Today's Headlines and Commentary

Tara Hofbauer
Thursday, May 28, 2015, 2:04 PM
In Iraq, Shia militia forces fighting to retake Anbar province and its capital Ramadi have decided to rename their military campaign. Originally, the title referenced a figure holy to Shia Islam, thus exacerbating sectarian tensions, as Anbar province is home to a Sunni Iraqis majority.

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In Iraq, Shia militia forces fighting to retake Anbar province and its capital Ramadi have decided to rename their military campaign. Originally, the title referenced a figure holy to Shia Islam, thus exacerbating sectarian tensions, as Anbar province is home to a Sunni Iraqis majority. According to Reuters, the campaign’s new name translates to “At Your Service, Iraq.” CNN shares updates on the fight to retake Ramadi. An Iraqi soldier who had been part of the withdrawal from Ramadi shared his account of the events with Radio Free Europe. He claimed that Iraqi forces’ retreat prevented a “massacre,” as they had insufficient weapons and munitions and little air cover. In reference to U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s statements that Iraqi troops had “no will to fight,” the soldier said, “I would be lying if I said we don't have the desire. But desire without the needed wherewithal is not enough." Secretary Carter announced today that U.S. military officials are reviewing how they can better train and equip Iraqi security forces, following the fall of Ramadi. Reuters shares more on Secretary Carter’s statements. The Associated Press notes that in particular, the Defense Department is looking into how it can better empower Sunni tribes in the fight against the Islamic State. The Washington Examiner wonders whether Baiji will be the next Iraqi city to fall to the Islamic State, as the elements that made Ramadi vulnerable to the militant group similarly exist in Baiji. According to Kenneth Katzman, a senior analyst at the Congressional Research Service, “The same problems that plague Iraqi forces elsewhere are in play at Baiji - ineffective leadership, confused chains of command, interference by political loyalists, and apathy, at best, from the surrounding Sunni population that continues to distrust Baghdad." According to the New York Times, there are more internally displaced Iraqi civilians now than there were during the height of fighting following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Approximately three million people are currently on the run from the Islamic State, and almost eighty-five percent of them are Sunnis. The displaced Sunnis are at the mercy of their Shia neighbors, but unfortunately, “doors in Iraq are closing” with Sunnis “frequently treated as security threats rather than as suffering fellow citizens.” In a Washington Post editorial, John McLaughlin, who served as deputy director and acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2000 to 2004, examines what it would take for the Islamic State to win in the Middle East. Following its takeover of the Syrian city of Palmyra last week, the Islamic State has posted photos of the UNESCO World Heritage site, showing that its ancient ruins remain unharmed. Reuters was unable to independently verify the images, but notes that activists still inside the city have confirmed that the ruins have not sustained damage thus far. The Post describes what remains of Kobani, a strategic Syrian border town retaken by Kurdish forces from the Islamic State earlier this year. According to a report released yesterday by Handicap International, the “people [of Kobani] must contend with a horrific array of unexploded ordnance, ranging from bombs and mortars to corpses that have been booby-trapped with improvised explosive devices.” The Post shares photos and charts, showing the destruction sustained by Kobani. The Long War Journal reports that an airstrike, conducted in Syria a few days ago by the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, killed Said Arif, the leader of Jund al Asqa, a Syrian rebel group associated with al Qaeda. “The US State Department designated Arif as a terrorist on Aug. 18, 2014, identifying him as an ‘Algerian army officer deserter, who traveled to Afghanistan in the 1990s, where he trained in al Qaeda camps with weapons and explosives.’” Over at Overt Action, Kevin Strouse, a former Army Ranger and a former CIA counterterrorism analyst, explains the bureaucratic process that follows the killing of a terrorist leader. Reuters shares an exclusive report that Russia is amassing troops and firepower just thirty miles from its Ukrainian border. Moscow has created a makeshift base in the area, where it has stationed “mobile rocket launchers, tanks, and artillery.” None of the weapons or servicemembers bear insignia or plates identifying them as Russian. Reuters notes, “As such, they match the appearance of some of the forces spotted in eastern Ukraine, which Kiev and its Western allies allege are covert Russian detachments.” Meanwhile, the AP reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued a new decree, classifying the deaths of Russian troops involved in “special operations.” Given that Moscow is currently in a state of peace, “the decree comes as [further] evidence of Russian involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.” Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the Brookings Institution yesterday, where he discussed the conflict in Ukraine. He called the current situation there a “humanitarian tragedy created by Russian aggression” and affirmed that Moscow’s actions have “literally transformed the landscape of European security.” Here at Lawfare, Cody linked to video footage from the event. Politico notes that the Vice President’s statements “did not directly contradict those of Secretary of State John Kerry... [though] Biden did strike a tougher tone in dealing with the Russian government.” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) yesterday, where he noted that Moscow’s threats to build nuclear weapons systems in Kaliningrad (near Poland) and Crimea (near Ukraine) “would fundamentally change the balance of security in Europe.” Moreover, he asserted that “Russia’s nuclear sabre-rattling is unjustified, destabilizing and dangerous.” The Wall Street Journal shares details. In a speech in Hawaii yesterday, Secretary Carter took a firm stance against China’s land reclamation practices in the South China Sea, saying, “China is out of step with both international norms that underscore the Asia-Pacific’s security architecture, and the regional consensus in favor of non-coercive approaches to this and other long-standing disputes.” According to the Post, Secretary Carter also maintained that the U.S. will continue to patrol international waters and airspace in the region, despite recent bluster from Beijing. The official state paper in China revealed today that the Beijing government is working on a five-year cybersecurity plan that is expected to better safeguard state secrets and other information. According to Reuters, the plan will likely force Chinese government agencies to buy technological software from domestic purveyors. Nuclear negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 group are working to come up with a comprehensive agreement by their self-imposed June 30 deadline. Today, after meeting with his Greek counterpart in Athens, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he believes a final deal can be achieved “within a reasonable period of time. He noted, however, that "if people insist on excessive demands, on renegotiation, then it will be difficult to envisage an agreement even without a deadline." Reuters shares more. Meanwhile, the Times reports that the top U.S. nuclear negotiator announced yesterday that she will step down from the State Department following the June 30 deadline. Wendy Sherman has served as Undersecretary of State for Policy since 2013. “With her departure, all the top officials who have negotiated with Iran over those two years will have left the administration, leaving questions about who will coordinate the complex process of carrying out a deal if one is struck by the deadline.” Yesterday, Saudi Arabia sanctioned two Hezbollah leaders, Khalil Yusif Harb and Muhammad Qabalan, for their involvement in regional terrorism. The Wall Street Journal notes that the announcement is “a sign of the kingdom’s growing coordination with the U.S. Treasury Department.” The Times reports that airstrikes conducted in Yemen yesterday by the Saudi-led Arab military coalition allegedly killed eighty people, the highest death toll for a single day since the start of the campaign in March. According to the World Health Organization, a third of the Yemeni population is “in urgent need of medical care.” The Obama administration has warned that Congress is “playing national security Russian roulette” by waiting until the last second to potentially renew key provisions of the USA Patriot Act. The White House has backed the USA Freedom Act, which authorizes metadata collection programs, but institutes significant reforms. The Post notes that the administration’s recent statements constitute its last “big push to try to sway public opinion as Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a presidential candidate, appears intent on taking a stand against mass surveillance that could well take Congress past a June 1 deadline to renew the authorities.” Defense One examines what Senator Rand Paul (R-KY)’s endgame might be with regard to reform of the NSA metadata collection program.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Matthew Olsen eulogized Dan Meltzer, who died over the weekend. Cody shared video footage from Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks at the Brookings Institution on the conflict in Ukraine. Stewart Baker posted this week’s Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, which featured a conversation with CATO Institute senior fellow Julian Sanchez 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.

Tara Hofbauer previously was an intern with Lawfare. She is majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, with a minor in Legal Studies and History.

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