Behind the Baghdad embassy attack
Iran stirs up trouble in Iraq
IRAQ: A top Iranian commander said the country was not planning on war, “but we are not afraid of any war,” after supporters of an Iranian-backed militia in Iraq pulled back from attacking the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The militia’s defenders breached the embassy reception area on Tuesday and set fire to buildings at the heavily guarded compound, prompting the Pentagon to dispatch additional troops to Iraq. The attackers retreated only after high-level diplomacy involving Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Iraq’s acting prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, and others.The embassy attacks came in response to U.S. airstrikes that killed 25 Kataib Hezbollah fighters on Dec. 29. The airstrikes followed repeated attacks on U.S. military installations in Iraq, including one blamed on Kataib Hezbollah last month that killed a U.S. contractor. Those attacking U.S. installations are not from the same groups that for weeks have rallied in the streets of Baghdad and other major cities. Those protesters want to upend the Shiite-led government in Iraq and its growing dependence on Iran (though they’ve received little support or attention from Washington). “We are very angry with Iran,” said Yasser Malik, 28, a dentist and civil society activist in Najaf. “They are the driving force behind the misery we are suffering.” Iraqi forces maintain security for entering the Green Zone (now the International Zone) that holds the U.S. Embassy compound—the largest diplomatic installation in the world. At the embassy entrance, Ugandan or other forces have provided security under U.S. contract. (Here is an inside look from my 2014 visit). Both were breached Dec. 31—and had to have sympathizers within Iraqi security forces. In Iraq’s north, members of the country’s Jewish community celebrated Hanukkah in Al-Qosh, a town once centered around a synagogue and home to the prophet Nahum.
NORTH KOREA has released on state TV a video of leader Kim Jong Un riding a white horse on Mount Paektu, an image Kim has used before to signal a dramatic shift in policy. At a meeting on Wednesday, the head of state suggested he may end a moratorium on nuclear testing and resume an adversarial relationship with the United States.
CHINA: A court sentenced pastor Wang Yi, founder of one of China’s largest underground churches and ministries, to nine years in prison for subversion of state power and illegal business operations. The charges came one year after Wang was detained and followed a secret trial Dec. 26 that caps a wave of arrests and church closures in 2019.
SUDAN: Church bells rang in Khartoum on Christmas Day as the country allowed celebrations of the holiday for the first time in 10 years.
AUSTRALIA: Wildfires along the southeastern Pacific coast are only getting worse, with eight deaths in the last week.
SAUDI ARABIA: The body of Jamal Khashoggi has never been found. Despite a raft of questions surrounding his 2018 murder inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, a court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced five men to death for the killing. Two top officials reportedly involved, including an adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, were exonerated.
AUSTRIA: Conservatives and the Green Party have agreed to form a new government in what could motivate other deadlocked governments in Europe to bring together left and right. “It is possible to protect the climate and borders,” said newly reinstalled Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the conservative People’s Party.
UNITED STATES: Lawmakers in December reauthorized the Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) following months of legislative grappling and controversy that left the future of the independent watchdog in doubt.
SYRIA: We’ve updated a story about the work of U.S.-based aid group Preemptive Love Coalition (PLC) in northeast Syria, finding the group’s claims continue not to add up. In response to our Dec. 3 story, PLC provided a “detailed list” of its food distribution locations where it said it was providing 3,000 family food packages. Local authorities reviewed the documents and reported the group had through mid-December delivered 532 food rations. They also said it did not serve in at least four locations on the “detailed list.” Earlier, I responded to some other PLC claims about our story. (The PLC response is here, though I hesitate to share or quote from it because it’s been edited multiple times). This in some ways is a small story in a large sea of crisis, but it actually ought to be a big deal when aid groups raise funds off a crisis yet are not doing the work they advertise.
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