News Roundup and Notes: January 26, 2015

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

“All options should be on the table” in an AUMF against the Islamic State, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said last week. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff emphasized the importance in flexibility so as not to constrain activities geographically, because the Islamic State does not recognize boundaries. Dempsey added that he did not consider a “sunset clause” to be necessary. [DoD News]

President Bashar al-Assad said that he wishes the U.S. to seek permission from Damascus for airstrikes in Syrian territory against the Islamic State, and emphasized the role of Syrian ground troops in the war against terrorism in the country, during an interview with Foreign Affairs.

U.S. “ambivalence” toward Moscow-led peace talks on Syria demonstrates how the fight against the Islamic State has reduced the pressure on the Syrian president. [Reuters’ Sylvia Westall]  The New York Times editorial board comments on the “shifting realties” in Syria, questioning whether the West might at some point be compelled to work with Assad, as the Islamic State becomes the main threat in the region.

Multiple bombings exploded in commercial areas of Baghdad yesterday, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens more, according to officials. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks. [AP]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and Coalition forces carried out 13 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria, and separately carried out a further 13 on targets in Iraq on Jan. 23. On Jan. 22 the U.S. and Coalition military conducted 12 strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria and separately a further 13 in Iraq. [Central Command: here and here]

The Islamic State executed one of the two Japanese hostages. A video released Saturday purported to show the second hostage, journalist Kenji Goto, holding a photograph of the beheaded body of Haruna Yukawa. [Wall Street Journal’s Matt Bradley and Jun Hongo]  Rather than a ransom, the Islamic State now demands the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman facing the death penalty in Jordan for her role in bombings in 2005. [CNN’s Jethro Mullen and Junko Ogura]

The U.S. will not negotiate with the Islamic State over the release of a Japanese hostage, according to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough speaking on Fox News Sunday. [The Hill’s Tim Devaney]

“Sleeper cells” comprised of former Iraqi police officers and soldiers are tipping off central authorities to Islamic State positions in Mosul, according to a prominent lawmaker speaking with the AP.  Ahmed Rasheed and Ned Parker explore the Islamic State’s efforts to fortify the city of Mosul, indicating the group’s determination to keep a hold on the city captured last June. [Reuters]

The Islamic State recruits and retains its members “through zealotry, rhetoric and obscure theology;” Hassan Hassan describes the training received by new recruits inside Islamic State training camps. [The Guardian]

YEMEN

Thousands of Yemenis took to the streets to protest the Houthi takeover and call for the reinstatement of ousted President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi yesterday. [Asharq Al-Awsat’s Arafat Madabish]  Armed Shi’ite rebels have violently dispersed demonstrators in Sana’a, attacking and detaining those protesting. [AP]

AQAP militants killed a Yemeni soldier and wounded two others when gunmen from the group attacked a military checkpoint in the south of the country today. [Reuters]

The U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism efforts in Yemen despite the ongoing situation in the country, President Obama said on Sunday, rebutting reports from some officials that the U.S. has suspended certain operations in Yemen. [The Hill’s Kyle Balluck]

Yemen’s government “may be the greatest casualty” in the wake of the political crisis facing the country. Amal Mudallali explores the likelihood that a sectarian war in Yemen will serve to strengthen AQAP, “providing it with more recruits among the disaffected Sunni Yemenis who increasingly view the rise of the Houthis as an existential threat.” [Foreign Policy]

The Houthi takeover is “part of broader structure of shifting alliances and warring interests that are now being negotiated behind closed doors,” reports Mona El-Naggar, providing further details. [New York Times]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

The conflict in eastern Ukraine expanded to the outskirts of the city of Mariupol on Saturday; at least 30 people were killed in a missile attack which hit civilians. Neither side is claiming responsibility for the attack. [The Daily Beast’s Anna Nemtsova]  Russia has blamed Kiev for the escalation in violence over the weekend despite mounting evidence that the missile attack was carried out by Russian-backed separatists. [The Guardian’s Shaun Walker]

U.S. and European leaders threatened Moscow with new sanctions following the missile attack in Mariupol, though diplomats said it is not yet clear whether the West is sufficiently unified to agree on major new sanctions against Russia. [Wall Street Journal’s Gregory L. White and Laurence Norman]

Seven Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the past 24 hours, during fighting in separatist eastern territories, according to a Kiev military spokesperson. [Reuters]

GUANTÁNAMO BAY

Some “high-value” detainees have been allowed to make time-delayed video calls with their families, the first such conversations since they were brought to the detention center. [Washington Post’s Julie Tate and Missy Ryan]

Guantánamo detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s recently published diary will not be made available at the prison’s library. [Vice News’ Jason Leopold]  Scott Shane reviews Slahi’s memoir, writing that it compels one to reconsider why the U.S. has “set aside the cherished idea that a timely trial is the best way to determine who deserves to be in prison.” [New York Times]

Hearings in the Abd al Hadi al-Iraqi military commission case are set to resume today. For background, check out Carol Rosenberg’s piece at Miami Herald on the dispute over the touching of the detainee by female guards.

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, AND TECHNOLOGY

Google has handed over the emails and metadata of senior WikiLeaks staff to the government in response to conspiracy and espionage warrants. The warrants reveal the list of alleged offences the government is applying against Julian Assange and other staff. [WikiLeaks]

Surveillance reform appears to have taken a backseat to the cybersecurity agenda, but many believe that NSA reform is required before one of the key cybersecurity proposals on information sharing can pass Congress. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

IRAN

The Iranian foreign minister has been summoned before parliament to explain his recent “diplomatic mistake”—a 15-minute walk with Secretary of State John Kerry during the nuclear negotiations in Geneva earlier this month. [Al Jazeera]

Congress should “have a final say” over any deal with Iran, which could lead to “a nuclear arms race in the Middle East,” according to Sen. Lindsey Graham. [The Hill’s Kyle Balluck]

It is “important” for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “speak to the American people” so as to explain his case against the Iran nuclear negotiations, Senate Armed Services Committee chair John McCain said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” with Bob Schieffer.

The new Saudi ruler is likely to “ratchet up the region-wide conflict” with Iran; Mohamad Bazzi explains why. [Politico Magazine]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A recently released al-Qaeda operative was part of a proposed prisoner swap last year that would have secured the release of two Americans held abroad. The proposed deal involving Ali Saleh Al-Marri raises concerns that the Bergdahl exchange “opened a kind of Pandora’s box,” allowing foreign governments to pressure the U.S. into making such concessions. [The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris and James Kirchick]

The threat of terrorism dominated the Sunday political shows. Sen. John McCain said the administration has “no strategy” to defeat terrorist groups, while White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said that the U.S. will take action “where there is a threat to us.” The Hill offers a wrap-up of the Sunday shows.

An alleged terrorist has been extradited to the U.S. from Canada; Faruq Khalil Muhammed ‘Isa is facing charges related to suicide bombings in Iraq in 2009 which killed five American soldiers. [War on Terrorism’s Raymond Foster]

The leader of the blacklisted group linked to the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks appeared at a demonstration in Karachi, Pakistan, and voiced his criticism of the U.S. and India. The rally was reportedly held to protest the cartoons published by French magazine Charlie Hebdo. [Wall Street Journal’s Syed Shoaib Hasan]

The head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service is stepping down, amid reports of internal wrangling over a reorganization of the service. [The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris]

More than 200 combatants in Nigeria, mainly insurgents, were killed during clashes between troops and suspected Boko Haram extremists after the north-eastern city of Maiduguri was attacked on Sunday. The attacks come as Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria to encourage peaceful elections in mid-February. [AP]  Kerry added a warning to both presidential candidates that U.S. military aid will be contingent upon peaceful and transparent elections. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and Gbenga Akingbule]

The U.S. and India outlined their joint strategic vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, including effective counterterrorism cooperation, following meetings between President Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India. [White House: here and here]

Talks between rival Libyan factions will resume in Geneva today. [UN News Center]  The new round of talks come as gunmen kidnapped the deputy foreign minister of the internationally recognized government, amid increased violence in the country. [Reuters’ Ayman Al-Warfalli and Ulf Laessing]

The fourth anniversary of the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt was marked by the death of at least 18 people during protests. [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