The Early Edition: May 18, 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

Syria peace talks. Following meetings yesterday in Vienna, the International Syria Support Group committed to using airdrops to deliver much-needed humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians. The group, which includes the US, Russia and other world powers, failed to agree a date to resume fraught peace negotiations. [Wall Street Journal’s Valentina Pop; The Guardian’s Ian Black]

Deadly fighting continues across Syria, with more than 300 people killed in recent government airstrikes in Aleppo and fierce clashes taking place in Idlib, Deir Az Zor and the outskirts of Damascus. [Al Jazeera]

The death toll from a string of bomb attacks yesterday in Baghdad has risen to at least 70, the Islamic State claiming responsibility for the bombings, saying they were aimed at Shi’ite militia fighters allied with the Iraqi government. The government looks “increasingly paralyzed” in its response to the almost-daily attacks in and around the Iraqi capital, report Ghassan Adnan and Asa Fitch. [Wall Street Journal]  More than 200 people have been killed in the past week from ISIS attacks on the city. [Washington Post’s Mustafa Salim and Erin Cunningham]

Fallujah may be the “next big battle” in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq, reports Nancy A. Youssef, citing Iraqi officials who have told their US counterparts that they suspect the majority-Sunni city is sending jihadists to attack the capital. [The Daily Beast]

Iraqi government forces have reclaimed the town of Rutba from ISIS, according to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi; Rutba was described by the US-coalition as an important “support zone” used by the militant group to launch attacks to the north and east of the western town. [BBC]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out two airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on May 16. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 10 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

It has become “commonplace” to argue that Syria’s five-year civil war and the breakdown of post US-invasion Iraq has split Middle Eastern states into their pre-Sykes-Picot agreement “ethno-sectarian fragments,” writes David Gardner. However, he says, “a fuller picture of what is happening in the Middle East today might look at what came before Sykes-Picot as well as what came after.” [Financial Times]

YEMEN

Yemen has suspended peace talks with Shi’ite rebels, its foreign minister saying on Tuesday that the rebels have refused to accept the legitimacy of Yemen’s president. [AP]

Houthi rebels in Yemen have been carrying out a wave of arrests of politicians, journalists, academics and activists, among others, who oppose them, according to Amnesty International, claiming that the rebels have tortured some detainees. [BBC]

LIBYA

“Hell on earth: life under ISIS in Libya.” Nico Hines discusses a new report from Human Rights Watch, which paints the reality of life in areas controlled by the militant group – including no medical supplies, food shortages and public executions. [The Daily Beast]

The Islamic State has executed almost 50 people in Libya, the report also says. [CNN’s Joshua Berlinger]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act was passed by the Senate yesterday, which will allow families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi Arabian government in US courts. [AP]  Despite President Obama’s threat to veto the Act, it was unanimously passed by the Senate. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney and Julian Hattem]

The House adopted an amendment to a defense policy and spending bill which caps National Security Council staff at 100 unless the Senate authorizes an increase on request by the National Security Adviser. NSA staffers were accused of “micromanagement” of military forces by House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), who proposed the amendment. The House is expected to vote on the bill today. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

A fifth round of four-nation talks aimed at laying the groundwork for an end to the war in Afghanistan began today in Pakistan. The talks involve officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the US and China. The Taliban has not attended any of the talks so far. [Reuters’ Mehreen Zahra-Malik]

“Call me Nashwan al-Tamir.” The only formally-trained military officer on trial at the Guantánamo Bay war court, known as Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, revealed his “real name” in court on Tuesday. He is on trial for war crimes having allegedly run al-Qaeda’s army in Afghanistan after the US 2001 invasion. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

Investigators have unearthed the “last testament” of surviving Belgian terror attack suspect Mohamed Abrini – the “man in the hat” – on a computer found in a rubbish bin in the Brussels district, Schaerbeek. It reveals that he approved of the November Paris attacks and hoped to die a martyr himself. [BBC]

China is staging “war games” involving air, land, and sea drills, along its east coast, which faces Taiwan. The games come days before the inauguration of Taiwan’s new president. [AP’s Christopher Bodeen]

Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is open to talks with North Korea and “would have no problem” meeting leader Kim Jong-un, he told reporters yesterday. Doing so would signify a shift in US police towards the North Korean regime. [BBC]

Turkish military airstrikes have hit PKK targets in southeast Turkey and Iraq, killing at least 10, Turkish security sources have confirmed this morning. [Reuters’ Seyhmus Cakan and David Dolan]

A double-bombing in Peshawar, Pakistan, has killed a police officer and wounded several other people today, according to local police. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks. [AP’s Riaz Khan]

Interviews with current and former aides to Hillary Clinton by a conservative legal watchdog Judicial Watch in relation to her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state will begin today. The interviews, the first of which – according to Judicial Watch’s court filing – will be with Lewis Lukens, former director of the State Department’s executive secretariat, will stretch into June. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

The Real Time Regional Gateway is a “highly secretive program” developed by the NSA to respond to a need for real-time intelligence at the height of the Iraq war, reports Catherine Herridge. The program, which the NSA has not spoken about publicly until now, has placed thousands of NSA specialists on the battlefield since 9.11. [Fox News]

“The real reckoning in Hiroshima should be about the future of nuclear weapons, not the past,” writes Katrina vanden Heuvel. What is more, she considers that the President must speak “forthrightly” during his forthcoming visit there or risk undermining his pledge to work for a nuclear-free world. The visit must mark a renewed commitment to this pledge, backed up by deeds: taking US nuclear weapons off “hair-trigger alert,” limiting them to deterrence only, and scrapping plans to build a new wave of nuclear weapons. [Washington Post]

“Four things to know about Hillary Clinton’s approach to foreign policy:” she’s experienced; she’s “more hawkish than President Obama” but “may not be that hawkish;” and she cares about alliances. Scott Horsley report. [NPR] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security

Zoë Chapman

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