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
Turkey is building a giant concrete wall to block the Syrian border close to the Turkish city of Gaziantep, a region that has been a thoroughfare for thousands of extremist fighters joining the Islamic State in Syria. Turkey has always denied it has permitted this movement, though documents obtained by Dominique Soguel and Aya Batrawy of the AP indicate a “pattern of porousness” along Turkey’s border with Syria, those who are documented as entering by that route making up “between 25 to 40 percent of the estimated total of IS’s foreign recruits.”
Recent Islamic State-linked attacks in four countries indicate the “limitations” of US-led efforts to oust the group from Syria and Iraq, write Warren Strobel and John Walcott for Reuters. That said, the Obama administration’s portrayal of the Islamic State’s attacks worldwide as a direct consequence of the US-led military successes in Iraq and Syria is “overly simplistic and understates how Islamic State’s influence has spread beyond the territory it controls.”
The latest attacks “reveal an enemy that is adapting, becoming more sophisticated than Al Qaeda, and nurturing a far-flung network of operations, including in the West.” This requires a “complex response,” suggests the New York Times editorial board, with improved intelligence, coordinated attempts to locate terrorist before they attack, and improved strategies to counter extremist propaganda as necessary as bombing.
Al-Qaeda is “the principal benefactor” of Syrian President Assad’s continued survival, for whom, as things stand, there is no reason to view the political process “as anything less than a game in which to taunt and kill his adversaries, while compelling his allies to double-down in defense of his regime.” Charles Lister blames the US’s failure to solve the Syrian crisis, which he says is prompting Syrians to see al-Qaeda as “a more loyal protector of their lives” than the US. [The Daily Beast]
A suicide bombing outside a bakery in Syria’s Hassakeh province killed at least ten yesterday, Syria’s state-run news agency and the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which puts the death toll at 16 – have reported. [AP]
Three people were killed in a mortar attack on a camp for displaced Iraqis close to Baghdad late last night, according to the UN. The camp is populated by families who fled there in the wake of the Islamic State. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. [AP]
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 11 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on July 4. Separately, partner forces conducted 11 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
THE CHILCOT REPORT
The Chilcot report on the Iraq War has been released today, finding that the UK did not exhaust all peaceful options before joining the invasion of Iraq, that judgments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction “were presented with a certainty that was not justified,” and that post-war planning was “wholly inadequate.” Speaking ahead of the report’s release at 11:35 GMT, enquiry head Sir John Chilcot said he hoped that future military action on such a scale would only be possible in future with more careful analysis and political judgment. [BBC]
Whatever the report establishes, there are “at least three deeper truths about Iraq,” writes David Gardner for the Financial Times. First, it revealed the “limits to US power” – to which Britain was a “side show” – and its lack of ability to “shape the broader Middle East.” Second, “Iraq led to Syria.” Third, the West’s “recklessness” in Iraq, and then its “fecklessness” in Syria, have led to “inescapable if unintended consequences,” at least for the UK and the EU.
HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL CONTROVERSY
FBI Director James Comey recommended yesterday that no criminal charges be brought against Hillary Clinton in relation to her use of a private email server to handle classified information while serving as secretary of state. [New York Times’ Mark Landler and Eric Lichtblau]
However, Comey did describe Clinton’s behavior as “extremely careless” in a 15-minute statement at FBI headquarters, adding that “any reasonable person” in Clinton’s position would have known that the sensitive information she was handling warranted greater security. [Wall Street Journal’s Kate O’Keeffe and Byron Tau]
This will undercut the argument she has consistently made, that the whole issue is the result of over-zealous, after-the-fact classification of emails as they were publicized under the Freedom of Information Act, suggests Steven Lee Myers in the New York Times.
“Rigged for the powerful.” The most “revealing” part of Comey’s statement was the following, suggests the Wall Street Journal editorial board: “This is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences.” This exposes double standards within the FBI, insists the board.
Comey’s comments may have been “unusual,” but they were a “justifiable departure from normal practice,” writes Ruth Marcus. Comey’s statement took this bad situation and “made it better,” revealing to the public information that is not sufficient to support criminal charges, but which will be deemed by many to be relevant to their assessment of Clinton’s suitability for presidency. [Washington Post]
It is possible that Clinton’s email system was accessed by “hostile actors,” Comey said, though the FBI investigation did not uncover any successful hacks on her “homebrew” setup. Comey said that, given the nature of the attackers, he “wouldn’t expect to see any evidence.” The most likely suspects are apparently Russia, China, and Israel. [Politico’s Eric Geller and Martin Matishak]
The State Department has taken issue with Comey’s comment that its “security culture” is “generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information found elsewhere in the government.” The FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s former email habits uncovered a number of shortcomings, in particular the State Department’s habit of using unclassified email systems to discuss sensitive information. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]
The death toll from Sunday’s bombing in Iraq’s capital has risen to 250, the Iraqi government has confirmed. This is now the deadliest such attack since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, reports the BBC.
Iraq’s interior minister Muhammad Ghabban has resigned following the bombing, making the announcement at a news conference yesterday. His resignation will only be official, however, if Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi approves it. [Reuters]
Bangladesh’s politicians’ inability to work together and habit of using attacks for political gain may have helped extremist groups to gain a foothold in the country, political scientists and terrorism researchers worry. This “long-toxic political atmosphere” has continued following the attack in Dhaka, reports Syed Zain Al-Mahmood for the Wall Street Jounal.
A hostage in the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka last Friday was shot by police who mistook him for one of the gunmen, subsequently releasing his picture along with the other attackers. [BBC]
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has vowed to “strike with an iron fist” those responsible for Monday’s suicide attacks, the death toll as a consequence of which has now risen to four, as well as those responsible. [Al Jazeera]
The triple suicide-attack “can hardly be thought of as incidental,” writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board: the Islamic State, it suggests – though the group has not claimed responsibility for the attacks – would like nothing more than to destroy the “pro-American” House of Saud and take Islam’s holiest cities for themselves.
Fifteen people were sentenced for their involvement in a terror plot that was thwarted in Belgium in 2015, yesterday. The plot is believed to have been orchestrated by Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was the on-the-ground coordinator for the November Paris attacks. [New York Times’ Alissa J Rubin]
“Our country was not ready; now we must get ready.” Further details of the report of a French parliamentary commission set up to assess the failure to prevent a series of terror attacks in France in 2015 have been provided by Angelique Chrisafis in the Guardian. The report highlights “global failure” among French intelligence services, and recommends replacing them with a US-style national counter-terrorism agency.
SOUTH CHINA SEA
The Philippines is prepared to talk to China if the arbitration panel in The Hague rules in its favor, rather than go to war, its new President Rodrigo Duterte said yesterday, adding that the Philippines will accept and abide by the ruling if, conversely, it does not go in its favor. [AP’s Tersa Cerojano]
Veteran Chinese foreign policy maker Dai Bingguo urged the US to scale back its “heavy-handed intervention” in the South China Sea in a speech in Washington yesterday. [Washington Post’s Chun Han Wong]
Brazilian authorities are attempting to find missing former Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab, whom Uruguay, where Dhiab was resettled after his release, continues to insist is visiting Brazil. [AP]
The US criticized Israel’s plans to build hundreds of new homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, State Department spokesperson John Kirby calling the plans the “latest step … in a systematic process of land seizure.” [BBC] Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has authorized the building of over a thousand new homes, according to an Israeli official, presenting the move as a response to a series of attacks by Palestinians against Jewish settlers, reports Josef Federman for the AP.
The UN is “screwing up” the political process in Libya by trying to impose an unfeasible agreement on the country’s various factions, Libya’s prime minister – the head of a weak interim government based in eastern Libya and rival to the UN-brokered presidency council based in Tripoli – said yesterday. [AP’s Maggie Michael]
An ex-National Guardsman has been arrested for allegedly offering to obtain weapons for what he believed was going to be an Islamic State attack on US soil, the Justice Department said yesterday. [The Hill]
A suicide car bomb in the southern Yemeni port city of Aden has killed at least 10 inside a military and security compound located next to the city’s international airport today. No group has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, reports Ahmen Al-Haj for the AP.
The UK faces being treated like other non-European countries when it comes to transferring personal data when it leaves the EU, writes Duncan Robinson for the Financial Times. Personal data can easily be transferred between EU countries under EU privacy rules, but can only be transferred outside the bloc if certain criteria are fulfilled.