The Early Edition: July 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

Syrian government troops cut the only way into rebel-held parts of Aleppo today, according to rebel sources. This effectively puts the 250,000-odd civilians living there under siege, report Reuters’ Lisa Barrington and Tom Perry.

President Obama and Russian President Putin discussed Syria during a phone conversation yesterday, as well as Ukraine and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Putin reportedly advocated encouraging moderate Syrian opposition to separate from the Nusra Front. The two leaders both expressed their preparedness to “build up coordination of Russian and US actions in Syria in the military sphere,” according to the Kremlin, although the White House has not corroborated this. [Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz; AP]

A three-day nationwide ceasefire in Syria announced yesterday has “largely unraveled.” The “regime of calm” was intended to coincide with the Eid al-Fitr holiday to mark the end of Ramadan, reports Reuters’ Lisa Barrington et al.

Syrian rebels who failed to recapture Bukamal last week were deserted by US aircraft assigned to provide cover for the offensive, when they were ordered to divert to a target in Iraq half-way through the operation, report Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Liz Sly for the Washington Post.

Russia’s only aircraft carrier and biggest warship is reportedly heading into combat for the first time in her 26 years of service. The ship, Admiral Kuznetsov, will be used as a launch for war planes delivering strikes on Syria, although commentators are underwhelmed by the “rusting hulk” and suggest it is unlikely to be capable of making a meaningful contribution to Russia’s intervention in Syria. [The Daily Beast’s David Axe] 

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 13 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on July 5. Separately, partner forces conducted 14 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL CONTROVERSY

House Republicans have called Attorney General Loretta Lynch to testify before the House Judiciary Committee next Tuesday, following her announcement yesterday that there will be no charges against Hillary Clinton in relation to her handling of classified information. [The Hill’s Jesse Byrnes] Lynch confirmed yesterday that she had “received and accepted” the FBI’s “unanimous recommendation.” that no charges be brought and that Justice Department’s investigation into Clinton is closed. [The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams and Julian Hattem; Politico’s Karey Van Hall]

FBI Director James Comey is due to testify before Congress today to explain his decision to recommend no criminal charges against Clinton. This will “be only the beginning” of the Republican’s attempts to capitalize on Comey’s admonition of the presumptive Democratic nominee’s handling of classified information, which he called “extremely careless,” suggest David M Herszenhorn and Jonathan Martin in the New York Times.

The FBI is being subjected to a “multipronged attack” by congressional Republicans.  Five congressional committees are due to either hold hearings with high-profile officials, or else have already started enquiring about the FBI’s investigation. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has called for Clinton to be barred from the intelligence briefings usually made to presidential nominees, while Senate GOP leaders are pressing for the release of the FBI’s transcript of its 3.5 hour interview with Clinton, which took place over the July 4 weekend. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

While the evidence amassed by the FBI against Clinton will not be seen in a court of law, it must be submitted to the “court of public opinion,” argues Marc A Thiessen in the Washington Post, calling for its release. This is a matter of “intense public interest,” as FBI Director James Comey pointed out in his press briefing: Americans are entitled to be able to judge whether she is fit to serve as President.

THE CHILCOT REPORT

The main target of the Chilcot Report, released yesterday, is former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. He is accused of exaggerating the case for war, and deciding on military action before exhausting the alternatives.  For many, points out Carne Ross, who was the Iraq expert in Britain’s delegation to the UN from 1997 to 2002 and who gave evidence to the inquiry, “this comes as confirmation of what they already believed.” [New York Times]

Blair refused to apologize for ousting Saddam Hussein in a statement delivered yesterday, and would not admit that the lives lost were lost in vain, insisting that the world is now a better and safer place. [CNN’s Robin Oakley]

“I will be with you, whatever.” A pledge made in a memo by Blair to former US President George W Bush on July 28 2002 in reference to going to war in Iraq was publicized yesterday as part of the Chilcot report. The report reveals a campaign to back the US before the war, and to guide the White House toward building diplomatic support for an effort to address the apparent threat posed by Iraq. [New York Times’ Steven Erlanger and David E Sanger] At the time the memo was sent, Blair was telling the British public and Parliament that no decision to go to war in Iraq had been made. Gregory Katz discusses the contents of the memo in detail for the AP.

Could Tony Blair be prosecuted for his role in the Iraq War? Despite a tarnished public image, the legal implications of Blair’s actions are “far less clear,” writes Adam Taylor in the Washington Post. The report – which has no legal effect – called the justification given for military action “far from satisfactory.” Many have called for Blair to face trial for the “illegal” war. If the UK won’t prosecute, the International Criminal Court is the next possibility – but the ICC “cannot investigate or prosecute the crime of aggression, so the invasion of Iraq is out of its remit.” It can, however, deal with other complaints about conduct during the war, if the UK courts are unable or unwilling to.

The lessons contained in the report have “almost as much relevance to American policymakers as they do to their British counterparts,” suggests the Economist. The picture Chilcot paints is “a devastating one of individual and institutional failure.”

Former Australian army chief Peter Leahy warned his country against “blindly going along with” the US following the release of the Chilcot Report. Australia contributed 2,000 troops to the 2003 Iraq invasion. [AP’s Rod McGuirk]

BANGLADESH

Bangladeshi authorities have begun to compile a list of young men who have disappeared and have possibly been recruited by terrorist groups for operations such as the attack in Dhaka last week which killed 22 people. They blame local militant groups, rather than the Islamic State, though the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, and released a video on its website on Tuesday night warning Bangladesh that the attacks will not cease until an Islamic government has been established. Julfikar Ali Manik et al report for the New York Times.

“Extremists” attacked a large Eid prayer in Bangladesh’s Kishoreganj district this morning, throwing homemade bombs and opening fire on the police who were guarding the prayers. Two officers, a woman and one of the suspected perpetrators were killed, according to officials. [AP]

EUROPE

The surviving Brussels terror attack suspect has provided police with new details on the planning of both the Paris and Brussels terror attacks, and has told then that he was able to “hang out at a park” for four days following the March 22 Brussels attack without being detected by investigators, reports Tim Lister for CNN.

Judges in France have placed two men believed to have helped key November Paris attack suspect Saleh Abdeslam escape after the massacre under formal investigation. Mohamed Amri and Ali Oukadi allegedly accompanied Abdeslam back to Brussels, helping him past three police checks. [AFP]  The men were handed over by Belgian authorities on Wednesday. [AP’s Lorne Cook]

A French court convicted seven men – including the brother of a November Paris attacker – for taking part in a group recruiting French jihadists to join the Islamic State in Syria in 2013-14 and participating in military training in Syria yesterday. [AP]

NATO SUMMIT

NATO is expected to plant more troops and weaponry along the “eastern front” during its two-day summit, which starts tomorrow in Warsaw. However, with the UK’s exit from the EU “sucking up all the political oxygen,” it’s a question of whether anyone will even notice. [New York Times’ Rick Lyman]  The recent Brexit vote and fears over the EU’s further fragmentation have also “increased the urgency for NATO to show a unified front to the world.”  Yet at the same time, there are fears that the UK, post-Brexit, will become less interested in NATO’s affairs. The demand for “protection and support” by NATO members is nevertheless expected to be met at the summit, with promises of new battle groups in four of the region’s areas most vulnerable to the threat posed by Russia, report Henry Foy and Zosia Wasik for the Financial Times.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has offered Russia her “outstretched hand for dialogue” today, ahead of the summit. [Reuters’ Paul Carrel]

An EU-NATO deal aimed at strengthening Europe’s military capabilities is fueling a “power struggle” within the EU over “who gets to run EU foreign policy,” report Jacopo Barigazzi and Florian Eder for Politico. The agreement is due to be signed tomorrow at the summit.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

President Obama has decided to slow the pace of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, and will leave 8,400 troops there until the end of his term. Although the move will leave Obama’s successor with a “substantial military commitment” in Afghanistan, observes Mark Landler for the New York Times, it will be much lower than the nearly 40,000 troops deployed there when he first took office.

Defense Officials have complained that Obama’s decision “isn’t much of a strategy at all,” and is instead designed to “keep a lid on Afghanistan” until the election is over – revealing Obama’s lack of desire to end the war there. [The Daily Beast’s Nancy A Youssef]

Obama’s decision was apparently prompted by the entreaties of the Pentagon and NATO allies, who told him that conditions in Afghanistan do not justify further drawdown. Obama “deserves credit for accepting their advice rather than clinging to his wished-for legacy,” argues the Washington Post editorial board

The disappearance of ex-Guantánamo Bay detainee Jihad Diyab from Uruguay is “sharpening debate” in the US over the detention center, report Charlie Savage and Simon Romero for the New York Times. A House committee is due to hold an oversight hearing today concerning the Obama administration’s policy on releasing detainees to other countries.

Iranian Kurdish rebels have conducted a series of attacks against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Kurdish cities in mountainous northwestern Iran, breaking a unilateral ceasefire. Abdulla Hawez reports for the Daily Beast.

A car bomb in Libya has killed 12 Libyan troops who were allied to General Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the eastern government’s forces, who have been involved in a campaign against Islamist militants in the region, according to a military source. [Reuters’ Ayman Al-Warfalli and Patrick Markey]

The US must do nothing to harm China’s sovereignty in the South China Sea, China’s foreign minister told Secretary of State John Kerry during a phone call yesterday, adding that the US should stick to its promise not to take sides in the ongoing dispute. [Reuters’ David Brunnstrom and Ben Blanchard]

The Obama administration has placed sanctions on North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un for human rights abuses, along with 14 other North Korean officials, it announced yesterday. These are the first human rights sanctions to be imposed on any North Korean official. [New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis] 

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About the Author(s)

Zoë Chapman

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