News Roundup and Notes: April 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 U.S.-led coalition stepped up airstrikes in support of Iraqi forces in the Ramadi area in Anbar Province over the weekend, after American officials pressured Iraq to withdraw Shi’ite militia forces from the region. [New York Times’ Rod Nordland and Falih Hassan]

Some Iraqi military forces “moonlight” with Shi’ite militias during their time off, including the Hezbullah Bridges—an Iranian backed group that only a few years ago was fighting the U.S., reports Matt Bradley. [Wall Street Journal]

Islamic State fighters destroyed parts of the ancient Iraqi Assyrian city of Nimrud, including a site which dates back to 13th century B.C., according to a video released by the group on Saturday. [AP’s Sinan Salaheddin]

Yarmouk refugee camp is a “microcosm of the complexity as well as the anguish of Syria’s war,” writes Liz Sly, providing an overview of the “nightmare” situation in the camp and the challenges posed by the various factions at play. [Washington Post]  Mehdi Hasan describes “our selective outrage” on the plight of Palestinians as “morally unsustainable,” and calls for an international response to the suffering in Yarmouk. [The Guardian]

YEMEN

The U.S. is expanding its role in the Saudi-led campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen, vetting military targets and searching vessels suspected of carrying Iranian arms, say officials. The U.S. has also expressed concerns over the goals of the Saudi-led mission as civilian casualties mount. [Wall Street Journal’s Maria Abi-Habib and Adam Entous]

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister dismissed Iranian appeals to end the bombing campaign on Sunday and accused Iran of meddling in Yemen, escalating the ongoing feud between the two states. [New York Times’ Kareem Fahim] Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal added that his country is “not at war with Iran,” but that the campaign is at the request of President Hadi. [Wall Street Journal’s Ahmed Al Omran and Asa Fitch]

Two Iranian military advisers were captured in Aden on Friday evening during fighting with Houthi rebels. [Al Arabiya News]

“[T]he chaos in Yemen has been driven by Iran’s hunger for power and its ambition to control the entire region,” says Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi in an op-ed at the New York Times, urging international support to “ensure military might” on the battlefield against the Houthi rebel forces.  Hadi appointed a new vice president on Sunday; the appointment of a former prime minister into the role is apparently aimed at achieving peaceful settlement of the civil war which forced Hadi into exile in Saudi Arabia. [Reuters’ Mohammed Mukhashaf and Angus McDowall]

Pakistan’s decision to remain neutral in the Yemen conflict has drawn criticism from its Gulf allies, as the crisis begins to alter alliances across the Muslim world, reports Saeed Shah. [Wall Street Journal]

The Yemen conflict is showing signs of sectarian influence, sparking concerns of the “danger that all sides will exploit their religious beliefs while settling old scores,” report Mohamed Mukhashaf and Noah Browning. [Reuters]

At least 16,000 foreigners are stranded in Yemen, according to the International Organization for Migration, who evacuated 143 people as the conflict in the country continues to worsen. [Al Jazeera]  A Russian naval vessel evacuated more than 300 people from various countries, including the U.S., from the Yemeni port city of Aden on Sunday. [Interfax and AFP]

Saudi military spending increased 17% in 2014, the biggest increase by any of the world’s top 15 military spenders, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. [Reuters]

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

The framework agreement with Iran “represents an important step toward a safer world,” explains Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in a Washington Post op-ed, who stresses that “[n]o options,” including sanctions, have been “taken off the table.”  Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that the military option also remains on the table, but noted that it would not be used at this time, in an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett.

Secretary of State John Kerry sought to defend the agreement and his presentation of the details of the deal on ABC’s “This Week,” after Sen. John McCain called him “delusional” last week. President Obama also criticized the GOP senator on Saturday, saying that giving Iran’s supreme leader “the benefit of the doubt in the interpretation” of the nuclear agreement, as McCain had done, was “an indication of the degree to which partisanship has crossed all boundaries.” [Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski]

The Iran bill that would allow congressional review of an emerging deal will be taken up this week. The legislation has “turned into a tug of war,” with senators from both sides considering more than 50 amendments, reports AP’s Deb Riechmann. Meanwhile, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker is trying to balance Republican calls for greater oversight with concerns expressed by Democrats, who wish to give the administration more negotiating space. [Politico’s Burgess Everett]

“There is no real specificity” on key issues of the framework agreement, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democratic co-sponsor of the Iran bill, said on Sunday. [The Hill’s Jesse Byrnes]

U.S. state-level sanctions on Iran could complicate the easing of ties with Tehran, as they relate to Iran’s designation as a sponsor of terrorism and are unlikely to be lifted if a nuclear deal is concluded, reports Yeganeh Torbati. [Reuters]

Iranian voices are missing from the Sunday morning political shows, even as the nuclear deal is talked about extensively, writes Glenn Greenwald, suggesting that these shows “are in fact far more akin to state media” in that they “spew propaganda to the American public.” [The Intercept]

CUBA

President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro held a historic meeting on Saturday on the sideline of the Summit of the Americas. [Politico’s Nahal Toosi]  While the Cuban leader showed a “new side” at the Summit, Havana’s treatment of its critics followed “old tactics,” reports Nick Miroff and Karen DeYoung. [Washington Post]

Normalizing U.S.-Cuba ties remains a difficult process, with issues surrounding the opening of embassies and the lifting of the embargo on Cuba, report Carol E. Lee and José De Córdoba. [Wall Street Journal]

The reconciliation with Cuba has earned the U.S. new credibility among Latin American nations, report Randal C. Archibold and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, noting the “shift of tone” at the Summit. [New York Times]

Jim Kuhnhenn reports on the difficulties facing President Obama in selling his foreign policy on Cuba and Iran to critics in the U.S., noting the similarities and differences between the two issues. [AP]

The president’s policy on Cuba is “disastrous,” according to Sen. Robert Menendez speaking on “Fox News Sunday.”

GUANTANAMO BAY

The military judge in the USS Cole bombing trial has ordered a brain scan for the accused orchestrator of the attack, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri. Nashiri’s lawyers say he suffered brain damage during his detention over four years in CIA black site prisons. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

The UN refugee agency will assist six former Guantanamo detainees each obtain a home in Uruguay, where they were resettled last December, says the country’s President Tabare Vazquez. [AP]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A U.S. drone strike killed two leaders of al-Qaida’s South Asia branch in Pakistan earlier this year, according to the terrorist group. [AP’s Dera Ismail Khan and Ishtiaq Mahsud]  The terrorism trial of U.S citizen Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh in Brooklyn raises questions over the efficacy of American drone strikes; Farekh was arrested last year in Pakistan based on intelligence provided by the U.S. following years of debate over whether he should be targeted by a strike, report Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt. [New York Times]

Both the South Korean and Moroccan embassies in Tripoli, Libya have suffered attacks. Militants claiming affiliation with the Islamic State claimed responsibility for both attacks on Twitter. Two people were killed in the attack on the South Korean embassy yesterday; no one was wounded in a bomb attack on the Moroccan embassy early today. [Reuters]

A suicide attack targeted a police station in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Sunday, killing six people and wounding 44, according to police and medics. [Al Jazeera]

Internal emails reveal discord between the FBI and the Justice Department over the case dealing with the 2007 Blackwater shooting, with FBI agents in charge of the investigation convinced that Justice Department officials were undermining the case on purpose. [New York Times’ Matt Apuzzo]

Kenya has asked the UN to shut down a refugee camp in eastern Kenya, and send some 400,000 Somali refugees back to their country. The Kenyan government said the Dadaab refugee camp has become a recruitment ground for al-Shabaab, and that following the attack last week on Garissa University the country must be protected from extremist forces. [AP’s Tom Odula]

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian has been accused by Iran of passing on sensitive economic and industrial information about the country, according to the Fars news agency. Rezaian has been detained for almost nine months on suspicion of espionage. [Washington Post’s Carol Morello]

Only a quarter of the $3.5bn pledged to rebuild Gaza following the 2014 war has so far been delivered, according to a new report. [Al Jazeera]

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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