FP’s Situation Report: U.S. losing clout in Baghdad; Tikrit fight at a stalemate; Could U.S.-Israeli ties get a reboot?; and much more from around the world.
By David Francis with Sabine Muscat
The United States is in danger of losing its clout in Baghdad. Courage on the battlefield is how respect is won in the Middle East. The lack of U.S. presence in the fight for Tikrit is allowing Iran, whose forces are leading the charge, to gain leverage in Baghdad. FP’s Lara Jakes and Kate Brannen: “It is clear that the top U.S. priority in Iraq is to defeat the Islamic State — and deal later with Iran’s ever-growing influence in Baghdad. Yet that trade-off carries long-term consequences, and it’s not clear Washington has thought them through.”
The battle for Tikrit is at a stalemate. Iraqis are calling for U.S. airstrikes as the military’s efforts to recapture Saddam Hussein’s hometown stall amid heavy casualties, the Washington Post’s Loveday Morris reports.
More on the Islamic State below.
Isaac Herzog could shake up Israel’s ties with Washington. Relations between Washington and Jerusalem are at a low point as President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu trade barbs over a nuclear deal with Iran. Herzog, who’s challenging Bibi in Israeli elections today, could change the dynamic. FP’s John Hudson: “Herzog … is promising to depart from Netanyahu’s confrontational grandstanding and prevent a wider collision between the two governments.”
More on elections in Israel below.
PRESS PACK: Netanyahu’s job is on the line as Israelis take to the polls.
The Washington Post’s William Booth and Ruth Eglash: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a historic fourth term in office, but he is facing a surprisingly tough challenge from the head of the opposition, Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog. The last round of opinion surveys on Friday showed Herzog and his running mate, former peace negotiator Tzipi Livni, with a slim lead.”
Reuters’s Maayan Lubell: “Having previously hinted that he would accept a Palestinian state, Netanyahu reversed course on Monday, citing risks that he linked to the regional spread of Islamist militancy.”
FP’s Elias Groll reports on the election’s off-the-wall political spots: “The Israeli ads go way beyond what you’d see in the United States, and that’s what makes them so much fun: A prime minister in jeans is much, much more interesting than watching an American flag fade into a rolling field of grain for the umpteenth time.”
Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of the Situation Report, where our thoughts are with the victims of the cyclone that devastated Vanuatu.
Contact me at email@example.com and follow me @davidcfrancis, and spread the word about SitRep — your destination for global security news and Washington whatnot. Like what you see? Tell a friend. Tell your colleagues. Don’t like what you see? Tell me. Or holler with tips, reports, or anything else the world needs to know, and I’ll try to include it.
WHO’S WHERE WHEN TODAY
8:45 a.m. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and other international leaders attend the OSCE Security Days Conference hosted by the Wilson Center. 10:00 a.m. Top military officials testify before the House Armed Forces Committee on the FY 2016 budget request. 10:00 a.m. Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy testifies before the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security. 10:00 a.m. Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Michael McCaul speaks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 4:00 p.m. Ukrainian Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko speaks at the Brookings Institution.
WHAT’S MOVING MARKETS
FP’s Keith Johnson: “Climate change itself is threatening the viability of big hydro projects today and tomorrow. Shifting rainfall patterns and chronic droughts are shrinking river flows and draining lakes, leading to decreased power generation at hydroelectric facilities.”
CNBC’s Jeff Cox: “The market is bracing itself for the Fed’s direction this year as the Open Markets Committee prepares for liftoff from a policy instituted during the dark days of the financial crisis.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Bill Spindle and Benoît Faucon on the impact of a nuclear agreement with Iran: “A deal easing those sanctions could eventually translate into half a million barrels or more in Iranian crude heading into a currently glutted global market.”
The Financial Times’ George Parker, Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, and Geoff Dyer: “France, Germany and Italy have all agreed to follow Britain’s lead and join a China-led international development bank, according to European officials, delivering a blow to US efforts to keep leading western countries out of the new institution.”
ISLAMIC STATE: Iran ups its involvement in Tikrit with new weapons. Meanwhile, Assad isn’t interested in a dialogue with the United States as the Kurds look into the possible use of chemical weapons.
The New York Times’ Eric Schmitt: “Iran has deployed advanced rockets and missiles to Iraq to help fight the Islamic State in Tikrit, a significant escalation of firepower and another sign of Iran’s growing influence in Iraq.”
Al Arabiya: “The Syrian President has dismissed comments made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that Bashar al-Assad should be included in any dialogue aimed at reaching a political transition in the war-torn country.”
The Associated Press’s Maeva Bambuck and Sinan Salaheddin report on a Kurdish probe into whether the Islamic State used chemical weapons.
BOKO HARAM: Either the Nigerian military — or the mercenaries it reportedly hired — continue to make gains against Boko Haram.
The Associated Press: “Nigerian troops have ousted Boko Haram from a northeastern town while Cameroon soldiers killed several of the extremists in an attack on a Nigerian village.”
RUSSIA: Putin dismisses his absence as his military gets busy. Berlin promises to keep up the economic pressure.
FP’s Reid Standish: “The rumor mill and Monday’s public quashing of speculation about Putin’s health is representative of the veil that shields the inner workings of power in today’s Russia.”
New Europe’s Dan Alexe on a massive military combat-readiness exercise: “The five-day Arctic drills involving 38,000 servicemen, more than 50 surface ships and submarines and 110 aircraft are intended to check the readiness of Russia’s Northern Fleet and the military’s ability to deploy additional forces from central Russia.”
Reuters’s Thomas Grove: Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu “said the order came from Putin, who has promised to spend more than 21 trillion rubles ($340 billion) by the end of the decade to overhaul Russia’s fighting forces.”
VOA News: “The United States and Germany have vowed to continue punishing Russia with economic sanctions for its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, and warned of new measures if Moscow fails to fully back a cease-fire it endorsed last month.”
IRAN: Tehran’s negotiators bring up the GOP letter as it appears more likely a tentative agreement could be delayed again.
The New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon: “In recent days Mr. Kerry has publicly criticized Republican lawmakers for interfering in the talks and has asserted that they were wrong when they wrote that Congress would have the power to change the terms of an executive agreement that the United States and its negotiating partners are seeking to conclude with Iran.”
Reuters’s Lesley Wroughton and Parisa Hafezi: “With the Iranian new year holiday of Norouz approaching this weekend, officials close to the talks say it will be difficult to complete a political agreement this week. If it is not possible by the weekend, the talks could reconvene in the final days of March.”
FBI: FBI operations don’t just thwart terrorists, sometimes they help create them.
The Intercept’s Trevor Aaronson: “The evidence suggests — and a recent Human Rights Watch report on the subject illustrates — that the FBI isn’t always nabbing would-be terrorists so much as setting up mentally ill or economically desperate people to commit crimes they could never have accomplished on their own.”
AFGHANISTAN: Talking to the Taliban is harder than expected as militias step up the fight against the group. Meanwhile, the U.N. and Russia worry the Islamic State is making inroads.
The Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge and Habib Khan Totakhil: “Afghanistan hasn’t been able to bring the Taliban into peace negotiations ahead of President Ashraf Ghani’s planned visit to the White House next week, officials said, depriving the Afghan leader of a pivotal achievement ahead of the visit.”
The New York Times’ Joseph Goldstein: Militias “are a significant part of the legacy of the American war here, brought to power amid a Special Operations counterinsurgency strategy that mobilized anti-Taliban militias in areas beyond the grasp of the Afghan Army.”
The AP’s Edith M. Lederer: “The top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan said Monday that recent reports indicate the Islamic State extremist group has established a foothold in Afghanistan, a view echoed by Russia which urged the Security Council to stop its expansion.”
YEMEN: There are signs tensions could be easing.
The New York Times’ Kareem Fahim: “Houthi rebels released Yemen’s former prime minister and members of his cabinet after nearly two months of house detention on Monday, in a sign of some progress toward easing the country’s chaotic political crisis.”
CUBA: U.S.-Cuba talks go into the third round.
Reuters’s Daniel Trotta: “Cuba and the United States renewed talks on restoring diplomatic relations on Monday, this time amid secrecy and with the longtime adversaries differing sharply over Venezuela, Cuba’s closest ally.”
PETRAEUS: The former CIA chief has been consulting on the Islamic State despite pleading guilty to sharing state secrets.
FP’s David Francis: “Supporters of others targeted by the federal government for leaks, like former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and former State Department contractor Stephen Kim, allege that the leniency toward Petraeus is evidence that the president has two sets of rules: one for well-connected friends of the White House and another for average bureaucrats who spill secrets.”
CHINA: China puts pressure on South Korea not to join a U.S. missile shield.
The Korea Times’ Yi Whan-woo: “According to military sources, Washington has included [the missile shield] as part of military support it would provide to South Korea in case of an emergency on the Korean Peninsula.”
EBOLA: The American Ebola patient is now in critical condition.
The Washington Post’s Brady Dennis: “Doctors treating an American health-care worker who was transported to the National Institutes of Health last week after being infected with Ebola have downgraded the patient’s condition from serious to critical.”
AND FINALLY, happy St. Patrick’s Day every one. Enjoy it safely.