News Roundup and Notes: August 7, 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 Syrian foreign minister visited Oman yesterday, the first visit by a senior official to a Gulf Arab state since the Syrian conflict began in 2011. The visit raises speculation about the reopening of diplomatic channels to bring the civil war to an end. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone; Reuters’ Sylvia Westall]

The US has transferred Umm Sayyaf, a female detainee captured during a May raid on the Islamic State, over to the custody of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, a Pentagon statement announced. It is unclear why she was not transferred to the central Iraqi government. Umm Sayyaf had been held in “low-profile” captivity for interrogation purposes, the first US detainee in its year-long war against the Islamic State. [The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman]  It is alleged that Umm Sayyaf played a role in the capture of US citizen Kayla Mueller, who died in captivity in Syria. [Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold]

A UN Security Council resolution creating an investigating panel to identify those responsible for using chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict, drafted by the US with Russian collaboration, is expected to easily pass the Council. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone]

The Islamic State has captured a town in Syria’s Homs province from forces loyal to the Syrian government, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [BBC]  Dozens of Christians have been abducted by the Islamic State following the group’s seizure of the town. [Reuters]

The Pentagon cannot account for the status of some of the Syrian fighters who were trained in its program, defense officials said yesterday. The compound used by many of the US-trained rebels came under attack last week by the Nusra Front, resulting in the death of at least one. [New York Times’ Adam Entous]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out 11 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on August 5. Separately, military forces conducted a further 16 strikes on targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

The US is tightening security measures for visitors on its visa waiver program, citing concerns over terror attacks on American soil. The countries affected include European states which have seen hundreds of residents join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. [Reuters]

GOP presidential candidates called for a “sharp realignment” of US foreign policy, some urging a more aggressive approach to the conflict with the Islamic State, during two debates yesterday. Damian Paletta provides details. [Wall Street Journal]

ISIS has begun expelling Kurds from the militant group’s de facto capital in Syria, Raqqa, accusing Kurdish civilians of collecting information for a Kurdish militia. [The Economist]

“Can Iraq’s former Baathists be reclaimed as valuable allies” against the Islamic State? asks Yaroslav Trofimov, exploring the role of the remaining networks of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party in Iraq today. [Wall Street Journal]

Macedonia announced the arrest of nine individuals suspected of traveling to the Middle East to fight on behalf of the Islamic State. [New York Times’ Aleksandar Dimishkovski]

IRAN

Sen Chuck Schumer has decided to oppose the Iran nuclear agreement, saying that there is a “very real risk that Iran will not moderate,” in a statement yesterday. Schumer – a key Democratic senator – is the first to announce his opposition to the deal. [The Guardian; New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer and Jonathan Weisman]

MoveOn criticized Schumer for his failure to support the deal. The liberal activist group, questioning his leadership ability, said no “real Democratic leader does this.” [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

A “nightmare” and a “catastrophe” would occur if Congress rejects the Iran deal, a top German official has said, saying that Germany is “convinced” the deal makes Israel safer. [Politico’s Michael Crowley]

GOP presidential candidates took turns criticizing the Iran deal at yesterday’s debate. Kristina Wong provides details. [The Hill]

Satellite imagery suggests Iran is scrubbing down a contested nuclear facility, potentially to remove signs of nuclear activity there. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

“If we are to understand the Iranian regime, we must look at what it is doing, not just saying,” argues Israel’s Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, suggesting that Tehran is using the deal to “gloss over” its role in the Middle East and its sponsorship of terrorism. [The Guardian]

The New York Times editorial board commends President Obama’s defense of the nuclear accord as “blunt and forceful,” discussing the president’s speech at American University on Wednesday.

The Iran nuclear deal will strengthen the “tyrannical, revolutionary and fundamentalist regime” of the ayatollahs of Tehran, according to José María Aznar, suggesting that contrary to Obama’s claims, “there are effective alternatives that fall between this agreement and war.” [Wall Street Journal]

AFGHANISTAN

A suicide truck bomber attacked the center of Kabul today, killing at least eight people and wounding hundreds, officials said. The explosion was the most powerful to hit the Afghan capital in years. There has been no claim of responsibility. [Reuters; Washington Post’s Pamela Constable and Mohammed Sharif]

The “myth” of Mullah Omar, and the unity it imposed on the Taliban “became convenient in some way, either politically or militarily.” Joseph Goldstein explores the “striking phenomenon” around the secrecy of his death which “illuminates some of the murkier dynamics of the war in Afghanistan.” [New York Times]

The split in the Taliban created by Mullah Omar’s death creates a “real possibility” for a compromise with a “moderate” Taliban, supported by the regional powers, argue Anatol Lieven and Rudra Chaudhuri. [New York Times]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A suicide attack in Saudi Arabia which killed 15 people inside a mosque has been claimed by the Islamic State. [Al Jazeera]  The mosque targeted is used by Saudi security forces and is close to the Yemen border. [Washington Post’s Hugh Naylor]

The explosion of a leftover military ordnance in Gaza killed four people and wounded over 40 yesterday. It is as yet unclear whether the ordnance, left from last summer’s 50-day Gaza war, came from Israeli or Palestinian forces. [New York Times’ Majd Al Waheidi and Diaa Hadid]

A French citizen was released from captivity after she was abducted six months ago in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a. France has not released details of her release, including the name of the group responsible. [France 24]

Russia is suspected of responsibility for a cyberattack on the US military’s joint staff’s unclassified email network last month, US officials said yesterday. [Reuters]

The White House accused Congress of “not taking care of business before leaving on vacation,” following senators’ failure to get through a major cybersecurity bill before the August recess began. [The Hill’s Cory Bennett]

A “comprehensive occupational and environmental health survey” is taking place at the US Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, seeking to address concerns that there may be carcinogens on site, reports Carol Rosenberg. [Miami Herald]

A new round of UN-brokered peace talks between parties to the Libya conflict are planned to begin next week. The UN envoy for Libya has called for a redoubling of efforts to reach a political resolution. [UN News Centre]

Relatives of Osama bin Laden were killed in a plane crash in Hampshire, UK last week. The private plane was travelling to Milan when it landed too far down the runway. The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) released a special bulletin report. [The Guardian’s Nadia Khomami] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security