News Roundup and Notes: May 29, 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 Pentagon is seeking to “fine tune” the U.S. strategy in Iraq to defeat the Islamic State, with a focus on how best to train and equip Sunni tribal forces, who may prove critical in reversing the gains made by the militant group, defense officials said yesterday. [AP’s Robert Burns and Lolita C. Baldor]

U.S. Army Chief Gen. Raymond Odierno has indicated a willingness to embed U.S. advisers with Iraqi troops, while recognizing the increased risks with this approach. [Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber]

The administration’s military shortcomings in Iraq are “matched by political failings,” writes the Washington Post editorial board, calling for the deployment of more American advisers and greater air support to assist the Iraqis. And David Ignatius calls for “old-fashioned spying” on ISIS, while acknowledging the greater risks involved. [Washington Post]

A victory in Ramadi, led by Iran-backed Shi’ite militias, could undermine the administration’s overall goal: “a unified, stable Iraq where Iran doesn’t call the shots.” Michael Crowley details the problems with deploying Shi’ite militias to the Sunni-dominated Anbar province. [Politico]

Congress is avoiding a debate on war powers, with lawmakers on both sides reluctant to take up the administration’s proposed AUMF, reports Burgess Everett. [Politico]

Syrian rebels have gained control of the city of Ariha, one of the final government strongholds in Idlib province; the Islamist rebel coalition included al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. [BBC]  Meanwhile, in Palmyra, the Islamic State is carrying out municipal functions while simultaneously terrorizing civilians, since taking control of the historic city last week. [New York Times’ Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad]

Fierce fighting continues at Beiji oil refinery, as Iraqi troops and Shi’ite forces aim to reclaim the country’s largest oil refinery from the Islamic State. [Al Jazeera]

Car bombs at two hotels in Baghdad have killed at least 10 people in the Iraqi capital. [AP]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. Coalition forces conducted six airstrikes in Syria against ISIS targets on May 27. Separately coalition forces carried out 20 airstrikes against the militant group in Iraq. [U.S. Central Command]

A U.S.-trained leader of Tajikistan’s elite forces unit has joined ISIS in Syria; 200-500 Tajik nationals are believed to be fighting for the extremist group. [Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor]

The Islamic State “is far from winning” despite recent gains; The Economist explains why.  Meanwhile, Michael Weiss writes that ISIS will win “no matter what happens next,” noting that a Ramadi counteroffensive will likely extend to Sunni civilians, involving executions, torture and ethnic cleansing. [The Daily Beast]

The UN General Assembly has adopted a resolution condemning the destruction of Iraq’s cultural heritage, vowing to tackle the “cultural cleansing,” including by prosecuting antiquities smugglers. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone; UN News Centre]

“Gender and the ISIS Phenomenon.” A new report from London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue and ICSR explores the multiple reasons Western women are drawn to ISIS territory, and the role played by these women in propaganda dissemination and recruitment.

At least 12 Melbourne women have attempted to join the Islamic State, and five have been successful in their efforts, according to Australian police. [ABC News’ Stephanie Ferrier]

SURVEILLANCE, TECHNOLOGY, and PRIVACY

Lawmakers have used “increasingly alarming” rhetoric in support of as well as in opposition to the surveillance authorities due to expire this month. Charlie Savage offers a “reality check,” noting little evidence to back arguments on either side. [New York Times]

The expiring provisions of the Patriot Act are unlikely to return if they are allowed to sunset on June 1, lawmakers on both sides tell The Daily Beast, reports Shane Harris.

Senate Democratic leaders are urging Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to support the House-approved USA Freedom Act, stating that the “time for game-playing is over.” [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

The Patriot Act provisions should be allowed to expire, although a debate aimed at striking the right balance regarding intelligence gathering and judicial oversight should continue, writes the New York Times editorial board.

The “security stalemate” over surveillance powers is “reckless even for Washington,” according to the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which outlines the problems with the USA Freedom Act.

AFGHANISTAN

Civilians remain at risk from the fighting in Afghanistan’s north, where the Taliban is waging a new battle. [AP‘s Lynne O’Donnell]

The Taliban has confirmed it made an official visit to Iran. Talks were held with Iranian security and military officials, and apparently covered numerous regional issues. Abbas Qaidaari explores the reason behind the emerging relations at Al-Monitor.

Who will lead Afghan’s war efforts? Kate Clark profiles the new nominees for chief of army staff and defense minister, the government’s fourth attempt to fill this key post. [Afghanistan Analysts Network]

CHINA

U.S. surveillance images have revealed Chinese artillery on an artificial island in the South China Sea, U.S. officials said ahead of the annual regional security conference in Singapore. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E. Barnes and Gordon Lubold]  The Wall Street Journal’s Adam Z. Horvath interviews Cui Tiankai, the Chinese Ambassador to the U.S., who warns the U.S. against forming “anti-China” alliances.

As tensions between China and the U.S. continue to mount, “the risks of confrontation are growing,” according to The Economist.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

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

Antiaircraft fire by Houthi militias is the leading cause of death in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, according to medical staff and residents. An Amnesty International report documents casualties in the conflict between the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition.

New data suggests that a majority of Americans support drone strikes against extremists. [The Hill’s Lydia Wheeler]  The Pew Research Center found that 58% of those surveyed in May supported the use of armed drones in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

A timeline of Clinton’s emails released so far and relating to the 2012 Benghazi attacks is put together by The Hill’s Ben Kamisar and Martin Matishak. Secretary of State John Kerry is being sued by Judicial Watch in an effort to obtain access to Clinton’s emails from her tenure at the State Department. [Washington Times’ Stephen Dinan]

A new Russian presidential decree classifies Russian military deaths as state secrets, including casualties during special operations in peacetime, amid accusations that the country is concealing deaths in Ukraine. [CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet]

The OPCW announced that 90% of declared chemical weapons worldwide have been destroyed, heralded by the director-general as a “major milestone” for the organization. [OPCW]

North Korea might be equipped to conduct lethal cyberattacks, warned a defector. [BBC]

The pending nuclear deal with Iran could have a significant impact on the regional balance of power. Yaroslav Trofimov explores whether the outcome is likely to favor Iran’s hardliners or the country’s reformers. [The Wall Street Journal’s]

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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

Sarika Arya

Former Summer Fellow at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@sarika_arya).