News Roundup and Notes: April 17, 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 gained control of many districts in the city of Ramadi, despite the deployment of elite Iraqi troops to try and stem the group’s offensive into the provincial capital yesterday. [McClatchy DC’s Mitchell Prothero]  U.S. defense officials have said that Ramadi will likely soon fall to the Islamic State, while top Pentagon official Gen. Martin Dempsey sought to minimize the strategic importance of the city. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes]  Iraq’s prime minister emphasized the dangerousness of the situation in Washington yesterday, saying that the group’s offensive into Ramadi symbolizes the threat they pose. [The Guardian’s Kareem Shaheen et al]

Islamic State militants clashed with Iraqi government forces at Iraq’s largest refinery yesterday; the group has been striking back in the wake of recent losses at Tikrit, holding onto gains in Anbar province and making a push at Baiji refinery. [Reuters]

Syrian government forces have stepped up airstrikes in rebel-held areas of Aleppo, reportedly killing over 100 people by dropping shrapnel-filled bombs since Saturday, according to opposition groups. [Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim]

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has softened his language on Saudi Arabia, a day after criticizing the Gulf state’s military intervention in Yemen, noting that he still wished to maintain good relations with the Saudis. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon]

Prime Minister Abadi has expressed unease at the prominence of a senior Iranian general in the battle against the Islamic State, while welcoming Tehran’s assistance. [Reuters’ Phil Stewart]

“The weaker the support from the United States, the more the Abadi government must rely on Iran and the Shi’ite militias it sponsors” in the fight against the Islamic State, cautions the Washington Post editorial board.

UN Security Council members heard graphic first-hand accounts from Syrian medical professionals of deadly chemical weapon attacks in the country. U.S. ambassador Samantha Power called for an “attribution mechanism” and promised accountability for those responsible. [AFP’s Carole Landry]

U.S. military operations against the Islamic State have cost over $2 billion, an average daily cost of $8.5 million, according to Defense Department spokesperson Bill Urban. [The Hill’s Rebecca Shabad]

An Ohio man has been indicted on terrorism charges, accused of travelling to Syria to train with the Nusra Front and returning to the U.S. with plans to launch an attack, the first known case of this type against an American citizen, reports Andrew Grossman. [Wall Street Journal]

A French court has convicted four men on terrorism charges related to providing logistical support to Chechen jihadists in Syria. [AP]

YEMEN

The UN has selected Mauritania’s Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed as special envoy to Yemen, following the resignation of Jamal Benomar. Ahmed is currently the head of the UN’s Ebola emergency response mission in West Africa. [Al Jazeera]

Yemen’s newly appointed vice president has said he hopes to restore unity to his country without a Saudi-led invasion. [Reuters’ Angus McDowall and Mohamed Mukashaf]

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate ceasefire in Yemen, urging parties to engage in peace talks and for critical humanitarian aid to reach the conflict-ridden country. [AP]

AQAP has seized an airport in Mukalla, eastern Yemen, reportedly facing no resistance when taking the airfield. [Washington Post’s Ali al-Mujaheed and Hugh Naylor]  AQAP is capitalizing on the civil conflict in the country, carving out territory for itself as its adversaries are “largely in disarray or distracted” by other fighting, report Saeed al-Batati and Kareem Fahim. [New York Times]

The Economist describes Yemen’s conflict as: “the archetypal quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom the world knows nothing,” commenting on the Saudi-led coalition’s ostensible lack of strategy and the situation’s growing complexity as it progresses toward a bona fide sectarian conflict.

IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS

The U.S. military option if nuclear diplomacy with Tehran fails is “intact,” notwithstanding Moscow’s sale of the air defense missile system to Iran, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said yesterday. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

The next round of negotiations will begin next week in Vienna, as the parties seek to reach a comprehensive accord by June 30. [New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink]

Four weaknesses in the interim deal need to be addressed, but negotiations should only move forward once the U.S. position has full support from the P5+1, writes former secretary of state James A. Baker. [Wall Street Journal]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

WikiLeaks has republished all the documents and emails from last year’s Sony hacking scandal, making all the data publically available with a Google-style search engine. Julian Assange defended the move, saying the information “belongs in the public domain,” while Sony “vehemently” disagreed with his argument. [The Guardian’s Sam Thielman]

The Guantánamo Navy base has a new commander. Capt. David Culpepper, a career fighter pilot, will be responsible for the base, but will not play a role in running the Guantánamo detention center. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

The impending USA Freedom Act which aims to curb the NSA’s bulk phone record collection, while leaving Section 215 of the Patriot Act in place, is facing opposition from activists who believe the bill does not go sufficiently far in protecting privacy. [The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman]

A U.S. woman was shot in a gun attack by men claiming to be Islamic militants in Karachi yesterday. [Reuters]  Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the incident in a statement today. [Dawn’s Irfan Haider]

Hillary Clinton’s vote in favor of the Iraq War should have no bearing on her 2016 bid for the White House, said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday. [The Hill’s Mike Lillis]

The U.S. Army has committed to additional benefits for soldiers who were wounded during the Fort Hood mass shooting in 2009. [The Hill’s Martin Matishak]

Benghazi Select Committee chair Trey Gowdy said he “lack[s] the authority” to subpoena Hillary Clinton’s private server. [Politico’s Lauren French]

The deployment of 300 U.S. paratroopers to Ukraine to train the country’s National Guard may destabilize the situation in eastern Ukraine, according to a Kremlin statement today. [Reuters]

UN-brokered peace talks on Libya resumed in Morocco today; delegates at the meeting are expected to consider a six-point UN proposal for ending the conflict. [Al Jazeera]

Nigeria’s outgoing president said the UN should not focus on deploying a regional force against Boko Haram; Goodluck Jonathan said the emphasis should instead be on helping victims of the militant group’s terror. [AP’s Michelle Faul]

British media groups have launched a legal challenge to the refusal by a judge to relax reporting restrictions imposed on the recent terrorism trial of Erol Incedal, who was accused of planning a Mumbai-style terrorist attack in London. [The Guardian’s Ian Cobain]

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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