News Roundup and Notes: April 15, 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.

YEMEN 

U.S. drone strike kills AQAP spokesman. An American drone strike in Yemen has killed Ibrahim al-Rubaish, a Saudi citizen formerly held at Guantanamo Bay and a top ideologue for al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch following his release. AQAP posted a statement on Twitter saying Rubaish was killed late on Sunday. [AP’s Sarah El Deeb] Ryan Goodman has a post on the drone strike at Just Security this morning, questioning whether clerics are lawful military targets.

The UN Security Council voted to impose an arms embargo on Shi’ite Houthi rebels and their supporters yesterday. The resolution passed 14-0, with Russia abstaining. [Washington Post’s Hugh Naylor]  Houthi rebels have spoken out condemning the resolution, calling on mass protests against the UN’s “support of the aggression.” [BBC]  The Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council praised the resolution as reflecting the “seriousness of the international community” in its support of the Yemeni people. [Al Arabiya News] 

Saudi Arabia and Egypt held talks on the progress of the three-week-old air campaign against Houthi rebels. Egypt said the two had discussed holding a “major military maneuver” in Saudi Arabia. [Reuters’ Mohamed Mukashaf] 

CUBA

President Obama has formally recommended the removal of Cuba from the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism, a significant step toward reinstating normal diplomatic relations between the two countries. Removing Cuba from the list will eliminate some of the sanctions imposed, though the embargo remains in place, according to U.S. officials. [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz and Jose Decordoba] 

Cuba has praised the U.S. decision as “fair,” saying that it should not have been listed in the first place. [BBC]

Israel’s embassy in the U.S. “trolled” the Obama administration’s decision in a tweet, emphasizing Iran’s placement on the list shortly after Cuba in 1984. [The Hill’s Martin Matishak] 

IRAQ and SYRIA

President Obama agreed to provide Iraq with $200 million in humanitarian aid yesterday and gave Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi a “full-throated endorsement,” following a 40-minute meeting at the White House which dealt with war and sectarian divisions in the country, report Peter Baker and Michael R. Gordon. [New York Times]  President Obama warned Iran to end its unilateral military role in Iraq, emphasizing the importance of channeling any assistance in the fight against the Islamic State through Baghdad, respecting Iraq’s sovereignty. [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum]

The UN envoy for Syria will seek to restart political negotiations aimed at ending the civil conflict which is now in its fifth year. Staffan de Mistura will hold “one on one” meetings with key players, although it was not specified whether this would include Iran. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta]

Syrian government airstrikes around Idlib killed at least 24 people on Tuesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [AFP]

A series of bomb attacks across Baghdad killed at least 20 people yesterday; at least five explosions hit targets in the Iraqi capital. [Al Jazeera]

Speaker John A. Boehner said U.S. troops in Iraq should have an expanded role, moving beyond training Iraqi forces and taking on a more direct role in the fighting against the Islamic State. Boehner stopped short of calling for a combat mission. [New York Times’ Carl Hulse]

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry said that it is important for Congress “to try” and achieve an AUMF against the Islamic State, but supported earlier comments from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy that the president’s proposal in its current form would not pass the chamber. [The Hill’s Martin Matishak]

U.S. troops returning to Iraq have found the Iraqi security forces in “disrepair,” raising questions of whether the Americans left too soon in 2011 and whether this round of training will have any greater impact. [New York Times’ Rod Nordland]

Hungary will send 150 troops to Iraq to assist in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, with Hungarian soldiers serving as a protection force at Erbil’s training center in the north of the country until the end of 2017. [Wall Street Journal’s Margit Feher]

“Her Majesty’s Jihadists.” Mary Anne Weaver looks in detail at “the pull of jihad” in Britain, where more Muslims have joined Islamist militant groups than serve in the country’s armed forces. [New York Times] 

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

The White House has compromised on an Iran bill that would allow congressional review of a deal with Tehran after the June 30 deadline. The legislation—which gives Congress 30 days to review any final accord if submitted by July 9—was unanimously approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong and Jordain Carney; Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung and Mike DeBonis]

Shane Harris notes that the White House’s “180” on the contentious bill, which press secretary Josh Earnest said was the result of “substantial revisions” to the bill, is a significant victory for critics of the deal. [The Daily Beast] Supporters of the Iran deal, on the other hand, are frustrated by the development, arguing that it could give more leverage to Tehran in the negotiations. [Politico’s Nahal Toosi]

John Kerry is confident that the U.S. can conclude an accord with Iran, notwithstanding yesterday’s political compromise, the Secretary of State said this morning. [AP’s Frank Jordans] Israel has welcomed the development as “an achievement for Israeli policy.” [Times of Israel] While Iran has said the move relates to U.S. domestic affairs and will not affect the international negotiations. [Reuters] Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also said that his country will not accept a comprehensive accord unless all sanctions imposed on Tehran are lifted, in a televised speech today. [Reuters]

Sen. Ben Cardin has “move[d] into the spotlight” after helping to clinch a bipartisan deal on the Iran bill, reports NPR’s Ailsa Chang. Politico’s Manu Raju and Burgess Everett explore how Cardin, the ranking Democrat, and Committee chair Bob Corker negotiated the “almost unthinkable” compromise.

The Senate panel has “wrongly and inappropriately” curbed the president’s power, “creating new and potentially dangerous uncertainties” for a nuclear deal, writes the New York Times editorial board. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal editorial board argues that the Iran bill gives the president “nearly a free hand” and sets out its vision for appropriate congressional review of a deal.

CIA Director John Brennan’s stance on the nuclear negotiations “has put the spy agency in an impossible position,” and should prompt Congress to “put in place an alternative team of analysts” on the Iran nuclear threat, argue former attorney general Michael B. Mukasey and former CIA officer Kevin Carroll. [Wall Street Journal]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Al-Shabaab gunmen stormed a Somali government building in Mogadishu yesterday, killing at least 10 people. [Washington Post’s Brian Murphy] The UNHCR has urged Kenya not to close Dadaab, one of the world’s largest refugee camps, saying that the proposed forced repatriation of Somalis would violate international law. Kenya’s plan to close the camp comes after the April 2 terrorist attack on Garissa University by al-Shabaab militants. [New York Times’ Nick Cumming-Bruce]

The U.S. will no longer refuse to confirm or deny that people prevented from boarding commercial planes have been put on the “No Fly List,” and will offer new opportunities to seek redress, the Department of Justice revealed in a court filing on Monday. [FAS’s Steven Aftergood]

The House Homeland Security Committee approved a bill giving companies liability protection when sharing data on cyber threats with the Department of Homeland Security. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

Senators have written to DNI James Clapper calling on him to provide the names of former Guantanamo Bay detainees who have returned to the fight following their release from the prison.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter recently suggested that cyber corps may become its own service branch; Andrew Tilghman explores whether Cyber Command merits its own service. [Military Times]

The influence of foreign fighters in Afghanistan is growing; hundreds of militants from Pakistan are reinforcing the ranks of Taliban groups, prompting one of the deadliest starts to the fighting season, according to local officials and analysts. [Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan]

The army chief of Libya’s internationally recognized government is “betting on a military solution” to the country’s crisis, should a deal arising out of UN-brokered talks aimed at reaching a political solution remain unlikely. [AP’s Karin Laub]

At least six Ukrainian soldiers were killed yesterday, following the latest round of diplomatic talks aimed at ending the conflict in the country’s east. [Kyiv Post’s Olena Goncharova]

A UN-backed initiative aimed at providing enhanced information to airlines about the dangers of flying over conflict zones published public warnings about unsafe airspace over parts of South Sudan, Iraq, and Egypt. [Wall Street Journal’s Andy Pasztor]

The Washington Post editorial board criticizes the Obama administration for reinstating military aid to Egypt, commenting on the series of “slaps in the face” by the regime of Abdel Fatah al-Sissi in response to calls for restraint in its repression.

The sentencing of the former Blackwater contractors is “an important, if belated, step toward making amends” for the abuse committed by Americans during the Iraq conflict, writes the New York Times editorial board.

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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