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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
December 19, 2014

Top of the Agenda

Iraqi Kurds Gain Ground Against ISIS

Iraqi Kurdish retook Mount Sinjar (Al Jazeera) from ISIS on Thursday after eight thousand peshmerga fighters launched a ground offense backed by U.S.-led coalition air strikes, Kurdish leaders reported. The move frees hundreds (NYT) of Yazidis, a religious minority, who had been stranded on the mountain since ISIS took it in August, according to Kurdish leaders. Thursday's gains mark the biggest victory against ISIS to date, and Kurdish leader Masrour Barzani said roughly one hundred ISIS fighters had been killed.


"The Kurdish command knows that a lot remains to be done, and that the going will be tough. The ring of steel around the mountain may have been breached, but much of it is still there. Sinjar the town, further south, is on a vulnerable area of terrain along the Syrian border. That will be the next target. But the militants remain entrenched in Mosul and Tal Afar to the east and Syria to the west, exposing the Kurds' flanks," writes the BBC's Jim Muir.

"Trust may be the region's scarcest commodity. The Arab leaders, for example, still think the Islamic State can be contained, but they aren't persuaded that the same could be said of Iran if it came in from the cold. So even if the Islamic State is squelched, the Arab world and Iran are likely to remain deeply divided over the distribution of power in the region, and prone to seeking proxies who would threaten peace," writes Vali Nasr in the New York Times.

"Isis is the latest fad among Islamic militants. Its commitment to jihadi Islam, its brutal methods and the prospect of building a new kind of state are exciting to some and have fuelled its popularity. Its current status is comparable to that of al-Qaeda after the attacks of September 11 2001, when copy cat jihadis and militant groups everywhere clamoured to demonstrate a special relationship with the newly notorious terrorist group," writes Ahmed Rashid in the Financial Times.

CFR Report: Preventive Priorities Survey 2015

The†Center for Preventive Actionís seventh-annual Preventive Priorities Survey evaluates ongoing and potential conflicts based on their likelihood of occurring in the coming year and their impact on U.S. interests.†Take a look†at the 2015 survey results.



China Protests U.S. Military Support to Taiwan

Chinese authorities condemned U.S. President Barack Obama's signing of legislation (Reuters) authorizing the sale of up to four warships to Taiwan. The United States has long supported Taiwan's defense under 1979 treaty obligations, but that has increasingly been met with strong resistance in Beijing as China seeks a more assertive role in the region.

CFR's Leslie Gelb analyzes U.S.-Taiwan defense relations in this op-ed.

NORTH KOREA: The UN General Assembly adopted by a wide margin (Yonhap) its first-ever resolution recommending that North Korea be referred to the International Criminal Court for human rights violations.



Proposed Bail for Mumbai Attacker Sparks Anger

Indian leaders decried (Times of India) a Pakistani court's decision to grant bail to Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, an alleged mastermind of the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed "shock" and the country's parliament overwhelmingly voted to condemn the decision. Under pressure, Pakistan's interior ministry reversed course on Friday.

PAKISTAN: The Pakistani army says it killed at least thirty-two Taliban militants in an overnight ambush (Al Jazeera) along the northwest border with Afghanistan, in addition to twenty-seven fighters killed in separate air and ground strikes in the region on Thursday.

This CFR Interview with Daniel Markey explores Pakistan's war on the Taliban.



Gaza Rocket Strikes Israel

Israel's military has said that a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip landed across the border (Haaretz) in southern Israel, marking the first such attack since September and the third since Israel-Gaza fighting ended in August. No injuries were reported.



Clashes Break Out in Central African Republic

Sectarian fighting escalated (BBC) between Muslim and Christian militias in the city of Mbres, killing twenty-eight people on Thursday. Central African Republic has been mired in civil war since 2012, despite the presence of nearly seven thousand international peacekeepers. In 2013, largely Muslim rebel forces overthrew the central government of the majority-Christian country.

This CFR Conference Call discusses the Central African Republic in crisis.

SIERRA LEONE: One of Sierra Leone's top doctors, Victor Willoughby, died of the disease (Al Jazeera) on Thursday. The disease is said to be spreading fastest in Sierra Leone, while it is declining in Liberia and "fluctuating" in Guinea.



European Leaders Agree on Strategic Investment Fund

European heads of state agreed on a $25.8 billion strategic investment fund for Europe and to continue sanctions against Russia Thursday, closing the European Council summit day early (Deutsche Welle).

CYPRUS: The International Monetary Fund said that it would withhold the latest bailout payment (Guardian) of $108 million from Cyprus after the country faltered on aspects of its structural reform program.

CFR's Robert Rubin explains three things to know about the Cyprus bailout.



Venezuelan Credit Rating Downgraded

International ratings agency Fitch downgraded Venezuela's debt (Bloomberg) to 'CCC' on Thursday, indicating an increased likelihood of default. The agency cited the country's low level of international reserves and precarious public finances in the wake of the precipitous oil price drop, and said that the economy may have contracted by as much as 4 percent in 2014.

UNITED STATES: Congressional Florida Republicans, including Senator Marco Rubio, gave an impassioned press conference Thursday (LAHT) vowing to block President Barack Obama's Cuba detente by any means available.

CFR's Richard Haass argues in this op-ed that the Cuba opening signals the end of the Cold War.



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