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The Early Edition: April 7, 2016

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

Mosul offensive. The Iraqi army has been forced to halt its campaign to retake the city of Mosul from Islamic State while it waits for more forces to arrive, the army’s commander said this morning. The campaign has suffered numerous setbacks, and has so far recaptured just three villages in the Makhmour area. [Al Jazeera; Wall Street Journal’s Ben Kesling]

An Iraqi Shi’ite paramilitary group has pledged to support government forces in retaking Mosul. Politicians are objecting that this could prompt sectarian fighting in the city. [Reuters]

The US plans to increase the number of “fire bases” in northern Iraq in preparation to support the Iraqi army in its advance on Mosul, likely to be “the biggest battle of the war” with Islamic State, reports Nancy A Youssef. [The Daily Beast]

Islamic State has seized “dozens” of workers following an attack on a cement factory to the east of Damascus, Syria, amid heavy fighting in the area over the past few days. [BBC]

Islamic State commander, Abu Sakkar is believed to have died at the hands of a rival group on Tuesday in the northwestern Idlib province of Syria. [Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor]

President Obama’s “pride” in his policy not to bomb Syria is misplaced, says Fred Hiatt, who suggests that, given the consequences for Syria’s population, Obama is in reality “trying to convince himself” that he made the right decision. [Washington Post]

German police have arrested a Syrian man on suspicion of war crimes in Syria, Germany’s federal public prosecutor has confirmed. The man, apprehended yesterday, allegedly tortured prisoners in Aleppo and looted and sold artworks. This is the latest of a number of recent arrests in Germany. [Wall Street Journal’s Zeke Turner]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out four airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on April 6. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 19 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

“PANAMA PAPERS”

Law firm Mossack Fonseca continued to do business with Iranian state-owned oil firms despite UN and US sanctions, the Panama Papers have revealed. Juliette Garside et al set out the details. [The Guardian]

The Russian government have dismissed the Panama Papers as “a giant smear campaign” to discredit President Putin in the lead up to the elections this year, reports Matthew Chance, while critics say that the absence of any direct references to Putin himself among the papers “shows how corruption really works in Russia.” [CNN]

Relatives of three of the five most powerful members on the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, including President Xi Jinping, have controlled offshore companies that feature in the leaked documents. [New York Times’ Michael Forsythe]

Britain needs its own FBI to enforce anti-money laundering regulations, suggests the Guardian, now that the Panama Papers have “drawn attention to how little action there has been” to combat corruption in the country.

A full list of the revelations so far has been provided by the Guardian.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The FBI “purchased” a tool in order to gain access to the iPhone owned by one of the San Bernardino shooters, the head of the FBI said yesterday. [Fox News]

The White House will not support draft legislation that would empower judges to order technology companies to assist law enforcement in cracking encrypted data, close sources have reported. [Reuters]

Facebook posts suggest the social networking site has hosted large-scale sales of military weapons to terrorists, in violation of the company’s recent ban on private weapons sales. [New York Times’ C J Chivers]

“Oh, now he’s interested in privacy.” Edward Snowden, who is critical of recent efforts in the UK to broaden the government’s surveillance powers, was prompted to Tweet his disdain for British Prime Minister David Cameron following revelations that his late father had not paid British taxes since the 1980s. [Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor]

IRAN

Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with the Gulf Cooperation Council today to try to generate support for resolving conflicts in the region, a hard task given that the six-member group consider that the US is not doing enough to deter Iran, the country they see as their biggest threat. [CNN’s Elise Labott]

The US should send Iran a real message that its attempts to exploit loopholes in the nuclear agreement – particularly by testing ballistic missiles – will not be tolerated, says the Washington Post editorial board, which favors the approach being discussed by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker and Democrat Ben Cardin over the Obama administration’s “waffling.”

Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk introduced legislation yesterday to prevent foreign banks from being able to make currency exchanges for Iran that involve US dollars. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

EUROPEAN TERROR THREAT

One of the Brussels bombers was a previous EU Parliament employee, working there as a cleaner for one month six years ago, a spokesperson for the EU assembly said today. [Reuters]

Belgium’s prime minister called on security services throughout Europe to cooperate by sharing information as an “absolute priority” in combating terrorism, yesterday, but did not announce any domestic reforms following the bombing attacks in Brussels two weeks ago. [Wall Street Journal’s Natalia Drozdiak]

EGYPT

Top administration officials are concerned for the safety of US forces based in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, considered vulnerable to attack by Islamic State. Even so, the State Department said yesterday that it will not be withdrawing troops from the area. [Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson and Jennifer Griffin]

Egyptian investigators are expected to pass on evidence in relation to the murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni at a meeting with their Italian counterparts in Rome today. [BBC]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

US bombs were used by the Saudi-led coalition in its attack on a market in Yemen last month, according to a report by Human Rights Watch, released yesterday. [New York Times’ Kareem Fahim and C J Chivers]

The National Salvation Government has reneged its earlier statement that it would step aside, suggesting a split inside the authority that currently governs from Libya’s capital, Tripoli. The U-turn represents a set-back for the UN-backed unity government. [Al Jazeera]

Suspected militants attacked a Pakistani security post on the Afghan border today, resulting in the deaths of 12 militants, the uninjured remainder fleeing back toward Afghanistan. Also on Thursday, a bomb at a checkpoint near Peshawar killed a police officer. [AP]

Should the US offer  refuge to those who stood up to the Taliban in Afghanistan and who are currently at risk in the dangerous environment left following America’s invasion almost 15 years ago? Various experts consider this question for the New York Times.

Plans to assemble a crew of trainers capable of instant deployment whenever needed to assist allied local forces were set out by NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg yesterday, speaking to Washington-based think tank the Atlantic Council. [Wall Street Journal’s Paul Sonne]

The Prosecutor for the ICTY will appeal the court’s recent acquittal of Serbian politician Vojislav Šešelj, who had been accused of war crimes, he announced yesterday, having reviewed the written reasons given for the March 31 verdict. [UN News Centre]

Tensions in the South China Sea are mounting further, notes the New York Times editorial board, citing developments such as the “growing security cooperation” between Japan and the Philippines in the face of China’s “sweeping territorial claims and bullying tactics.”

The US “continues to stockpile land mines” and “reserves the right to use them on the Korean Peninsula,” even as Secretary of State John Kerry honored International Mine Awareness Day on Monday,  highlighting US contributions to the removal of land mines worldwide and announcing a new plan to disarm Islamic State explosives in Ramadi, Iraq, reports Alex Emmons. [The Intercept]

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About the Authors

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE