News Briefs – January 8, 2020

Trump warns of sanctions if Iraq tries to expel U.S. troops

Following the U.S. killing of Gen. Qassem Soliman, the head of Iran’s elite Quds force, the Iraqi parliament voted Jan. 5 in favor of a nonbinding resolution calling for the expulsion of U.S. forces.
There are approximately 5,000 American troops on the ground in Iraq, 17 years after the U.S. invasion.
President Donald Trump said, however, the U.S. wouldn’t leave without being paid for its military investments in Iraq over the years — then said if the troops do have to withdraw, he would hit Baghdad with economic penalties.
“We will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame,” he said. “If there’s any hostility, that they do anything we think is inappropriate, we are going to put sanctions on Iraq, very big sanctions on Iraq.”
He added, “We’re not leaving until they pay us back for it.”
The administration has scrambled to contend with the backlash to the killing of Soleimani. Though he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans, the targeted American strike marked a stark escalation in tensions between Washington and Tehran. AP

Germany, NATO moving soldiers out of Iraq amid tensions

Germany moved 35 soldiers serving in Iraq to neighboring Jordan and Kuwait on Jan. 7, while NATO said it was also shifting some of its troops out of the country amid tensions over the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general in an airstrike in Baghdad last week.
The killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Soleimani has drastically raised regional tensions and escalated a crisis between Washington and Tehran.
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas wrote to lawmakers that the troops in the Iraqi bases in Baghdad and Taji would be “temporarily thinned out,” news agency dpa reported Tuesday. The two officials stressed that talks with the Iraqi government on a continuation of the mission to train Iraqi troops would go on.
Germany has a small contingent of some 120 soldiers in Iraq, though the majority are not stationed in Taji and Baghdad but elsewhere in Iraq.
NATO, meanwhile, said it was shifting some of its troops out of Iraq after Baghdad called for foreign forces to leave the country, but the U.S.-led military alliance hopes to return to continue training the Iraqi military if asked once calm is restored.
The 29-nation military organization has around 500 troops in Iraq — mostly from Canada, Spain and Turkey — who are helping to train and build Iraq’s security forces so they can combat the Islamic State group alone. It wasn’t immediately clear how many troops would be moved out.
“We have temporarily suspended our training on the ground, and we are taking all precautions necessary to protect our people,” NATO said. “This includes the temporary re-positioning of some personnel to different locations both inside and outside of Iraq.”
Separate from the NATO contingent, Germany’s Defense Ministry said its 32 soldiers stationed at Taji were flown overnight to the Azraq air base in Jordan, where German planes helping in the fight against the Islamic State group are based. Three soldiers in Baghdad were taken along with colleagues from other countries to Kuwait by the headquarters of the anti-I.S. Operation Inherent Resolve, it added.
“These forces can be moved back at any time if training in Iraq resumes,” the ministry said in a statement.
“Our soldiers are staying in the region and the mission is being kept in place for now, even though it is suspended this week pending further consultation,” Roderich Kiesewetter, a lawmaker with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party who is on the parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told Deutschlandfunk radio.
He said this was “a very good step to give the Iraqi government time to evaluate the situation” after Iraq’s parliament called for the withdrawal of foreign troops. The international coalition fighting IS will have to discuss how to proceed, he added.
Germany had already ordered its soldiers in Taji and Baghdad not to leave their bases after the killing of Soleimani last week near the Baghdad airport. AP

SpaceX launches 60 more satellites, trying to tone them down

SpaceX launched 60 more mini internet satellites late Jan. 6, this time testing a dark coating to appease stargazers.
It’s a “first step” compromise between SpaceX and astronomers fearful of having dark skies spoiled by hundreds and, eventually, thousands of bright satellites circling overhead.
The Falcon 9 rocket blasted into a cold, clear night sky, recycled by SpaceX for its fourth flight. As the first-stage booster flew to a vertical landing on an ocean platform, the Starlink satellites continued hurtling toward orbit to join 120 similar spacecraft launched last year.
Flight controllers applauded, and the launch commentator described the booster’s fourth touchdown as “awesome.” An hour later, all 60 satellites were free of their upper stage and making their own way in orbit. “It’s a beautiful sight,” the commentator observed.
His Starlink fleet now numbering 180, SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk plans to ultimately launch thousands of these compact flat-panel satellites to provide global internet service. Each spacecraft is just 575 pounds (260 kilograms).
After the first Starlink batch of 60 was launched in May and the second in November, astronomers complained how the bright satellite chain was hampering their observations. In response, SpaceX came up with a darkening treatment to lessen reflectivity. The coating is being tested on one of the newly launched satellites.
The Starlinks are initially placed in a relatively low orbit of 180 miles, easily visible as a long, strung-out cluster parading through the night sky. Over a few months, krypton-powered thrusters raise the satellites to a 340-mile orbit.
The higher the orbit, the less visible the satellites are from the ground, according to SpaceX. Even so, SpaceX said it’s supplying astronomy groups with the satellite coordinates in advance, so they can avoid the bright flyover times.
SpaceX may start service later this year in the northern U.S. and Canada, then expand to the world’s most populated areas after 24 launches. AP

Key Boeing supplier may begin shedding workers

The looming production shutdown of Boeing 737 Max jets is taking a toll on a key supplier.
Spirit AeroSystems Holdings Inc. is asking employees if they will take voluntarily buyouts. Spirit suspended production of fuselages and other parts for the Max on Jan. 1, after Boeing told the Wichita, Kansas, company to suspend shipments.
Spirit employees learned about the buyout offer – with terms depending on union contracts for workers in Wichita, Tulsa and McAlester, Oklahoma – in a Jan. 6 memo from CEO Tom Gentile, who said the company still has no clear idea of when Max production will resume.
“We are discussing different scenarios with Boeing but nothing has been decided,” Gentile wrote. He said the company will likely have to make decisions about cutting jobs “in the days and weeks ahead” because of expected lower production rates when the Boeing work returns.
Gentile did not say how many employees the company would like to see leave. Spirit has about 17,000 employees, including 15,000 in the U.S.
The Boeing 737, including the Max, represents more than half of Spirit’s revenue. Spirit warned last month that suspending Max production would hurt the company’s financial results and cash flow, and it was evaluating “all potential actions” to get costs in line with lower production expected in 2020. AP