I’ve been following the news out of the Middle East especially closely ever since the U.S. assassinated Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, in a drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3. The assassination has set in motion a chain of events:
Passenger jet shot down
The most tragic consequence was Iran accidentally shooting down a Ukrainian passenger jet on Jan. 8, killing 176 on board. Most of the passengers were Iranian and Canadian citizens. The plane was shot down just a few hours after Iran had launched missiles at the Ain Al-Asad air base in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Soleimani. According to the BBC, a missile operator in Iran mistook the plane for a U.S. cruise missile, and launched a missile to shoot it down. For three days, the Iranian government denied the plane crashed as the result of a missile strike, but later admitted that one of its own missiles was responsible. Iran’s foreign minister blamed the U.S. for precipitating the crisis that led to the tragic loss of life.
Iraqi parliament votes to expel U.S. troops
Just two days after Soleimani’s assassination, the Iraqi parliament passed a resolution to expel American and all other foreign troops from the country. According to the Wall Street Journal, Iraq had invited the U.S. forces into the country in 2014 after the Islamic State had overtaken about a third of the country. Now the parliament is rescinding that invitation. However, the U.S. is not planning to abide by the parliament’s request. U.S. President Donald Trump threatened Iraq with sanctions “like they’ve never seen before” if the government follows through with its resolution. The U.S. has also threatened to block Iraq’s access to the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, where all of Iraq’s oil sales go.
Iran announces withdrawal from nuclear deal
A few days after the assassination, Iran announced it would withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal signed by Iran, the United States and other world powers to limit Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium in exchange for lifting sanctions. In 2018, Trump announced the U.S. was withdrawing from the agreement, and now in the aftermath of the Soleimani’s assassination, the agreement has completely collapsed.
Evidence for “imminent” threat?
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo justified the assassination of Soleimani on the grounds that the general was plotting an “imminent attack” on U.S. forces. However, Pompeo has offered no evidence of that and has not clarified what time frame he meant by “imminent” in the news conferences since then. When Trump officials briefed Senators about the intelligence, Utah Republican Mike Lee said it was the worst military briefing he’d been a part of in his nine years in the Senate. Lee told reporters that administration officials had instructed Senators not to debate in public legislation limiting Trump’s authority to strike Iran. On Jan. 10, the U.S. House of Representatives did exactly that, passing a measure on a 224-194 vote to restrict Trump’s authority to strike Iran without congressional approval.