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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
January 9, 2014
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Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Iraq Holds Off on Fallujah Offensive as U.S. Mulls Arms Deal

As the Iraqi government halted momentum for an assault to retake territory in the country's west that was overrun by al-Qaeda-linked militants last week, a suicide bomber killed at least twelve people at a military recruiting center in Baghdad on Thursday (AP). U.S. vice president Joe Biden urged Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Wednesday to secure the support of local Sunni leaders before launching an offensive likely to take a high civilian toll (WSJ). Meanwhile, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez signaled that he might lift his objections to transferring Apache attack helicopters to Iraq (NYT) as part of a broader arms deal advocated by the Obama administration. Iraq's oil industry appeared to be largely insulated from the current fighting, but analysts expressed concern about long-term instability (Reuters).

Analysis

"A little more than a week after the outbreak of violence in Anbar province, the picture of the forces fighting on the ground has become clearer. It does not, however, correspond to official Iraqi pronouncements that the conflict only involves two parties: al-Qaeda versus Iraqi security forces and their Sahwa tribal allies. At the same time, the picture also does not support declarations by Fallujah tribal leaders that the conflict is mainly one of the tribes versus government forces," writes Mushreq Abbas in Al-Monitor.

"I would assign most of the blame to Baghdad, to Prime Minister Maliki, who has been very vindictive and short-sighted in his persecution of Sunnis and turning his back on the Anbar awakening, which made possible the success of the surge. But I think a secondary role has to be assigned in this fiasco to President Obama, who did not try very hard to keep U.S. troops in Iraq after 2011 and did not take a very activist role…and as a result of that, we've basically been an enabler of Maliki and his sectarianism, and now we're making it worse by shipping munitions to Maliki," said CFR's Max Boot in a Foreign Affairs media call.

"Iran has waged a brilliant covert-action campaign that turned Maliki and Iraq into virtual clients of Tehran—and in the process alienated Sunnis and pushed them toward extremism…. Iran allegedly has been able to use Iraq as a staging ground for operations to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad thanks partly to Hadi al-Ameri, the Iraqi minister of transportation. He headed the Badr Brigade, a pro-Iranian militia. The sectarian cleavage in Iraq has widened since the United States departed. With Iraqi Shiites pulled toward Iran, Sunnis were drawn back toward the jihadist orbit—especially after Syria lurched into civil war," writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post.

 

CFR's Global Conflict Tracker

The Center for Preventive Action's Global Conflict Tracker is an interactive guide to U.S. conflict prevention priorities in 2014. It provides an up-to-date overview of each ongoing or potential conflict featured in the most recent Preventive Priorities Survey and features additional background information. Take a look.

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PACIFIC RIM

Abe Heads to Africa and Middle East

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe departed Thursday for a weeklong trip to Africa and the Middle East, where he hopes to secure energy resources and increase exports. He will also announce an increase in development assistance to Africa, an area where Japan's rival China has already been increasing its presence (Kyodo).

CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick makes seven predictions about Asia in the coming year.

AUSTRALIA: Prime Minister Tony Abbott defended keeping a "closed book" on his government's asylum policy after critics highlighted the government's refusal to comment on reports that two asylum seeker vessels were recently turned back to Indonesia (Sydney Morning Herald).

 

SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA

Khobragade Fallout Continues

U.S. energy secretary Ernest Moniz has cancelled a planned visit to India next week amid heightening tensions brought on by the arrest of Indian consular official Devyani Khobragade in New York (FT). The decision follows New Delhi's order that a club operated there by the U.S. embassy for expatriates shut down all "commercial activities" (WaPo).

BANGLADESH: Opposition leaders went into hiding as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, whose government was sworn in today after being elected Sunday in a vote marred by violence and a boycott, pledged to contain political violence with an "iron hand" (AP).

CFR's Alyssa Ayres blogs about the political impasse in Bangladesh.

 

MIDDLE EAST

Ahead of Peace Talks, Syrian Opposition Groups Meet for First Time

Representatives Syria's fragmented opposition met for the first time in the Spanish city of Cordoba, seeking to establish a unified position ahead of the so-called Geneva II peace talks slated to take place on January 22 (Reuters).

 

AFRICA

CAR Leader Under Pressure to Step Down

Central African Republic interim leader Michel Djotodia is expected to face pressure to step down when he attends a summit in neighboring Chad on Thursday. The Central African regional organization says he has failed to quell violence between Christian and Muslim militias in what the UN has called an impending humanitarian disaster (BBC).

MALI: France will reduce its troops in Mali by nearly 1,000 to 1,600 by the middle of February, President Francois Hollande said yesterday. The drawdown comes a year after France's intervention against militant Islamists and separatists there (al-Jazeera).

This Backgrounder explains counterterrorism and peacekeeping efforts that have kept al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb at bay.

 

EUROPE

Merkel to Visit United States Amid NSA Row

German chancellor Angela Merkel accepted President Obama's invitation to visit the White House after revelations that the NSA eavesdropped on her conversations soured relations, though a date was not announced. Obama is expected to discuss his review of surveillance practices with U.S. lawmakers on Thursday (Deutsche Welle).

RUSSIA: Russia blocked a UN Security Council statement on Wednesday that would have condemned the Assad regime's use of Scud missiles and barrel bombs against civilians in Aleppo (BBC).

 

AMERICAS

UN Urges Probe of Brazilian Prison Violence

The UN's human rights office urged Brazil to investigate the killings of inmates at a northeastern penitentiary after the newspaper Folha released a video depicting decapitations, and said Brazil's prisons are in a "dire state" (Reuters). Sixty-two inmates have been killed at the complex over the past year.

PANAMA: Panama and a European construction consortium working on the two-thirds-complete expansion of the canal have not overcome an impasse over cost overruns, threatening to bring construction to a halt (NPR).

 

 

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