The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Friday, May 11, 2018

Deputy to Baghdadi Among ISIS Members Captured in Iraq

Iraq has arrested five senior members of the Islamic State, including a top aide to the militant group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in an operation that involved U.S. and Turkish intelligence support.

The capture of the men, two Syrians and three Iraqis, represents a breakthrough in the hunt for Baghdadi, experts said Thursday, and underscores the deep security cooperation within the American-led coalition against the Islamic State despite political tensions roiling the region.

One of the men, Ismail al-Ithawi, who goes by the alias Abu Zaid al-Iraqi, is considered part of Baghdadi’s inner circle and has responsibilities for financial, religious and security portfolios across the group’s territory in Iraq and Syria.

“This is the operation that broke the skull of the Islamic State. Other operations were just breaking bones,” said , said Hisham al-Hashimi, an expert on the Islamic State who advises the Iraqi government. “Soon, Baghdadi will be killed or captured.” Washington Post, Wall Street Journal


Can a Shiite cleric pull Iraq out of the sectarian trap? “Iraq’s parliamentary elections on May 12 might seem to offer more of the same because most of the leading candidates and movements have dominated the country’s political life since the United States unseated Saddam Hussein in 2003,” said Thanassis Cambanis in the New York Times. “But the 44-year-old firebrand Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr is leading an encouraging transformation, which could jar Iraq’s politicians out of their sectarian rut.”

Why Netanyahu really wanted Trump to scuttle the Iran deal: “Netanyahu may feel that he has an American green light for a high-stakes gamble: a conventional air war, already unofficially underway,” said Bernard Avishai in the New Yorker.

How to understand the majority ruling in Doe v. Mattis: “A divided panel of the D.C. Circuit has affirmed that the United States cannot transfer John Doe (a U.S.-Saudi dual-citizen held by the U.S. military in Iraq based on belief he was a member of the Islamic State) to Saudi Arabia involuntarily, unless and until the legal and factual grounds for considering him to be subject to the 2001 authorization for use of military force are resolved in the government’s favor,” said Robert Chesney in Lawfare. “In short: The government can indeed transfer him one day, but only if they have the option in the alternative of continuing to hold him in military detention for the duration of hostilities.”

Editor's Picks


Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, told colleagues she was close to resigning after President Trump berated her on Wednesday in front of the entire cabinet for what he said was her failure to adequately secure the nation’s borders. Nielsen, who is a protégée of John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, has drafted a resignation letter but has not submitted it, according to two of the people. New York Times

A day after Sen. John McCain called on the Senate to reject Gina Haspel's nomination to be the director of the CIA, citing her refusal in testimony to acknowledge "torture's immorality," a guest on the Fox Business Network said that torture works, because it made John McCain cough up sensitive information during the years he spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

“It worked on John [McCain],” retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney said during a Thursday appearance on the Fox Business Network. “That’s why they call him ‘Songbird John.’”

Fox Business Network host Charles Payne later apologized for the McInerney’s comments. The Hill, Washington Post

A White House aide was also roundly criticized on social media for derisively dismissing McCain’s opposition to Haspel, saying in a closed-door staff meeting Thursday that the senator from Arizona battling brain cancer is “dying anyway. Washington Post
New Yorker: Haspel and the Enduring Questions about Torture

Top WH official in charge of pandemic response leaves abruptly: Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer from the National Security Council, the top White House official responsible for leading the U.S. response in the event of a deadly pandemic, has left the administration, and the global health security team he oversaw has been disbanded under a reorganization by national security adviser John Bolton. Washington Post

Pence says Mueller should ‘wrap it up’: Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday it’s time for special counsel Robert Mueller to conclude his probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. “In the interests of the country, I think it’s time to wrap it up," Pence said on NBC’s Today show. “I would very respectfully encourage the special counsel and his team to bring their work to completion.” CNBC


The U.S. military has concluded that “no single failure or deficiency” was to blame for the October ambush that killed four U.S. service members in Niger, according to an eight-page summary of the investigators’ findings released Thursday.

But the report concluded that a combination of poor training, complacency and a culture of excessive risk led to the ill-fated mission. The full report on the incident, which is more than 6,000 pages long, wasn’t released on Thursday. A redacted copy of that investigation isn’t due to be released for months, Pentagon officials said, although the investigators involved in the report finished their work four months ago.

The report didn’t assign blame or recommend disciplinary action. “I take ownership of all the events connected to the ambush of 4 October,” Marine Gen. Tom Waldhauser, head of U.S. Africa Command, said at a Pentagon briefing Thursday. “The responsibility is mine.” Wall Street Journal, New York Times

For the first time since driving out Islamic State, Iraqis go to the polls on Saturday in an election that will shape attempts to heal the country’s deep divisions and could shift the regional balance of power.

Whoever wins the May 12 election will face the challenge of rebuilding Iraq after four years of war with Islamic State, jump-starting a flagging economy, balancing the interests of powerful foreign patrons and maintaining the country’s fragile unity in the face of sectarian and separatist tensions.

The main alliance running against Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s bloc is dominated by political factions with ties to Iran, such as a party called Victorious that is linked to the Master of the Martyrs Brigades militia. Reuters, Wall Street Journal
Foreign Policy: Welcome to Iraq’s First Post-Sectarian Election

President Trump, exulting in the release of three Americans from prison in North Korea, confirmed Thursday that he would meet Kim Jong-un, the North’s leader, in Singapore on June 12. The choice of Singapore, a tidy, prosperous city-state with ties to both the United States and North Korea, is a small victory for Mr. Trump’s advisers, who talked him out of meeting Mr. Kim in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea — a far more symbolic, but politically problematic, location. New York Times, Wall Street Journal


An all female ISIS gang plotted to murder tourists at attractions including the British Museum, a British court was told this week. Safaa Boular, then 17, planned to "martyr" herself  in a bomb and grenade ambush on the museum after her Islamic State fighter fiance was killed in Syria.

In what is alleged to be Britain's first all female terror plot, she was supported by her mother, Mina Dich, and elder sister and intended to carry out an attack using a ‘tokarev,’ a type of Russian pistol, or a grenade. BBC News, Telegraph


For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.
Editor-in-Chief, Karen J. Greenberg, Center on National Security, Fordham Law School

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