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The Assassination of General Soleimani and U.S. / Iran Relations: Explained

On Friday, Jan. 3rd., Major General Qassim Suleimani was killed

He was killed by an American drone strike as he was leaving the Baghdad International Airport in Iraq. 

The drone strike hit the convoy of two cars that were transporting Gen. Suleimani from the airport, killing the several officials and Iranian-backed militia that were in the cars as well. 

Where did this come from?

Why did the United States organize this assassination? To answer that, we’ll need to go back to before the assassination. 

U.S. relations with Iran have been tense for quite a while now as the leaders of both nations have struggled to see eye-to-eye on the 2015 nuclear deal and oil sanctions. 

In 2015, under Obama, Iran signed a nuclear deal that limited Iran’s nuclear weapons progress. 

In May of 2018, Trump announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing from that agreement which had removed sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions being put in place on Iran’s nuclear program.

Over the next several months, the U.S. began placing sanctions against Iran’s oil industry, a key component of their economy, which was already struggling. 

Throughout 2019, Iran and the U.S. go back and forth with the U.S. demanding things from Iran, Iran refusing and threatening to increase uranium production, and even an attack on two oil tankers that the U.S. blames on Iran, while they deny any involvement. 

On June 20, 2019, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shoots down a U.S. military surveillance drone.

In July, Iran does exceed the amount of stockpiled uranium allowed in the 2015 nuclear deal, like it threatened to do. 

In September, there is a drone attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, which temporarily knocks out half of the oil from the world’s largest oil producer, which causes a spike in prices. The U.S. blames Iran. Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility but people were still skeptical with analyses being made of the power of and direction from which the attack came in order to attempt to prove that it couldn’t have been the Houthi rebels. 

In October, anti-government protests break out in Lebanon and Iraq, largely over economic problems, but protestors in Iraq are also protesting against Tehran’s influence in Iraq, which is one of its allies, and protestors even attack Iranian diplomatic buildings. 

A month later, in November, protests erupt in about 100 cities and towns in Iran after the government raised the price of gasoline. An internet blackout is put into effect by the government, making it hard for anyone on the outside to know the gravity of the protests or how many people were injured or killed. At the time, the government was saying that there were 12 deaths, but Amnesty International had estimated over 300 dead. 

On December 27th,  more than 30 rockets were launched at an Iraqi military base, killing an American contractor and wounding four American and two Iraqi servicemen. The U.S. blamed an Iranian-backed militia group known as Kata’ib Hezbollah but they denied responsibility. Iranian-backed militia groups have large blocs in Parliament in Iraq, giving them power in the region, and they have not been pleased with increasing U.S. sanctions against Iranian oil. Since increasing sanctions, there have been an increasing number of attacks executed.

In response, the U.S. also executed an airstrike that killed 24 members of an Iranian-backed militia group at bases in Iraq and Syria on December 29th.

On December 31st, pro-Iranian militia members marched on the U.S. Embassy, trapping all of the U.S. diplomats inside for over 24 hours. The protest turned violent as windows were broken and fires were lit.

President Trump pointed a finger at Iran for instigating this kind of response.

Let’s talk about the assassination

The White House tweeted:

Trump says he ordered the killing to prevent a major attack, stating that they had reason to believe that Gen. Soleimani was planning several attacks.

Congress was not notified of this attack before it occurred, which some congresspeople were unhappy about because they were concerned that this assassination could start a war. In response, the House decided to try to pass a resolution of the War Powers Act that would limit the president’s war powers without congressional approval.

General Soleimani is considered to be a terrorist in America because of how many American deaths he has been responsible for through planned attacks. Soleimani was an important figure in Iran, he led the elite Quds force and reported directly to the supreme leader of Iran.

Because of the assassination, Iran declares that it will no longer be following any of the rules or restrictions set out in the nuclear deal on January 5th.

The Iraqi parliament also votes to kick all American troops out of the country. The roughly 5000 troops that are in Iraq are there in order to fight and prevent the resurgence of terrorist groups like ISIS.

Trump has threatened to impose sanctions against Iraq now, as well as Iran if they expel the troops.

On January 8th, Iran attacks two Iraqi military bases that are housing American troops. No U.S. troops were killed and Trump initially tweeted that “all is well.” Later, we find out that a few injuries were sustained, but nothing fatal occurred.

Hours after this attack, a Boeing plane coming from Ukraine crashes. The entire plane is engulfed in flames and goes down, killing all 176 people on board.

In the following days, there begins to be talk of intelligence existing that shows the plane being shot down. This is different than the idea presented so far that there had been a mechanical malfunction that set the engine on fire.

Fingers are pointed at Iran. Iran denies it and refuses to allow the U.S. to get involved in the investigation. Later, video is released showing missiles coming from Iran, triggering more sanctions from the U.S. in response to Iran’s perceived guilt.

The Iranian people, who had transitioned from protesting against their own government over gas prices to mourning Gen. Soleimani en masse, now express outrage at the possibility of Iran being responsible for the death of so many people, including so many Iranians.

For now, attacks have stopped, but the tensions are not over. There will undoubtedly be more exchanges between the U.S., Iran and Iraq, but hopefully, they will be more peaceful.

The next step will be seeing how the Senate votes to curb (or not curb) the president’s war powers, sometime after the impeachment trial is wrapped up.

If you’re not caught up on Impeachment, you can read about everything leading up to the trial in the Senate here, or listen to it here. Be on the lookout for a podcast episode and blog post coming out breaking down the Senate trial and what happens next with impeachment.