News Roundup and Notes: April 16, 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 Islamic State has launched an offensive in Iraq, seizing three villages close to the provincial capital of Ramadi. The push for territory marks the most significant threat to the city of Ramadi from the militants to date, a move which officials have described as “critical.” [AP]

Tensions are high between U.S.-led coalition members, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, following comments from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi about the air campaign in Yemen, forcing the Obama administration into a challenging position as it tries to keep intact a diverse coalition against the Islamic State. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt]

Congress is “hang[ing] back” on considering the administration’s proposed AUMF against the Islamic State, with no hearings being scheduled by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and limited support from lawmakers for the proposal. [Wall Street Journal’s Kristina Peterson]  Conversely, Sen. Tim Kaine said the Committee has not given up on passing a resolution, disagreeing with recent comments to the contrary made by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. [The Hill’s Martin Matishak]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. Coalition military forces carried out six airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between 8am April 14 and 8am April 15. Separately, coalition military forces conducted 17 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

A Palestinian anti-Assad insurgent group has opted for the “lesser of two evils” and has joined up with pro-government forces in order to fight the Islamic State following the group’s offensive into the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus. [Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim]

The Economist comments on the Islamic State’s recent gains in Syria, suggesting that the “new IS tactics expose the latent contradiction in America’s strategy,” drawing a distinction without a difference between Iraq and Syria.

The jihadist group which has seized the most territory in the Arab world over the past six months is al-Qaeda, despite media attention focusing on the Islamic State. This will likely result in a “titanic war of ideology and tactics between two vicious, radical groups,” write Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Bridget Moreng. [Politico Magazine]

A new report from Human Rights Watch documents the war crimes committed by the Islamic State against Yazidi women, including their committal into sexual slavery.

NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel published a statement yesterday revising details pertaining to his kidnapping along with five colleagues in Syria in 2012. Engel said that it was likely that they had been abducted by a Sunni militant group, rather than forces affiliated with the Assad government as was originally believed.

YEMEN

The UN special envoy to Yemen has said that he will resign. Jamal Benomar made the announcement yesterday following strong criticism of his failure to achieve a political transition in the country. A UN official suggested possible successors including Mauritanian diplomat, Ould Cheikh Ahmad. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta and Rick Gladstone]

Yemen’s legitimate government will try and reengage in peace talks to address the country’s future in the coming weeks in Riyadh, the foreign minister has said. [Asharq al-Awsat]

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi accused Saudi Arabia of having “no logic” behind its air campaign against Shi’ite Houthi rebels, and warned that the conflict in Yemen could spark a wider sectarian war in the region. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee]  Abadi also put the U.S. in a difficult position by saying that President Obama had agreed with his views on the situation, a suggestion quickly put down by the White House who are finding themselves increasingly “caught between two allies,” report Lara Jakes and Paul McLeary. [Foreign Policy]

Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh requested safe exit for himself and his family from Arab Gulf states. These requests have been denied, according to sources familiar with the subject. [Al Arabiya News]

A number of army units loyal to Saleh have defected following three weeks of Saudi-led airstrikes targeting them and Houthi allies. Further fractures could weaken Saleh and assist the Saudi-led campaign to defeat the Houthis. [Reuters’ Noah Browning and Michael Georgy]

The U.S. has urged Iran to stop sending weapons and support to Houthi rebels; a senior State Department official accused the Shi’ite nation of attempting to expand its influence in Yemen and assert its dominance over Saudi and Gulf Arab interests. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Tehran was dealing with world powers, not the U.S. House or Senate, dismissing the compromise deal reached in the Senate on an Iran bill earlier this week. [Washington Post’s Karen De Young et al]

The political compromise on new Iran legislation—allowing Congress to weigh in on an emerging accord—could lead to harder negotiations with Iran, but is unlikely to be fatal to the diplomacy, reports Arshad Mohammed. [Reuters]

President Obama may be nearing “the outer boundaries of his authority,” with the rare bipartisan consensus on the Iran nuclear issue forcing the president to step back from his broader campaign to act without congressional interference, reports Peter Baker. [New York Times]

Moscow’s delivery of an air defense missile system to Iran will threaten the entire Middle East, not just Israel, explains Will Cathcart. [The Daily Beast]

Iran has increased the frequency and skill of its cyberattacks, according to a new study to be released by cybersecurity firm Norse and the American Enterprise Institute. [New York Times’ David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth]

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he views Western sanctions as a stimulus for the country’s economic growth, during an annual live televised phone-in today. [BBC]

The U.S. and allies forced Moscow to take action in Ukraine, says Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, reiterating Russia’s line that the U.S. orchestrates “color revolutions” against rulers it does not like. [Reuters]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

New Zealand’s spy agency shared intelligence data with Bangladesh, despite the country’s security agents being implicated in serious human rights abuses, according to documents obtained from Edward Snowden. [New Zealand Herald’s Nicky Hager and Ryan Gallagher; The Intercept]

A DHS network monitoring program will extend to all federal government networks by the end of 2016, a move to help detect breaches amid the rising number of foreign hackers targeting government networks. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

“Cuba has shown us that sanctions don’t work.” Simon Jenkins questions the merit of sanctions warfare in an op-ed at The Guardian.

Israel blocked U.S. attempts to discover its hidden nuclear reactor. Avner Cohen and William Burr explore how Israel concealed its secret nuclear weapons program, based on newly declassified documents. [Politico Magazine]

The Pakistani military is making important gains in its fight against militants; Tim Craig reports on the “unorthodox but simple tactics” being used. [Washington Post]  Meanwhile, the country’s Supreme Court has ordered a stay of the six executions of militants convicted by military courts in the aftermath of the Peshawar terrorist attack. [Dawn’s Nasir Iqbal]

Nigeria’s military is focusing on an area in the northeast where the schoolgirls abducted a year ago are believed to be held, according to a government statement that has been dismissed by many as “political grandstanding,” reports Michelle Faul. [AP]

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has said the bombing of FARC rebels could resume, following an attack blamed on the rebel group that killed 10 troops. [Al Jazeera]

A fresh round of UN-brokered political talks on Libya began in Morocco yesterday, aimed at bringing an end to the crisis in the country. [UN News Centre]

A suicide bomber attacked a UN peacekeeping compound in northern Mali yesterday, killing at least three people. [AP]

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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