News Roundup and Notes: April 14, 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 Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has arrived in Washington for a visit at a crucial time in the war against the Islamic State, with the recapture of Tikrit bringing the war to an “inflection point,” reports Philip Ewing. [Politico]  President Obama and Prime Minister Abadi will meet at the White House today to discuss the fight against the Islamic State; talks are expected to be dominated by Iraqi requests for American arms and tension over the Iranian role in the conflict. [Reuters’ Jeff Mason]

President Obama’s draft AUMF could not achieve the required votes to pass the House, according to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who said the draft measure would weaken America’s ability to respond to the current situation. [The Hill’s Scott Wong]

Instances of cooperation between Sunni and Shi’ite factions in Iraq, who are working together in the fight against the Islamic State, have become more frequent, a pattern the government is keen to replicate as forces push to reclaim ISIS-held territory. [Wall Street Journal’s Matt Bradley]

The Islamic State has lost control of as much as 6,500 sq miles of territory in Iraq but has gained some ground in Syria since last August, Pentagon spokesperson Army Col. Steve Warren said yesterday. [AP’s Lolita C. Baldor]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. Coalition military forces carried out three airstrikes on Islamic State targets between 8am April 12 and 8am April 13. Separately, coalition forces conducted a further 14 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

Australia will send a further 300 troops to Iraq on Wednesday on a two-year training mission to assist in the battle against the Islamic State. The Australian troops will work alongside 100 New Zealand soldiers who have been deployed on a similar mission. [Sydney Morning Herald’s David Wroe]

YEMEN

The UN Security Council will vote on a draft resolution today which would impose an arms embargo on Shi’ite Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former president Saleh. Russia has maintained that the resolution should place an embargo on all parties to the conflict; diplomats have said it is unclear whether Moscow will abstain or veto the resolution. [AP’s Edith M. Lederer]

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif laid out a four-point peace plan for Yemen today, including political dialogue and humanitarian assistance, restating his earlier call for an end to the Saudi-led air campaign targeting Shi’ite Houthi rebel forces. [Reuters]  Iran called for the formation of a new Yemeni government yesterday, offering to assist in a political transition, in comments likely to anger Saudi Arabia. [Reuters’ Raushan Nurshayeva]  The “war of words” between Iran and Saudi Arabia has worsened in recent days, a situation marked by President Hassan Rouhani’s decision to suspend all minor pilgrimages to Mecca. [Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor]

Militia forces in southern Yemen claim to have pushed back Houthi rebels on a number of fronts, including a strategic district in the port city of Aden. [Reuters’ Mohamed Mukashaf]

The Saudi-led coalition continued airstrikes yesterday, targeting Houthi rebels and militias loyal to former president Saleh in Sana’a yesterday. [Al Arabiya News]

Human Rights Watch criticized the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen for ostensibly violating the laws of war in letters to Saudi King Salman and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, warning that the U.S. is likely to be viewed as a party to the conflict. [McClatchy DC’s John Zarocostas]

Shi’ite Houthi rebels are blocking humanitarian aid from reaching areas in Yemen, according to the spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri. [Al Arabiya News]

Pakistan has vowed to “intensify” efforts to achieve a diplomatic solution to the crisis, the country’s prime minister said yesterday, following parliament’s decision to remain militarily neutral in the conflict. [AFP]

The U.S. drone strike program in Yemen sets a dangerous standard and the Obama administration has not followed its own rules to avoid civilian casualties, according to a new study by the Open Society Justice Initiative. [New York Times’ Scott Shane]

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

Moscow has lifted an embargo on the delivery of an air defense missile system to Iran, a move objected to by Secretary of State John Kerry and condemned by Israel. [The Guardian’s Peter Beaumont]  The air defense system would make a U.S. strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities “nearly impossible,” reports Dave Majumdar. [The Daily Beast]  And the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes that the missile sale amounts to “bl[owing] a geopolitical raspberry at the Obama Administration.”

Top lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee negotiated late last night to reach bipartisan consensus on an Iran bill that allows for congressional review of an Iran deal, in advance of today’s vote on the legislation. The negotiations are likely to water down some provisions, potentially shortening the review period for lawmakers. [New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman and Michael D. Shear]

John Kerry asked Congress for the “space and time” to negotiate a deal with Iran, in a closed briefing with House lawmakers on Monday where Kerry was joined by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. [Reuters’ Arshad Mohammed et al]  GOP lawmakers remained “unswayed” by the administration’s pitch, report Mike Lillis et al. [The Hill]  Meanwhile, President Obama held meetings with Jewish American leaders in an effort to address concerns over an emerging nuclear accord with Iran. [Washington Post’s Steven Mufson]

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

The Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers called for further withdrawal of weaponry from the front lines in eastern Ukraine, during a meeting in Berlin with their French and German counterparts. [Wall Street Journal’s Anton Troianovski and Laura Mills]

Fighting continued overnight on the outskirts of Donetsk; the year-old conflict in Ukraine has now claimed over 6,000 lives. [AP]

The Pentagon dismissed a recent interception of an American aircraft by a Russian pilot over the Baltic Sea as “sloppy airmanship.” [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

NIGERIA

At least 2,000 women and girls have been kidnapped by Boko Haram since 2014, with many being forced into sexual slavery and taught to fight, according to a new report from Amnesty International, marking the first anniversary of the mass kidnapping of the school girls from the northeastern town of Chibok. Amnesty International’s secretary general, Salil Shetty, comments on the Boko Haram “menace” in a New York Times op-ed, calling for a stronger domestic response.  Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown also calls for a continuing fight to rescue the missing girls in an op-ed at The Guardian.

Around 800,000 children have been affected by Boko Haram violence in northeast Nigeria, says a new UNICEF report.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Former Blackwater guards sentenced. One former security contractor was sentenced to life in prison, while three others were sentenced to 30 years, in relation to the 2007 deadly shooting in Baghdad which left 14 Iraqi civilians dead. [New York Times’ Matt Apuzzo; NPR’s Jackie Northam]

Lawmakers’ views on government surveillance “have changed substantially” since 2011, when Congress last reauthorized the Patriot Act, reports Shaun Zeller. [Roll Call]

Calls from both sides in Libya for compromise and a diplomatic solution are increasing, as the country “crumbles” amid fighting between rival factions, and the mounting threat from the Islamic State becomes clearer. [New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick]

Sen. Marco Rubio would reopen the Guantanamo Bay detention facility if elected into the White House, were Obama to succeed in closing it before he leaves office. The would-be GOP presidential nominee said there is “tremendous value” in capturing terrorist suspects and enemy combatants in order to gather intelligence, during an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. [ABC News’ Chris Good]

“Fighting season” in Afghanistan begins. The Afghan army is “bracing itself” for the coming months of expected Taliban offensives, testing its capacity following the withdrawal of the majority of coalition troops. [New York Times’ Joseph Goldstein]

The U.K. is opposing an international ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems—also known as “killer robots”—at a UN conference that is this week discussing the future development and use of the technology. [The Guardian’s Owen Bowcott] The Guardian editorial board expresses concern at the development of such technology, arguing that “the ambition to control them is as profoundly human as it is right.”

Revelations about the charges levied against Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian are being seen as a sign that a trial might be held soon. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone and Thomas Erdbrink]  The Washington Post editorial board suggests that it is not a coincidence that the report was released just as the Rouhani government accepted a preliminary nuclear accord, arguing that Rezaian is being used as a “pawn” in the country’s domestic power struggle over its nuclear program.

Former NSA agent Edward Snowden’s behavior in Moscow has become strange, according to Russian spy-watcher Andrei Soldatov, in an interview with Michael Weiss for The Daily Beast.

The U.S. and South Korea disagree on the level of nuclear threat posed by North Korea, with South Korea dismissing a claim by a senior American military official that the North has the capabilities to mount a nuclear weapon on a missile that could reach the U.S. mainland. [Wall Street Journal’s Alastair Gale]

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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