish nation-state bill, likely to further complicate the shaky relations with Arab-Israelis and Palestinians. Earlier on Sunday, an Israeli man was reportedly stabled by a Palestinian in Jerusalem. [AP]

A Palestinian bus driver has been found hanged inside a Jerusalem bus today, in an incident described as suicide by Israeli authorities, while the man’s family believe it to have been an attack. [Reuters’ Ali Sawafta]

Israeli border forces along the Gaza Strip shot and wounded a Palestinian boy yesterday, according to the military. [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner]

William Booth and Ruth Eglash report how protest in Jerusalem is being driven by Palestinian teens, leading some to describe the unrest as a “Children’s Intifada.” [Washington Post]


The Nigerian military has retaken the northeastern town of Chibok, from where Boko Haram kidnapped close to 300 schoolgirls in April. [Wall Street Journal’s Drew Hinshaw and Gbenga Akingbule]  A female suicide bomber killed 13 people in the country’s northeast on Sunday. [Al Jazeera]  And an influential Muslim leader has called Nigerians to arms against Boko Haram, stating that soldiers will not be able to protect them from “terrorists.” [BBC]

A suicide bomb attack in Kabul targeting a prominent Afghan women’s rights advocate and member of Parliament killed three people and wounded 32 others yesterday. [New York Times’ Joseph Goldstein]  Matt Trevithick and Daniel Seckman explore Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, “once the most violent part of the Afghan war.” [The Daily Beast]

Sudan has refused the UN access to a village in Darfur to investigate allegations of mass rape for the second time this month, claiming it was skeptical of the agenda driving the visit. [Reuters]

John Lloyd discusses the regime of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, arguing: “the United States must again set aside its ideals in favor of realpolitik.” [Reuters]  Sara Khorshid describes the reality of “Egypt’s new police state,” suggesting that the situation in the country is worse than under Hosni Mubarak and more akin to the brutal and suppressive regime in the 1960s. [New York Times]

The U.K. secret terror trial has found Erol Incedal guilty of possessing a bomb-making document.  [BBC]

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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