Today's Headlines and Commentary

Jane Chong
Thursday, August 14, 2014, 12:31 PM
The Associated Press reports that at least four children were killed in clashes between Iraqi troops and Sunni militants west of Baghdad today, a day after the U.N. declared the humanitarian crisis in Iraq a Level 3 Emergency.

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The Associated Press reports that at least four children were killed in clashes between Iraqi troops and Sunni militants west of Baghdad today, a day after the U.N. declared the humanitarian crisis in Iraq a Level 3 Emergency. Late yesterday the New York Times reported that Defense Department officials had confirmed that U.S. airstrikes and Kurdish fighters had broken the Islamic militants' siege of Mount Sinjar. Thousands of desperate Yazidis remain trapped on the mountain in northern Iraq, reports the Washington Post, but both the U.S. and Britain are claiming the situation is better than expected and backing down from plans to launch a rescue mission, says the Guardian.
Over at the Times' "Room for Debate" blog, Joe Felter, Rebecca Grant, James Franklin Jeffrey and Michael Wahid Hanna weigh in on whether airstrikes are enough to take on the Islamic State. The AP notes that the Obama administration remains deeply divided, both as to the extent that the Islamic State threatens Americans and as to the necessity of military intervention. The Washington Post muses on the political and military constraints that have resulted in a disconnect between descriptions of the threat posed by the Islamic State and the "decidedly modest" U.S. military campaign:
Among them are no clear military strategy for reversing the group’s recent territorial gains, a war-weariness that pervades the Obama administration and the country, and significant uncertainty about the extent to which the Islamic State is prepared to morph from a regional force into a transnational terrorist threat that could target Europe and the United States.
The Wall Street Journal notes that the struggle to repel Islamist insurgents threatening Kurdish territory in northern Iraq have put the U.S. and Iran on the same sideForeign Policy's "The Complex" writes that the efforts of the Kurds' "sophisticated and well funded influence machine in Washington" have paid off with the White House's announcement that it would conduct airstrikes over Kurdish territory and provide weapons and ammunition, although the ultimate goal---U.S. support for an independent Kurdish state---remains elusive.
Convoys with thousands of anti-government protestors calling on Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign have begun traveling from Lahore to Islamabad; the mobile phone network has been partially suspended and tens of thousands of security personnel have been deployed in the capital and in cities across Punjab province, reports the BBC.
Speaking through Egyptian mediators, Israel and Hamas have agreed to five more days of truce, extending the 72-hour ceasefire ticking down on Wednesday night.  The pause did not have immediate practical effect: even it after it nominally commenced, a series of rockets struck southern Israel, prompting retaliatory air strikes in Gaza. The Guardian has details.
The White House and State Department officials were surprised to learn last month that the Israeli military had been securing ammunition from the Pentagon without their approval; the WSJ reports that the Obama administration has since tightened munitions control but suggests that the episode reflects fast-fraying relations between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Hundreds of thousands of Nigerians are searching for sanctuary from the Boko Haram, reports the WSJ, and the resulting forced migration is expected to create problems for everything from public services to food security.
In the face of exploding militia violence, Libya's newly elected parliament has requested an "international intervention" from the U.N., reports the AP by way of ABC.
Scott Campbell, director of the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the Democratic Republic of Congo, describes the ongoing war crimes trial of Lt Col Bedi Mobuli Egangela as a "a test case" for military justice in the country, writes the BBC.
Reuters reports that, for the first time, artillery shells hit close to the center of the separatist-seized city of Donetsk on Thursday; meanwhile a caravan of 280 trucks left Moscow to take "aid" to the Luhansk region, in what the Ukrainian government fears could become a covert military intervention.
Today in international tantrums: The Guardian notes that North Korea test-fired five missiles into the sea today, just as Pope Francis began a visit to South Korea. Coincidence? Probably not. The show marks the latest in what the AP calls North Korea's "long history of making sure it is not forgotten during high-profile events in the South."
The first civil trial against a bank under the Anti-Terrorism Act is set to begin today in a federal court in Brooklyn. Arab Bank is being sued by 297 plaintiffs for holding an account for Osama Hamdan, a Hamas spokesman, in what the Times describes as a controversial suit that has split the Obama administration, drawn the criticism of the government of Jordan (where the bank is headquartered) and sent a shiver through a banking industry increasingly wary of high-risk transactions.
Back in April, State Department official John Napier Tye filed a whistle-blower complaint contending that NSA's practices abroad violated Americans' Fourth Amendment rights. The Times reports that Tye is now speaking publicly as Congress considers amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but the proposed changes would not change the agency's overseas abilities as authorized by Executive Order 12333. Based on documents and interviews with dozens of officials, the Times has published this chart detailing how 12333 rules operate to allow the incidental collection of Americans' communications.
Violent protests in Ferguson, Missouri over the police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown continue to dominate the headlines. Al Jazeera America reports that the issue may soon be brought directly to the attention of the international community: Ron Davis, the father of a black teen shot dead at a gas station when he and his friends refused to lower the music in their car (prosecution of the killer resulted in mistrial), is scheduled to appear at the 85th meeting of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva to ask Washington to stop the "criminalization of race" in America.
Lastly, in domestic drone news: The FAA has just named Virginia Tech one of just six operational drone test sites in the country. That's the word from Richmond-Times Dispatch. For drone watchers, the Times has also run a piece on how archaeologists the world over have turned to drones to explore endangered sites, converting the drone-captured bird's-eye view into 3-D images and highly detailed maps that can then be used to legally register the ancient sites' protected boundaries.
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Jane Chong is former deputy managing editor of Lawfare. She served as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and is a graduate of Yale Law School and Duke University.

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