The Early Edition: September 1, 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

Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed cooperation in Syria in a phone call this morning, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry, Reuters reports.

Russia’s defense ministry said its airstrikes, not the US’s, killed Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani alongside 39 other Islamic State militants in a statement yesterday, reports the AP’s Zeina Karam.

While the death of al-Adnani has removed the group’s most valuable figure, it does not signal the end of the carnage, Martin Chulov writes at the Guardian. The people and structures al-Adnani put in place mean that the “global savagery” that was his calling card will continue without him.

The Islamic State has a “deep bench” of successors for al-Adnani, and even its top leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, should he be killed, hence the group’s resilience despite the fact that the US-led coalition has killed about 120 of its important members, including around a dozen of its top leaders, according to the Pentagon. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt et al]

The Syrian government conducted heavy airstrikes on rebel-held areas of Hama province today, a counterattack to the rebels’ seizing of the area over the past few days. At least 17 people were killed in the airstrikes overnight, according to The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters]  

An increase in chemical weapons attacks from the Islamic State is expected as the battle to retake Mosul approaches, according to Kurdish forces. The Islamic State has staged at least 13 chemical attacks against Kurdish forces in Iraq since the start of the year, reports Reuters’ Mohammed A. Salih.

Cluster bombs continue to be used with impunity in Syria, and in Yemen, the seventh annual Cluster Munition Monitor has found. There is “compelling evidence” that Russia has used the bombs – outlawed under an international treaty adopted in 2008 and signed by most countries but not Russia or the US – since the start of its intervention in Syria last September. Sewell Chan reports at the New York Times.

Australia is to increase its airstrikes in Syria, targeting support facilities as well as militant fighters, Rob Taylor reports at the Wall Street Journal.  In order to do so, Australian laws will be amended to give Australian F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet pilots the same legal standing as their coalition partners when conducting airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, by expanding the definition of combatants – legitimate targets – to include people supporting armed fighters, consistent with international norms, reports the AP’s Rod McGuirk.

Turkey is targeting “terror organizations” like the Democratic Union Party (PYD) not Syrian Kurds in its intervention in Syria, a senior Turkish official said, adding that “we strongly condemn efforts to present this operation as being against Syrian Kurds and their achievements.” [Hürriyet Daily News]

Turkey’s disaster management agency ADAD has begun work on delivering aid to the Syrian town of Jarablus, it said today. [Reuters]

The Syrian “scorecard” today is very different from that of a few weeks ago, Roy Gutman and Michael Weiss write at The Daily Beast. Turkey’s President Erdoğan has emerged as a “prime mover” from the “passivity” of the Obama administration in Syria. Russia and Iran previously vigorously opposed a Turkish intervention, viewing Syrian opposition forces as terrorists on a par with the Islamic State and allying themselves with the Kurdish militia along with Assad. The new lineup: Russia and Iran have raised no serious objections to Turkey’s intervention.

US support of Kurdish groups fighting the Islamic State in Syria has helped trigger an entirely new conflict there, this time between US-backed militias and a NATO ally. [The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain and Marwan Hisham]

The US is trapped between its allies’ ambitions in Syria: a sense of betrayal by Washington is setting in among Kurdish forces in Syria, while Turkey is angered by the US’s demand that it stop battling the Kurds in northern Syria, report Sudarsan Raghavan and Liz Sly at the Washington Post.

Assad’s war on hospitals. The Economist reports on the former doctor’s “kneel or starve” strategy against his own people, including the deliberate targeting of hospitals and medical workers.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out eight airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on August 30. Separately, partner forces conducted 14 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

TURKEY

A US journalist has been detained in Turkey for allegedly violating a military zone, US officials have confirmed. The arrest took place earlier this month, reports the BBC.

Three PKK militants have been killed in Turkish airstrikes in southeastern Turkey near the border with Iraq today, the military confirmed. [Reuters]

President Erdoğan will use the upcoming G-20 summit in China as an opportunity to brief world leaders on the July 15 failed coup and the ongoing fight against the “Fethullah Terror Organization,” reports the Hürriyet Daily News.

IRAN

The US and its negotiating partners agreed “in secret” to allow Iran to evade some restrictions in last year’s nuclear deal, including two that allowed Iran to exceed the deal’s limits on how much low-enriched uranium – which can be purified into weapons-grade uranium – it can keep in its nuclear facilities, according to a report by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security seen by Reuters’ Jonathan Landay.

The US is a “useful enemy” in domestic matters for Iran’s ultra-conservatives, who release a steady stream of anti-US propaganda videos via state television despite the nuclear deal with America. Anti-US discourse is a “key element in defining the Islamic Republic of Iran,” France24 observes.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

President Obama’s recent transfer of 15 Guantánamo Bay detainees to the UAE on August 15 was slammed by 14 Republicans including all 13 from the House Intelligence Committee yesterday, who wrote to Obama that “your actions increase the risk to US forces and any injuries or deaths as a result are solely your responsibility.” [The Hill’s Katie Bo Williams]

A $655.5 million verdict holding the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization liable for supporting terrorist attacks in Israel that claimed American lives has been thrown out by a New York federal appeals court, Benjamin Weiser reports at the New York Times.

Libya has handed over its remaining stockpile of potential chemical weapons, according to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The hundreds of tons of industrial chemicals have been moved abroad for destruction, the Guardian reports.

Israel should ratify the nuclear test ban treaty within five years, the head of the UN organization established to implement the treaty told the AP’s Edith M. Lederer yesterday. Iran should also ratify the treaty, but the timing is uncertain, he said.

At least 16 civilians were killed in Saudi-led coalition airstrikes on a house in Yemen’s northern city of Saada early yesterday morning, reports the AP’s Ahmed Al-Haj.

A bomb attack in front of the district governor’s office in Afghanistan’s Logar province has killed two this morning, Afghan officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. [AP] 

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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