News Roundup and Notes: March 11, 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

Iraqi security forces and allied Shi’ite militia groups reclaimed large parts of Tikrit from the Islamic State yesterday, amid reports that most of the ISIS fighters controlling the city had begun to retreat. [New York Times’ Anne Bernard]

The Islamic State has launched an attack on Kurdish forces in the northeast of Syria, sparking fierce clashes that have killed dozens on both sides, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters]

The Islamic State released a video purporting to show the execution of an Israeli Arab who was abducted as an alleged Israeli spy in Syria three months ago. The video shows East Jerusalem Palestinian Muhammad Musallam speaking about his recruitment and training by Mossad, followed by which he is executed by a young boy. [Haaretz and Reuters]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. military forces carried out four airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on March 9. Separately, U.S. and coalition military forces conducted a further eight strikes in Iraq. [Central Command]

U.S. lawmakers are pushing the White House to allow Jordan to borrow older, surplus U.S. predator drones for the fight against the Islamic State. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes]

Gen. Martin Dempsey urged the Iraqi leadership to ensure the effectiveness of foreign security aid, and raised concerns about the government’s record in securing buy-in from the country’s Sunnis, following a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi. [Washington Post’s Missy Ryan]

Falling oil prices are hindering the Iraqi government’s ability to fight the Islamic State. The country is heading “over a fiscal cliff” as it is unable to make necessary investments in the oil industry and simultaneously cover the “skyrocketing” costs of fighting ISIS, according to officials, reports Bill Spindle. [Wall Street Journal]

The war crimes case against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is much better than those against Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia or Charles Taylor of Liberia, said the U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues. [AP]

Foreign hostages of ISIS were put through numerous mock beheadings and were unaware that they were about to be killed, according to a defector from the group, providing an explanation for why they appear calm during their execution videos. [The Guardian’s Rebecca Ratcliffe]

ISIS has gone about the indoctrination of children systematically, actively recruiting children to send them to training camps and use them in combat and suicide missions, report Jessica Stern and JM Berger. [The Guardian]

Members of the Chinese Muslim Uighur ethnic minority have travelled to join the Islamic State and have returned home to take part in plots in China, according to Chinese officials. [AP]

“The Carnage of Barrel Bombs in Syria.” A Syrian doctor based in Aleppo comments on the reality of these indiscriminate weapons and urges the international community to hold the Syrian government to account for their use. [New York Times]

The AP offers a Q&A on the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq.

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, AND TECHNOLOGY

The CIA has conducted a years-long concerted research project into breaking the security of Apple iPhones and iPads, according to secret documents, report Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley. Researchers have targeted essential security keys used to encrypt data stored on Apple devices, seeking to thwart the company’s efforts to provide mobile security. [The Intercept]

New Zealand’s intelligence agency, GCSB, is spying on some of its strongest trading partners and has obtained sophisticated malware to enable it to infect computers and steal data, according to documents obtained from Edward Snowden. [New Zealand Herald; The Intercept’s Ryan Gallagher]

The CIA assisted the Justice Department in developing technology to scan data on thousands of cellphones. The Wall Street Journal  reported last year on the Justice Department program which uses airborne devices that mimic cell towers to hunt criminal suspects. The same technology is used for tracking terror suspects overseas. [Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett]

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

Sen. Tom Cotton pushed back against criticism of his letter, signed by 46 Republican senators, to the leaders of Iran. Speaking on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” he said: “If Congress doesn’t approve a deal, Congress won’t accept a deal.”

Administration officials expressed concern that hardliners in Iran could use the letter to unravel the progress made toward a comprehensive nuclear deal, even as some officials said a framework of the agreement could be concluded by next week. [Wall Street Journal’s Carol E. Lee]

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the public should be “suspicious of an administration that’s so intent from keeping the elected representatives of the American people out of this deal.” [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]  Republican presidential hopefuls also joined the debate, with Jeb Bush and Gov. Scott Walker expressing support for the GOP letter. [Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe]

The GOP letter makes it easier for Obama to “proceed unilaterally,” writes the Washington Post editorial board, noting that the Republicans have lost their chance to focus on the weaknesses of the emerging Iran deal.

Was the letter to Iran “really unprecedented?” While the GOP letter is unprecedented in terms of “its form and its boldness,” national security policy has always been an aggressive battleground between the White House and Congress, reports Michael Crowley. [Politico]  Peter Baker and Steven Erlanger comment on the clash between “politics and tradition,” noting that the Iran debate highlights how modern presidents have used their executive power to conclude deals with foreign countries. [New York Times]

The president’s “fatal flaw” in the Iran dealings is taking a cooperative rather than a coercive approach to diplomacy, argues Douglas J. Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy. [Wall Street Journal]

The letter to Iran “threatens America’s status as global superpower” and could bring an end to bipartisanship in American foreign policy, writes Leslie H. Gelb. [The Daily Beast]  And Mehdi Khalaji argues that the letter contributes to the atmosphere of mistrust in Tehran, further consolidating the power of Iranian hardliners. [Politico Magazine]

Sen. John McCain said the deal with Iran is a “treaty,” criticizing the administration’s refusal earlier this month to use that term; deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said it is an “agreement that has a specific duration on it.” [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

A leak investigation of a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is being held up due to concerns that a federal prosecution could compel the government to confirm a joint U.S.-Israel cyber-operation targeting Iran’s nuclear program. [Washington Post‘s Ellen Nakashima and Adam Goldman]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

President Obama is resisting mounting pressure to send arms to Ukraine, in part due to fears that a better armed Ukraine may draw a far more forceful response from Moscow, reports Peter Baker. [New York Times]

Russia may be willing to ease the terms of its gas agreement with Ukraine but Kiev must pay for gas being supplied by Moscow to rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine, according to Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak. [Reuters’ Katya Golubkova and Vladimir Soldatkin]

Russia has the right to deploy nuclear weapons in Crimea, according to a Foreign Ministry official today, who added that he knew of no plans to do so. [Reuters]

Britain should provide arms to the Ukrainian government, argues former Ukrainian businessman Alexander Temerko, commenting that “[e]ither we face up to our responsibility or we sleepwalk into a new era of Russian encroachment.” [The Guardian]

“Russia’s endgame in Ukraine.” The New York Times’ Hannah Fairfield et al offer a visual representation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and Russia’s goals moving forward.

HILLARY CLINTON’S PRIVATE EMAILS

Hillary Clinton sought to defend her use of a personal email address during her years as secretary of state. At a news conference yesterday, Clinton said it was out of “convenience,” but admitted it “might have been smarter” to use a government account. The former secretary of state also maintained “there were no security breaches” associated with the use of a private server and that she did not email any classified material. [Washington Post’s Anne Gearan and Philip Rucker]

Clinton said she would not hand over approximately 30,000 emails she considered “personal,” acknowledging for the first time that private emails had been deleted, and ruled out an independent examination of all emails on her personal server. [Politico’s Glenn Thrush and Gabriel Debenedetti]

The State Department said it would take “several months” to review and release emails from Hillary Clinton’s personal account. [The Hill’s David McCabe]  Democrats on the Benghazi House Select Committee have sent a letter to the State Department asking it to prioritize the release of Benghazi-related emails. [The Hill’s Ben Kamisar]

Clinton had “a duty higher than convenience,” writes the Washington Post editorial board, noting that she did not address the security issue at the news conference. The Wall Street Journal editorial board is also critical of yesterday’s conference, which “raised more questions than it answered.”

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Seven Marines and four soldiers are missing after an Army helicopter crashed during an overnight training mission in Florida, a military official said. [Reuters]

The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear an appeal from former Guantanamo Bay detainee Abdul Rahim Abdul Razak al Janko who sued the government for injuries suffered during his seven-year detention. The court affirmed the federal judge’s ruling that Janko was an enemy combatant under federal law and thus unable to sue the government. [AP]

A string of bomb attacks across Afghanistan killed at least 13 people yesterday, including one targeting a police checkpoint in Helmand province, reports the AP.

Libya has quickly become a “new frontier” for the Islamic State, with the Libyan affiliate demonstrating clear coordination with its parent organization, setting it apart from the “wave” of other militant groups who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State across the Arab world, writes David D. Kirkpatrick. [New York Times]  The BBC looks at “who wants what” in Libya, investigating the numerous forces operating in the country.

A teenage girl suicide bomber killed at least 34 people yesterday in a busy market in Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria. No group immediately claimed responsibility but the attack bears the hallmarks of Boko Haram, reports the AP.

Islamist militants targeted an army checkpoint close to the Gaza border in Egypt’s northern Sinai early today, killing an officer, said officials. [AP]

Friction between the U.S. and Venezuela is “making for some fascinating triangular diplomacy” as the U.S. seeks to mend relations with Venezuela’s close ally, Cuba. [Washington Post’s Nick Miroff]

Defense and foreign policy will be dominant in the 2016 presidential campaign, as changing public opinion on issues such as the use of ground troops against the Islamic State will have consequences for politics, writes William A. Galston. [Wall Street Journal]

Rep. Duncan Hunter wrote a letter to FBI Director James Comey accusing his agency and the Defense Department of retaliatory actions against a soldier who he claims was trying to improve efforts to help rescue American citizens held hostage overseas. [The Daily Beast]

Colombian security forces will stop bombing raids against FARC rebels for one month, recognizing a unilateral ceasefire declared by the guerilla fighters, in a major development in Colombia’s peace process. [Al Jazeera]

Special Operations Command’s General Joseph Votel has spoken out about seeking counseling and assistance, urging his forces to similarly get help, as part of the Special Operations Command’s war on suicides. [The Daily Beast’s Kimberly Dozier]

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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