The Early Edition: January 10, 2020

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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.  

IRAN-IRAQ

In a phone call last night with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi told the U.S. to send a delegation to Iraq to set up a mechanism for troop withdrawal from the country, according to a statement today by the office of the Iraqi caretaker prime minister. The request came after the Iraqi parliament voted last Sunday to expel U.S. troops following a drone attack on Iraq that killed senior Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani. AP reporting.

The House yesterday approved a war powers resolution aimed at restricting President Trump’s ability to engage in military conflict against Iran, a day after a number of lawmakers expressed frustration at the briefing in which administration officials laid out the justification for the U.S. drone strike last week that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani. The measure, meant to serve as a check on the president’s power to enter into a war without the consent of Congress, passed in a largely party-line vote of 224-194, with three Republican voting in support, and eight House Democrats opposing the measure. Karoun Demirjian reports at the Washington Post.

The resolution is not binding on the president and does not require his signature, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) nonetheless insisted it “has real teeth” because “it is a statement of the Congress of the United States.” Catie Edmondson and Charlie Savage report at the New York Times.

Republicans denounced the measure, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) calling it a “meaningless vote.” “This House resolution tries to undermine the ability of the U.S. armed forces to prevent terrorist activity by Iran and its proxies, and attempts to hinder the president’s authority to protect America and our interests in the region from the continued threats,” White House principal deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said yesterday evening. Andrew Duehren reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Pelosi said yesterday that the House would soon vote to repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force against Iraq. Pelosi had previously indicated that the House “may” vote on Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-Calif.) resolution to repeal the earlier action, known as an authorization for use of military force (A.U.M.F.), that governed the Iraq War. Mike Lillis reports at the Hill.

National security adviser Robert O’Brien yesterday defended the classified briefing held for lawmakers on Wednesday where the administration provided its arguments for a drone strike that killed Iran’s top military commander. In an interview, O’Brien insisted the U.S. “had very good information that there were imminent attacks planned against Americans in Iraq and potentially Syria.” The administration has sent out mixed messages about the nature of the attack it says Soleimani was plotting, which the White House initially said was “imminent.” Brakkton Booker reports at NPR.

Vice President Mike Pence asserted yesterday that some of the “most compelling” intelligence behind the administration’s decision to kill Soleimani was too sensitive to share with Congress and that doing so “could compromise” sources and methods. In response to lawmakers, including Republicans, who slammed the lack of information given during classified congressional briefings on the killing of Gen. Soleimani, Pence said “those of us” who were made aware of the intelligence “in real time know that President Trump made the right decision to take Qassem Soleimani off the battlefield.” Allan Smith reports at NBC News.

Trump suggested yesterday that he ordered the killing of Gen. Soleimani last week to foil a previously undisclosed plot to “blow up” the U.S. embassy in Baghdad after multiple lawmakers have said that they saw no intelligence in briefings this week that supported the rationale by the Trump administration that they needed to kill the Iranian military commander to stop an “imminent threat.” “Soleimani was actively planning new attacks and he was looking very seriously at our embassies and not just the embassy in Baghdad,” the president told his supporters at a campaign rally, “but we stopped him and we stopped him quickly, and we stopped him cold.” Justin Baragona reports at The Daily Beast.

An Iranian military commander yesterday said missile strikes on U.S. troop bases in Iraq this week were not intended to cause casualties, marking the latest sign of Washington and Tehran taking steps to de-escalate tensions. “We did not intend to kill … we intended to hit the enemy’s military machinery,” Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s Aerospace Force, told a press conference. He went on to reiterate Iran’s claim that “tens of people were killed or wounded,” despite U.S. and Iraqi officials saying there were no casualties. Kareem Fahim and Sarah Dadouch report at the Washington Post.

Informants in Iraq and Syria assisted the U.S. with its military operation targeting Gen. Soleimani, Reuters reports in an exclusive.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said he has spoken with G.O.P. senators and is making changes to his war powers resolution that would limit Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran in an effort to pick up more Republican support and secure the 51 votes needed for the resolution to initially pass the Republican-held Senate. Kaine last week introduced a measure, similar to the one passed yesterday in the House, that would “remove United States Armed Forces from hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran or any part of its government or military,” an apparent attempt to prevent further escalation in the region. So far two Republicans — Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.) — have said they will support the measure. Jenna Portnoy reports at the Washington Post.

European foreign affairs ministers and the N.A.T.O. secretary general are meeting today in Brussels for an emergency session during which they are expected to reiterate their support for the 2015 nuclear accord brokered with Iran — notwithstanding calls from Trump to exit the deal. AP reporting.

Key questions about the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in the light of recent developments are answered by David Rising at the AP.

IRAN-IRAQ: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

A deep dive analysis of the administration’s position that the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Iraq authorizes force against Iran is provided by Co-Editor-in-Chief Ryan Goodman and Steve Vladeck at Just Security, who explain that the statute does not apply to Iran in 2o2o and the White House’s “reasoning is false as a matter of law.”

A look at what might happen if the U.S. were to suddenly exit Iraq is provided by Rick Noack at the Washington Post.

“How did it become acceptable to assassinate one of the top military officers of a country with whom we are not formally at war during a public visit to a third country that had no opposition to his presence?” Jim Webb explores at the Washington Post.

TEHRAN AIR CRASH INVESTIGATION

The Ukrainian airliner that crashed early Wednesday in Iran, killing all 176 people aboard, was likely shot down by an Iranian missile in what could have been an “unintentional” act, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a press conference yesterday, citing intelligence from Canadian and other sources. The prime minister added that the new information “reinforces the need for a thorough investigation into this matter.” The BBC reporting.

U.S. officials also believe Iranian missiles shot down the commercial airliner. Video verified by the New York Times showing the moment the Ukraine-bound passenger plane went down in Iranian airspace shortly after takeoff from an airport in Tehran apparently shows the plane being hit by a missile and what appears to be mid-air explosion shortly after. Julian E. Barnes, Eric Schmitt, Anton Troianovski and Natalie Kitroeff report at the New York Times.

The head of the Iranian commission that investigates plane accidents, Ali Abedzadeh, dismissed the assessments as “illogical rumors,” according to Iran’s state news agency. “It is impossible that a missile hit the Ukrainian plane,” Abedzadeh said.  Reuters reporting.

A visual guide to the Iran plane crash is provided by Peter Beaumont, Paul Torpey and Paul Scruton at The Guardian.

Live updates are available at CNN.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) pledged yesterday to send the articles of impeachment against President Trump to the Senate “soon,” without offering a specific timetable for her decision. The speaker remained steadfast that she would not appoint impeach managers until she sees the Senate G.O.P.’s impeachment trial rules, but she also promised not to hold the two articles passed by the House in December “indefinitely” and said they would probably be transmitted “soon,” when she is “ready.” Mike DeBonis and Rachael Bade report at the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) threatened that the Senate will advance with its own legislative agenda next week, unless Pelosi transmits the articles. Reuters reporting.

Trump on Thursday renewed his calls for political opponents including former Vice President Joe Biden and House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff to testify at his looming Senate impeachment trial — breaking with Republicans who have been unwilling to support calling witnesses ahead of the highly anticipated proceedings. “I’m going to leave it to the Senate, but I’d like to hear the whistleblower, I’d like to hear ‘shifty’ Schiff, I’d like to hear Hunter Biden and Joe Biden,” Trump told reporters at a White House event. Quint Forgey reports at POLITICO.

The impeachment stalemate demonstrates Pelosi’s power, Stephen Collins writes in an analysis at CNN.

Congress needs to provide the public with a more effective mechanism to obtain critical information by reforming the Freedom of Information Act (F.O.I.A.), Anne Weismann argues at Just Security, citing the unredacted emails newly obtained by Just Security. 

SYRIA

A ceasefire between Russia and Turkey was established yesterday in northwestern Syria’s Idlib province, paving the way for a pause in continuing government-led bombing in the country’s last rebel-held stronghold, while allowing the delivery of humanitarian aid. Al Jazeera reporting.

The divided U.N. Security Council is expected to vote today on rival resolutions that would continue the delivery of humanitarian aid to Syrians through border crossings to mainly rebel-held areas. AP reporting.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

Russian President Vladimir Putin supervised military drills off the coast of Crimea yesterday that included the firing of a hypersonic missile system. Darya Tarasova, Zahra Ullah and Jack Guy report at CNN.

A look at North Korea’s “more-provocative strategy” following two years of unsuccessful diplomacy is provided by Timothy W. Martin and Dasl Yoon at the Wall Street Journal.

The Trump administration formally notified Congress yesterday of a potential sale of F-35 fighter jet sale to Singapore worth $2.75 billion. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill. 

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).