News Roundup and Notes: May 19, 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’s Ramadi offensive. The militant group took advantage of a sandstorm in order to gain an important military advantage during the early stages of its offensive on Ramadi; the sandstorm delayed U.S. warplanes and prevented them from assisting Iraqi forces. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper]  Islamic State fighters committed a “bloody purge” following their victory in Ramadi, searching for policemen and pro-government fighters. [AP’s Sinan Salaheddin and Sameer N. Yacoub]

Iran-backed Shi’ite militias mobilized forces to join the fight to retake Ramadi from the militant group yesterday. [Washington Post’s Hugh Naylor and Mustafa Salim]  The use of Shi’ite militia forces to achieve this goal has some current and former U.S. officials concerned about the risk of further sectarian fighting, report Mark Hosenball et al. [Reuters]  The Pentagon will accept the assistance of the Shi’ite forces, said spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren yesterday, emphasizing the challenges posed by Ramadi’s urban environment. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

The White House admitted that the fall of Ramadi constitutes a “setback” in the war against the Islamic State, but stressed the U.S. commitment to assisting the Iraqis to retake the regional capital of Anbar province. [The Hill’s Jordan Fabian]  Michael Crowley comments that U.S. officials are “furiously spinning” the loss, an example of the “delicate communications strategy” required by the ISIS campaign. [Politico]

The seizure of the city “belies claims” that the Iraqi military has learned how to hold its ground and that the Islamic State has been weakened by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, writes Martin Chulov, who reports that government officials have been left “reeling.” [The Guardian]  Rivals of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi have gained momentum following the defeat, leaving Abadi “more vulnerable than ever.” [New York Times’ Tim Arango]

The fall of Ramadi was “avoidable,” and leaves President Obama’s strategy against the Islamic State “in ruins not only in Iraq but also throughout the Muslim World,” write Kimberly Kagan and Frederick W. Kagan, in an op-ed for the Washington Post

U.S. interrogators are hoping to extract information on Western hostages that the Islamic State has held and either ransomed or killed from the wife of Abu Sayyaf, an ISIS figure killed during a U.S. raid in Syria on Friday. [The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris and Nancy A. Youssef]

“ISIS finances are strong.” Sarah Almukhtar looks at the militant group’s expenditure, in light of analysis produced by the RAND Corporation. [New York Times]

A senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad today, according to Syrian state TV, an apparent gesture of support for Damascus. [Reuters]

The Islamic State is solidifying its foothold in Libya, sending money, trainers and fighters in increasing numbers and sparking U.S. concerns over the breadth of the militant group’s “terror map.” [Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum and Maria Abi-Habib]

A Sahara-based jihadist group said it is holding a Romanian hostage; the group was formerly part of al-Qaeda’s network and recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. [New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi]

Jihadist fighters in Iraq and Syria will be prosecuted upon return to Australia, said Prime Minister Tony Abbott today, talking down hopes of repatriation for those wishing to return. [AP]

YEMEN

Coalition airstrikes hit Sana’a overnight, targeting forces loyal to Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. The strikes are the first to hit the capital following the expiration of a five-day ceasefire late on Sunday. [Reuters]

The crisis in Yemen could “open a corridor for jihadist movements” through Somalia, warned UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a new report to the Security Council. [AP’s Edith M. Lederer]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region on Monday night killed three militants, Pakistani intelligence officials have said. [AP’s Ishtiaq Mahsud]

House and Senate GOP leaders remain deeply divided over NSA reform. House Republicans are indicating they will not budge on the USA Freedom Act, but the bill may not pass the Senate given Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s continued opposition. [Politico’s Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim]

EU ministers agreed to a plan establishing a naval force to combat migrant-smuggling groups operating out of Libya yesterday. The scope of the operation depends on the support of the UN Security Council and Libya’s fractious authorities; the U.K. is playing a leading role in drafting a resolution giving the EU the legal basis for military action. [BBC]

Hillary Clinton’s emails will be released by mid-January 2016, the State Department has said, citing the “intensive” task of reviewing the emails sent by Clinton during her tenure as secretary of state using a private server. [Vice News’ Jason Leopold]  Meanwhile, Republicans on the House panel investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks are planning to subpoena Sidney Blumenthal, a member of the Clintons’ inner circle; Nicholas Confessore and Michael S. Schmidt profile Blumenthal’s involvement which is “more wide-ranging and more complicated than previously known.” [New York Times]

Recent visits by high-level U.S. officials to Moscow are being viewed by Russian politicians as a political win, despite there being no signs of breakthrough following the meetings, which have involved Secretary of State John Kerry and Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland. [Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian]

The Intercept is publishing documents from Edward Snowden related to the 2011 bin Laden raid; the documents reference a number of details relevant to the ongoing debate, but do not explicitly confirm nor disprove the most recent account from journalist Seymour Hersh, report Cora Currier et al.

Boko Haram fighters raped hundreds of women and girls captured by the group, acts described by officials and relief workers as a deliberate strategy to dominate rural residents. [New York Times’ Adam Nossiter]

The death sentences against ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and over 100 other Islamists have come under criticism from the UN, the U.S. and Turkey, with Ankara warning that the executions would “push the Middle East into turmoil.” [Reuters’ Ercan Gurses]  The New York Times editorial board argues against the “deplorable” sentences and calls on the U.S. to show more concern for the “long-term ramifications of the crackdown on Islamists that it has thus far chosen to abet.”

 

Countering violent extremism. Join former senior UN counterterrorism official, Richard Barrett, and Just Security’s Faiza Patel for a discussion on countering violent extremism on May 29, 2015. Details here.

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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