Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Alex R. McQuade
Monday, May 2, 2016, 5:21 PM

Last week, full-scale war essentially resumed in Aleppo, but Secretary of State John Kerry indicated today that participants are closer to extending the ceasefire in Syria to include Aleppo. Reuters reports that Secretary Kerry was in Geneva to attend negotiations with other foreign dignitaries in an effort to revive the first major ceasefire in the five-year Syrian conflict. Yesterday, Russia announced that the talks in Geneva were aiming to extend the temporary local truces announced last week to Aleppo, which has suffered an intense barrage of attacks that has left hundreds dead in a mere week.

Over the weekend, nearly 30 airstrikes hit rebel-controlled areas of Aleppo as government forces attempted to regain control of the war-torn city. The Washington Post tells us that, according to a monitoring group, “it was the ninth day of deadly bombardments in Aleppo, which has borne the brunt of increased fighting that has all but destroyed a February ceasefire and killed nearly 250 people since April 22.” Additionally, the violence in the city contributed to the breakup of peace talks in Geneva, when the High Negotiations Committee walked out last week. The New York Times’ Declan Walsh captures the merciless fighting in Aleppo. Check out his piece on the bloodshed, misery, and even hope on the ground in the city here.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi political system seems to have entered full meltdown mode, with protesters storming the Iraqi Parliament over the weekend. The Wall Street Journal reports that “dozens of supporters of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr breached the walls of Iraq’s heavily guarded International Zone on Saturday, burst into the country’s parliament chambers and attacked a senior lawmaker.” Protesters were objecting to a decision by the Iraqi parliament speaker Salim al Jubouri to suspend parliament before it could finish voting on a new slate of ministers, according to the Journal.

After protesters stormed the halls of parliament, Iraqis were allowed in and out of Baghdad’s Green Zone for the first time since the United States invasion in 2003. The Washington Post shares that “the four-mile-square fortified areas, home to ministries, government buildings and embassies, has been closed to the public since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. In it are some of the city’s most iconic landmarks, surrounded by manicured lawns and gardens.” For some Iraqis, it was their first glimpse of the center of their capital city.

However, the sightseeing came to an end on Sunday when the protesters streamed out of the Green Zone. The Washington Post reports that one of the protest organizers, Akhlas al Obaida, delivered a message from Moqtada al Sadr telling the crowd to “go home to give political decision-making a chance.” However, al Obaida indicated that if there was no progress, “protesters would be back on Friday to make a ‘major stand’ and vowed they would keep up the pressure.” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi has called for the arrest and prosecution of those who broke into the Green Zone over the weekend.

Contributing to the political unrest is the fact that violence has not stopped in the capital. Reuters tells us that “three bombs went off in and around Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 14 people, including Shiite Muslim worshippers conducting an annual pilgrimage inside the capital.” The Islamic State claimed credit for the largest attack that came from a car bomb in the Saydiya district in the southern area of the city, killing 11 people and wounding 30 others. Reuters also shares that explosives in northern Baghdad killed two people and wounded an additional six, while a roadside bomb in the southern town of Khalisa left one dead and two wounded. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for those attacks.

Over the weekend, the Islamic State said that it had initially wanted to use a truck bomb packed with three tons of explosives to target Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad; however, the bomber was unable to reach the pilgrimage site and instead chose to detonate the truck bomb in a busy sheep market. The bombing killed at least 23 people. Read more on that attack from the Washington Post.

Over in Bangladesh, the string of Islamic State-inspired attacks have continued. TIME reports that “three men in Bangladesh have been arrested for allegedly hacking a Hindu man to death over the weekend, the latest in a series of murders by fundamentalists claiming to represent militant groups like the Islamic State.” Additionally, the news magazine tells us that “the three suspects in the murder of Nikhil Joarder include a leader from local Islamist group Jamaat e Islami and a member of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.” Yet with violence rising, the Bangladeshi government continues to claim that the Islamic State has no presence within the country.

Turkey has stepped up its anti-Islamic State maneuvers. According to Reuters, the Turkish military said on Sunday that shelling by Turkish artillery and drones killed 34 Islamic State militants in Syria. The Turkish military said that the strikes were in response to Islamic State rocket attacks that hit the southern Turkish province of Kilis.

The Guardian tells us that two Turkish police officers were killed and 18 civilians were wounded when a car bomb exploded in the southeastern city of Gaziantep. According to a Turkish newspaper, “the attackers first opened fire on the police car before a second vehicle carrying explosives was detonated in front of the police headquarters building.” One of the attackers has been identified as an Islamic State member.

Stop me if you've heard this one before: Peace talks were suspended in Yemen on Sunday after the Houthis seized a military base north of Sanaa. Reuters reports that “the Houthi assault killed several of the soldiers defending the Umaliqa base. Unlike most of Yemen’s soldiers, those at Umaliqa had refused to take sides in the war between the Iran-allied Houthis and the Saudi-backed government.” A member of the government delegation to the Yemen peace talks in Kuwait stated, “we have suspended the sessions indefinitely to protest these military actions and continued violations of the truce.”

Yemen’s security chief survived another attack on his life. The Associated Press shares that “a suicide bomber attacked the security chief’s motorcade in Aden, killing five of his bodyguards.” Yemen’s security directorate said that “Shallal Shayei was unharmed in Sunday’s attack, as was Aden governor Aidroos al Zubaidi, who was travelling with him. A similar attack on the two was foiled on Monday, and on Thursday a suicide car bomber in women’s clothes detonated explosives near Shayei’s home, the third attack on his house since December.” The AP has more on the attack.

Meanwhile, Politico has the latest on the giant al Qaeda defeat in Yemen that no one seems to be talking about. Read the rest on al Qaeda’s defeat in their stronghold in Yemen here.

Israel, Egypt, and Hamas have formed an unlikely alliance against the Islamic State. With the Islamic State’s affiliate in Egypt staging increasingly sophisticated attacks, the Washington Post tells us that “Hamas deployed several hundred fighters last week to Gaza’s border with Egypt’s lawless northern Sinai as part of a deal with Egypt to keep militants of the Islamic State from entering the coastal enclave.” Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “praised his country’s decision to build a new barrier along the Israel-Egypt border, warning that ‘we could have been overflowed by thousands of ISIS fighters from Sinai.’” The Post also writes that “the growing concerns have given birth to the greatest cooperation between the militaries of Egypt and Israel since their 1979 peace deal.”

India and the United States are in talks to aid eachother in tracking submarines in the Indian Ocean. Reuters writes that the talks are “a move that could further tighten defense ties between New Delhi and Washington as China steps up its undersea activities.” Reuters also tells us that “both the United States and India are growing concerned at the reach and ambition of the Chinese navy, which is taking an increasingly assertive stance in the South China Sea and is challenging India’s domination in the Indian Ocean.” Both countries will hold talks on anti-submarine warfare amid recent sightings of Chinese submarines near India’s Andamans and Nicobar islands. For more on Sino-Indian competition in the Asia-Pacific, check out Lawfare editor Cody Poplin's recent piece in Foreign Affairs.

Over in North Korea, the Hermit Kingdom is set to hold a “once-in-a-generation” congress of the ruling party in order to rally the nation behind Kim Jong Un. The Associated Press reports that the upcoming congress of the ruling party may “provide an important glimpse into Kim’s plans for the country’s economy and military.” The congress is the first in North Korea in 36 years and will follow with a 70-day “loyalty drive” in which everyone in the country is expected to work extra hours to increase productivity to show devotion to Kim and the Workers’ Party of Korea. The congress is set to begin this Friday.

European police officials want more access to American technology firm’s data. The Wall Street Journal tells us that “European counterterrorism officials say American laws and corporate policies are hampering their efforts to prevent the next attack, because legal procedures for getting international evidence from U.S.-backed social-media firms are dangerously outdated.” The European authorities are facing lengthy processes to obtain communications data from tech firms like Facebook and Twitter and want American technology firms to be more responsive to overseas requests. The Journal has more.

According to outgoing NATO Supreme Allied Commander Philip Breedlove, the United States does not have enough intelligence assets focused on the threat from Russia. The Wall Street Journal writes that General Breedlove said the United States “needs more technical intelligence assets, the kind of spy satellites the United States uses to keep an eye on both troop movements and terrorist training camps, focused on the threat from Russia.” During an interview, General Breedlove said that “we see that Russia has not accepted the hand of partnership but has chosen a path of belligerence. We need to readdress where we’re heading.” General Breedlove will step down as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO later this month.

On Sunday, CIA Director John Brennan said that the missing 28-pages regarding potential Saudi complicity in 9/11 contain “inaccurate, unvetted information that could be used to tie Saudi Arabia to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.” The Hill has the latest on the the missing pages from the report here.

Speaking of the CIA, yesterday marked the 5th anniversary of the raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. To celebrate, the Agency live-tweeted the raid as if it were occurring in real time. Check out the CIA’s Twitter page here.

In other news, the Senate confirmed the first female combatant commander last Thursday. Air Force General Lori Robinson was confirmed as the new head of U.S. Northern Command without opposition before Congress’ recess. General Robinson previously served as commander of Pacific Air Forces. Read more on the new NORTHCOM head from the Military Times.

Parting Shot: Agence France-Presse shares a story about a French journalist who actually infiltrated a jihadist cell and filmed them with a hidden camera as they plotted an attack for the Islamic State. The journalist even made a documentary about his close encounter called “Allah’s Soldiers,” which will premiere in France today. Read more here.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Benjamin Wittes released the latest edition of the Lawfare Podcast, highlighting Intel Security’s Chris Young on cybersecurity and a debate on using data to protect privacy.

Alex McQuade wrote The Week That Was, rounding up all of Lawfare’s activity from last week.

In Sunday’s Foreign Policy Essay, Stephen Watts analyzed a competing risks approach to security sector assistance for fragile states.

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