Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari, Cody M. Poplin
Wednesday, June 8, 2016, 2:03 PM

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi won’t be leaving Washington empty-handed. The Wall Street Journal reports that President Barack Obama and Modi announced on Tuesday that Westinghouse Electric will help build six nuclear reactors in India. This marks the first nuclear deal between the two nations since the landmark civil nuclear accord that was signed in 2008 under President George W. Bush. Defense News adds that the United States and India also reached agreements to tackle climate change and expand technology transfers respectively. In a joint statement after the meeting concluded, Obama said the United States would share defense technology with India “to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners.” The Hill has more on the commitments Modi and Obama pledged to deepen U.S.-Indian cooperation on cybersecurity.

After Tuesday’s meeting with Obama, Modi became the fifth Indian prime minister to address a joint meeting of Congress. In his address, as Reuters details, Modi called for enhancing the security partnership between India and the United States. Referring to India’s potential as a balancing power against China’s rise, Modi declared that “a stronger and more prosperous India is in the U.S.’s strategic interest...a strong India-U.S. partnership can anchor peace, prosperity, and stability from Asia to Africa and the Indian Ocean to the Pacific.”

Speaking of peace and prosperity in the seas, Reuters notes that the U.S. Pacific Command has formally complained that a Chinese fighter jet made a dangerous interception of a U.S. spy plane while it was on a routine patrol over the East China Sea. In the statement, U.S. Pacific Command said the United States would address the issue through “appropriate diplomatic and military channels.” But China’s Defense Ministry rebuffed the complaint as another example of the United States “deliberately hyping up the issue of close surveillance of China by U.S. military aircraft.” A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said American intelligence patrols harmed China’s security and that Beijing has a “right to take defensive measures.”

Reuters reveals that North Korea has restarted its production of plutonium fuel, in what is yet another sign that the Hermit Kingdom intends to pursue its nuclear weapons program in defiance of international sanctions. The International Atomic Energy Agency said it had seen signs of renewed activity at the reprocessing plant atYongbyon, the country’s main nuclear complex. A spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Seoul was monitoring Pyongyang’s nuclear facility “with grave concern,” while a Chinese Foreign Ministry official called for all salient parties to work towards a de-nuclearized Korean peninsula.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility yesterday for a car bombing in Karbala, a holy city for Iraqi Shiites. The bomb, which detonated near a crowded market while families were shopping at the beginning of Ramadan, took the lives of 10 people and wounded another 25. According to the SITE International Group, which tracks jihadist activity, this explosion marks the first attack on Karbala by the Islamic State since June 2014, when the organization first laid claim to a caliphate spanning Iraq and Syria.

Elsewhere, the Washington Post discloses that Iraqi counterterrorism forces pushed deeper into Islamic-State occupied Fallujah on Wednesday following more than two weeks of fierce fighting. While Iraqi troops have secured the southern edge of the city, General Haider Fadel, one of the campaign’s commanders, said that he expect[s] to face more resistance, especially because we are the only forces entering the city.” Yet ISIS IEDs are not the only impediment to progress in Fallujah, and the New York Times details how the battle to regain the city has also exposed divisions within the Iraqi security forces.

As the city comes under assault, civilians in Fallujah are caught between two separate hells. Blocked from leaving the city by ISIS, one man told CNN that Islamic State fighters had told him to go the city’s center and serve as a human shield. “It was an order,” he said, adding “if you refused, they would shoot you on the spot.” Yet today, CNN also tells us that a number of those who have succeeded in escaping have found “severe physical abuse” and even death at the hands of Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces allied with the Iraqi government.

Even as Iraqi troops inch closer towards liberating Fallujah, political tumult still reigns in Baghdad. The Journal highlights Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi’s decision to dismiss a number of prominent officials including Iraq’s top intelligence officer and six directors of state-owned banks. Al Abadi has neither disclosed a reason for these personnel decisions nor named replacements as of yesterday evening, but the decision comes at a time of growing frustration within Iraq over allegations of the central government’s corruption and incompetence. Kirk Sowell, a journalist and Iraq analyst, told the Journal that the moves have completed a two-year effort by al Abadi to remove officials who had been appointed by his predecessor Nouri al Maliki.

Reuters informs us that Islamic State fighters retreated from skirmishes with Syrian rebel fighters near the rebel-held town of Marea, just north of Aleppo. The news of the Islamic State’s withdrawal from comes as the latest in a string of victories for the anti-Islamic State coalition and a sign that the organization may be overstretched as it fights on multiple fronts. As late as last month, the Islamic State’s siege of Marea had left thousands of civilians stranded and compelled the U.S.-led coalition to air drop weapons to the rebels.

In a speech delivered before the Syrian Parliament, Syrian President Bashar al Assad appeared resolute and defiant as he pledged to win back “every inch” of the war-torn country from his adversaries. The Times broadcasts part of the speech. Claiming that the peace process had failed, Assad declared that “the bloodshed won’t end until we root out terrorism, wherever it is.”

“The Gaza Strip may still lie in rubble, but Hamas operatives are convinced that they are ready for another battle,” shares David Patrikarakos, who is on assignment in Gaza City for Foreign Policy. And Gazans themselves, who are still reeling from the destruction of the 2014 war, “are fearful that another war looms on the horizon.” As the so-called stabbing Intifada winds down, Foreign Policy reports that Hamas operatives are training and preparing for the next round with Israel.

Elsewhere in Foreign Policy, Colum Lynch follows up with more information on how Saudi Arabia was able to get its name off a U.N. blacklist of groups that are accused of harming children in armed conflict. KSA apparently played hardball, warning “Turtle Bay it would pull hundreds of millions of dollars from U.N. programs if it as singled out for killing and maiming children in Yemen.” The threat worked and according to FP, “the Saudi threat reflects a growing trend by U.N. member states to threaten retaliation against Turtle Bay for challenging their human rights records.”

Turkey was rocked by a second car bomb attack in as many days, killing at least three people and wounding another 30 outside a police station. The news of the second attack came as a Turkish presidential spokesman told reporters that the government believes Kurdish militants were behind yesterday’s bombing in Istanbul that killed 11 people.

Yesterday, in a move believed to be aimed at the pro-Kurdish opposition party in parliament, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed a bill lifting lawmakers’ immunity from prosecution. Erdoğan’s opponents argue that the bill is designed to push the HDP out of power and strengthen his own ruling coalition. The Guardian has more on the legislation, while in CNN, Fadi Hakura of Chatham House explains Turkey’s downward spiral into instability.

British lawmakers yesterday passed a new surveillance bill called the Investigatory Powers Bill or “snoopers charter” that would expand the authority of security agencies to monitor threats in the digital age. The much maligned bill passed 444-69, but not until after several privacy protection amendments were added. Reuters has more.

Across the channel in France, the Washington Post tells us that French authorities are “bracing for the worst” as the 2016 UEFA Euro Soccer tournament kicks off on Friday. The tournament is scheduled to open at the Stade de France, the same arena where ISIS-inspired militants detonated suicide bombs in November. Late last month, ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al Adnani called for European Muslims to inflict a “month of calamity” during the holy month of Ramadan, which began on Sunday and will end on July 5th. Officials have heightened security precautions in response to the threats, adding 1,500 police and security officers, metal detectors, buffer zones and security cameras.

According to a report from the New York Times, “the FBI has significantly increased its use of stings in terrorism cases, employing agents and informants to pose as jihadists, bomb makers, gun dealers or online ‘friends’ in hundreds of investigations into Americans suspected of supporting the Islamic State.” The Times notes that undercover operatives are now used in about two of every three prosecutions of people suspected of supporting ISIS. While FBI officials said that undercover operatives are important in the age of social media where an attack’s flash-to-bang ratio is increasingly small, some Muslim leaders and civil liberties advocates have characterized the operations as entrapment, wherein the FBI is “manufacturing terrorism cases.” The FBI, for its part, claims that it always gives suspects an “out” before making an arrest.

Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced yet another authorization for the use of military force against ISIS yesterday as part of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. The legislation would give the Administration three years to fight ISIS while repealing the 2002 AUMF and requiring the White House to use the new AUMF as the only justification for the fight against ISIS. The proposal would also limit the president’s ability to introduce “significant ground troops.”

Parting Shot: Not content with runways and fighter jets, China is sprucing up some of its islands in the South China Sea, building a farm on an island located on the Fiery Cross Reef. According to the state-run news outlet Xinhua, the farm has a 4,000 square meter vegetable garden and about 500 livestock, including pigs, chickens, and geese. Defense One has the full story.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

David Bosco contextualized recent reports of France’s newfound interest in the South China Seas dispute.

Bosco also flagged Human Rights Watch’s recently released argument that the ICC prosecutor should seek a full investigation of the situation in Palestine.

Francesca Procaccini and Helen Murillo rounded out Lawfare’s coverage of last week’s 9/11 military commissions hearings.

Ben Wittes updated his commentary on Donald Trump and the powers of the Justice Department. Later, he issued Part II of his series on Trump and the Powers and the American Presidency.

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