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February 24, 2017

Daily News Brief

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Iraq Air Strikes Target Islamic State in Syria

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that the country's air force carried out strikes in Syria against targets from the self-proclaimed Islamic State in retaliation for recent attacks in Baghdad. The Joint Operations Command said the strikes, the first by Iraq inside Syria (AP), destroyed an Islamic State headquarters in the town of Albu Kamal (Reuters). The attacks come as U.S.-backed forces push further into the west of Mosul, the Islamic State’s stronghold in Iraq, and as Turkish-backed rebels claimed to have overtaken most of the Syrian town of Al-Bab (Guardian) from the militants. Military officials estimate some four thousand to six thousand militants (NYT) remain in parts of Mosul still to be retaken by pro-government forces, alongside some 750,000 civilians.


"After three years of fighting, security forces are on the cusp of clearing the Islamic State out of Iraqi towns and cities, launching an offensive Sunday for the western half of Mosul, the group’s de facto capital in Iraq. But weakened by graft, the state is struggling to maintain control as the Islamic State and rival groups like al-Qaeda attempt to reestablish themselves in areas where they were once supported. The plight of those majority Sunni areas also provides fodder for extremist groups to drive their recruitment. Parts of towns and cities have been reduced to rubble, with pitiful assistance for reconstruction and hundreds of thousands still displaced from their homes," Loveday Morris writes for the Washington Post.

"The ISIS members most affected by the impending collapse of Mosul are foreign fighters. As their forces crumble, they have few options. Unlike local members, they cannot remain in Iraq because they stand out among locals and do not speak the language. For the same reason, it is difficult for them to blend in with refugees. They understand that they will most likely die, and soon. As a result, some foreign fighters have responded to this grim reality with a renewed religious fervor, as they believe doing so will allow them to die a shaheed, or one who has died fulfilling a religious commandment," Vera Mironova and Ekaterina Sergatskova write for Foreign Affairs.

"The current American strategy is to press the Islamic State from multiple directions by moving ahead with the offensive to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa even as Iraqi forces carry on their operation to take western Mosul. Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters backed by the United States are to play the principal role in seizing Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State’s professed caliphate. But one option being considered is for American troops to step up their support of the fighters by firing artillery, shooting mortars, helping with logistics and significantly expanding efforts to advise them, much as the United States is doing for Iraqi forces in the battle for Mosul," Michael R. Gordon writes for the New York Times.


Chemical Weapon Identified in Kim Jong-nam Death

Malaysian police said the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was killed with the UN-banned substance VX, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control calls the "most potent" of nerve agents (Korea Times). North Korea has stockpiled (WSJ) thousands of tons of chemical weapons, monitors say.

CFR’s Global Conflict Tracker examines North Korea’s push for nuclear weapons.

PHILIPPINES: Senator Leila de Lima, a critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, was arrested (PhilStar) on charges that she took part in the drug trade during her time overseeing the penitentiary system. De Lima said the charges were an attempt to silence her criticism (BBC) of Duterte's crackdown on drug suspects.

John Gershman discusses human rights abuses in Duterte's war on drugs.


India Announces Missile Deal with Israel

Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved a $2.5 billion deal to purchase an anti-aircraft missile system (Times of Israel) developed by Israel. Modi is expected to visit Israel in June (Hindu).

SRI LANKA: Sri Lankan asylum-seekers in Hong Kong accused Sri Lankan authorities of illegally pursuing them for having sheltered U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden (BBC) in 2014. A Sri Lankan police spokesman called the allegation "a complete lie."


Israel Denies Visa to Rights Researcher

Israel denied a work permit to a U.S. investigator (WaPo) from Human Rights Watch, calling the organization an outlet of “Palestinian propaganda” (Times of Israel). Country director Sari Bashi said the organization was prohibited from working in Cuba, Egypt, and North Korea, adding, "This is not a club that Israel wants to join.


Fifteen Soldiers Killed in Niger Ambush

Militants ambushed an army patrol in Niger near its border with Mali (VOA) on Thursday, killing fifteen soldiers and wounding nineteen others, the Defense Ministry said.

CFR's Global Conflict Tracker looks at the destabilization of Mali.

GAMBIA: Yahya Jammeh, the longtime leader who fled to Equatorial Guinea in January, left the country with more than $1 billion (Guardian), according to the new government. The estimate includes a private jet Jammeh bought with money from the state pension fund.


Bosniak Leader Asks UN to Reopen Genocide Case

Bakir Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, requested that the United Nations reopen a case that cleared Serbia of genocide charges dating to the 1990s. The International Court of Justice did not find Serbia responsible (BBC) in its 2007 finding that the massacre of eight thousand Muslims (NYT) in Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces constituted genocide.

SPAIN: A former managing director of the International Monetary Fund (NYT) was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail for misusing funds from the Spanish bank Bankia, which Spain bailed out during the European debt crisis in 2012.


Kelly in Mexico: No Mass Deportations

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said during a visit to Mexico City that "there will be no, repeat no, mass deportations" (NYT) of undocumented immigrants living in the United States and that U.S. authorities will work "hand in hand with our Mexican brothers" to prevent migrants (Mexico News Daily) from making the journey northward.

GUATEMALA: The army said that, following the directions of President Jimmy Morales, it would block a Dutch organization (BBC), Women on Waves, from providing abortion services to Guatemalan women in international waters.