US Sparks Conflict with Killing of Top Iranian General
Updated: 6 days ago
Author: Olivia Branan
A highly controversial U.S. airstrike on Jan. 3 assassinated top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, and severely increased tensions between the two countries. Iran responded by firing missiles at two U.S. bases in Iraq, which were recently found to have injured American troops. The Department of Defense stated that he was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” although some members of Congress who were briefed on the attack questioned this justification.
Soleimani led the Quds Force, a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. U.S. treasury officials say that he oversaw the 2011 assassination attempt of Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S., Adel Al-Jubeir. He began his career in the Iran-Iraq war, soon rising in prominence and orchestrating military operations in Syria and Iraq. He was regarded as the right-hand man to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and one of the most powerful men in the country. Soleimani was crucial in training and leading militias to fight against Islamic State forces.
Khamenei referred to Soleimani as a “living martyr of the revolution,” and the Quds Force insisted that anti-U.S. forces would demand revenge. Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanese military group Hezbollah, which has been supported by Soleimani’s forces, stated that the missile strikes were only the start of the consequences against Soleimani’s assassination.
In a series of tweets, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to attack Iranian cultural sites if the country retaliated against Soleimani’s assassination, an act which would violate the 1954 Hague Convention. Defense Secretary Mark Esper indicated that Trump’s threat would not be carried out and “the laws of armed conflict” would be followed.
Soleimani’s death did not come without criticism from U.S. allies. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a close ally to the Trump administration, urged Trump to “dial down” the conflict. U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab warned that a U.S. war with Iran would benefit the Islamic State terrorist group. In response to criticism from several European countries, the U.S. President threatened a trade war with if they remained committed to the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, which Trump pulled out of 2018. So far, the U.K., Germany and France have signed a statement in support of holding their stance on the Iranian policy.
On Jan. 12 Iranian rockets hit Balad Iraqi Air Base, housing U.S. troops, wounding four Iraqi soldiers. Four days earlier, 11 missiles were fired at the al-Asad base. Although military and Trump administration officials originally stated that the missile attacks caused “no casualties” new reports indicate that the Jan. 8 strike wounded 11 American troops, calling into question the initial assumption that the strikes were simply meant as a warning.
U.S. troops received radio transmission that an Iranian ballistic missile attack was imminent, and took shelter in bunkers. Staff sergeant Akeem Ferguson told CNN that he “just waited. I hoped that whatever happened, that it was quick. I was 100% ready to die.”
The IRGC admitted to an accidental missile strike that shot down Ukranian International Airlines Boeing 737-800 on Jan. 8, occurring in the midst of U.S. and Iran tensions. All 176 passengers were killed, and the incident occurred just hours after Iran had sent missiles to the U.S. base in Iraq. Khamenei led weekly prayers in Tehran, Iran, and offered condolences, but did not apologize or blame the IRGC, who report directly to him.
The possibility of American casualties has lead to discussions of potential war. Trump emphasized that if Iranian military proxies killed any Americans, the United States would respond forcefully. In an Oct. 2019 interview, Soleimani implied that if he were to die, a new generation of Iranians have already been trained to continue fighting without his leadership. He warned that asymmetric warfare is fought without traditional fronts, and the response to his assassination certainly backs up his statements.