BY THEO EKIYOR
On Jan. 3, the United States executed airstrike that killed a top Iranian general at Baghdad’s international airport. Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was killed in his vehicle on an access road near the Baghdad airport by an armed drone.
The United States Department of Defense released a statement that Soleimani was killed because he “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” It also accused Soleimani of approving the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad earlier in the week before the strike.
President Trump did not immediately address the United States public after the strike but sent out a tweet of an American flag.
As the head of the Quds Force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, the 62-year-old Soleimani led all of its expeditionary forces. For many in Iran, the killing of General Soleimani represents more than just the loss of a battlefield commander, but also of a cultural icon who represented national pride and resilience while facing U.S. sanctions.
Following the airstrike, Iran promised retaliation as its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei swiftly pledged to take “severe revenge” for Soleimani’s assassination.
Trump responded to Iran by threatening to attack 52 cultural sites in Iran if they retaliated.
The president’s tweet caught administration officials off-guard and prompted an immediate outcry from legal scholars, national security experts and lawmakers, who said that such an attack would constitute a war crime under the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of cultural sites. Trump later went back on his statements, saying, “I like to obey the law.”
In the early morning of Jan. 8, Iran struck back at the United States by firing a series of ballistic missiles at two military bases in Iraq housing American troops.
There were no casualties in the attack, the U.S. has said, although 34 troops are being treated for concussion and traumatic brain injury symptoms from the blast. According to U.S. military officials, American troops were informed of an impending missile barrage hours before their air base in Iraq was struck by Iran.
The attack on military bases was Iran’s most direct assault on America since the 1979 seizing of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
Moments after the strike, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohhamed Javad Zarif, tweeted that Iran “took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense,” adding that Iran did “not seek escalation” but would defend itself against further aggression.
On Jan. 5, the Iraqi parliament voted to expel all foreign troops, including U.S. troops, from their country and to cancel its request for assistance from the U.S.-led coalition that had previously worked with Baghdad in its fight against ISIS.
Dr. Akbulut Gok of Sacred Heart’s government department, an expert in international affairs, gave some perspective on the vote. She stated that “The assassination of Soleimani will also affect US-Iraq relations and U.S.’s position in Iraq. Although pro-Iran paramilitary groups and Iraqi parliament demand the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, they won’t be able to force the U.S. leave.”
These events come in the midst of rising tensions across the Middle East after Trump’s decision to unilaterally withdraw America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.