/Wednesday briefing: Iran hits back as missiles target US sites

Wednesday briefing: Iran hits back as missiles target US sites

Top story: Revenge for Suleimani killing

Hello again from the Guardian morning briefing desk. Warren Murray here to put you in the middle of the news this Wednesday.

Iran has launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles at US and coalition military positions in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Tehran’s top general, Qassem Suleimani. In what appeared to be a dreadful coincidence, a Ukrainian airliner has crashed after taking off from the Iranian capital bound for Kiev – all on board, more than 160 people, were killed, according to the Red Crescent and Iranian emergency officials.

Details of the plane crash are still emerging this morning but video circulating online appeared to show an aircraft descending while on fire, followed by a large explosion at ground level. The jetliner involved is understood to have been a Boeing 737-800, but not the “Max” type that has been grounded since two deadly crashes blamed on faulty software. The Ukrainian plane took off from Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital.

Earlier, amid the continuing US-Iran tensions, the Pentagon said Al Asad air base in Iraq’s Anbar province, which hosts a US contingent, was hit at least six times, while at least one other base in the northern city of Erbil was targeted. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), of which Suleimani was a member, issued a statement saying: “The brave soldiers of IRGC’s aerospace unit have launched a successful attack with tens of ballistic missiles on Al Asad military base in the name of martyr General Qassem Suleimani.” The Iranian regime indicated it had “concluded” the mission to retaliate, while Donald Trump tweeted that damage assessment was under way but “All is well!”. Michael Safi writes that the limited nature of Iran’s retaliation may be to the satisfaction of both sides, with Tehran able to say it has avenged Suleimani’s death and the US able to brush it off as a comparatively minor incident.

Britain’s defence secretary, Ben Wallace, said before the strikes that non-essential UK personnel were being moved from Baghdad to Taji, about 19 miles (30km) to the north. The government says British warships, helicopters and several hundred military personnel are on standby for deployment to the Gulf if needed to evacuate British forces or respond to any escalation.

Midweek catch-up

> Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips have won applause for their honesty about Labour’s problems at a leadership hustings where the six candidates to succeed Jeremy Corbyn set out their pitches to MPs. Rebecca Long-Bailey received more lukewarm support having earlier told ITV she thought Jeremy Corbyn scored “10 out of 10” as leader.

> There will be at least 3,150 jobs lost from UK high streets this week as Mothercare and Links of London disappear with the closure of 94 stores. Other chains facing store closures or restructuring include HMV, Bonmarché, Beales, Jessops, Debenhams and House of Fraser, as retailers struggle with high costs and competition from online shopping.

> The prisons ombudsman is investigating after a remand prisoner was found dead in his cell at HMP Belmarsh. Liridon Saliuka, 29, was in custody charged with murder over a shooting at a London club. His family says Saliuka was left disabled by a car crash but was put into a cell without special provisions. He is the third prisoner to have died in Belmarsh within the past year.

> Barclays is being called upon to stop offering loans to fossil fuel companies by a group of 11 pension and investment funds managing more than £130bn in assets. The first ever shareholder climate resolution aimed at a UK bank will be voted on at its annual general meeting in May.

Tory line on Brexit farm standards – The government will today claim that Britain’s standards on animal welfare and farming will be maintained after it leaves the EU – but is not expected to give promises on specific issues such as chlorinated chicken, hormone-fed beef and meat produced with the use of antibiotics. The National Farmers’ Union wants any post-Brexit trade deals to prevent imports of food that would be illegal for farmers to produce in the UK. Boris Johnson is due to meet the new European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, for Brexit talks in Downing Street today.

Wage theft on the rise – Thousands of bosses are paying workers less than the minimum wage and getting away with it. Only one in eight is caught by government inspectors: an estimated 11,000 firms failing to pay the minimum wage in 2018-19 but only 1,456 were identified by HMRC, says the Resolution Foundation. There are fears an inflation-busting minimum wage rise in April may tempt more employers to short-change workers. About one in five workers aged over 24 was paid below the legal minimum in 2016, but that rose to one in four last year with about 365,000 people missing out. Employees of small firms such as hair salons and carwashes are the most vulnerable. In December 2018 the government shelved a scheme to name and shame employers caught ducking the minimum wage.

Sew cute – Australia’s bushfires have sparked a global effort to knit, crochet, and sew pouches and shelters for some of the animals affected by millions of hectares of land being burned out.

Flying fox bats in home-made wraps donated during the Australian bushfires.

Flying fox bats in home-made wraps donated during the Australian bushfires. Photograph: Shoalhaven Bat Clinic and Sanctuary

The Australia-based Animal Rescue Craft Guild put out a call for these items on its Facebook group. The effort has attracted donors across Europe, Asia, and more than 40 US states and territories.

Today in Focus podcast: Owen Jones on toxic politics

Guardian columnist Owen Jones describes the way political debate in Britain has become increasingly divisive and how abuse is now a daily occurrence for most people involved in it. Plus: Helen Pidd on the sentencing of Britain’s most prolific rapist.

Today in Focus

Owen Jones on toxic politics

Lunchtime read: Bald head, thick skin

Society often associates femininity with long, flowing locks – but a growing number of women are choosing to celebrate their baldness. Sirin Kale meets some of those who have embraced hair loss.

Alice Austin, who started losing her hair in primary school and stopped wearing her wigs when she became a mother.

Alice Austin, who started losing her hair in primary school and stopped wearing her wigs when she became a mother. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian


Ben Stokes dedicated his match-winning performance in the second Test against South Africa to his stricken father, who kept tabs on England’s series-levelling victory from his hospital bed in Johannesburg. Ole Gunnar Solskjær was scathing about Manchester United’s first-half display in Tuesday’s 3-1 home defeat by Manchester City in the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg, describing it as the worst this season.

Stefanos Tsitsipas hurt his father in a remarkable mid-match meltdown during his clash with Australia’s Nick Kyrgios at the ATP Cup. Margaret Court, whose views on marriage equality have polarised public opinion, will be recognised on the 50th anniversary of her 1970 calendar-year grand slam sweep at Melbourne Park but will not present the Australian Open trophy to this year’s women’s champion. And Liverpool’s Sadio Mané has been named African Footballer of the Year for the first time after beating his teammate Mohamed Salah and Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez, while Barcelona and Nigeria’s Asisat Oshoala was named as women’s player of the year.


Oil prices have risen while Asian stock markets fell after Iran’s missile attacks on US military sites in Iraq. Brent crude futures, the benchmark for international oils, spiked more than $3 per barrel at one point. Tokyo’s stock market benchmark fell nearly 2% and Hong Kong’s was off nearly 1%. Shanghai, Sydney and south-east Asian markets also retreated. This morning the pound is worth €1.312 and $1.177 while the FTSE is down by 37 points – half a percent – at time of writing.

The papers

The Guardian’s late edition gets in the Iranian attacks on US air bases in Iraq. The Times reports “PM orders cabinet to axe swathe of projects”, saying ministers have been told to go through their books line by line and spare no “sacred cows” in the hunt for projects that can be cut back or abandoned entirely. In the Financial Times, Mark Carney warns that central banks are “low on ammunition to fight recessions” – the story is about the risk of a “recession trap” where spending stalls no matter how much money our fiscal overlords throw around.

Guardian final front page, Wednesday 8 January 2020

Guardian final front page, Wednesday 8 January 2020.

“The BoJo no-show” – is the Metro wise to expend that headline option out so early in the life of this government? The story is about the PM being absent from the Commons for questions about the Iran crisis. The Express reports on violence and abuse against emergency service workers: “200,000 frontline heroes attacked each year”. The Telegraph has “EU warning over rights for citizens after Brexit” – here’s the Guardian version of that story. The Mail deplores a “slap in face to William” as the FA, of which he is president, sells match rights to the Bet365, the gambling company. “We’re orf again” says the Sun, reporting that Harry and Meghan are looking to station themselves in Canada for a “significant portion of this year as they actively consider their future role in the royal family”.

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