Today's Headlines and Commentary

Rishabh Bhandari, David Hopen
Thursday, July 7, 2016, 2:33 PM

Iraq’s Health Ministry disclosed that the death toll from a suicide bombing in Baghdad this weekend has reached 292. The Islamic State took credit for the attack, which came just days after Iraqi security forces won a hard-fought battle for Fallujah. The so-called caliphate has been under strain from all sides as the anti-Islamic State coalition has scored a string of victories in recent weeks.

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Iraq’s Health Ministry disclosed that the death toll from a suicide bombing in Baghdad this weekend has reached 292. The Islamic State took credit for the attack, which came just days after Iraqi security forces won a hard-fought battle for Fallujah. The so-called caliphate has been under strain from all sides as the anti-Islamic State coalition has scored a string of victories in recent weeks. Reuters has more.

The Washington Post tells us that satellite images show the Islamic State is erecting scores of tiny, makeshift refineries to offset the infrastructural losses the organization has incurred in the face of U.S.-backed air strikes. These micro-refineries are less efficient than the Islamic State’s original batch of traditional refineries, but they allow the organization to still earn millions of dollars to fund its operations.

A spokesman for France’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that the three-day ceasefire in Syria was not good enough and it is difficult to resuscitate peace talks without a long-term truce. Syria’s military announced the temporary peace on Wednesday to cover the Eid al Fitr holiday. It was the first truce declared across Syria since the ceasefire brokered by foreign powers in February to facilitate talks to end the five-year-old civil war.

But according to both Reuters and the Associated Press, fighting has persisted as Syrian government forces move closer to seizing the rebel-held city of Aleppo. Both military sources and rebels said the government has encircled the city. A successful siege of Aleppo—once Syria’s industrial and commercial hub, and home to roughly 250,000 to 300,000 people—would mark a major victory for President Bashar al Assad.

The AP reports that extremists in Bangladesh killed two officers and a woman during a public Eid prayer that had attracted hundreds of thousands of worshippers. More than a dozen others were wounded. The attack comes just days after Islamic fundamentalists killed 28 people, mostly foreigners, in an upscale Dhaka restaurant. The government in Bangladesh said these attacks are efforts to destabilize the country. In Foreign Affairs, Sumit Ganguly and Ali Riaz write that the ruling Awami League must see these recent attacks as a wake-up call to crack down on a hardline Islamist community.

A car bomb in Benghazi killed 12 Libyan troops under the authority of General Khalifa Haftar, a commander of forces in the country’s eastern government who has waging a campaign against the Islamic State.

Yemeni forces have recaptured a key military base from al Qaeda near their makeshift capital of Aden. Saudi Arabian assault helicopters gave cover to the troops during the fight. Aden has been the subject of fierce fighting since the civil war in Yemen broke out in 2014. Iranian-backed Houthi forces had controlled Aden until this month. Al Jazeera has more.

Georgian officials will attend a NATO summit in Poland this Friday, where they will continue to seek membership into the alliance despite a recent lack of progress. According to Reuters, Georgia has grown increasingly frustrated with its exclusion from NATO, despite being promised membership in 2008, and may consider seeking rapprochement with Russia should its bid to join NATO fail. Read more here.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended NATO’s plans to increase the number of troops stationed near the Russian border as a necessary deterrence measure, despite German concerns that the move was unnecessarily increasing tensions with Russia. Merkel, however, stressed that “deterrence and dialogue are not contradictions,” and that she would continue to pursue engagement with Russia.

Russian special forces killed seven members of an armed group responsible for terror attacks on police and civilians, reports Reuters. President Putin, meanwhile, signed into law controversial counterterrorism measures, which include prison sentences for failure to report a grave crime, increasing the crimes for which Russians as young as 14 can be prosecuted and forcing telecommunications companies to store data for months at a time. The amendments have raised alarm with human rights activists and caused stocks in major Russian cell phone companies to fall.

Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, warned John Kerry against U.S. interference in Beijing’s ongoing maritime disputes in the South China Sea with the Philippines, reports The Guardian. Wang also emphasized China’s intention to reject the jurisdiction of the International Court of Arbitration, which will release its ruling in the dispute on Tuesday, and to “firmly safeguard its own territorial sovereignty and legitimate maritime rights.”

The U.S. has imposed sanctions on North Korea’s Kim Jong-un for the first time, accusing the leader of being directly responsible for human right abuses in his political prison system, reports Al Jazeera. According to officials, between 80,000 and 120,000 prisoners are held in prison camps, in which torture, execution, sexual assault, starvation and slave labor are daily occurrences.

In the face of Britain’s long-awaited Chilcot Report, which harshly questions former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to join the 2003 Iraq War, Adam Taylor of The Washington Post questions the legal implications of the report and whether Blair could be sued or face charges in the International Criminal Court for his missteps. Read Taylor’s legal analysis of Blair’s situation here.

Philippine troops killed 9 Abu Sayyaf extremists in a vicious jungle battle between government forces and the militants, reports the AP. The battle comes after Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, the Philippine's new military chief, promised a “shock and awe” offensive to defeat the militant group.

The Guardian profiles how, amid the last thirteen years of ongoing war and violence between clashing regional ethnic groups in Darfur, neighboring countries are providing a steady flow of weapons across the state, fueling the chaos of war and providing citizens with “millions of small arms and light weapons.” Read the full piece here.

A French court convicted seven men for taking part in a group that recruited French jihadists to join the Islamic State, The Wall Street Journal reports. The men had just returned to France after spending weeks in Syria, where they participated in military training.

U.S. attorney general Loretta Lynch formally closed the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email practices after meeting with FBI Director James Comey, accepting the FBI’s “unanimous recommendation” that “no charges be brought” against Clinton. Lynch’s announcement comes on the heels of her controversial airport encounter with former president Bill Clinton.

Lynch’s verdict is already causing ripple effects. Major Jason Brezler, a Marine Corps Officer locked in a legal battle with his service after improperly disseminating classified information when he used a Yahoo email account to warn fellow Marines about a corrupt Afghan police chief, will cite Clinton’s case in his defense. The Post has more.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Kenneth Anderson provided us with the text of Russia and China’s joint statement on the “promotion of international law.”

Jack Goldsmith linked us to his thoughts on why FBI Director James Comey took the unusual step of publicly summarizing the Clinton email investigation and announcing the FBI’s recommendation to the Justice Department.

Rishabh Bhandari shared the Iraq Inquiry’s damning verdict of former Prime Minister Blair’s decision to join the Iraq War.

Robert Loeb and Helen Klein Murillo updated us on the Nashiri saga.

Timothy Edgar suggested three steps for NSA reform.

Benjamin Wittes noted that Lawfare was cited in yesterday’s New York Times editorial on Comey’s announcement.

Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.

Rishabh Bhandari graduated from Yale College with degrees in History and Global Affairs. His senior thesis focused on the decision making of the Nixon administration in response to the 1971 Bengali Genocide. He is pursuing a doctorate in international relations at Oxford University.
David Hopen is a national security intern at Lawfare. He is a rising senior at Yale University, where he majors in English Literature.

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