Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin, Sebastian Brady
Wednesday, April 1, 2015, 2:21 PM

Last night’s deadline for a political agreement on Iran’s nuclear program came and went with no news of a deal. Talks, however, continue. The Hill reports that, according to a State Department spokeswoman, U.S. negotiators felt they had made enough progress in the days leading up to the deadline to merit extending the talks. While President Obama remains ready to walk away from a “bad deal,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, “If we are making progress toward the finish line, then we should keep going.”

But, Reuters adds, the talks remain hamstrung by two main issues: the reduction of sanctions of Iran and the form future nuclear research by Iran should take. In the New York Times, David Sanger explains that as the talks continue, the United States and Iran are finding it “harder to hear each other.” Motivated by individual political sensitivities, Sanger writes that “the differences are beginning to threaten the viability of the whole enterprise” as Iranian diplomats are reticent to sign any deal, regardless of the "quantifiables" that does not mirror the political symbolism they are desperate to communicate. On the condition of anonymity, on U.S. official said that Iran does not want to be seen as backing down, even if it means that their positions make no strategic or economic sense.

Moreover, the parties don’t seem to agree on where, exactly, the talks now sit. Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator told Iranian TV that he hopes to wrap things up tonight, Reuters notes, while the French Foreign Minister maintained that talks were not far enough along for such a quick deal. According to the BBC, British and Russian representatives leaned more toward the Iranian viewpoint.

While diplomats “jaw jaw” in Switzerland, many of the same negotiating parties are advancing deeper into “war-war” in Iraq and Syria. The Associated Press reports that Iraqi Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi has declared a “magnificent victory” over the Islamic State in the city of Tikrit. Yet, it appears that the fight is still ongoing in certain sections of the city, at least. This morning, Iraqi security forces continued patrolled sweeps of the city, searching homes for remaining militants and firing on snipers placed in strategic locations. The AP writes that mortar fire from ISIS has stopped and the city is largely silent. While the New York Times claims that the Iraqi government’s claims of victory are exaggerated, the Wall Street Journal shares that U.S. officials have agreed that the operation appears to have been largely successful.

The odd-coalition of Iraqi security forces, Shiite militias, and the United States Air Force may have succeeded in liberating Saddam Hussein’s home town, but McClatchy discloses that the violence in the country has led to an outburst of “pro-Saddam memes” on social media, with Iraqis expressing greater nostalgia for the country’s old dictator.

Writing for the Daily Beast, Jamie Dettmer highlights that in its latest issue of Dabiq, ISIS has floated the idea of a negotiated truce in an article written by British photojournalist and ISIS captive John Cantlie. However, according to Daveed Gartenstein-Ross of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the appeal is most likely meant to break the will of of its opponents and to sow discord among the coalition. It’s also likely that ISIS is attempting to signal to potential recruits that it is not the driving force of the conflict, casting the battle as a Western war against Islam.

And, according to the New York Times, a cybersecurity activist has released a roster of 26,382 Twitter accounts linked to the Islamic State.

Syrian rebel groups who recently conquered the northwest Syrian city of Idlib are attempting to consolidate power and establish a civil government, reports the Wall Street Journal. Sources on the ground divulged that fighters are working to restore access to water and electricity in the city. However, activists have raised concerns that al Nusra Front, the Syrian offshoot of al Qaeda, will attempt to implement Sharia law in the provincial capital.

In a surprising turnabout, the Obama administration announced it will reverse a hold on arms shipments to Egypt in place since October 2013. President Barack Obama has informed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi that the United States will release 12 F-16 fighter jets, 20 Harpoon anti-ship missiles and up to 125 M1A1 tanks. DefenseOne notes that it is now apparent that the Obama administration has abandoned any hope of forcing political reforms in the country.

The reversal comes as Egypt plays a larger role in a regional coalition to put down the Houthi rebels in Yemen, a war that the Washington Post writes Saudi generals are using to “showcase their new swagger.” As the Saudi monarchy moves out from the United States’s shadows, it is making the most of its time in the spotlight as a driving force in the architecture of regional security.

Yesterday, Iranian officials called for political talks between the parties to the fight in Yemen. The call for talks first came when Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian appealed for negotiations on Russian state TV, and was later repeated in a meeting with Qatar’s foreign minister.

While Iranians floated trial balloons, Saudi Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri, the spokesman for the coalition, announced that the operation in Yemen had intensified over the last 24 hours, noting that Saudi forces have cut the country off by air and sea, but suggesting that ground forces were “not a must.”

According to Houthi officials, strikes have now taken place in 12 provinces since Monday. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal confirms that Tuesday’s strikes in the southern province of Thale were the first, expanding the campaign even further south. Despite the airstrikes and bombardment by Saudi ships, Reuters shares that Houthi fighters and their allies have now advanced into a central district of of the southern city of Aden. According to reports on the ground, residents are fleeing the area and attempting to get on any ship leaving the port. And, while Saudi officials have recently waved off talks of a ground invasion, its troops continued to clash with Houthi rebels in bouts of cross-border fire, says Reuters.

The United Nations verified that since Friday, at least 93 civilians have been killed and 364 injured. The Guardian carries the heart-breaking story of the carnage left after a refugee camp in Yemen was hit by airstrikes on Monday.

In Libya, the provisional government has fired its prime minister, removing a key obstacle to potential unity talks between the country’s warring factions. In a brutally harsh announcement, a spokesman for his government said Mr. Omar al Hassi “is a failure” and “is not a decision maker.” The Times notes that 14 of Mr. Hassi’s ministers had demanded his resignation.

A change in leadership has come to another African country too: this time in Nigeria, where challenger Muhammadu Buhari delivered a crushing defeat to incumbent Goodluck Jonathan. Nigeria is one of the largest democracies in the world, and if it successfully completes a peaceful transition of power, it could signal a major turning point for the country. Conceding defeat on Tuesday night, Mr. Jonathan said “nobody’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian.” The Times has more on the election results and their implications for stability, democracy, and development in the country of more than 180 million.

Mr. Buhari has promised to tackle corruption and defeat Boko Haram. However, the 72-year-old former general and military dictator has a difficult past to account for. The Times also carries a profile of the president-elect, noting that in the past, he “publicly executed young drug dealers, jailed journalists and expelled thousands of immigrants.” He also arrested 475 politicians on corruption charges. Yet, now Mr. Buhari claims to be a “sworn democrat.”

According to the Long War Journal, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency has captured Hamidullah--also known as Zabit Hamid-- a senior Taliban commander, who was involved in the Kabul network that targets Westerners and other foreigners. The Kabul Attack Network has been connected with a host of suicide and other attacks in the capital over the last five years.

Good news from Kabul, but the Wall Street Journal details the security environment far from the capital in the country's restive Helmand province is collapsing even further. As Afghan security forces attempt to fill the void left by the American draw-down, heavy fighting, roadside bombs, and ambushes by the Taliban are inflating casualty numbers at an unprecedented rate. Few are confident that Afghan forces will be able to secure the valuable poppy-growing territory, a goal that U.S. and British troops never met.

Today, the Palestinian Authority became a full-member of the International Criminal Court, making it the 123rd accession to the court. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki, speaking after the ceremony, said that the Palestinian Authority would wait to see the result of the ongoing ICC preliminary probe into last year’s Gaza conflict, but stressed that they would call for a full investigation is the initial probe took too long.

Earlier today, President Barack Obama issued an executive order to establish a sanctions program that would impose penalties on overseas individuals who commit cyberattacks or cyberspying, reports the Washington Post. The order declares such attacks a “national emergency” and expands the set of legal tools at the Treasury’s disposal to punish and deter illicit cyber activity. For Lawfare, Paul Rosenzweig provides an overview of the order. Over on Volokh Conspiracy, Stewart Baker argues that the order is long awaited “good news.”

A federal judge has ordered that the CIA can keep the Panetta Review secret. The review is a collection of 40 classified CIA internal documents that reviewed the Agency’s enhanced interrogation program. The Hill notes that the internal review is believed to largely support the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Study, but CIA officials have argued that the analysis was half-finished and an internal report that fits under the FOIA exemption for inter and intra-agency documents.

Finally, the AP relays that the families of three American soldiers killed in Iraq are suing the Iranian government in a U.S. court for allegedly planning the attack. The families are seeking $200 million in damages.

Parting Shot: Lawfare’s Jennifer Williams exposes “The Bureaucracy of Terror” in a snapshot for Foreign Affairs.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

John Bellinger wrote on the tenth year anniversary of UNSCR 1593, which referred the situation in Darfur to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

Ben posted a new report from a British think tank on the judicialization of warfare in the United Kingdom. The report finds that “the judiciary is pioneering a revolution in military affairs.”

Later, Ben shared the “Zero Dark Thirtieth Birthday Cake” from a “baker of hard national security choices.”

Ben also linked us to the newest Intelligence Squared Debate as to whether “the president has exceeded his constitutional authority by waging war without congressional authorization.” The debate featured Gene Healy, Deborah Pearlstein, Philip Bobbitt and Akhil Reed Amar.

Stewart Baker brought us the latest Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, which features an interview with another Lawfare-er, Paul Rosenzweig.

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