Today's Headlines and Commentary

Quinta Jurecic, Staley Smith
Monday, August 10, 2015, 1:57 PM

A series of terror attacks rippled across Turkey early this morning. In Sirnak province, a majority-Kurdish region near the borders with Iraq and Syria, a roadside bombing and a separate attack on a military helicopter resulted in the deaths of five policemen. In Istanbul, a police station was first bombed and then targeted in a firefight. Finally, two women believed to belong to the far-left terrorist group Revolutionary People's Liberation Army-Front, or DHKP-C, opened fire on the U.S.

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A series of terror attacks rippled across Turkey early this morning. In Sirnak province, a majority-Kurdish region near the borders with Iraq and Syria, a roadside bombing and a separate attack on a military helicopter resulted in the deaths of five policemen. In Istanbul, a police station was first bombed and then targeted in a firefight. Finally, two women believed to belong to the far-left terrorist group Revolutionary People's Liberation Army-Front, or DHKP-C, opened fire on the U.S. consulate in Istanbul. One woman is in custody while the other is currently being pursued by police, and a statement posted to DHKP-C’s website described the attack as retaliation against U.S. imperialism in Turkey. There were no casualties. The AP and the Wall Street Journal have the story on another day of violence in Turkey.

The spike in violence has followed the Turkish government’s recent decision to begin military action against ISIS and the Kurdish PKK, in response to an ISIS-linked suicide bombing in the town of Suruc. The government has also given the U.S. long-awaited permission to use Turkish airbases to conduct strikes against ISIS, and Bloomberg reports that the United States deployed six F-16 fighter jets to Turkey’s Incirlik airbase on Sunday. U.S. forces began flying drones from the base last week.

With Turkey’s entrance into the fight against ISIS, the network of alliances and enmities in the region is an ever increasingly snarled mess. On Sunday, al Nusra Front militants announced plans to vacate the “ISIS-free zone” swath of Syria along the Turkish border---though Reuters tells us that the al Qaeda affiliate also declared its opposition to the establishment of the buffer zone. Brookings scholar Charles Lister notes that the withdrawal comes as Nusra fighters sought to avoid cooperating with Turkish interests, after the group’s allies agreed to work with Turkey in the region. The Times examines Turkey’s role as a complicating factor in the previously close relationship between U.S. and Kurdish forces in Syria.

Foreign Policy suggests that the nuclear deal with Iran may have opened a window to a revitalized U.S. push for Syrian peace talks. As Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s main regional backer, Iran may hold the key to peace in the ongoing conflict---and the conclusion of nuclear negotiations gave U.S. officials an opportunity to reach out. On that note, Reuters writes that the Russian and Saudi foreign ministers will discuss the conflict in Syria tomorrow. Moscow is another of President Assad’s few remaining allies.

Speaking of the Iran deal, the Journal reports on increased Iranian hard-line efforts to drum up support against the nuclear agreement. Reuters also notes Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s reluctance to weigh in on the deal, suggesting that the Supreme Leader is likely hedging his bets in a political environment in which “factions are seeking to gain maximum benefit from the deal while taking the least responsibility.”

Haaretz brings us an update on last week’s reports that Iran may have been seeking to hide traces of past nuclear activity at its Parchin military site before IAEA inspections. The Institute for Science and International Security, a U.S. think tank, has pointed to satellite images seeming to show suspicious activity at Parchin, but Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif continues to insist that the activity is simply related to road work.

In Israel, authorities ordered the extended detention without trial of two radical Jewish activists suspected of involvement in the recent arson of a Palestinian home. One detainee, Meir Ettinger, had already been arrested but was not yet subjected to administrative detention until Sunday. The Times writes that the detentions represent a continuation of Israeli efforts to crack down on Jewish extremism, spearheaded by the arson attack in the West Bank.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi proposed an overhaul of the Iraqi government on Sunday. In response to growing government protests, Prime Minister Abadi’s wide-reaching, seven-point plan would clamp down on corruption, eliminate three vice presidency positions, and do away with quotas for sectarian and party identity among top government officials. The Guardian reports that the plan, which Abadi announced on Sunday, has already been approved by the cabinet and now must be voted on by the parliament. The Times quotes Marie Fantappie of the International Crisis Group as saying that Abadi’s plan may mean “the end of the post-2003 Iraq,” as though there weren’t enough factors already contributing to that outcome.

The Washington Post studies the “awkward alliance” in Iraq between the United States and Shiite militias backed by Iran. Forced into closer and closer collaboration by their mutual interest in defeating ISIS, the two sides are nevertheless keenly aware that “their broader regional objectives are in conflict.”

Over the past several days, deadly suicide bombings have occurred across Afghanistan. On Saturday, 29 people were killed and 19 wounded in an attack targeting the commander of a local anti-Taliban militia in the northern Kunduz Province. The AFP writes that the Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing. On Monday, a car bomb exploded near a security checkpoint leading to the international airport in Kabul, killing 5 and injuring 16. The BBC suggests that the upsurge in violence may stem from power struggles within the Taliban as Mullah Akhtar Mansour seeks to consolidate his control over the organization.

Forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition have seized a major city in southern Yemen from Houthi fighters. Al Jazeera tells us that the city of Zinjibar is the fourth regional capital that anti-Houthi fighters have captured this month after seizing control of the southern port city of Aden.

The United States is poised to restart military aid to Bahrain, which may soon receive U.S. assistance in maintaining its fleet of F-16s. Restrictions on military aid were lifted in June, despite widespread outcry over Bahrain’s post-Arab Spring human rights record.

Tunisia continues to struggle with the threat of extremism in what the Times describes as an “increasingly precarious” situation. Last week, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi extended the country’s state of emergency for another two months in an effort to crack down on ISIS-linked militants. Yet Tunisians are also concerned that the anti-terrorism campaign may endanger the fledgling Tunisian democracy, hard won after the Arab Spring.

One day after a deadly siege by suspected Islamist gunmen at a hotel in Mali, another 10 civilians died when gunmen attacked a village in the northern part of the country. Reuters describes the latest violence in the West African country, “where the United Nations has brokered a tenuous peace between Tuareg separatists and the government. Al Qaeda linked militants and other terrorist groups have increased attacks appear to be mounting a campaign against the U.N. mission and Malia's military.

The U.S. State Department has approved the sale to Japan of a system that would bolster Japanese defenses against a ballistic missile attack and expand Japan's ability to carry out joint military missions with the U.S. Navy. Reuters tells us that, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the new defense system “will afford more flexibility and capability to counter regional threats and continue to enhance stability in the region”---perhaps a reference to growing tensions between China and Japan over China’s activities in the disputed South China Sea.

North Korean soldiers planted landmines last week across the heavily fortified border between the two Koreas, maiming two South Korean soldiers. The Journal reports that South Korea is retaliating by resuming anti-North Korean propaganda broadcasts through large loudspeakers at the border for the first time in 11 years. The latest incidents are sure to worsen the already tense relationship between the Koreas and come ahead of “large military drills in South Korea that begin next week, annual exercises with the U.S. that typically draw an angry reaction from Pyongyang.”

The Daily Beast offers an update on the Obama administration's push to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center by the end of its term. Here’s the rub: although half of the Gitmo detainees have been cleared to leave, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter must sign the papers to actually let them go. The administration believes “that Carter is unwilling to be accountable for the transfer of Guantánamo detainees and their conduct post-release, even to the point of defying the president’s policy on the detention facility.”

The New York Times Editorial Board is calling on the Department of Defense to repeal new guidelines outlined in the Law of War Manual concerning the treatment of journalists covering armed conflicts, which, it claims, “would make their work more dangerous, cumbersome and subject to censorship.”

In Germany, federal prosecutors announced earlier today that they will drop an unusual investigation into whether two journalists had committed treason when they published confidential material about government plans for Internet surveillance. The New York Times notes that the decision was somewhat expected after “a rare public dispute last week ended with the justice minister, Heiko Maas, successfully pressing for the ouster of the top federal prosecutor, Harald Range.”

Supporting ISIS doesn’t count as material support for terrorism---because ISIS is functioning not as terrorist organization, but as a government. That’s what attorneys for seven Minnesotan terror suspects are arguing before a U.S. District Court, saying that ISIS’s involvement in the “systematic process of civilian governance” in Iraq and Syria renders invalid the material support statute. Of course, ISIS is designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the State Department, a designation that specifically includes a prohibition on providing material support.

A self-proclaimed “professional cyberstalker” has developed a suite of tools that people could voluntarily install on their technology, such as a laptop, to help recover it in the event it is lost or stolen. The capabilities go beyond Find my iPhone and the technology has been picked up by law enforcement which has used it to catch people creating and distributing child abuse images. In its first significant success, the software was utilized to retrieve a stolen laptop by taking a picture of the suspect and tagging GPS co-ordinates. The BBC has the story.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

The Lawfare Podcast featured Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) who spoke at the Cato Institute on “The Fight with ISIS: One Year (and Counting) of Unauthorized War.”

In this week’s Foreign Policy Essay, Gary Owen suggested that perhaps things are not actually going so great in Afghanistan.

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Quinta Jurecic is a fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and a senior editor at Lawfare. She previously served as Lawfare's managing editor and as an editorial writer for the Washington Post.
Staley Smith previously was a National Security Intern at the Brookings Institution. She spent the past year studying in Jordan and Israel and will graduate from Johns Hopkins University in 2016 with a major in political science.

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