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
A Syrian government airstrike has killed al-Nusra Front’s military commander and three other leaders, the militant group said on social media. [BBC]
Islamic State militants set fire to oil wells on the outskirts of Tikrit in an effort to block the Iraqi offensive to reclaim the city. [Reuters’ Saif Hameed And Dominic Evans] Thousands have reportedly fled the city to escape the fighting, according to the UN. [NPR’s Scott Neuman] Tamer El-Ghobashy reports on the “uneasy alliance” between Iraqi forces and Shi’ite militia as they attempt to retake Tikrit and the surrounding villages. [Wall Street Journal] And Michael Pizzi questions what it means for the U.S. to be taking a backseat in Iraq’s “most important” offensive against the Islamic State to date. [Al Jazeera America]
Iran does “not have forces on the ground in Iraq,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour yesterday. Zarif said that Iranian advisers were assisting the Iraqi government and military. Meanwhile, the New York Times’ Anne Barnard reports on Iran’s growing influence in Iraq, which has been on open display during the Tikrit operation. And the Washington Post editorial board argues that the Tikrit counteroffensive highlights the administration’s “ill-advised dependence on Iran in an under-resourced Iraq strategy.”
ISIS fighters have bulldozed the ancient archaeological site of Nimrud in northern Iraq using military vehicles, less than a week after the group destroyed historic artefacts at the Mosul museum. [NBC News]
At least 46,000 Twitter accounts were used by ISIS supporters from September to December 2014, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution that reviews the militant group’s success on social media. [Time’s Maya Rhodan]
Federal authorities have found no pattern among Americans who wish to join the Islamic State, making the task of curbing terror recruiting more difficult, reports Nicole Hung. [Wall Street Journal]
The U.S. is pressing the UN Security Council to condemn chlorine attacks in Syria, and adopt a resolution that would impose measures in the event of future noncompliance, according to a draft obtained by the New York Times, reports Somini Sengupta.
IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS
Secretary of State John Kerry sought to assure Arab allies yesterday over fears related to the Iran nuclear negotiations, pledging that the U.S. will not “take [its] eye off Iran’s other destabilizing actions” in the Middle East, even if a nuclear deal is concluded. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon]
The Iranian foreign minister said “we are very close” to a nuclear deal, but only if a “political decision can be made to get to yes,” in an interview with NBC News’ Ann Curry. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech had “no effect on the negotiating table.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is delaying a vote on Iran legislation that would allow Congress to review any nuclear agreement with Iran, on account of an expected Democratic filibuster. [Politico’s Burgess Everett and Manu Raju] With backing for the bill now nearing “a veto-proof majority,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes that the administration “must now factor in Senate approval for the terms of any deal.”
While Netanyahu is “wrong” on the Iran nuclear deal, The Economist warns that the world is “entering a new nuclear age” with nuclear strategy serving as the battleground of “rogue regimes and regional foes jostling with the five original nuclear-weapons powers.”
UKRAINE and RUSSIA
Senior House lawmakers are calling for the supply of “lethal aid” to Ukraine, stating in a letter to President Obama that the ceasefire agreement “appears only to have consolidated Russian and separatist gains.” [Politico’s Lauren French]
Two Russian banks controlled by close allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin have been significantly impacted by U.S. sanctions, according to U.S. government records. [Wall Street Journal’s Philip Shishkin]
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
The Palestine Liberation Organisation leadership voted to suspend all security cooperation with Israel yesterday, reports Peter Beaumont. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, with whom the final decision rests, backs the move, sources have told The Guardian.
An attack in central Jerusalem this morning wounded seven people; the attacker drove into a group of border police troops and was subsequently shot. [Haaretz’s Nir Hasson]
HILLARY CLINTON’S PRIVATE EMAILS
A State Department review of Hillary Clinton’s emails for the purpose of public release could disclose whether the former secretary of state violated security protocols by using a private email server, according to a senior department official, who said she had not automatically breached any rules. [Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig et al] However, Josh Gerstein reports that the use of private email was in violation of “clear-cut” State Department policy, as set out in an employee manual and which was relied upon to criticize a U.S. ambassador in 2012 for using private email for official government business. [Politico] An internal 2011 department cable bearing Clinton’s signature also tells employees not to use personal email accounts for security reasons, Catherine Herridge reports. [Fox News]
The email revelations suggest that “Congress’s entire investigation of Benghazi has been based on an incomplete record,” argues Kimberley A. Strassel in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights critiques world powers. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein presented his report for 2014 to the Human Rights Council, stating that the “fight against terror is a struggle to uphold the values of democracy and human rights–not undermine them.” [New York Times’ Nick Cumming-Bruce; UN News Centre]
The White House position on al-Qaeda’s decline is contradicted by documents obtained in the 2011 Osama bin Laden raid; Stephen F. Hayes and Thomas Joscelyn call for the documents to be made public in an op-ed at the Wall Street Journal.
A report of the ODNI concludes that some Guantanamo detainees “will seek to reengage in terrorist or insurgent activities after they are transferred,” noting that some will do so “regardless of any transfer conditions.” [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s cybersecurity bill could be pushed back until April, with delays reportedly due to White House concerns over the bill’s privacy provisions. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]
UN-brokered peace talks on Libya are being held in Morocco, even as the conflict continues on the ground. [Al Jazeera]
Suspected Boko Haram militants killed 68 people in the Nigerian village of Njaba, burning down the village after their attack. [CNN’s Aminu Abubakar]
Pakistan’s assistance in Afghan peace efforts with the Taliban is “critical,” and countries including the U.S. and China should support this process, writes The Economist.
American support for Chad should be carefully considered in light of the country’s history of “meddling in regional conflicts,” argues Hilary Matfess. [Al Jazeera America]
The attack on the U.S. ambassador to South Korea is prompting questions over his security arrangements in Seoul, reports the AP.
The second day of proceedings at the Boston Marathon bombing trial involved “graphic and grueling” testimony, NPR’s Tovia Smith reports.
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