News Roundup and Notes: January 9, 2014

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

Foreign Relations Committee chair Sen. Bob Menendez has signaled support for sending AH-64 Apache helicopters to Iraq to help the government battle against the al-Qaeda-linked extremists [New York Times’ Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt]. Menendez has previously blocked the lease or sale of attack helicopters to Iraq in order to seek assurances that, among other things, the government would not use them to target civilians.

The Wall Street Journal (Ellen Knickmeyer and Margaret Coker) covers the U.S.’s  “remaining leverage in Iraq,” as senior U.S. officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, have urged Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to reach out to local Sunni leaders before launching an attack against extremists in the country’s Anbar province. The New York Times’ Peter Baker reports that while President Obama ended U.S. military presence in Iraq, “the fighting did not stop … it simply stopped being a daily concern for most Americans.”

Al Jazeera America (Jamie Tarabay) notes Obama’s “Iraq dilemma,” namely that the U.S. “wants to help Baghdad recover ground lost to al-Qaeda, but not to further empower a sectarian prime minister.” In an op-ed in the Washington Post, David Ignatius argues that “Iran has waged a brilliant covert-action campaign that turned Maliki and Iraq into virtual clients of Tehran—and in the process alienated Sunnis and pushed them toward extremism.”

As violence continues on the ground, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov has warned of the “critical humanitarian situation in Anbar province which is likely to worsen as operations continue.”

Al Jazeera reports that the Iraqi military have struck a deal with some tribal leaders to drive out the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from the Anbar province. According to local tribal sources, the arrangement calls for the Iraqi army to withdraw, while “pro-government tribes in conjunction with local police have begun to retake police checkposts on the edge of Fallujah.”

And Reuters (Peg Mackey And Isabel Coles) reports that while the violence is not currently hitting the Iraqi oilfields, the conflict “has brought new unease about the security of pipelines and other facilities, which are concentrated in the northeast and southeast of the country.”

Syria

Russia blocked a UN Security Council statement yesterday that sought to express outrage at the deadly airstrikes, including “barrel bombs,” launched by the Bashar al-Assad regime in Aleppo, according to UN diplomats [Reuters].

The head of the OPCW-UN Joint Mission, Sigrid Kaag has told reporters that there is a “collective expectation” that the June 30 deadline for the elimination of all chemicals weapons from Syria will be met. A Syrian representative to the OPCW reportedly told the group’s executive council meeting yesterday that insurgents had attacked two storage sites for the chemical weapons [New York Times’ Nick Cumming-Bruce and Rick Gladstone].

On the battlefield, rebels have seized control of the al-Qaeda-linked ISIL’s headquarters in Aleppo [Al Jazeera America]. A statement from ISIL vowed retaliation against other rebel groups, claiming its fighters will “crush them completely.” The New York Times (Ben Hubbard), Wall Street Journal (Maria Abi-Habib) and Washington Post (Diaa Hadid) have more details.

NSA Surveillance

The Associated Press (Julie Pace and Stephen Braun) reported yesterday that President Obama is “expected to tighten restrictions on U.S. spying on foreign leaders” in addition to considering other changes to the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, according to those familiar with the White House review.

The Justice Department filed a motion last evening to prevent the plaintiffs in Klayman v. Obama from learning more details about how NSA surveillance operates [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]. The motion states:

“Contentious litigation over the availability of classified information to litigate these cases against the Government Defendants, and the significant risks to national security if such information were disclosed, could and should be avoided by allowing the Court of Appeals to rule first on the legal viability of Plaintiffs’ claims against the Government Defendants.”

The European Parliament’s civil liberties and justice committee has published a draft report on the NSA surveillance program and similar programs in the EU member states, and the impact of these activities on “fundamental rights and … transatlantic cooperation.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has accepted an invitation from President Obama to visit the U.S., which would “mark a thawing of relations between the two allies” following the NSA’s spying revelations [NPR’s Krishnadev Calamur]. And the Wall Street Journal (Sam Schechner) covers how the issue of online privacy, “exacerbated by outrage over allegations of U.S. spying via American companies,” could spark a U.S.-EU trade rift.

Robert Gates’ memoir

The White House continued to “contain the damage” from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ memoir yesterday [The Hill’s Jeremy Herb et al.]. Press secretary Jay Carney defended President Obama’s commitment to his strategy on Afghanistan and stated that the President had intentionally assembled a “team of rivals” with different views on the issue. Former senior officials also spoke out in defense of Obama; former White House chief of staff Bill Daley stated that Gates should not have released his memoir while the war in Afghanistan is still being fought. However, some officials agreed with Gates’ assessment.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal editorial considers that Gates’ revelations on President Obama, Vice President Biden and former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton simply “explains what the world knows.”

Other developments

Two sailors have been killed in a U.S. Navy helicopter crash off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia during a “routine training operation” yesterday [Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoño]. Rescuers were still searching for a missing crew member late last night.

Al Jazeera (Rooj Alwazir) covers the growing anger in Yemen following last month’s alleged U.S. drone strike that killed civilians in a wedding convoy.

An Air Force general “at the center of criticism of the military’s sexual assault policies” announced retirement yesterday, “as the Pentagon works to clean up its ranks under the close watch of … Congress” [Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn].

South Sudan’s peace talks between the rival parties faltered yesterday when the government rejected the rebels’ calls to release political prisoners, “dashing hopes for a deal to end more than three weeks of fighting” [Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Bariyo].

Central African Republic (CAR) President Michel Djotodia is due to meet regional leaders in Chad to resolve the crisis in his country, and is reportedly “not part of the solution to the country’s terrible problems” [Al Jazeera]. Meanwhile, according to EU diplomats, there are draft plans for an EU military mission in the CAR, including “the deployment of hundreds of ground troops to buttress African and French forces struggling to prevent a bloodbath there” [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman].

The Senate Homeland Security Committee signaled strong bipartisan support yesterday for Obama’s nominee for DHS inspector general, John Roth [Washington Post’s Josh Hicks].

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has canceled his plans to visit India next week, amid growing tensions between the two countries over the diplomat row [The Hill’s Laura Barron-Lopez]. The New York Times (Hari Kumar) has more on the latest developments in the “escalating diplomatic fight.”

As covered in the Roundup earlier in the week, Iran is set to resume talks on the implementation of the interim nuclear deal in Geneva today [Al Jazeera].

The Israeli military has stated that it has attacked targets in Gaza, after militants in the strip fired mortars into Israel [AP].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).