Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Tara Hofbauer, Cody M. Poplin
Wednesday, August 13, 2014, 2:12 PM

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki no longer has the backing of Iran and faces pressure from Saudi Arabia, reports USA Today. Following the loss of support from Iran, the Iraqi military, and his own political party, Maliki seems to have dropped his power bid, notes the New York Times.

According to Foreign Policy, the U.S. is looking to build international support for its campaign in Iraq. The Washington Post shares that the British Royal Air Force is sending “Tornado GR4 fighter jets” to assist the U.S. air operations there, while the Times reports that France has released plans to arm Kurdish security forces. Still, the Wall Street Journal notes that international cooperation on Iraq has been lackluster so far.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is sending 130 military advisors to Erbil to help relieve the humanitarian crisis on Mount Sinjar. For those still counting, the addition means there are now over a thousand U.S. personnel in Iraq. USA Today and the Times share more. Still, according to the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration is developing options for a potential rescue of the thousands of Yazidis trapped by Islamist militants. The Associated Press reports that an Iraqi military helicopter bringing aid to the Yazidi on Mount Sinjar crashed yesterday “after too many [desperate refugees] tried to climb aboard, killing the pilot.”

Defense News points out that “so far, there has been no collective insistence from members of Congress that they should approve Obama’s limited airstrikes on Islamic State targets.” Indeed, a recent Huffington Post/YouGov poll finds that a majority of Americans approve of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.

In an opinion in the Post, former U.S. Senator and vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman (I-CT) explains why the U.S. has to reinvolve itself in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Islamic State militants in Syria have taken control of a series of towns in the province of Aleppo. BBC News and Reuters share details. The Wall Street Journal reports that government forces have surrounded the city of Aleppo, preparing to seize it from occupying rebels.

The AP is reporting that Palestinian negotiators are considering an Egyptian peace proposal. It calls for a partial easing of the Israeli blockade, but leaves other points of dispute to later discussions.

President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister and President-Elect Erdogan are on speaking terms again, after more than six months of silence between the two leaders. Yesterday, President Obama called to congratulate Erdogan, who became Turkey’s first directly elected president on Sunday. USA Today has more.

It appears that Turkey has also began cracking down on Islamist fighters, who previously had been allowed to use Turkish border towns as transit points and refueling stations as they took battle to the Assad-regime in Syria. The Times has more on the changes, which reflect growing Turkish concerns that militants could sow sectarian strife and violence in Turkey.

Is an internal political battle over the future of Iran boiling to the surface? Hardline opponents of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have responded with sharp criticism to his comments earlier this week; he had called hard-line politicians who oppose negotiations with the United States “cowards.” Rouhani also suggested his critics go “to hell – go find a warm place for yourself!” According to the LA Times, two hundred members of Iran’s Parliament have demanded that Rouhani meet with them in private to explain his speech.

Yesterday, Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani made clear that if he wins the election, he will not fully share power with his rival, Abdullah Abdullah. Seeking to clarify his position on the agreement struck to form a unity government following the ongoing ballot recount, Mr. Ghani said that the winner will appoint the loser---and that the latter will serve “at the discretion of the president.” The Post has the story.

Meanwhile in an interview with CBS News, Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah called on the United States to continue its support for Afghanistan, saying “the job is not done completely.” Abdullah said he understood that the main job was for Afghans, but he nevertheless urged partner governments to continue “their support in a line with their commitments.”

And the Wall Street Journal tells us that the killer of U.S. Army Maj. Gen.  Harold Greene is being celebrated as a “martyr” in his local village, located in a district with a heavy Taliban presence. Per the Journal, details about the assailant are starting to raise questions about his ties to militant groups in the region.

Separatist fighters in Ukraine ambushed a bus carrying Ukrainian military forces this morning. Reuters reports that the attackers killed twelve military personnel and took an unknown number hostage. The Daily Beast examines the situation at Ukraine’s Russian border, while the Times considers the politics surrounding a Russian humanitarian aid convoy to the Ukrainian city of Luhansk.

As the violence in Ukraine continues, the situation pits two former partners against each other: Germany and Russia. So reports the Times, which notes that “there is a clear determination [in Berlin] to show Russia that there can be no return to business as usual.” Meanwhile, in a Post op-ed, Masha Gessen points out that Moscow’s prohibition on food imports means Russian President Vladimir Putin “is fully at war with the West.”

The United States has finalized a 25-year agreement with Australia that will double the number of American troops training with Australian security forces, according to Defense One. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said that the agreement would “broaden and deepen [the] alliance’s contributions to regional security and Advance America’s ongoing strategic rebalance in the Asia Pacific.” Secretary of State John Kerry signaled that the agreement was not meant to target China, saying that “we welcome the rise of China as a global partner.” Defense News has more on the story.

Reuters reports that China has sentenced 25 people to jail terms ranging from three years to life in prison for terror-related offences. The report suggests all 25 were Uighurs. In the last few weeks, dozens have been jailed, with some sentences being handed down during mass public hearings.

Narendra Modi, India’s newly elected prime minster, accused Pakistan of sponsoring acts of terrorism on Tuesday, writes the LA Times. Speaking in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir, Mr. Modi said “the neighboring country has lost the strength to fight a conventional war, but continues to engage in the proxy war of terrorism.” Pakistan was quick to respond, the Times reports, calling the remarks “unfortunate” and claiming that Pakistan was the “biggest victim” of terrorism.

Today, Pakistani troops violated the ceasefire agreement between the two countries for the fourth time in the past five days, with what the Hindustan Times characterized as heavy fire on border outposts and villages along the international border of Jammu.  Indian security forces retaliated, with exchanges lasting throughout the night. Livemint, a Wall Street Journal affiliate, reported that one member of the Indian army had been injured.  This and related events have dampened hopes for the upcoming peace talks in Islamabad later this month.

In Pakistan itself, the security situation continues to deteriorate, as the Times reports that militants have killed another Karachi police officer, the 100th this year. The Times notes that many of the deaths have come from Karachi’s newest violent force, the Pakistani Taliban. The attacks are prompting fears that the guerrilla war that once only existed in the country’s tribal belt is spreading into its largest city.

Further north in the political capital of the country, Reuters is reporting that a “siege mentality” has taken hold of Islamabad ahead of Independence Day. The agency reports that thousands of riot police have encircled the city with barbed wire and shipping containers---the being to prevent mass protests aimed at toppling the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Two populist politicians, Imran Khan and Tahir ul-Qadri, have announced plans to converge with large groups intent on forcing Sharif to call an early election only a little more than a year after his sweeping victory.

On Monday, President Obama requested $10 million in emergency funding to help France as it “attempts to secure Mali, Niger, and Chad from terrorists and violent extremists.” The AP has more on the story.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that hundreds of thousands of Nigerians are fleeing the northeastern portion of the country, as Boko Haram militants continue their campaign of violence and terror.

Wired shares an exclusive interview conducted recently with former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden by James Bamford. Andy Greenberg notes statements made by Snowden during the interview about “digital bread crumbs” he had left in order to “lead the agency directly to the files he’d copied.” Meanwhile, Kim Zetter examines MonsterMind, “a cyber defense system,” which Snowden says could “instantly and autonomously neutralize foreign cyberattacks against the U.S. and ... be used to launch retaliatory strikes, as well.”

The Hill reports that the giants of Silicon Valley disagree over how the government should protect privacy of users in the era of “big data,” with some such as Microsoft supporting comprehensive privacy legislation, and others such as Facebook and Google worrying that regulation may harm innovation.

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler approved an “independent medical examination” of Guantanamo detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab, whose health has been declining due to a long-term hunger strike. The AP shares details.

Nathalie Weizmann over at Just Security analyzes the situation of Mohammed al-Adahi, another ill GTMO prisoner, and the case for medical repatriation.

The AP reports that pre-trial hearings in United States v. Ramzi Binalshibh begin again today as prosecutors ask Army Col. Judge James Pohl to reconsider his decision to sever Binalshibh from the case against his other 9/11 co-conspirators.

Defense attorneys in U.S. v. Daoud are asking the full bench of the Seventh Circuit to reconsider three-judge ruling denying their request to view classified Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) documents. The AP has the story.

The Guardian informs us that Canongate is set to release the diary of current Guantanamo detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi. According to the publisher, the book is “not merely a vivid record of a miscarriage of justice, but a deeply personal memoir - terrifying, darkly humorous, and surprisingly gracious.”

The New York Daily News reports that Donald Ray Morgan, an American whose Twitter account indicated ties to the Islamic State, is being held without bail, following his arrest at JFK Airport. Amid concerns over the return of foreign fighters, U.S. law enforcement personnel are stepping up “effort[s] to prevent homegrown terrorists,” reports FOX News.

The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board examines the U.S. “terrorist screening database” and its effect on applicants for American citizenship.

A former contractor for the Navy’s Military Sealift Command, Scott Miserendino, yesterday pled guilty to accepting bribes from two Chesapeake firms. The AP shares details.

In Wired, Missy Cummings, a member of the Stimson Center’s Drone Task Force, examines U.S. policies towards unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Yesterday, a coalition of public interest groups sent a letter to President Obama, calling for the resignation of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director John Brennan. Foreign Policy shares the story.

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