News Roundup and Notes: March 2, 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

Iraq has launched an offensive against the Islamic State aimed at recapturing Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit in Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad. Iraqi troops and Shi’ite militiamen are reported to be advancing into the city, backed by airstrikes, though this has not been confirmed. [BBC]

One of Washington’s most trusted moderate Syrian rebel groups is disbanding. Harakat al-Hazm announced its dissolution on Sunday saying they are joining a larger Islamist insurgent alliance which is distrusted by the U.S, reports Jamie Dettmer. [The Daily Beast]

Syrian opposition forces have rejected a temporary ceasefire proposal in the northern city of Aleppo, suggested by UN envoy Staffan de Mistura. Following talks in Turkey, Aleppo’s Revolutionary Council said it would not accept the ceasefire unless a comprehensive solution to the country’s conflict was proposed, excluding President Bashar al-Assad and his government. [Al Jazeera]

A series of attacks on Shi’ite militia checkpoints and public places in and north of Baghdad left 37 people dead on Saturday; the Islamic State is thought likely to have been behind the attacks. [AP]

The Islamic State has released 19 Assyrian Christians captured by the group last week; the U.S. and coalition forces stepped up strikes in the region where scores of Assyrian Christians were captured, and local Sunni Arab leaders have been mediating the release of the rest. [New York Times’ Hwaida Saad and Anne Bernard]

The revelation of apparently sensitive information by U.S. Central Command concerning the U.S.-led coalition’s plans to retake Mosul created a “perfect storm” with widespread criticism and confusion, report Akbar Shahid Ahmed and Ali Watkins. [Huffington Post]  Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” Secretary of State John Kerry refuted reports that the timeline referred to by a CENTCOM official was accurate, adding that while the operation will take place the details will not be made public.

Australia has banned all travel to the Iraqi city of Mosul, the second Islamic State stronghold to be declared off-limits under new far-reaching counterterrorism laws. [Sydney Morning Herald’s David Wroe]

Speaker John Boehner said that U.S. boots on the ground will be necessary to defeat the Islamic State, emphasizing that the U.S. troops currently stationed in the Middle East providing advice and training do constitute boots on the ground, speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Twitter says it is working alongside law enforcement to investigate threats against the company’s co-founder Jack Dorsey. The alleged threat appeared on an anonymous online website under a logo including the Islamic State flag. [NBC News]

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Washington D.C. on Sunday in advance of his planned Congressional address on the Iran nuclear deal, with both the U.S. and Israel showing last-minute attempts at easing tensions. [Reuters’ Matt Spetalnick and Dan Williams]

Secretary of State John Kerry said that the Israeli prime minister is “welcome to speak in the United States, obviously” and added that “we don’t want to see this turned into some great political football.” [ABC’s “This Week”]  Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein criticized Benjamin Netanyahu for saying that he speaks for all Jews on the Iran issue, stating that he does not speak for her. [CNN’s “State of the Union”]

A senior Israeli official said the Israeli leader will use his address to inform Congress about the details of the Iran deal concessions, stating that “we feel that Congress members are unaware of these details.” [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid]

Senior administration officials sought to counter the Israeli prime minister’s expected criticisms on Friday, but remained vague on important details of the negotiations. [New York Times’ David E. Sanger and Michael R. Gordon]

Around 30 Democrats have boycotted Netanyahu’s speech, but they are only a small fraction of the 232 Democrats in Congress. [Politico’s Lauren French]

Netanyahu’s visit is likely to have sweeping implications for U.S.-Israeli relations, the contours of influence in the Middle East, and for the ongoing negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, report Carol E. Lee and Jay Solomon. [Wall Street Journal]

Netanyahu’s address will “touch off a needed debate” on the Iran deal, argue former Rep. Mike Rogers and Michael Doran, listing five reasons why the Israeli prime minister has made the right decision. [Politico Magazine]

Kerry has become a “driving force” behind the complex nuclear negotiations with Iran, although critics view his eagerness as inviting Iranians to push for further concessions, reports Michael R. Gordon. [New York Times]

The leadership of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee publicly disagreed with the White House over the Iran nuclear diplomacy on Sunday. Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee report on AIPAC’s strategy, which seeks to impose further sanctions on Iran if an agreement is not finalized by late March. [Wall Street Journal]

Iran’s Supreme Leader is “patiently negotiating his way to a bomb,” argues Ray Takeyh, noting that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei realizes that “his most advantageous path to nuclear arms is through an agreement.” [Washington Post]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, and TECHNOLOGY

The administration has worked with the FISC to implement reforms to the bulk metadata program, the White House announced on Friday. According to the statement:

“Now, absent an emergency, the metadata can only be queried after a judicial finding that there is a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the requested selection term is associated with an international terrorist organization approved by the Court.  In addition, query results must be limited to metadata within two ‘hops’ of the selection term instead of three.”

GUANTANAMO BAY 

The Pentagon has revoked its permanent residence order to judges at Guantanamo Bay after the 9/11 case judge froze the proceedings over concerns of unlawful pressure. The judge has now lifted the freeze and the proceedings are reinstated. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

Female prison guards at the detention facility are once again permitted to handle an alleged war criminal while moving him between the prison and legal meetings, after a military judge lifted the restraining order previously imposed. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

Russian opposition leader Boris Y. Nemtsov was shot dead on Friday. Tens of thousands of people gathered in Moscow in his honor yesterday. [New York Times’ Andrew E. Kramer]  Many suspect the Kremlin’s involvement in Nemtsov’s death, which was also mourned by world leaders over the weekend. [Los Angeles Times’ Sergei L. Loiko and Carol J. Williams]

Russia’s liberal opposition has “lost one of its last audible voices” with the murder of Boris Nemtsov; Shaun Walker lists the remaining main opposition figures. [The Guardian]  And Garry Kasparov comments on Vladimir Putin’s “culture of fear and death,” with Boris Nemtsov’s murder offering the latest evidence. [Wall Street Journal]

Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Russian counterpart earlier today in Geneva, amid continuing friction over Ukraine and U.S. calls for a full investigation into Nemtsov’s murder. [AP]

A Ukrainian soldier was killed and four wounded over the past 24 hours in separatist-held eastern territories, says Ukraine’s military. [Reuters]

Private battalions are vital to Ukraine’s war against Russian-backed rebels. Marcin Mamon reports from inside a Chechen-led battalion fighting on the side of Kiev. [The Intercept]

AFGHANISTAN

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will be hosted by President Obama in Washington later this month, as the U.S. considers making changes to the administration’s plan for ending military operations in the country. Ghani and other Afghan officials will partake in a “strategic dialogue” with U.S. officials during the visit, hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry at Camp David. [Washington Post’s Missy Ryan]

Data obtained by The Intercept details the systems used by the U.S. to make amends for damage caused to ordinary Afghans over the course of American military operations in the country, Cora Currier explains.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A U.S. drone strike killed two suspected al-Qaeda militants in southern Yemen today, say tribesmen and witnesses. [AP]

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi backed legislation funding the DHS for one week late Friday, narrowly avoiding a partial government shutdown. [The Hill’s Rebecca Shabad]

Closing arguments at the trial of accused al-Qaeda plotter Abid Naseer will begin today in a New York federal court; Pakistani citizen Naseer is charged with providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy to provide material support and use a destructive device. [Wall Street Journal’s Christopher M. Matthews]

U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno has expressed concern about the impact of cuts to the U.K. defense budget, adding that the cuts are eroding America’s confidence in the British commitment to global security, in an interview with Con Coughlin at The Telegraph.

Foreign governments which send military aid to Libya’s warring factions risk stepping up the flow of weapons to regional terrorist groups, according to a new UN report. [Wall Street Journal’s Benoit Faucon]

Unauthenticated recordings indicate that the U.A.E. gave the Egyptian Defense Ministry money to support protests against former president Mohamed Morsi, indicating a much more active role by the U.A.E. than has been admitted by either party. [New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick]

U.S. immigration officials are moving to deport at least 150 Bosnians residing in the U.S. who are believed to have taken part in war crimes and ethnic cleansing during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. [New York Times’ Eric Lichtblau]

Saudi Arabia has permitted journalists access to one of its high-security prisons; Kevin Sullivan discusses conditions in the prison south of Riyadh, noting that detained terrorists appear to be “showered with perks.” [Washington Post]

Hundreds of South Sudanese boys are thought to have been abducted two weeks ago by an armed group suspected of maintaining ties with the country’s military, according to UNICEF in a statement on Saturday. [AP]

Kenya plans to construct a wall along its border with Somalia; this “separation barrier” is intended to keep out illegal immigrants as well as al-Shabaab militants. Simon Allison questions the efficacy of a physical barrier of this kind. [The Guardian’s Daily Maverick]

North Korea fired two short range missiles off the country’s east coast today, in response to annual military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea. Japan responded by lodging a “stern protest” with North Korea. [Reuters’ Ju-Min Park]

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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