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News Roundup and Notes: May 1, 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

Islamist militants clashed with the Syrian army overnight in Latakia province, close to President Bashar al-Assad’s ancestral home. [Reuters]

The situation in Iraq has deteriorated rapidly while the international community has been preoccupied with crises elsewhere, warned the director of the EU’s humanitarian aid department yesterday. Shortly after the warning, a string of bomb attacks in Baghdad and Madaen left 21 people dead and at least 65 wounded. [AP]

News that Republican lawmakers were proposing to directly arm Iraq’s Sunnis and Kurds without involvement from the central Shi’ite-led government, has sparked concerns of a “long suspected” and “nefarious plot” by the U.S. to split up Iraq. [New York Times’ Tim Arango]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition military forces carried out six airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between 8am April 29 and 8am April 30. Separately, military forces conducted a further 15 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

The subject of an AUMF against the Islamic State “appears to be dying a quiet death” writes Karen DeYoung, commenting on the lack of action taken on Obama’s proposed draft, and Congress’ failure to debate the alternatives. [Washington Post] 

YEMEN 

Airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition and fighting between warring factions that target civilians and UN facilities are in violation of international humanitarian law, said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon yesterday, noting the devastating humanitarian impact of the Yemen conflict. [McClatchy DC’s John Zarocostas]  The stark humanitarian crisis in Yemen is raising serious questions about the strategy of the Saudi-led coalition, with neither side appearing serious about entering negotiations, reports Kareem Fahim. [New York Times]

Besieged port city of Aden saw one of its worst days of violence yesterday, as Houthi rebels clashed with forces loyal to President Hadi over control of Aden’s international airport. [Al Jazeera]

Iran has been arming Yemen’s Houthi rebels since at least 2009, according to a confidential UN report, a sign that Tehran has supported the insurgency since its early years. [AFP]

A newly published video from the Islamic State confirms the group’s presence in Yemen; the video released yesterday shows ISIS militants beheading four Yemeni soldiers and shooting ten others. The group has pledged to fight the Shi’ite Houthi rebels in the country. [Telesur News]

“The Yemen war is part Saudi-Iranian regional rivalry, part the unfinished business of the Arab Spring revolutions and part sectarian Sunni-Shia animosity,” writes Bruce Riedel, commenting on the relationship between the Yemen war and the Saudi King’s decision to reorganize his line of succession. [The Daily Beast]

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

The latest Republican amendments to the Iran bill are threatening bipartisan support for the measure. Sens. Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio used a procedural move yesterday in an effort to force a vote on their amendments, including a requirement that would link Iran’s recognition of Israel’s statehood to a final deal. [Politico’s Burgess Everett]

Lawmakers are increasingly frustrated by the detention of U.S. citizens by Iran, but it is unclear whether this anger could affect the nuclear diplomacy, reports Rick Gladstone. [New York Times]

Iran is voicing a greater interest in regional peace talks, writes David Ignatius, noting that this shift comes as Tehran’s “proxies have faced tougher opposition on the battlefields in Yemen and Syria.” [Washington Post]

Iran claimed this week that Israel has “400 nuclear warheads.” Glenn Kessler offers a fact check, writing that the number is more than double the median for the latest assessment of Israel’s stockpile. [Washington Post]

Fears over Iran’s nuclear threat “are simply unfounded,” argues Musa al-Gharbi, noting that any attempted strike on the U.S. or Israel is “certain to fail” and “would amount to suicide” for Iran. [Al Jazeera America] 

The Navy has begun sending warships to accompany U.S.-flagged vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, offering increased security following Iran’s seizure of a Marshall Islands-flagged ship earlier this week. [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum and Asa Fitch]

GUANTANAMO BAY

The U.S. and Qatar have begun talks on extending security guarantees for the five Taliban members released from Guantanamo Bay last year in a controversial prisoner exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl; the current one-year arrangement expires at the end of May. [Washington Post’s Missy Ryan and Karen DeYoung] 

Republican proposals concerning Guantanamo Bay cleared the House Armed Services Committee yesterday, to be taken up by the House next month as part of the $612 billion defense policy bill. The proposals would block most releases from the detention facility. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

Staff Sgt. Dustin A. Barker is facing a court-martial in Virginia, accused of humiliating and intentionally abusing those under his command while stationed at Guantanamo Bay. [AP’s Brock Vergakis]

Four former Guantanamo detainees are encamped outside the U.S. embassy in Montevideo, where they are now resettled, protesting an asylum deal they consider inadequate. [NPR’s Lourdes Garcia-Navarro] 

CIA TORTURE PROGRAM

The American Psychological Association quietly collaborated with the Bush administration to strengthen the legal and ethical justification for the torture of detainees post-9/11, according to a new report from a group of rights activists and dissident health professionals. The report is the first to look at the APA’s involvement in the CIA program. [New York Times’ James Risen]  Newly released emails demonstrate a close relationship between the APA and the now infamous psychologists who acted as the architects of the CIA’s interrogation program. [The Intercept’s Cora Currier]

A special prosecutor should investigate how the abuse of detainees captured during the “war on terror” was allowed to happen, says Mark Fallon, head of the body that advises the U.S. interagency High Value Interrogation Group. [Reuters’ Alistair Bell] 

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

Russian military actions are “consistent with preparations for another offensive” in eastern Ukraine, NATO military chief Gen. Philip Breedlove told lawmakers yesterday. [Reuters]

The U.S. training mission in Ukraine is “more of a consolation than a prize” and despite Moscow’s objections to the mission, “the balance of forces remains firmly in Russia’s favor,” notes The Economist.

An Austrian court has rejected a U.S. request to extradite a Ukrainian billionaire and former patron of ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, dismissing the bid as politically motivated. [New York Times’ David M. Herszenhorn]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

U.S. hostage policy. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest insisted that assisting the families of U.S. hostages to pay ransoms is not the same as paying one, in response to a Wall Street Journal story which reported that the FBI helped the family of Warren Weinstein pay a ransom to al-Qaeda. [The Hill’s Jordan Fabian]  Weinstein’s case raises important legal issues, as providing support to al-Qaeda, even in the form of a ransom, is a federal crime. [New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg and Michael S. Schmidt]

Pakistan has launched a formal investigation into the CIA’s former station chief in Islamabad; Jonathan Bank is accused of murder and conspiracy in relation to the agency’s drone program and a covert operation five years ago which led to civilian deaths. [Vice News’ Jason Leopold]

A strong bipartisan push for surveillance reform. The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill on Thursday that would prohibit bulk collection and sweeps under National Security Letters, while a matching bill in the Senate is also gathering support. [New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman and Jennifer Steinhauer]

Nigerian military forces have rescued a further 150 women and children from Boko Haram in the remote Sambisa Forest in the country’s northeast. Reports have said that some of the women fought fiercely to resist their rescue. [AP]

Qatar will buy 24 Rafale fighter planes from France, a sign of France’s recent efforts to outmaneuver American-made combat jets on the international market, reports William Horobin. [Wall Street Journal]

The State Department has handed over 4,000 pages of new documents to the House Select Committee on Benghazi. [The Hill’s Martin Matishak]

German authorities seized a range of dangerous items, including explosives, from an apartment in the western state of Hesse overnight. Two suspects were arrested on suspicion of plotting a terror attack on a cycling race. [Deutsche Welle]

Armed factions in northern Mali have attacked one another as well as UN peacekeepers and Malian soldiers over the past week, “underscoring the country’s fragility” and diminishing hopes of a lasting peace deal, reports Adam Nossiter. [New York Times]

Russia and China will hold joint military exercises in the Mediterranean in May, the Chinese Defense Ministry said on Thursday. [Reuters]

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About the Authors

is Associate Editor at Just Security. Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).

was the Assistant News Editor at Just Security.