Hostilities between the United States and Iran are high following the killing of one of Tehran’s most powerful officials. The Pentagon confirmed that President Trump had ordered the airstrike of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was the head commander of the country’s Quds Force. Many believe that this action has majorly escalated tensions with Iran.
Maj. Gen. Soleimani was powerful and was sometimes seen as a heroic figure in Iran. He was heavily involved in the Iranian fight against the Islamic State and also ran operations in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, The New York Times reported. According to The New York Times, Soleimani was designated a terrorist by the United States and Israel in 2011 and his Quds Force as a whole was designated a foreign terrorism group by the Trump administration in April 2019.
Soleimani reportedly died during an airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport early on Friday, Jan. 3, during what the Pentagon labeled a “defensive action,” and the Iranian government’s reaction was swift. On Friday morning, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a statement saying that the country would be partaking in three days of nationwide mourning before unleashing “forceful revenge” on the United States.
Considering that Soleimani was easily a very important public figure in the country, the move was a big gamble on the Trump administration’s part and effectively constituted an act of war against Iran, as Robert Malley, the president and chief executive of the International Crisis Group, told The New York Times. Already, the price of oil around the globe has skyrocketed in response to the attack and American citizens have been urged to “depart Iraq immediately.”
Here’s what to know about the killing of Qassem Soleimani and what it means for the United States:
Late Thursday night in the United States, the Pentagon released a statement revealing that the president had directed the airstrike in Baghdad to “protect U.S. personnel abroad,” according to NBC News.
The Trump administration claimed that the general had been the mastermind behind recent attacks on the American embassy in Iraq as well as on troops in the area. Back on Dec. 27, a rocket attack (which was believed to be orchestrated by Tehran) killed a defense contractor working for the Americans at a U.S. base in Iraq, leading President Trump to order several airstrikes.
“General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the Pentagon added. “… This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.”
The latest attack comes after President Trump said he wanted peace with Iran.
While Soleimani has long been viewed as a threat to the United States, it was a move that no one saw coming.
As recently as New Year’s Eve, President Trump told reporters that he didn’t see the country going to war with Iran while speaking at Mar-a-Lago.
“I don’t think that would be a good idea for Iran. It wouldn’t last very long,” he said during the press conference. “Do I want to? No. I want to have peace. I like peace. And Iran should want peace more than anybody. So I don’t see that happening. No, I don’t think Iran would want that to happen. It would go very quickly.”
The attack changed everything, and many U.S. officials voiced their concern that the president had potentially started a conflict with Iran by committing an act of war without congressional approval, though the White House insists that it did not need congressional approval for this particular action.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted, “Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. That’s not a question. The question is this — as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?”
Some, however, praised the president for his actions. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted that the president “exercised admirable restraint while setting clear red lines & the consequences for crossing them.”
The United States announced on Friday that 3,500 additional troops will be deployed overseas, according to the Washington Post.
Officials are predicting that backlash to the U.S. presence in Iraq will escalate in the coming days.
The latest attack comes on the heels of the U.S.-ordered controversial airstrikes that killed 24 and led to mass Iraqi protests. On Tuesday, Dec. 31, Defense Secretary Mark Esper was forced to authorize the deployment of 750 extra American troops to Iraq after a number of Iraqis stormed the embassy and set fires in the vicinity.
Iraq, which has long acted as a middle-man amidst the escalating hostilities between the U.S. and Iran, is likely not happy with the attack taking place on Iraqi soil, as Slate noted. There’s also the fact that an Iraqi official, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (the head of the Popular Mobilization Forces), was also killed during the attack, according to Slate.
On Friday, Iraq’s Speaker of Parliament Mohammed al-Halbousi officially responded to President Trump’s decision, calling it a “flagrant breach of sovereignty and violation of international agreements,” according to Reuters.
He also revealed that he believes that Iraq should stay out of the conflict, saying, “Iraq must avoid becoming a battlefield or a side in any regional or international conflict.”
Only time will tell if Iran chooses to retaliate to the attack, but the Trump administration will likely be sharing its plans to alleviate the threats to U.S. troops in the Middle East in the coming hours or days.