News Roundup and Notes: March 17, 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 Iraqi offensive to retake Tikrit has stalled. Iraqi officials said the mission against the Islamic State had “temporarily stopped,” amid heavy casualties suffered by Iraqi forces and growing calls for U.S.-led airstrikes. [Washington Post’s Loveday Morris]

Iran has sent missiles and advanced rockets to Iraqi troops to assist in the fight to retake Tikrit, according to U.S. intelligence officials, raising concerns over the potential use of weapons that are not precision guided. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt]

A Kurdish Peshmerga commander tells NBC News of the fight against ISIS in northern Iraq, reports Bill Neely.

Syrian government forces have carried out a poison gas attack killing six people in the northwest village of Sarmin in Idlib province, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Syrian military has dismissed the reports as propaganda. [Reuters’ Oliver Holmes and Sylvia Westall]

The Syrian government will decide on taking part in negotiations after seeing “actions,” President Bashar al-Assad has said in response to Secretary of State John Kerry’s comment that the U.S. will have to ultimately negotiate with Syria. [Al Jazeera]

U.S.-led strikes continue. American forces carried out five airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria on March 15. Separately, U.S. and coalition forces conducted 12 airstrikes in Iraq. [Central Command]

U.S. aid to Middle Eastern countries will be necessary to help curb the expansion of groups like the Islamic State, President Obama said during an interview with Vice News’ Shane Smith, citing the need to address the “underlying problem of disaffected Sunnis around the world” even after ISIS is defeated. [The Hill’s Ben Kamisar]

Four years after the Syrian uprising, the administration’s “real policy” is to “wash its hands of Syria” while separately seeking to conclude a nuclear deal with Iran and indirectly coordinating with Tehran to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq, argues the Washington Post editorial board.

DAVID PETRAEUS

Former CIA Director David Petraeus has been consulted by top Obama officials about the fight against the Islamic State—despite his admission that he leaked classified information to his mistress and biographer—the White House said yesterday. [AP]  White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that Petraeus is “legitimately regarded as an expert” on security in Iraq, and therefore it “makes a lot of sense” for officials to consult him. [Politico’s Kendall Breitman]

The New York Times editorial board castigates the Obama administration for the “significant leeway” afforded to senior officials, most notably the former head of the CIA, in the disclosure of classified information. In contrast to the “aggressive prosecution” of other whistle-blowers and leakers, Petraeus has come away “largely unscathed” despite his “extraordinarily poor judgment.”

The lawyer for Stephen Kim, the imprisoned leaker, has demanded his client’s release in light of Petraeus’ plea deal, accusing the government of a “profound double standard.” [The Intercept’s Peter Maass]

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

Nuclear negotiations with Iran resumed yesterday, with Iranian diplomats confronting U.S. officials about last week’s letter to Iranian leaders signed by 47 GOP senators. [AP]  The talks did not result in breakthrough, sources have told Al Jazeera, as the parties seek to reach political agreement by March 31. Discussions intensified this morning, as U.S.-Iran talks continued following a meeting between Iranian officials and European foreign ministers in Brussels yesterday evening. [Reuters’ Lesley Wroughton and Parisa Hafezi]

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee may act on an Iran bill—which would require congressional approval of any nuclear deal concluded with Tehran—as early as March 25, panel chair Bob Corker has said. [Politico’s Burgess Everett and John Bresnahan]

Iranian lawmakers will not undermine a nuclear deal if it has the support of the country’s supreme leader, a top parliamentary official has said, stating that they “don’t have problems like those in the United States.” [AFP]

President Obama has a failing Iran policy, and protocol breaches such as the GOP letter to Iran’s leaders “are the least of our problems,” writes Marc A. Thiessen at the Washington Post.

HILLARY CLINTON’S EMAILS

The House Benghazi committee has granted Hillary Clinton two additional weeks to respond to a subpoena requesting her private emails on Libya and the 2012 Benghazi attacks. [Politico’s Lauren French]

Hillary Clinton’s use of private email is at minimum “a blatant circumvention of the FOIA by someone who unquestionably knows better,” writes Dan Metcalfe, the former official responsible for overseeing the implementation of FOIA for the U.S. government. [Politico Magazine]

Hillary Clinton’s admitted destruction of over 30,000 emails “sure looks like obstruction of justice—a serious violation of the criminal law,” argues Ronald D. Rotunda, exploring the legal implications of her actions. [Wall Street Journal]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, and TECHNOLOGY

Senator Rand Paul said he is against government attempts to prevent Apple and Google from encrypting their phones, presenting himself as a technology policy moderate during an appearance at the South by Southwest Interactive Conference yesterday. [US News’ Tom Risen]

The majority of Americans have done nothing to protect their information from NSA surveillance since the Edward Snowden revelations in 2013, according to a Pew Research Center survey published yesterday. [Washington Post’s Sarah Kaplan]

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

Russia will not hand back Crimea to Ukraine despite threats of continuing sanctions by the U.S. and Europe, said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov today. [Reuters]

Anna Nemtsova writes that since Crimea’s annexation last spring, atrocities including torture by local security agencies “have become routine.” [The Daily Beast]

Ukraine must gain economic stability to ultimately win its fight, and “an economically successful Ukraine … is of vital interest to the security of Europe and the sustainability of democratic values in the region,” writes Natalie Jaresko. [Wall Street Journal]

EGYPT

Militants claiming to be from the Sinai Province of the Islamic State said yesterday that they had ambushed Egyptian soldiers, capturing the engine of an American-made M60 tank. [New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick]

Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie has been handed a death sentence, along with 13 other members, by an Egyptian court. The case was yesterday referred to the country’s grand mufti, the first step toward imposing a death sentence. [Al Jazeera]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The ACLU has filed a disclosure lawsuit for secret Obama administration documents on the criteria for placing individuals on the so-called “kill list” for drone strikes, among other things, in an intensified effort to increase transparency about the “targeted killing program.” [The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman]

The House GOP budget will propose increasing the Pentagon’s war spending next year to about $90 billion, Budget Committee member Tom Cole told reporters yesterday. [The Hill’s Rebecca Shabad]  Politico’s Seung Min Kim and Jake Sherman report on the ongoing clash between defense hawks and fiscal purists over military spending.

Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy was not informed for four days of a recent incident involving two agents crashing into a White House barrier allegedly under the influence of alcohol, according to Rep. Elijah Cummings yesterday. [Politico’s Lauren French]

The clash over Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch’s confirmation vote has become heated, with the White House accusing Senate Republicans of “unconscionable” brinkmanship around her nomination. [Politico’s Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim]

UN personnel were accused of nearly 80 counts of sexual abuse in 2014 alone, with the majority of the purported offences committed by peacekeepers deployed in some of the most vulnerable parts of the world, according to a new report “released quietly” last week, reports Somini Sengupta. [New York Times]

The Islamic State branch in Libya has kidnapped twenty medical workers, during an attack yesterday on the Ibn Sina Hospital in Sirte. [CNN’s Ayman Kekly]

There will be no Palestinian statehood if Benjamin Netanyahu is reelected, the Israeli prime minister said, reversing his support for a two-state solution expressed in a 2009 speech. [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid]

The UN has ordered a review of the 1961 plane crash which killed the secretary general, Dag Hammarskjold, a “Pandora’s box of fragmentary evidence, speculation, obfuscation and wild conspiracy theories.” [New York Times’ Alan Cowell]

A U.S. Marine veteran of Iranian descent has requested deportation to the United States. Amir Hekmati, a dual citizen of Iran and the U.S., has been incarcerated for three and a half years and has renounced his Iranian citizenship. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone]

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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