Morning Brief

Militia Group Withdraws From U.S. Embassy, More Troops Deploy to Region

4,000 troops expected to deploy to Middle East as U.S. mulls response

A supporter of Iraq's Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force during a protest outside the US embassy in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on January 1.
A supporter of Iraq's Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force during a protest outside the US embassy in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on January 1. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Militia group Kataeb Hezbollah and its supporters have fully withdrawn from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad following attacks on Tuesday, Australia’s fires are felt further afield, and Benjamin Netanyahu seeks immunity.

Audrey Wilson, Foreign Policy’s newsletter editor, is away today, so I’ll be standing in.

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Militia and Supporters Withdraw from U.S. Embassy Baghdad

Supporters of the Iraqi militia group Kataeb Hezbollah have now fully withdrawn from the U.S. embassy in Iraq after hundreds breached the Baghdad compound on Tuesday. The attacks were in retaliation for a U.S. airstrike on the group, itself a response to the militia rocket attack that killed a U.S. contractor in Kirkuk last week. Photos released since the protests show the extent of the damage.

The United States is responding to Tuesday’s actions by sending up to 4,000 troops to the Middle East this week, according to Military Times. The soldiers are from the Immediate Response Force (IRF) of the 82nd Airborne Division. The boost in forces would add to the 14,000 already deployed in the past six months as U.S.-Iran tensions increase.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who cancelled a planned European trip to oversee diplomatic response, held phone conversations with the Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi yesterday as Washington considered further actions.

What We’re Following Today

Australia’s fires now affecting New Zealand. The fallout from Australia’s bushfires, where 15 people have died so far and thousands more have been evacuated, has now made landfall in neighboring New Zealand, over 1200 miles away, as a smoke cloud descends on the country’s south island. It’s the fourth time this summer that New Zealand has been impacted by Australia’s fires.

Netanyahu seeking immunity. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Wednesday he would be turning to Israel’s parliament to seek immunity from prosecution in the three graft cases in which he has been indicted. The announcement came just hours before a deadline that would have seen his cases moved further along in the Israeli court system. By filing the application, Netanyahu at the least has bought himself time, as a case cannot be brought while an immunity request is being heard. One roadblock remains—Netanyahu needs a majority (61) of Israel’s parliament to support him in his request, which has eluded him  in his attempts to form a government since November’s elections.

Hong Kong protests top 1 million. Organizers say over one million people joined a New Year’s Day mass demonstration in Hong Kong, that led to over 400 arrests and small-scale violence as the peninsula enters its seventh month of protests. Police cut short the planned march after acts of vandalism by protestors that targeted the High Court, HSBC banks and a Starbucks. Despite the short-lived demonstration, organizers say turnout exceeded the 1.03 million estimated to have taken to the streets in June in protest over a proposed extradition bill.

Keep an Eye On

New Tunisian government. Three months since its general election, Tunisia could finally have a new government as the country’s designated prime minister Habib Jemli announced he has submitted a proposed cabinet to President Kais Saiedis. Jemli’s cabinet, expected to be made up of political independents, must be approved by a majority of Tunisia’s fractured parliament, with a vote expected today.

Sebastian Kurz is set to regain his title as the world’s youngest head of government and return as Austria’s prime minister for the first time since his coalition with the right-wing Freedom Party collapsed in May. Kurz’s Austrian People’s Party has agreed to a coalition deal with the resurgent Green Party. It marks the first time the environmentally focused party would hold power in Austria’s history. If the Green Party’s members approve of the deal, the new government could be seated as early as next week.

St Peter’s Square-off. Pope Francis is in hot water after video emerged of the pontiff hastily slapping a worshipper on the hand after she appeared to grab hold of his wrist and pull him toward her. The Pope, himself a former bouncer, was greeting the faithful in St Peter’s Square when the incident occurred. He has since apologized for the incident, as the Washington Post reports. “So many times we lose our patience; me too, and I apologize for yesterday’s bad example,” Pope Francis said.

A curious case. Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn’s flight from Japan to Lebanon took another turn as Lebanese news sources reported that Ghosn fled house arrest in a musical instrument case before departing the country on a private jet. Ghosn was awaiting trial in Japan for corruption and self-dealing. Lebanon and Japan do not have an extradition treaty, leaving his case in limbo.

Odds and Ends

Effective today, France has begun its war on plastic and has banned plastic cups, plates and cotton buds as part of its goal to fully eliminate single-use plastics by 2040. Under current plans, plastic straws, coffee cup lids, styrofoam containers and disposable cutlery are all to be axed in 2021. France isn’t alone in pushing toward a more sustainable decade. Thailand began its New Year with a ban on plastic shopping bags in all major stores.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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