News Roundup and Notes: August 24, 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

Tests on rounds fired by ISIS against Kurdish forces in Iraq have tested positive for mustard gas, the Pentagon said on Friday. Further tests could also show how much of the chemical warfare agent was used and where it came from. [Stars and Stripes’ Tara Copp]  Further, opposition rebels and local civilians accused ISIS militants of using a chemical agent in an attack near the Syrian city of Aleppo late Friday which killed one and wounded at least 10. [Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim]

The Islamic State’s second in command was killed by an August 18 drone strike close to Mosul, Iraq, the National Security Council said Friday. Haji Mutazz is said to have been in charge of the group’s operations in Iraq and a key military strategist. [CNN’s Barbara Starr and Jim Acosta]

ISIS has blown up the ancient temple of Baal Shamin in the Syrian city of Palmyra, the country’s antiquities chief said; the report was later confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Islamic State took control of the city on May 21, sparking concern over the safety of Palmyra’s UNESCO heritage sites. [AFP; BBC]

A Turkish military vehicle hit explosives buried under the road today, killing two soldiers and wounding others, the latest attack following the collapse of a ceasefire with Kurdish militants, security sources said. Turkey has conducted over 400 airstrikes on PKK positions in northern Iraq since late July. [Reuters]

“There’s a lot of blood between the lines.” The Daily Beast hosts an interview with the leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, an Iran-backed militia fighting in Iraq and regarded with much suspicion by the US. 

IRAN

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid endorsed President Obama’s nuclear accord with Iran yesterday, pledging to do everything in his power to ensure the deal stands, in an interview with the Washington Post, reports Paul Kane. In a statement later Sunday, Reid said the deal was the “best path forward” and that its critics “failed to articulate a viable alternative.”

Britain must “tread carefully” as relations with Iran improve in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said. Speaking ahead of talks with President Hassan Rouhani, and as the UK reopened its embassy in Tehran, Hammond said Iran was “too important a player” to leave in isolation. [BBC]

It is too early to start discussions on reopening the US embassy in Tehran, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said yesterday, adding that the United States’ “illogical attitude” toward Iran prevented the possibility. [Reuters]

The only physicist in Congress, Rep Bill Foster remains undecided on the Iran nuclear accord, saying he feels a “special responsibility” to carefully review the technical aspects of the deal, in an interview with The Hill’s Julian Hattem.

President Obama’s “strongest argument in favor of passage has also become his greatest vulnerability;” David E. Sanger and Michael R. Gordon comment on concerns about the lapse of concrete restraints on Iran’s nuclear program after 15 years. [New York Times]

Former national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft urged Congress to support the Iran nuclear accord, saying that the deal represents an “epochal moment that should not be squandered,” in an op-ed at the Washington Post.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board comments on revelations regarding side agreement between the IAEA and Tehran, writing that the report that Iran will be allowed carry out its own inspections of the Parchin military site is a “new one in the history of arms control,” and displays a “secrecy” which “should be unacceptable in Congress.”

The AP story on a draft of a side deal between Iran and the IAEA found itself on the receiving end of Iran Deal “trutherism,” writes Tom Nichols, discussing the social media attack on the report and what it reveals about the “politicization of expertise.” [The Daily Beast]

YEMEN

Houthi rocket fire killed 14 civilians, mainly children, as fighting escalates for control of the city of Taiz, residents said. [Reuters]

A British citizen has been released after being held hostage by al-Qaeda in Yemen, the UK Foreign Office announced; Robert Semple was freed by UAE forces and is “safe and well.” [BBC]

AQAP fighters tried to seize control of a military base in Aden on Sunday before suddenly withdrawing, according to local fighters and a senior military official. [New York Times’ Saeed al-Batati and Kareem Fahim]

FRANCE TRAIN SHOOTING

An attempted terror attack on a French train was foiled on Friday; the suspect, a Moroccan national, is accused of launching a gun attack, armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle among other weapons. The attack raises questions about Europe’s railway security. [France 24]  The BBC has a breakdown of the events that took place.

The gunman is “dumbfounded” at claims that he is an Islamist militant, saying he only intended to rob passengers. [Reuters’ Marine Pennetier and Catherine MacDonald]

Three Americans and a Briton were awarded France’s highest honor – the Légion d’honneur – by the country’s president for their roles in preventing the attack. The men wrestled the attacker to the ground after he opened fire. [Reuters]

Europe faces a “deepening quandary” of how to tackle mounting attacks on “soft targets,” without “paralyzing” public spaces or resorting to more intrusive surveillance, reports Adam Nossiter. [New York Times]

THE KOREAS

South Korea’s president demanded North Korea apologize for recent landmine blasts today, as the rival states held “marathon talks” aimed at defusing tensions which are bringing the peninsula close to the brink of armed conflict, report Jack Kim and Ju-Min Park. [Reuters]

North Korea deployed twice the usual number of artillery pieces along its border with the South yesterday, and the majority of its submarines were out of their bases. [New York Times’ Choe Sang-Hun]

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on the parties to “redouble efforts” to find a diplomatic solution to the situation, welcoming high-level meetings taking place on Saturday. [UN News Centre]

The New York Times editorial board opines that confrontation between the Koreas “must be taken seriously and managed carefully,” and the US and China must take on key roles in encouraging restraint.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

A suicide attack outside a hospital in Kabul killed at least 12 people and wounded 60 others on Saturday, including three American contractors. [The Guardian’s Sune Engel Rasmussen]  The UN’s mission in Afghanistan condemned the attack “in the strongest terms.” [UN News Centre]

Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will resign as chairman of the executive committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, a “mainly symbolic” step, reports Jack Khoury. [Haaretz]

An al-Shabaab suicide attack at a military camp in the Somali city of Kismayo killed at least 10 soldiers on Saturday, security officials said. [AP]

The FBI is trying to fire an agent for intentionally shooting a suspect following revelations that the agent violated bureau policy by firing a “bad shoot,” reports Charlie Savage. The information was obtained by the Times using the FOIA, obtaining the FBI shooting reports in several batches. [New York Times]

Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie and 16 others have been sentenced to life in prison in relation to a 2013 attack on a police station which killed five people, Egypt’s state-run news agency said. [AP]

“Russia’s playing a double game with Islamic Terror.” Michael Weiss discusses evidence which points to the Russian Federal Security Service “feeding Dagestanis to ISIS.” [The Daily Beast]

Hillary Clinton’s response to controversy over her email server has been “too lawyerly,” former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”  And former Rep Ellen Tauscher said that the scrutiny Clinton has faced is “unprecedented,” noting that “[e]veryone knows four former secretaries had personal email accounts,” on “Fox News Sunday.”

The US will keep sending new weapons and military equipment to the Asia-Pacific region to counter Chinese activities in the South China Sea, a new Pentagon strategy document says. [Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber]

A US Army storage depot near Tokyo was affected by explosions of still-undetermined origin early today, the Pentagon said. No injuries were reported. [New York Times’ Andrew Siddons and Makiko Inoue] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security