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May 26, 2015

Daily News Brief

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Iraqi Forces Launch Anbar Offensive

A coalition of Iraqi forces, consisting of both government soldiers and Shiite militias, launched a major counteroffensive (Al Jazeera) Tuesday against the self-declared Islamic State in Iraqís western Anbar province. The offensive aims to recapture the regional capital of Ramadi, which fell to Islamic State forces earlier this month despite ongoing U.S airstrikes against the group. U.S. policymakers have expressed concern (Reuters) that the Iraqi governmentís reliance on Iranian-backed Shiite militias will further stoke sectarian tensions and alienate the local population in Sunni-majority Anbar. In an interview published Sunday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said (WaPo) that Iraqi troops must develop the "will to fight" the Islamic State.


"Where does all this leave Washington? In the first place, its long-standing hope that ISIS could somehow be defeated without western, and particularly American, boots on the ground has been proved once and for all to be a quixotic pipedream," argues Dov Zakheim in National Interest.

"What accounts for the Iraqi militaryís failure? Many problems stem from the Bush Administration decision to disband the existing Iraq military in 2003 and build a new one from scratch. Intended to rid the institution of officers linked to Saddam Hussein, the move instead left thousands of armed men unemployed and embittered," writes Matt Schiavenza in the Atlantic.

"The stories of two men from Anbar provide a glimpse into why efforts to stop the Islamic Stateís advance in the province have so far failed, and also into how local Sunni leaders might react to the influx of Iran-backed Shiite militiamen that will likely follow Ramadiís fall, " writes David Kenner for Foreign Policy.


China Reveals Expanded Naval Strategy

The Chinese navy released an expansive new naval strategy (SCMP), updating its mission from "offshore defense" to a broader concept of "open seas protection,"† interpreted by the United States and its regional allies as a more aggressive stance (FT) that will increase the potential for conflict in the East and South China seas. On Tuesday, Chinese officials also broke ground on new construction on the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

This article by CFRís Robert Rubin and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson argues that the United States and China must better listen to each other.

MALAYSIA: Authorities reported the discovery (Malay Mail) of over one hundred mass graves at a series of jungle camps on the border with Thailand, thought to be the remains of human trafficking victims.


Afghan Officials in Secret Peace Talks With Taliban

A high-level representative of the Afghan government, Mohammed Stanekzai, met with former Taliban officials at a secret meeting in Urumqi in western China, according to media reports (WSJ). The talks, reportedly facilitated by both the Chinese government and Pakistanís intelligence agency, ISI, were aimed at rekindling negotiations to end the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

This CFR interactive looks at the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

INDIA: Nearly eight hundred people have died (BBC) as a result of Indiaís weeks-long heat wave, with temperatures in places surpassing 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Officials have requested that†NGOs and other relief organizations open water camps across the country.†


Trial of Washington Post Reporter Begins in Iran

The trial of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian began Tuesday in Iran, where he is accused (NYT) of espionage, among other charges that have not been made fully public. Rezaian, who is being tried in secret, has been imprisoned for more than ten months and denied legal counsel.

This CFR Interview with Middle East expert Vali Nasr explores the potential for U.S. rapprochement with Iran.


Kenya Police Clash With Al-Shabaab Militants

Somalia-based Al-Shabaab militants ambushed police (Standard) near the Kenayn town of Yumbis on Monday, after police vehicles there struck a landmine. Authorities said that two militants were killed and all of the police involved survived, despite initial reports of up to twenty-five police deaths.

BURUNDI: East African leaders announced an emergency summit (Reuters) to discuss the political crisis in Burundi as protests there continue. Opposition groups withdrew from talks on Monday after the Saturday assassination of opposition leader Zedi Feruzi by unidentified gunmen.


Germany and France Agree on EU Reform Pact

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande agreed on a new plan to reform the European Union (Telegraph) that would not require drafting new treaties or revising existing ones. The pact, which would strengthen the EUís political union, came as UK Prime Minister David Cameron launched (Deutsche Welle) a week-long diplomatic offensive to support his bid to renegotiate Britainís EU membership.

This CFR Interview with Chatham Houseís Richard Whitman discusses the implications of David Cameronís EU skepticism.

POLAND: Final results confirm that conservative challenger Andrzej Duda won Sundayís presidential elections by a narrow margin (EU Observer), surprising observers and calling Polandís strongly pro-EU stance into doubt.


U.S.-Mexico Border Slammed by Storms

Tornados and flash flooding (Chicago Tribune) swept through northern Mexico and Texas on Monday, killing at least thirteen people in the Mexican city of Ciudad Acuna and forcing more than two thousand Texans from their homes. Six deaths in Texas and Oklahoma were also confirmed.

VENEZUELA: Jailed opposition leaders Leopoldo Lopez and Daniel Ceballos declared a hunger strike (Universal), demanding the release of all political prisoners, an end to media censorship, and new parliamentary elections.


Sen. Bernie Sanders to Launch Presidential Campaign

The self-described socialist from Vermont, Senator Bernard "Bernie" Sanders (I-VT), will officially launch (Politico) his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination on Tuesday in Burlington.