A Little Context: Escalating Tensions Between U.S. and Iran Since 2015
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal, was reached between Iran, the European Union, and the P5+1 (United States, Germany, China, Russia, Britain, and France) nations in 2015. In this deal, Iran agreed to eliminate its stockpile of uranium and limit its development of nuclear weapons, while the other countries assured that they would not impose sanctions on Iran. However, U.S. President Trump decided to withdraw from the deal in May 2018 as he reimposed sanctions on Iran’s oil sector. Since then, the U.S. has imposed multiple sanctions on Iran, while Iran has threatened to break its nuclear deal multiple times, resuming uranium enrichment in its underground plants. On December 25th, the U.S. sent out airstrikes to bases of a pro-Iranian group in Iraq, killing at least 25 fighters. These strikes were in retaliation for rocket attacks against US interests in Iraq, including one in which a US civilian contractor was killed. As a result of this, pro-Iranian protesters stormed the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad.
Subsequently, top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani died from a drone strike ordered by the United States on January 3, 2020. The Pentagon gave out a statement saying that U.S. President Donald Trump had ordered the strike.
Missiles struck the convoy near Baghdad International Airport in which Soleimani and nine other passengers were traveling. The Pentagon gave out further statements saying that Soleimani had been “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” adding that “this strike was aimed [towards] deterring future Iranian attack plans.”
Who was General Qasem Soleimani?
Qasem Soleimani was an Iranian General, head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, an elite unit that handles overseas Iranian operations. While he was one of the most powerful men in Iran, he was also a highly controversial figure. For the Iranian people, he was charismatic and brave, a tactical operator and strategic genius, a “living martyr of the Revolution”, as described by the Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. For the United States, however, he was viewed as a cruel, heartless killer, and head of a unit the U.S perceived as a foreign terrorist organization.
A day after the missile strike, on January 4th, people filled the streets of Baghdad to mourn for General Soleimani’s death. The body was brought back to Iran and processions followed on January 8th, Wednesday, for his burial in Kerman, his hometown. Tens of thousands of Iranians joined the burial, and at least 56 were killed and 190 injured during the ceremony due to “overcrowding”, as cited by security sources from Iran. The Revolutionary Guards commander Major General Hossein Salami vowed that Iran would “take revenge” for his death, while people chanted “death to America” in the streets.
Iran’s Retaliation Strike
Hours after the burial, Iran fired more than a dozen missiles at two Iraqi airbases occupied by the U.S. military. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif stated the nation “took and concluded proportionate measures” in self-defense, while Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei said the missile attacks were a “slap in the face” for the U.S. The next morning after the attacks, President Trump addressed the nation on television, saying that “no Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime”, and that “Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned.” He added that “American strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent” and “the fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it.” Nevertheless, Trump said that the United States would be imposing financial and economic sanctions on Iran and would remain until it “changed its behavior.” Adding to that, he said that Iran should abandon nuclear ambitions and end its “support for terrorism.”
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