Security Brief

Iran Goes on the Offensive in Iraq

Tehran funnels in missiles while Trump reportedly mulls a big increase in U.S. troops.

Iraqi demonstrators gather as flames consume Iran's consulate in Najaf, Iraq, on Nov. 27.
Iraqi demonstrators gather as flames consume Iran's consulate in Najaf, Iraq, on Nov. 27. HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Security Brief Plus.What’s on tap today: Iran is secretly funneling missiles into Iraq as it grapples with protests, tensions mount on the Korean peninsula as North Korea mulls new long-range missile tests, and Sudan’s new leader makes his debut in Washington.

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Iran Takes Advantage of Turmoil in Iraq

Tehran isn’t letting a good crisis go to waste. As anti-government protests  roil Iraq, neighboring Iran has funneled short-range ballistic missiles into the country to help reassert its influence in the Middle East, U.S. officials told the New York Times.

The move, to some critics, shows that U.S. President Donald Trump’s longstanding efforts to weaken the Iranian regime and roll back its influence in the Middle East through sanctions and increased U.S. troop presence in the Persian Gulf isn’t working out as well as the administration hoped.

Troop surge? The news comes as the Trump administration considers sending more military hardware, ships and up to 14,000 more troops to the Middle East in an effort to counter Iran, according to the Wall Street Journal. Top Pentagon officials insist they have not yet made a decision to deploy additional troops, however.

The move would be another reversal of Trump’s promise to extricate the U.S. military from costly conflicts in the Middle East. Since the spring, the United States has deployed roughly 14,000 troops to the region after a series of attacks on oil tankers and infrastructure in the Gulf that pushed tensions between Tehran, Washington, and its Gulf allies to new heights.


What We’re Watching

North Korea ready to renew long-range missile tests. Tensions are mounting on the Korean peninsula, as well as between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un fading fast. Name calling is back: Trump has reverted to calling Kim “Rocket Man” again and North Korea threatened to call Trump a “dotard” without going so far as to do so. And as nuclear talks flounder, reports seem to indicate that Pyongyang is preparing to conduct its first long-range missile test since 2017.

On Monday, North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Ri Thae Song issued a vague and ominous warning to the United States, saying, “It is entirely up to the U.S. what Christmas gift it will select to get.” Kim Jong Un followed those statements with a horse ride up North Korea’s sacred Mount Paektu, his second since October and a symbolic move experts see as a sign that Kim will announce a major new policy decision.

A rare win for NATO with Turkey. Under pressure from U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Turkey has officially agreed to a NATO plan for the defense of Poland and the Baltic states, giving it the necessary unanimous approval. Ankara was dragging its feet over the issue because of disputes over the situation in Syria, where it is demanding that Washington officially label U.S.-allied Kurdish militias as terrorist groups.

On the eve of a meeting of NATO leaders in London this week, Esper urged Turkey to support the defense plan, suggesting that Ankara was too focused on its own narrow agenda rather than the threat of Russia in Eastern Europe. It’s a rare victory as NATO grapples with an increasingly bellicose Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which has plunged relations between Ankara and Washington to new lows.

A new Sudan? The leader of Sudan, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, is visiting the United States for the first time in three decades. Long an international pariah accused of supporting terrorism and trading arms with North Korea, Sudan is seeking to turn over a new leaf under a transitional government after a coup ousted the autocratic leader Omar al-Bashir earlier this year. The Trump administration announced on Wednesday it would renormalize relations with Sudan, sending an ambassador there for the first time in over two decades. Sudan is next pushing for the United States to delist it as a state sponsor of terrorism to open its economy to international investors.


Foreign Policy Recommends

Trump’s man on Iran. He may not be a household name, but Brian Hook has played an outsized and influential role in Trump’s State Department from the beginning.Vox has an in-depth profile of Hook, the Trump administration’s special envoy on Iran. Despite initial skepticism of Trump’s “America First” approach to foreign policy, Hook has become one of the president’s strongest allies in the State Department, steadily implementing the administration’s hardline approach to Tehran.


Quote of the Week

“Let us stop the façade that our governments enjoy ‘warm and cordial’ relations. The current government of Zambia wants foreign diplomats to be compliant, with open pocketbooks and closed mouths.”

—U.S. Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote issues an unusual scathing rebuke of the country’s government, which lashed out at him after he criticized it for sentencing two men to 15-year imprisonment for engaging in a same-sex relationship.


Odds and Ends

Life inside the DMZ. When the demilitarized zone was formed between North and South Korea after the end of the Korean War, only two villages—one in the north and one in the south—were permitted to remain inside. For decades, the villages served propaganda purposes, allowing each regime to showcase the best of their respective societies. North Korea’s village has mostly been cleared out, but Taesung, the south’s village, still remains. The Seoul government recently installed a 5G network to keep villagers content and ensure the long-term survival of the village.

Drama at the (fake) border. A man was arrested last week for erecting a fake border between between Russia and Finland and charging four migrants from South Asia more than $10,000 in exchange for safe passage. The nationalities of the migrants were not released, but all four were fined by a St. Petersburg court on Wednesday and ordered to be deported.

Trudeau dragged into 2020 fight. Former Vice President Joe Biden is taking advantage of an embarrassing candid camera moment, where NATO leaders including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were caught making fun of Trump. Biden released a 2020 presidential campaign ad Wednesday evening using the viral video to criticize Trump. Trump, meanwhile, was none too pleased with Trudeau.


That’s it for today.

For more from FP, subscribe here or sign up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or typos to securitybrief@foreignpolicy.com.

Dan Haverty contributed to this report.

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Lara Seligman is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @laraseligman

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