News Roundup and Notes: April 1, 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 forces have recaptured the provincial government headquarters in Tikrit from ISIS, said Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. [AFP]  However, claims by some officials and in the Iraqi news media that Tikrit has “fallen” are “greatly exaggerated;” Islamic State presence remains in the city and fighting is ongoing, according to accounts. [New York Times’ Rod Nordland]

A coalition of Islamist groups, including the Nusra Front, is trying to consolidate control of Idlib and establish a system of civil governance, although there is little organizational direction and the streets remain full of armed militants. [Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim]

International donors pledged $3.8 billion in humanitarian aid for Syria at a UN-backed conference held in Kuwait yesterday. [UN News Centre]  The amount pledged is under half the emergency humanitarian assistance sought by the UN for 2015, “an ominous sign of possible donor fatigue,” writes Rick Gladstone. [New York Times]

The Islamic State has floated the idea of a negotiated truce in the latest edition of its English language magazine, Dabiq, writes Jamie Dettmer. [The Daily Beast]

A roster of 26,382 Twitter accounts linked to the Islamic State was released by a cybersecurity activist yesterday, the biggest such list yet, though many accounts were erroneously listed. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone]

Nostalgia among Iraqis for Saddam Hussein “appears to be reaching fever pitch” on social media, as Iraq crumbles into worse shape, and people long for a more orderly time. [McClatchy DC’s Hannah Allam]

YEMEN

Iran has called for talks between all parties in Yemen, with the country’s deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian saying that military intervention would not solve the country’s problems and that Saudi Arabia and its allies “were putting themselves in a very difficult position” by launching airstrikes. [Wall Street Journal’s Hakim Almasmari and Rory Jones]

An explosion at a Yemeni dairy factory has killed 25 people, one of the deadliest incidents involving civilians since the start of the Saudi-led air campaign against Houthi rebels last week. [Reuters]  Houthi rebels say airstrikes hit 12 Yemeni provinces over the past 24 hours, reports CNN’s Nic Roberston.

Heavy clashes on the Yemeni-Saudi border were reported yesterday, as the Hadi government called for a rapid Arab intervention on the ground. [Reuters’ Mohammed Mukhashaf and Sami Aboudi]

Yemen is “on the verge of total collapse,” said UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, expressing alarm at the number of civilians killed by airstrikes in recent days. [UN News Centre]  Kareem Shaheen talks to witnesses of a Saudi-led airstrike which hit Yemen’s al-Mazraq refugee camp, killing dozens of civilians. [The Guardian]

An “unlikely” alliance between Houthi rebels and deposed dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh is helping the Shi’ite insurgent group to weather the escalating Saudi-led air campaign directed at them. [Washington Post’s Ali al-Muhjahed and Hugh Naylor]

The New York Times editorial board writes that Saudi Arabia should use its influence to start diplomatic talks “which offer the best hope of a durable solution,” but instead the intervention in Yemen “threatens to turn what has been a civil war … into a wider regional struggle with Iran.”

Saudi military action in Yemen is “a high-gloss, stage-crafted showcase of Saudi Arabia’s new military swagger,” reports Brian Murphy, adding that the air campaign might become “something of a possible dress rehearsal” for a country that is taking regional matters into its own hands. [Washington Post]

EGYPT

President Obama has personally informed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi that the U.S. will resume full military aid to Egypt, to help address the “shared challenges” faced by both countries in the “unstable region”. Some military assistance had been frozen following the 2013 coup, with the U.S. stating at that time that it would not reinstate full aid until meaningful steps toward democracy were shown. [BBC]

Glenn Greenwald writes that the development “is as unsurprising as it is noxious,” adding that the U.S. is standing side by side “with some of the region’s most oppressive regimes, whose survival at least partially depends on the abundant U.S. largesse they receive.” [The Intercept]

The New York Times editorial board comments on the “mixed messages” on military aid for Egypt, noting that the “Obama administration used both punishment and incentives to set a new tone for a frayed relationship with a crucial ally.” And the Washington Post editorial board describes the rule of law in Egypt as “meaningless” in discussing the Sisi government’s response to the killing of poet and political activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh at a peaceful protest in January.  

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

Nuclear talks are continuing today, after the P5+1 and Iran failed to conclude a framework agreement by the self-imposed Tuesday deadline; stumbling blocks remain over key issues including the lifting of sanctions and Tehran’s future nuclear research. However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said negotiators had reached general consensus on “all key aspects,” while his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif said an agreement could be finalized today. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond agreed that there is now a “broad framework of understanding,” but acknowledged some key outstanding issues. [BBC; Reuters’ Louis Charbonneau et al]

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. would “walk away” if no political agreement was reached, and would not wait until the final June 30 deadline, as yesterday’s negotiations dragged past the midnight deadline. However, “enough progress” had been made to merit Secretary of State John Kerry staying back until Wednesday, according to State Department spokesperson Marie Harf. [The Hill’s Jordan Fabian and Kristina Wong]  Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Cotton called for immediate action on Iran sanctions after the one-day extension of talks was announced. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

Iran “is already behaving like it’s made a killing,” writes Stephen Collinson, who explores Tehran’s rising power and influence across the Middle East, “with or without a deal.”  [CNN]

The missed deadline leaves the administration “with a public relations black eye” and fresh accusations that Iran has the “upper hand” in the negotiations, even though the deadline has no practical impact, write Michael Crowley and Sarah Wheaton. [Politico]

“[S]ome uniquely American and Iranian political sensitivities” have filtered into the marathon negotiating sessions and could jeopardize the feasibility of the whole initiative, reports David E. Sanger. [New York Times]

Obama’s “hopes for a transformational foreign policy are on the line” with the muddled progress toward an Iran deal, reports Edward-Isaac Dovere at Politico.

Ishaan Tharoor takes a look at the “big questions” any final accord with Iran would have to answer. [Washington Post]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Palestine became the 123rd member of the ICC today, part of the broader Palestinian effort to bring international pressure onto Israel. [AP’s Mike Corder]  Be sure to check out our “Reader’s Guide” to what’s next as Palestine becomes a full member of the ICC at Just Security.

Ehab Zahriyeh explores the legal implications of Palestine’s ICC membership for both sides of the Middle East conflict. [Al Jazeera America]

The UN is waging “war on Israel,” writes the country’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Proser, adding that the “problem … is that the leaders of many of its member states do not rule with the consent of the governed.” [New York Times]

Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s election victory signals “more extremism,” the political leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, has told the BBC.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A federal judge has denied a FOIA request to reveal documents relating to the Panetta Review, a set of over 40 draft memos concerning the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation.” [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

The provisional government in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, has fired its prime minister. The government, set up by the militias controlling Tripoli, described Omar al-Hassi as “a failure;” his departure removes a potential barrier to UN-brokered unity talks aimed at ending conflict in the country. [New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick]

A spike in casualties has been reported as Afghan forces take over from U.S. troops in Helmand province, the clashes with Taliban fighters becoming bloodier and more frequent. [Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati]

France and Germany have urged the EU to clamp down on terrorist financing, calling for stronger measures in the wake of the recent deadly attacks in Paris. [Reuters]

Muhammadu Buhari has won the Nigerian election. The former military dictator and anticorruption campaigner won 54% of the votes, in a victory which “raised hopes for closer relations with the U.S.,” particularly in the fight against Boko Haram. [Wall Street Journal’s Patrick McGroarty and Heidi Vogt]

The House Benghazi Committee has called on Hillary Clinton to appear before it to answer questions about her use of a private email account while in office as secretary of state. [The Hill’s Martin Matishak]  The State Department says it has only found four emails concerning drone strikes and surveillance programs on Clinton’s account, with none having much to do with either subject. [AP’s Jack Gillum]

Lawmaker and ex-Navy SEAL Ryan Zinke has criticized Defense Secretary Ashton Carter for proposing lower standards for some military enlistment criteria, suggesting that as the military contracts, a greater amount of responsibility will be required. [The Hill’s Martin Matishak]

U.S. prisons are becoming “academies of jihad,” writes Ayaan Hirsi Ali, explaining the situation and providing a number of steps which could be taken to prevent this from occurring any further. [Wall Street Journal]

A helpful infographic explaining six privacy & security laws can be found at SysCloud Blog.

Vladimir Putin is likely to deliver a speech at the UN General Assembly session in September, according to his spokesperson, an event that would mark the Russian leader’s first General Assembly address in a decade. [Wall Street Journal’s Paul Sonne]

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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