The Early Edition: January 2, 2020

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.  

IRAQ

Supporters of Iranian-backed Iraqi paramilitary groups withdrew from the perimeter of the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad yesterday after Washington dispatched extra troops and threatened reprisals against Tehran. Thousands of pro-Iran demonstrators had swarmed outside the embassy Tuesday to protest deadly U.S. airstrikes against the Tehran-backed Kataib Hezbollah group last weekend in retaliation for a rocket attack that killed an American contractor. Mustafa Salim and Liz Sly report at the Washington Post.

“All protesters have withdrawn, tents dismantled, and other forms of demonstrating that accompanied these protests have ended and the Iraqi security forces have completely secured the embassy perimeter,” the Iraqi military said in a statement. Reuters reporting.

Despite their retreat from the embassy, Iran’s allies said they would continue to press for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in the nation’s parliament. American soldiers returned to Iraq in 2014 to fight Islamic State (ISIS), Ghassan Adnan and Isabel Coles report at the Wall Street Journal.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday postponed an upcoming trip to Ukraine and four other countries in order to focus on the situation in Iraq after the assault on the U.S. embassy. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement that Pompeo aimed to “ensure the safety and security of Americans in the Middle East” by remaining in Washington and would travel in the “near future” to the nations he had been scheduled to visit. Edward Wong reports at the New York Times.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “strongly” denounced the U.S. airstrikes on an Iran-allied militia group in Iraq, Iranian state T.V. reported yesterday, blaming Iraq’s violence on the U.S.. Khamenei also criticized President Trump, who alleged Iranian involvement in rare mass protests at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, saying, “you cannot do a damn thing … if you were logical, which you are not, you would see that your crimes in Iraq and other countries have made nations hate you,” the supreme leader said in a message sent on Twitter. Reuters reporting.

“Trump entered the new year facing flare-ups of long-burning crises with two old adversaries — Iran and North Korea — that are directly challenging his claim to have reasserted American power around the world,” David E. Sanger comments in an analysis at the New York Times.

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban unleashed a fresh wave of attacks in northern Afghanistan, targeting members of the country’s security forces and killing at least 23, local officials said yesterday. At least 10 Afghan forces were killed and four others were wounded in an attack on a police checkpoint in Kunduz, while in Balkh province, the Taliban killed nine police officers; the condition of four other policemen who were at the checkpoint was not known. Al Jazeera reports.

The U.S. military’s combat casualties in Afghanistan were the highest in five years, as seventeen service members were killed in action in the country in 2019, according to a year-end tally compiled by the Department of Defense (D.O.D.). Fourteen of the fallen service members were from the Army while the other three were Marines. Alexander Bolton reports at the Hill.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced that Pyongyang was no longer bound by a self-imposed moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, and warned the world would soon see a “new strategic weapon” as his country continued to bolster its nuclear deterrent in face of “gangster-like” U.S. sanctions and pressure. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded by calling on Kim to “take a different course” and emphasizing that the U.S. wanted “peace not confrontation” with the North. The halt on such tests has been at the core of the nuclear diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington over the past two years, which has seen three meetings between Kim and President Trump, but little headway. AFP reports.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “deeply concerned” that North Korea has indicated it could resume nuclear and missile tests, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said yesterday. “The Secretary-General very much hopes that the tests will not resume, in line with relevant Security Council resolutions,” Dujarric said in a statement, adding, “non-proliferation remains a fundamental pillar of global nuclear security and must be preserved.” The U.N. News Centre reports.

The possible technical advances North Korea’s military might make if it returns to long-range missile launches or other weapons tests in 2020 are explored by Reuters.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani said he is prepared to do more than just testify at Trump’s expected impeachment trial in the Senate — saying he would be willing to “prosecute” the case, though it was unclear what he meant. “I would testify, I would do demonstrations … I’d give lectures … I’d give summations … or, I’d do what I do best, I’d try the case,” Giuliani told reporters. Dareh Gregorian reports at NBC News.

The Senate and the public need to hear from acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton more than ever in the light of fresh reporting from the New York Times, the Washington Post editorial board argues. The Times reported, based partly on previously unpublished emails, that Mulvaney sought to freeze military assistance to Ukraine on Trump’s behalf as early as June, sparking “puzzlement and backlash” within the administration — to the extent that Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Bolton convened a White House session with Trump to press for release of the aid. 

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday he would seek parliamentary immunity in three corruption cases he faces, likely delaying any trial against him until after March elections. Netanyahu was indicted in November on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, becoming the first Israeli prime minister to be criminally charged while in office. Oren Liebermann and Amir Tal report at CNN. 

The Syrian army launched a missile attack yesterday on a shelter for displaced families in the country’s northwest, killing at least eight people, including five children, and wounding 16 others. Reuters reporting.

Taiwan’s top military official, Gen. Shen Yi-ming, was among eight people killed today, after a helicopter carrying them to visit soldiers crashed in a mountainous area near the capital Taipei, the Taiwanese air force chief said at a news briefing. Chun Han Wong reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Hong Kong police arrested over 400 people in New Year’s Day protests in the city after what started as a peaceful pro-democracy rally spiraled into chaotic scenes, prompting police to respond with force. Shibani Mahtani reports at the Washington Post.

Turkey’s parliament is set to vote today on whether to dispatch Turkish troops to Libya, to support the U.N.-recognized government in Tripoli that is fighting forces loyal to a rival administration based in eastern Libya. The motion will almost certainly pass, despite worries that Turkish forces could provoke Libya’s conflict further and destabilize the area. AP reporting. 

About the Author(s)

Nat O'Connell

Associate News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow her on Twitter (@oconnellnat).