News Roundup and Notes: March 5, 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’s military campaign to retake Tikrit from the Islamic State will not have the support of American airstrikes, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said yesterday. [The Hill’s Mark Hensch]  The operation in Tikrit exemplifies Iran’s increasingly important role on the battlefield in the war in Iraq against the Islamic State, Thaier Al-Sudani reports for Reuters.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said he would not have included a three-year sunset clause in the authorization for military force against the Islamic State proposed by President Obama, and attributed its inclusion to the “political calendar” in the U.S. [The Hill’s Martin Matishak]

Syrian opposition rebels, led by the Nusra Front, attacked the offices of the government Air Force Intelligence branch in the Zahra district of Aleppo, according to monitor bodies, reports the AP.

The collapse of the U.S.-trusted Syrian opposition group Hazzm highlights the failed attempts to unify Arab and Western backing for mainstream rebels fighting the Syrian regime. The dissolution of the group also underlines the risk the Defense Department is facing in training and equipping rebels. [Reuters’ Dasha Afanasieva and Sylvia Westall]

The operation to retake Mosul from the Islamic State will be “planned, timed and executed by Iraqis,” said the country’s defense minister, underscoring Iraq’s determination to be in control of the timetable and strategy to drive back the terrorist group. [New York Times’ Anne Bernard]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. military forces carried out three airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria on March 3. Separately, U.S. and partner military forces conducted a further nine strikes in Iraq. [Central Command]

Syrian opposition began posting some 4,000 photographs of detainees who have perished in the prisons of the Assad regime in order for families to assist in identifying the victims and potentially serve as plaintiffs should war crimes cases ever be filed in courts in Europe and the U.S. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon]

Iran is “flex[ing] new clout” beyond its borders, changing its stance from a “behind the scenes” supporter of allied proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas, to openly directing militias fighting the Islamic State and in Yemen, reports Bill Spindle. [Wall Street Journal]  “[A] startling paradox has emerged,” as President Obama is increasingly dependent upon Iranian fighters in the efforts to contain ISIS without U.S. ground troops, at a time when the president is under increasing congressional pressure to reign in Iran’s nuclear capabilities, reports Helene Cooper. [New York Times]

A Californian man has been charged with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State. Adam Dandach was arrested last July on passport fraud charges. [Wall Street Journal’s John R. Emshwiller]  And a teenager from Virginia has been charged with assisting a man in traveling to Syria and joining the Islamic State. [The Hill’s Elliot Smilowitz]

Yarmouk, a refugee camp for Palestinians in Damascus has “become the worst place on earth;” Jonathan Steele discusses the plight of the residents of this besieged district in the Syrian capital. [The Guardian]

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

“Simply demanding that Iran capitulate” is not a viable plan, Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday, wrapping up three days of negotiations with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Jawad Zarif. Kerry maintained that “external factors or politics” would not derail a possible agreement, which he said would “significantly increase [Iran’s] breakout time.” [Reuters’ Arshad Mohammed]

Kerry has arrived in Saudi Arabia in an effort to ease Gulf fears over a potential deal with Iran and to discuss how to tackle instability in Yemen. [Al Jazeera]

The negotiations are closing in on a one-year breakout demand which, if agreed upon, could pave the path to a comprehensive agreement in the coming weeks, according to those familiar with the negotiations. [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman]

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is moving ahead with a vote on Iran legislation, despite filibuster threats from Democrat supporters of the bill who are objecting to McConnell’s timing. [Politico’s Burgess Everett]

What the Israeli prime minister chose to omit from Tuesday’s address signals a shift in position on Iran. Benjamin Netanyahu did not reference “zero” capability, as he has in the past, which suggests he would now accept modest nuclear capability, reports Peter Baker. [New York Times]

The Wall Street Journal editorial board criticizes Nancy Pelosi’s reaction to Netanyahu’s speech, noting the House Minority Leader’s “rather different reaction” following a meeting with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in 2007.

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

Violence in the east of Ukraine is easing between government forces and Russian-backed separatists, but the status of the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front lines is unclear, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. [Wall Street Journal’s Nick Shchetko]

The U.S. considers Russia’s military actions in eastern Ukraine to constitute an “invasion,” a senior State Department official said yesterday, a surprising public acknowledgement as American officials have carefully avoided using such language in the past. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

The U.S. military commander in Europe, Lt-Gen Frederick Hodges, accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to destroy NATO, stating that Russia may attempt to use the “hybrid warfare” seen in eastern Ukraine as a way of testing the military alliance, reports Justin Huggler. [The Telegraph]

One Ukrainian soldier has been killed and another wounded in the past 24 hours during fighting with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, according to a military spokesperson. [Reuters]

LIBYA

Libya has declared a force majeure in relation to 11 oil fields, following a series of attacks by suspected Islamic State militants; the statement posted on the government’s website said it was no longer capable of ensuring security in the fields. [Wall Street Journal’s Benoit Faucon and Summer Said]

Libya has also made an urgent appeal to the UN Security Council to lift an arms embargo or to permit exemptions so that the country’s military can fight the Islamic State, reports the AP.

The overall situation in Libya was described as “deteriorating rapidly” amid a mounting terrorist threat and proliferating violence, the UN envoy to the country told the Security Council yesterday. [UN News Centre]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

The arrest of three Israelis suspected of shipping construction material to Gaza has prompted fresh scrutiny of smuggling and supervision of exports in Israel. [The Guardian’s Peter Beaumont]

The longer Israel blocks payments to the Palestinian Authority, the more likely it is that violence will erupt, writes The Economist.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A Federal District Court in Brooklyn convicted Abid Naseer yesterday, the Pakistani man accused of plotting with al-Qaeda to carry out bomb attacks in Britain. The jury found Naseer guilty on all charges, a verdict the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York described as sending a “powerful message” to terrorists. [New York Times’ Stephanie Clifford; AP]  A former British detective said lives were put at risk by a failure to prosecute Naseer in the U.K. [BBC’s Clare Fallon]

The House Benghazi committee issued subpoenas to secure Hillary Clinton’s emails, following revelations that the former secretary of state used a private email account to conduct government business. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein and Lauren French]  Clinton said she wants her emails to be publicly disclosed, and has asked the State Department to review them for release. [New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt and Amy Chozick]  The Washington Post editorial board argues that Clinton’s use of a personal email “reflects poor judgment about a public trust.”

New Zealand is indiscriminately spying on Pacific allies and passing the information on to the U.S. and other “Five Eyes” alliance states, according to documents released by Edward Snowden. [New Zealand Herald’s David Fisher]

The Boston Marathon bombing trial opened on Wednesday with the defense attorney admitting at the outset that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev assisted in the attacks. [CNN’s Ann O’Neill and Mariano Castillo]

David Petraeus’ guilty plea for leaking classified information may have laid “the last foundation-stone in place to take the next step in the public rehabilitation” Petraeus has sought since his resignation from the CIA in 2012, writes Philip Ewing. [Politico]

Lawmakers from both parties expressed doubt that a new deal will be made on removing spending caps limiting Department of Defense expenditure; the two-year deal allowing higher Pentagon spending has expired. [The Hill’s Martin Matishak]

U.S. ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert was attacked by a man with a knife during a meeting in Seoul but is in stable condition. [The Daily Beast’s Lennox Samuels]

Anti-terror efforts are focusing on shopping mall kiosks, following on from the arrest of suspected terrorism financier Abror Habibov who worked at mall kiosks as well as the threat against malls issued recently by al-Shabaab. [The Inquirer’s Jeremy Roebuck and Dylan Purcell]

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is still being investigated by the FBI more than five years after the website’s first publication, according to a U.S. District Court. [Sydney Morning Herald’s Philip Dorling]

Iranian special operatives have freed an Iranian diplomat abducted in Yemen over 19 months ago, said Iran today in a rare acknowledgement of an Iranian intelligence operation abroad. [AP]

The news stories published yesterday reporting that Edward Snowden wants to come home are “egregious case studies” in the U.S. media’s routine dissemination of misleading stories and “outright falsehoods in the most authoritative tones,” writes Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept.

The Economist considers the ongoing debate about the role of the Muslim community in countering jihadist ideology, and asks whether it will make a difference to the proliferation of extremist views and violence.

North Korea’s nuclear program and the increased capacity of its missiles is of great concern to the U.S., the American mission to the International Organizations in Vienna said in a statement, a day after North Korea claimed it had the power to preemptively deter a U.S. nuclear threat. [Reuters’ David Brunnstrom and Shadia Nasralla]

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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