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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
January 6, 2014
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Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Tactical Setbacks for al-Qaeda in Syria, Iraq

After the al-Qaeda franchise Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) took over swaths of Iraq's Anbar Province, Sunni tribesmen joined forces with the Iraqi military to retake part of the city of Ramadi, where air strikes over the weekend reportedly killed two dozen militants (Reuters). The army on Sunday prepared to lay siege to the city of Fallujah while Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki exhorted tribesmen there to expel the militants (BBC). Across the border in northeastern Syria, where many have come to resent al-Qaeda's cooption of the revolution, rebel groups that have joined forces to rout ISIS made gains against since launching an offensive on Friday (LAT).


"Extremist organisations have found a ready audience in Iraq, where [Prime Minister Nuri al-]Maliki's policies continue to alienate the Sunni population. Sunnis, who consider themselves the true Iraqis and still have trouble accepting the indisputable fact that they constitute a statistical minority in the country, would be difficult for any Iraqi government to appease. Mr Maliki has worsened the situation by allowing and encouraging purges of Iraqi politicians in the name of de-Baathification and largely discontinuing the US-initiated policy of working with Sunni tribal leaders and their militias - the so-called Sons of Iraq - to isolate al-Qaeda," writes Marina Ottaway for the BBC.

"What Iraq needs now is what it saw in 2007 when Gen. David Petraeus orchestrated a full-blown counterinsurgency strategy. Such a strategy has many facets, but one of the most important is a political 'line of operations,' which in this case means fostering reconciliation between the prime minister and tribal leaders of Anbar. The U.S. lost most of its leverage to do that when it foolishly pulled its troops out of Iraq at the end of 2011 after the failure of halfhearted negotiations overseen by Vice President Joe Biden. Selling Iraq Hellfire missiles, as the Obama administration has just done, is a poor substitute. It is positively destructive because it only further inflames the situation and creates the impression that the Americans are siding with militant Shiites in a sectarian civil war," writes CFR's Max Boot in the Wall Street Journal.

"The al-Qaeda narrative that only violent jihad and terror can bring change to the Muslim world came under attack as dictators were toppled from Tunis to Cairo to Sanaa by mostly peaceful protest.… It was Awlaki who predicted al-Qaeda's comeback. Writing in his English-language journal Inspire, Awlaki described the Arab Awakening as a 'tsunami' of change that would inevitably benefit al-Qaeda. He said the hopes of reformists and democrats would be shattered against counter-revolutionary plots by reactionaries and that the breakdown of law and order would benefit the global jihad," writes Bruce Riedel for al-Monitor.


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Antigovernment Protestors Face Crackdown in Cambodia

Amid mounting protests that have challenged the nearly three-decade rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen, four protestors were shot dead at a rally on Friday, a court summoned opposition leaders, and more than a thousand protestors were forcibly cleared out Hun SenSaturday as a protest ban went into effect (AP).

CHINA: Authorities publicly destroyed more than six tons of ivory on Monday. Beijing committed to combating illegal elephant tusk trading in December amid high levels of elephant poaching partly driven by Chinese demand for ivory (SCMP).



Bangladesh's Ruling Party Wins Election Amid Boycott, Violence

The ruling Awami League won Bangladesh's national election in a vote marred by violent protest and low turnout amid a boycott by the opposition Bangladesh National Party. Twenty-one people died in election-day violence, which disrupted four hundred polling stations, police said (al-Jazeera).

PAKISTAN: Two Afghan Taliban commanders were killed in the Pakistani city of Quetta in what the insurgent group believes were assassinations sponsored by the Afghan government (WSJ).

Five experts, including CFR's Daniel Markey, assess Afghanistan's prospects amid the Western drawdown.



Kerry Signals Openness to Sideline Role for Iran at Geneva II

U.S. secretary of state John Kerry indicated for the first time Monday that the United States might be open to Iran's participation from the sidelines in the Syria peace talks, which are slated to take place January 22 near Geneva (WaPo).

ISRAEL: Thousands of African migrants in Israel marched on Western embassies in Tel Aviv in the second day of protests against a new open-ended detention law that protestors say violates international law on asylum for refugees (Haaretz).



South Sudan Talks on Hold as Fighting Continues

Peace talks between government and rebel negotiators in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa stalled Sunday amid disagreements over the agenda and protocol (AP). Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir reportedly traveled to Juba to meet with his South Sudan counterpart, Salva Kiir, as the crisis jeopardizes oil flow to the north (BBC).

CFR's John Campbell writes that South Sudan's partners should prepare for extended involvement as it seeks to transform itself into a nation.



Putin Eases Sochi Protest Ban

Russian president Vladimir Putin eased a ban on protests at Sochi on Saturday. Demonstrations will require advance approval from authorities, however, and must take place in a designated protest zone about nine miles from the nearest Olympic site (NYT).

EUROPEAN UNION: Under a draft European Commission proposal, big banks would no longer have to split their lending operations and risky trading, a policy that would make financial reforms less restrictive than envisaged after the start of the financial crisis in 2008 (FT). No agreement on the law is expected before December 2015.



Congress to Begin Midterm Election Year With Fed Chair, Unemployment

The U.S. Congress returns to work Monday and are scheduled to vote on President Obama's nomination of Janet Yellen as head of the Federal Reserve and a three-month extension on federal benefits for an estimated 1.3 million long-term unemployed (AP).

This Backgrounder explains the role of the Fed chairman in carrying out the Fed's dual mandate of maintaining stable prices and full employment.

UNITED STATES: JPMorgan Chase is nearing a $2 billion settlement with the U.S. government, which believes the bank ignored signs that Madoff investments were a Ponzi scheme (NYT).



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