News Roundup and Notes: March 13, 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

The battle for Tikrit. Iraqi government forces and allied Shi’ite militia have advanced into Tikrit on a number of fronts, pushing the Islamic State back into the city center. [BBC]  Religious overtones to the fight are raising concerns, as Shi’ite fighters claim they are engaged in a holy war against Sunni extremists for control of their territory. [Wall Street Journal’s Tamer el-Ghobashy and Maria Abi-Habib]

The U.S. has repeatedly warned Iraqi leaders about the misconduct of the Iraqi military and allied militias; the Iraqi government says it has launched an investigation into allegations of atrocities committed by some troops. [ABC News’ James Gordon Meek et al]  Shi’ite militias in Iraq are responsible for a large amount of brutal imagery of executions and assaults online, intended to outdo those of the Islamic State, reports Jeff Seldin. [Voa News’]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and Coalition military forces carried out 13 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq between 8am March 11 and 8am March 12. [Central Command]

American airstrikes are helping Iran advance against ISIS in Iraq in what amounts to a “perilous, yet unspoken, military alliance” between the two countries, reports Nancy A. Youssef. [The Daily Beast]

How far will President Obama go in the fight against the Islamic State, asks Tom McCarthy, looking at plans and potential future U.S. involvement in efforts to defeat the group. [The Guardian]

The Islamic State could infiltrate the U.S. through the Caribbean and South America, warned Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, chief of U.S. Southern Command, yesterday. [Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe]

The Islamic State has accepted a pledge of allegiance by Boko Haram, an ISIS spokesman said yesterday. [AP]

“How ISIS ate Al Qaeda.” Olivier Guitta discusses the group’s global expansion and how al-Qaeda is “now on the road to oblivion or absorption by smarter, more aggressive competitors.” [The Daily Beast]

Spanish forces arrested eight suspected Islamist militants during a dawn raid today who were plotting attacks in Spain and were recruiting fighters for the fight in Iraq and Syria, according to the Interior Ministry. [Reuters]  Itxu Diaz describes Spain as the Islamic State’s “White Whale” and looks at the likelihood it could be a primary target for an attack. [The Daily Beast]

A man suspected of assisting three British girls travel to Syria to join the Islamic State has been arrested in Turkey. Turkey’s foreign minister said the man was an intelligence agent working for one of the members of the U.S.-led coalition against the militant group. [The Guardian’s Matthew Taylor]

Up to 32 Indonesian citizens have been arrested in Turkey or gone missing after being suspected of attempting to travel to join the Islamic State in Syria. [Reuters]

The Syrian conflict has damaged the reputation of the United Nations, as it has on the whole been unable to provide a path out of the four year war, reports Somini Sengupta. [New York Times]

There is a growing divergence between who the U.S. and Israel perceive as the greater danger in the Syrian conflict, and who should be seen “if not as an ally, at least as a lesser evil in the regional crisis,” writes Yaroslav Trofimov. [Wall Street Journal]

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

The P5+1 have begun discussions on a UN Security Council resolution to lift UN sanctions on Iran if a nuclear deal is concluded, a move that will make it harder for Congress to unravel any potential agreement with Iran, reports Louis Charbonneau [Reuters]  Tim Mak explains how any such move will turn “an already ugly political fight over the negotiations even nastier.” [The Daily Beast]

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker wrote to President Obama following the reports, saying that seeking UN endorsement without congressional approval would be a “a direct affront to the American people and seeks to undermine Congress’s appropriate role.” [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon and David E. Sanger]

The U.S. has “no intention of converting U.S. political commitments … into legally binding obligations through a UN Security Council resolution,” the National Security Council spokesperson said yesterday. [BuzzFeed’s Hayes Brown]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, and TECHNOLOGY

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act is a “surveillance bill by another name,” and does not contain effective privacy safeguards, Sen. Ron Wyden said in a statement after the Senate Intelligence Committee passed the cybersecurity measure yesterday. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett and Elise Viebeck]  Wired’s Andy Greenberg outlines the privacy concerns surrounding the bill.

The U.K. report from the Intelligence and Security Committee paves the way for a “snooper’s charter,” writes Alan Travis, who explains the significance and shortcomings of the report. [The Guardian]

SECRET SERVICE CONTROVERSY

The two Secret Service agents embroiled in the agency’s latest scandal drove through an active bomb investigation when they struck a White House security barricade while suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol. [Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig and Peter Hermann]

Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy has President Obama’s “full confidence” despite the incident, a White House spokesperson said yesterday. [Politico’s David Nather]  The Washington Post editorial board questions whether the president is regretting the appointment of Clancy, and emphasizes the need for deep change in the agency.

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

The OSCE will extend its monitoring mission to Ukraine which could involve doubling its size to 1,000 observers if necessary.

The International Monetary Fund’s bailout of Ukraine is based on the shaky ceasefire holding in the country’s east, IMF officials said yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Ian Talley]

Villagers in eastern Ukraine said they saw a missile flying overhead immediately before the Malaysian Airlines flight was shot down, which further suggests that the missile was launched from separatist-held territory. [Reuters]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A U.S. drone strike in Somalia yesterday is thought to have killed a senior al-Shabaab member, suspected of helping plot the 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya. [AP’s Tom Odula]  Gunmen attacked the headquarters of the state government in Baidoa, Somalia, yesterday, killing at least four government soldiers and two civilians. No group has claimed responsibility as yet but the attack bears the hallmarks of al-Shabaab. [AP]

Defense lawyers in the 9/11 death penalty case at Guantanamo Bay are requesting that the judge disqualify a senior Pentagon official along with his staff over a policy requiring judges to live permanently at the U.S. naval base. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

The UN special envoy to Yemen has warned that the country faces civil war, and could spiral into a situation like Syria, Libya or Iraq if no peaceful solution is found through talks. [Al Jazeera]  And al-Qaeda in Yemen, AQAP, has launched a new media strategy including providing real time reports on sensitive U.S. counterterrorism operations in the country. [Wall Street Journal’s Maria Abi-Habib]

The regional military campaign against Boko Haram has been boosted by mercenaries from South Africa and other nations who are taking on an important role in the fight, according to senior officials in the region. [New York Times’ Adam Nossiter]

The State Department could face a number of demands to reopen FOIA requests in the wake of revelations that Hillary Clinton used a private email account during her tenure as secretary of state. Yesterday, the State Department said it did not oppose Judicial Watch’s request to reopen a FOIA lawsuit over records about one of Clinton’s top aides. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]

Swedish prosecutors have requested to question WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London where he has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy, a possible breakthrough in the case which has had limited development for years. [Reuters]

Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch currently has the bare minimum number of votes to succeed Eric Holder, indicating an unexpected confirmation battle, reports Seung Min Kim. [Politico]

A number of Pentagon teachers have come under fire for suspected involvement in killings and other crimes in Latin America, prompting concern over their presence in the United States. [Center for Public Integrity’s Julia Harte and R. Jeffrey Smith]

Three Pakistani militant groups have joined forces, with two groups merging with the Pakistani Taliban, potentially strengthening the Taliban’s ability to resist a government military campaign. [Wall Street Journal’s Saeed Shah and Safdar Dawar]

The “expansion and entrenchment” of Jewish settlements in the West Bank threaten the chances of a two-state solution to the conflict, write Jodi Rudoren and Jeremy Ashkenas. [New York Times]

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has paid tribute to British soldiers who died fighting in the country, ahead of a service marking the conclusion of U.K. involvement in the conflict. [BBC]

The Former El Salvadorian defense minister can be deported from the U.S. to be prosecuted for participating in or concealing torture and murder by his troops during the civil war in the 1980s, a decision of significance for human rights precedent, reports Julia Preston. [New York Times]

North Korea fired seven missiles off its east coast yesterday evening, said South Korean officials, the latest missile test coinciding with joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea. [New York Times’ Choe Sang-Hun]

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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