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April 29, 2016

Daily News Brief

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TOP OF THE AGENDA

Biden Visits Iraq Amid Concerns Over Stability

Vice President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Baghdad Thursday, seeking to bolster the Iraqi government in its fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (WSJ). Biden's trip makes him the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit since the 2011 troop withdrawal. In 2014 U.S. troops returned to the country; they now number around 4,000. The visit comes after weeks of unrest and rallies by supporters of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and demands to end government corruption and mismanagement (AP). Biden also flew to Erbil to meet with the president of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, Masoud Barzani (NYT).

ANALYSIS

"Prime Minister Abadi has weathered an incredible political storm over the last few weeks. Escalating protests led by the Sadrists prompted him to propose a technocratic cabinet, which was then rejected by the leaders of political blocs. The ensuing uproar prompted two former Prime Ministers—Nouri al-Maliki and Ayad Allawi—to stage a sit-in in parliament in an effort to overthrow the Abadi government. Although the fate of parliamentary speaker Salim al-Jibouri remains uncertain, for now it looks like the rebels simply do not have the numbers that they would need to defeat the Prime Minister. As Abadi emerges from this latest upheaval, the pressing issue remains that Iraq is running out of money and that the current public sector salary bill is completely unsupportable," writes Nussaibah Younis for the Atlantic Council.

"The Obama administration's original plans to withdraw all combat forces from Iraq and allow the Iraqis to sort out their own problems have now confronted reality. Given the president's recent expressions of regret that the U.S. did not do more for Libya, one can imagine a sober realization that the U.S. has too much at stake in Iraq to leave Baghdad to its own devices," writes Ellen Laipson for the World Politics Review.

"While effort is being poured into the military component to fight ISIS, including the training of local allies in both Iraq and Syria, what we haven't heard is who will govern and administrate Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, the two main Syrian cities under ISIS rule, or Mosul in Iraq. Mosul, Iraq's second largest city with a complex ethnic makeup, made governance a constant problem for the Americans during the Iraq war. The various local armed groups—Iraqi Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni militias—and the communities from which they spring resist rule by others. This is especially true in the wake of the many war crimes committed. Is there a plan for governance of these liberated spaces or will we again watch the Islamic State return, perhaps in a different, gentler and more clever version as al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria did?" writes Robert Ford for the Middle East Institute.

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PACIFIC RIM

North Korea Sentences U.S. Citizen to Ten Years

North Korea found a sixty-three-year-old Korean-American man guilty of trying to steal classified military information (Korea Times) and sentenced him to ten years of hard labor. Last month North Korean officials sentenced a U.S. college student to fifteen years of hard for stealing a propaganda banner.

AUSTRALIA: An Iranian migrant self-immolated and later succumbed to his wounds in an Australian offshore processing center for asylum-seekers on the Pacific island of Nauru (Sydney Morning Herald). This week Papua New Guinea announced that it would shut down a similar island detention center (Guardian) for migrants trying to reach Australia.

SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA

U.S. Military Disciplines 16 Over Afghanistan Hospital Attack

A U.S. military official said that no one was subject to criminal charges in the November bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz that killed forty-two people. The U.S. personnel received administrative punishments (RFE/RL).

PAKISTAN: U.S. lawmakers raised concerns over the Obama administration's plans to sell F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, saying the aircraft could be used against India rather than the fight against terrorism (WSJ). An unnamed State Department official told the BBC that the United States would drop a planned subsidy to Pakistan for the sale (BBC).

CFR's Daniel Markey discusses U.S.-Pakistan relations in this article for the Cipher Brief.

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

Iranian Parliamentary Runoff Underway

Iranians vote Friday for representatives for 69 seats remaining in the 290-member parliament (Tehran Times). The vote will determine whether reformists allied with President Hassan Rouhani, who had a strong showing in the first vote, will gain control of the body (AFP).

This CFR interview with Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar discusses what is at stake in Iran's elections.

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

South African Court Will Review Corruption Case Against Zuma

South Africa's president is open to prosecution after the High Court in Pretoria voted to set aside a 2009 decision to drop charges against him in a corruption case (Business Day Live). Last month a court also found that the president breached the constitution when he failed to repay public money used to renovate his private residence (BBC).

CFR's John Campbell discusses President Jacob Zuma's troubles with the ruling African National Congress in this blog post.

IVORY COAST: The United Nations voted to pull peacekeepers from the Ivory Coast by next year and to lift remaining sanctions on the country (DW). A UN peacekeeping chief said the Ivory Coast "was on the right track" after years of civil strife (UN News Centre).

EUROPE

Turkish Journalists Sentenced for Republishing Charlie Hebdo Cover

Two Turkish reporters who republished covers of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were sentenced to two years in prison for "openly encouraging hate and enmity" (Dogan News Agency). Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was among the 1,280 people who filed a criminal complaint against the journalists.

UNITED KINGDOM: A report (Guardian) says that documents show former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair lobbied Chinese leaders on behalf of an oil company owned by a Saudi prince seeking to do business there.

AMERICAS

Mexican Federal Agents to Stand Trial for Torture of Detainee

Five federal security agents will be tried after a video emerged on social media that appeared to show them torturing a female detainee in last year (LAHT) in Guerrero state.

VENEZUELA: The U.S. Senate voted to extend sanctions on Venezuelan officials first passed in 2014 (Miami Herald). The law allows the United States to deny visas and freeze assets to government officials it deems responsible for violence and political arrests in that year.