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A file photo shows a B-52 bomber and two F-15 fighter jets flying over in New Orleans in May 2020. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Two U.S. B-52 bombers flew a strategic mission over the Persian Gulf on Wednesday, the second mission of its kind this month, AP reports.

Why it matters: The flights are meant as a show of force to deter Iran from attacking American or allied targets in the Middle East amid signals that the country may be planning attacks against U.S. allied targets in neighboring Iraq or elsewhere in the region, per AP.

What they're saying: The head of U.S. Central Command Gen. Frank McKenzie said the mission was a defensive move.

  • “The United States continues to deploy combat-ready capabilities into the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to deter any potential adversary, and make clear that we are ready and able to respond to any aggression directed at Americans or our interests,” said Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of Central Command, said, according to AP.
  • “We do not seek conflict, but no one should underestimate our ability to defend our forces or to act decisively in response to any attack.”

The big picture: The U.S. has considered closing its embassy in Baghdad after a recent series of rocket attacks on Iraq's Green Zone that the U.S. blames on Iranian-backed militias.

  • On Dec. 23, President Trump tweeted, "Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over."
  • Iran has denied any involvement in the recent attacks.

The two countries are also approaching the Jan. 3 anniversary of the U.S. killing of top Iranian military commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

  • There is growing concern in the Trump administration that Iran plans to avenge the killing of Soleimani, according to AP.
  • “Trump will bear full responsibility for any adventurism on his way out,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted last week.

Go deeper: U.S. considering closing Iraqi embassy after rocket attack

Go deeper

Senate confirms retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as defense secretary

Photo: Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

The Senate voted 93-2 on Friday to confirm retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as secretary of defense. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) were the sole "no" votes.

Why it matters: Austin is the first Black American to lead the Pentagon and President Biden's second Cabinet nominee to be confirmed.

Corporate America finds downside to politics

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Corporate America is finding it can get messy when it steps into politics.

Why it matters: Urged on by shareholders, employees and its own company creeds, Big Business is taking increasing stands on controversial political issues during recent months — and now it's beginning to see the fallout.

Church groups say they can help the government more at border

A mural inside of Casa del Refugiado in El Paso, Texas. Photo: Stef Kight/Axios

Despite the separation between church and state, the federal government depends upon religious shelters to help it cope with migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Why it matters: The network supports the U.S. in times of crisis, but now some shelter leaders are complaining about expelling families to Mexico when they have capacity — and feel a higher calling — to accommodate them.

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