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May 22, 2015

Daily News Brief

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TOP OF THE AGENDA

Islamic State Makes More Gains in Iraq, Syria

Editor's NoteThere will be no Daily Brief on Monday, May 25. The DB will resume on Tuesday, May 26.

Militants of the self-proclaimed Islamic State are consolidating their gains in Iraq and Syria after taking control of the al-Waleed border crossing (BBC), known as the al-Tanf crossing in Syria, between the two countries, and seizing (AP) another town in Iraq's Sunni dominated Anbar province on Thursday. These advances come after Islamic State militants stormed the strategic and ancient Syrian city of Palmyra on Wednesday and the Anbar capital of Ramadi earlier this week. The UN said that one third of Palmyra's population has fled (Guardian), and a monitoring group said that militants have executed (Reuters) seventeen people, including civilians and loyalists to Bashar al-Assad’s regime. 

ANALYSIS

"The danger is that the IS caliphate is becoming a permanent part of the region. The frontiers will shift in the coming months. But with the Kurds governing themselves in the north-east, and the Shias in the south, Iraqis question the government’s resolve in reversing IS's hold on the Sunni north-west. 'Partition is already a reality,' sighs a Sunni politician in exile. 'It just has yet to be mapped,'" writes the Economist.

"Baghdadi’s caliphate, by almost every measure, is growing. Recent intelligence indicates that the Islamic State’s headquarters in Iraq and Syria have sent funds to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, fighters to Tunisia, and advice to Boko Haram militants in Nigeria. A Mideast diplomat, who refused to be identified by his nationality, said the group is now operating in as many as 16 countries, including Algeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan," writes Lara Jakes in Foreign Policy.

"The attack on Ramadi was a sign of desperation, not strength. It took 16 months of continual clashes with tenacious Iraqi security forces and loyal Sunni tribes before the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, could take Ramadi. Before it fell, the Islamic State already controlled half of the city. Its battlefield rivals were exhausted, and it wanted to give its adherents a psychological boost. Ramadi was a ripe target. But the Islamic State is not on an unstoppable march. In Iraq, and to some extent Syria, it remains on the defensive," writes Ahmed Ali in the New York Times

PACIFIC RIM

Myanmar Rescues Two Migrant Boats

Amid mounting international pressure, Myanmar's navy carried out its first rescue mission (AFP) of migrant vessels in waters near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, bringing more than two hundred migrants ashore. The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in the Philippines offered sanctuary (Philippine Daily Inquirer) to Rohingya fleeing persecution, according to the region's governor.

CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick discusses strategies for addressing the Rohingya migration crisis in this recent blog post.

ASIA PACIFIC: China is expected to have a 25 to 30 percent stake (Reuters) in the new Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), with India as the second largest stakeholder, with a 10 to 15 percent stake. Delegates expect that the bank will be operational by the end of the year. Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe unveiled (Japan Times) plans to spend $110 billion in 'high-quality infrastructure investments' in Asia over the next five years.  

SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA

Afghan Forces Turn to Local Militia in Fight Against Taliban

Afghan military forces have enlisted (Reuters) hundreds of fighters controlled by a local militia to combat the Taliban in a weeks-long siege near the northern city of Kunduz. Afghan security forces have struggled to fight off Taliban advances; the militant group opened its annual spring fighting season last month.   

KYRGYZSTAN: President Almazbek Atambayev signed legislation to ratify a treaty for Kyrgyzstan's accession (RFE/RL) to the Eurasian Economic Union on Thursday, joining Russia, Armenia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan in the bloc. 

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

Blast Rocks Saudi Arabia Mosque

A suicide bomb exploded (WSJ) at a Shia mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia during Friday prayers, killing at least twenty people according to local media reports. Separately, an attack (Al Arabiya) launched from Yemen killed a Saudi national and injured three others on Thursday, amid ongoing Saudi-led coalition air strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen.

This CFR Backgrounder explores the escalating conflict in Yemen. 

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

Kenyan Forces Thwart Al-Shabab Attack

Kenyan military forces foiled (Daily Nation) an attempted attack by militants of the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabab group in Garissa county on Thursday, according to the Kenya’s interior ministry. Militants stormed Garissa University in April, killing nearly one hundred and fifty people.

This CFR Backgrounder discusses the emergence of the Somali-based Al-Shabab group. 

SOUTH SUDAN: China called for the immediate end to conflict (Reuters) in South Sudan on Friday, as clashes have forced thousands of people to flee their homes. Rebels have also warned oil firms to shut down operations, prompting more than four hundred Chinese oil workers to be evacuated (Sudan Tribune), according to Chinese television broadcasts. 

EUROPE

Ireland Votes on Same-Sex Marriage

Ireland is holding a vote (Irish Times) on Friday on whether to change the constitution to allow same-sex marriage.

UK: Prime Minister David Cameron meets (Euractiv) with EU leaders on the sidelines of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga, Latvia, on Friday for the first round of talks to renegotiate the terms of the UK's membership in the EU. Cameron is looking to make a deal by the end of 2017 before holding a referendum on whether the UK should remain in the EU. 

AMERICAS

Six Baltimore Police Officers Indicted

A Baltimore, Maryland, grand jury charged (Hill) all six police officers in connection to the death of Freddie Gray, a twenty-five-year-old African-American man, who died in custody in April. The charges range from second-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter. Gray's death sparked weeks of protest and riots.

COLOMBIA: Government forces killed (IBT) at least eighteen FARC rebels in air raids followed by ground attacks on Thursday. Last month, President Juan Manuel Santos lifted a suspension of airstrikes against the rebel group after the group violated its unilateral cease-fire.

This CFR Backgrounder chronicles the evolution of Colombia's left-wing guerrilla groups and current peace talks.