The US just confirmed it killed one of Iran's most powerful leaders.
Who are you talking about?
Qasem Soleimani. He was the head of Iran's Quds Force, an internationally-sanctioned military group that works outside of Iran's borders. Under Soleimani's decades of leadership, the Quds Force armed and trained Shiite militias in Iraq, provided support to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and helped prop up Syria's Bashar al-Assad. The group was responsible for hundreds of American deaths.
Why did the US kill him now?
The Pentagon says Soleimani was "actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region." And that the order for yesterday's strike – which hit Baghdad International Airport – came directly from President Trump. The announcement comes after recent attacks and the siege of the US Embassy in Baghdad.
Tell me about that.
Earlier this week, the US conducted airstrikes in Iraq and Syria that killed 25 members of an Iranian-backed Shiite militia known as Kataib Hezbollah. The US said it was because the group had killed a US contractor in Iraq the week before.
So that led to a siege?
Yes. On New Year's Eve, protesters in Baghdad – including members of the militia – broke into the embassy compound, smashed security cameras, and set fire to a reception area. American guards fired tear gas and the embassy went on lockdown. Iraq's PM called on the protesters to leave the area, and after the militia's leadership called it off, too, protesters backed off. The siege, which lasted two days, was approved by Soleimani. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis – the founder of Kataib Hezbollah and an adviser to Soleimani – also died in yesterday's attack.
So what happens now?
That's the question. Soleimani wielded significant influence, both in Iran and across the region. The country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has vowed "harsh retaliation." And as fears of war spread, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) pointed out that last night's strike was carried out without consulting Congress.
The US and Iran have come this close to war before. Now, the death of two influential commanders is bringing US-Iran tensions to a fever pitch – exposing US troops, Iraq, and the region at large to potential retaliatory attacks.
Who's been watching "Catch Me If You Can"...
Carlos Ghosn. Earlier this week, the former Nissan chairman said he escaped from Japan to avoid "political persecution." Problem, since he was awaiting trial there on charges of financial crimes (think: underreporting his income for years, embezzlement). Ghosn confirmed he's in Lebanon, but didn't say how he escaped from Japan, where he was under strict surveillance. Interpol issued Lebanon a "Red Notice" to "locate and provisionally arrest" him. There's no extradition agreement between Lebanon and Japan so Ghosn may be able to hang tight for now.
Rumor has it: Ghosn reportedly made his escape in a private plane via Turkey and with a French passport. Turkish authorities have questioned and detained seven people – including four pilots – regarding Ghosn's escape.
What people are watching…
Australia. This fire season is the worst in Australia's history, and recent wildfires there – which began in October – are expected to get worse. At least 18 people have died since the fires began and more than a thousand homes have been destroyed. Tens of thousands of people have been urged to evacuate. Yesterday, an Australian navy ship reportedly helped rescue people in the coastal town of Mallacoota, where the fires stranded thousands on the beach earlier this week. A state of disaster has been declared in Victoria. And New South Wales has declared a state of emergency. Meanwhile, Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been criticized for how he's handled the fires – including for vacationing in Hawaii as the fires raged.
What's seeing restrictions…
E-cigs. Yesterday, the FDA said it's banning most fruit- and mint-flavored nicotine from small, cartridge-based vaping products (like Juul) to help curb e-cig use among teens. But it's exempting menthol and tobacco flavors, and large, tank-based vaping devices. Some criticized the move which seems to contradict President Trump's original plans to ban most flavors – including menthol. But others say it's a compromise between the vaping industry and anti-tobacco advocates. The new rule takes effect in 30 days.
Skimm More: Read up on the health concerns tied to e-cigs and vaping in our guide.
Who's saying '2020 is not my year'...
Julián Castro. Yesterday, the Democratic presidential candidate announced he was ending his campaign. Castro – the only Latino running for the White House – said he made the decision because "it simply isn't our time." Castro had struggled to raise funds, and failed to qualify for the November and December debates.
...Oh and speaking of the race to the White House, Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson has laid off her entire campaign staff. But she says she's not giving up.
What's trying to save the planet one plate at a time…
Sign up for the Daily Skimm email newsletter. Delivered to your inbox every morning and prepares you for your day in minutes.