Today's Headlines and Commentary

Rishabh Bhandari
Friday, July 1, 2016, 1:59 PM

The Iraqi security force’s recent victory in Fallujah remains the highmark of the ongoing campaign to defeat the Islamic State. But the Financial Times warns that Fallujah may fall again if Iraq’s politicians do not build upon their commanders’ victory by offering a more inclusive brand of politics that mitigates ethnic and sectarian divides.

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The Iraqi security force’s recent victory in Fallujah remains the highmark of the ongoing campaign to defeat the Islamic State. But the Financial Times warns that Fallujah may fall again if Iraq’s politicians do not build upon their commanders’ victory by offering a more inclusive brand of politics that mitigates ethnic and sectarian divides. The editorial notes that the failings of Baghdad’s politicians provided the opportunity for the Islamic State to succeed in the first place.

Syrian insurgents seized the strategic town of Kansaba from the Syrian government and their allies in the western coastal province of Latakia on Friday, marking a rare advance for them since Russia intervened to prop up Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regime. The Syrian government had claimed the region in February with the backing of Russian air power. The al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front was among the groups that helped seize Kansaba. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said this was an important acquisition for the insurgents because it was near the Turkish border and overlooks the mountainous Jabal Akrad area. The insurgents’ victory underscores Moscow’s claim that any move to change Syria’s leadership at this moment could spark the government’s collapse. Reuters has more.

But the Wall Street Journal reports that the United States is requesting Russia’s help in forcing Assad to ground his air force as part of a proposal that could lead to unprecedented military cooperation between Moscow and Washington. Under the proposal, the U.S. and Russia would collaborate to target the Islamic State. The deal hinges on Russia agreeing not to strike U.S.-backed Syrian rebel forces. Some officials within the administration criticize the proposal for legitimizing Russia’s role in the Syrian civil war without requiring Assad’s removal from office.

Russia is already close to securing another partner in the region. The Financial Times reveals that Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Russian reporters that Ankara and Moscow should work together to create a political solution in Syria. Analysts said Turkey would be looking for Russian support in defeating both the Islamic State and Kurdish forces that stoke tensions both at home and in Syria. Turkey’s move for a rapprochement with Russia comes after a horrific triple suicide attack in Istanbul that claimed 44 lives and wounded many more. While no party has claimed responsibility, Turkish officials have pointed the finger at the Islamic State. Reuters reveals that law enforcement agents arrested 11 foreigners suspected of being members of an Islamic State cell in Istanbul linked to the assault. The three suicide bombers are suspected to be nationals from Russia, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

The Wall Street Journal tells us that the former Soviet Republics have been fertile hunting grounds for Islamic State recruiters. Russian President Vladimir Putin said as many as 7,000 recruits from Russia and Central Asia may have joined the Islamic State. Many of the men hail from Chechnya, a Muslim-majority province in Russia that has hosted a number of separatist wars and Islamic insurgencies since the Soviet Union collapsed.

The Washington Post discloses that the Middle East Quartet, which compromises of the United States, Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union, released a report today recommending that Israel stop building settlements, denying Palestinian development, and designating land for exclusive Israeli use that Palestinians seek for a future state. It also criticized the Palestinian leadership for not sufficiently condemning terrorist attacks and said illicit arms build up and militant activities in Gaza—which is controlled by Hamas—must desist.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani accused Western powers of exploiting the divide between the world’s Sunni and Shiite Muslim communities to divert attention from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rouhani’s comments came as tens of thousands of Iranians marched in the streets, burned the Israeli flag, and chanted “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” as a demonstration of support for the Palestinian people. Rouhani said unity within the Islamic community was the only way to foment peace in the region. Reuters has more.

A report released by the U.S. Navy criticized the 10 U.S. sailors who were held at gunpoint by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for divulging sensitive information. The report also faulted the IRGC for violating international norms. The Iranians replaced an American flag on board with an IRGC one and damaged equipment. The U.S. Navy also insisted its boats “had every right” to be where they were and said Iran had violated international law by boarding and seizing them. The BBC has more.

Saudi Arabia hit back against a call by Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch for the Persian Gulf power to be suspended from the U.N. Human Rights Council until a Saudi-led military coalition stops killing civilians in Yemen. The Saudi mission to the United Nations said, “we were alarmed and outraged” by the accusations. The statement added that the KSA has complied with international law and its actions in Yemen are triggered by the goal of protecting civilians.

Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents marched in protest on the 19th anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule. The protest occurs as tensions are high between the residents and Chinese authorities over the abductions of Hong Kong booksellers. The city has been rattled over the past year by the disappearance of five booksellers who specialized in works critical of Beijing’s leadership. Some of the protesters waved banners criticizing the Communist Party as “totalitarian” and calling for democracy.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Daniel Philpott reviewed two books on religious freedom and how it has shaped both U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East.

Carrie Cordero flagged the recent purchase of Wright USA, an insurance company that sells legal liability insurance to top CIA, FBI, and other intelligence community officials, by a Chinese company with close ties to the Chinese government.

Benjamin Wittes posted the latest version of the Rational Security podcast, wherein the gang discusses ‘Brexit’ and the terrorist attack in Istanbul.

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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.

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