2020 Baghdad International Airport airstrike

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2020 Baghdad International Airport airstrike
Part of the Persian Gulf crisis
File:2020 Baghdad Airport airstrike aftermath.jpg
Wreckage from the U.S. strike near Baghdad International Airport, 3 January 2020

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Type Drone strike[1]
Location near Baghdad International Airport, Baghdad Governorate, Iraq
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Target Qasem Soleimani[2]
Date 3 January 2020 (2020-01-03)
about 1:00 a.m.[3] (local time, UTC+3)
Executed by United States
Outcome See Aftermath
Casualties 10 killed

On 3 January 2020, amid rising tensions between the United States and Iran, the U.S. carried out a drone strike on a convoy traveling near Baghdad International Airport, killing Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), commander of the Quds Force, and listed as a terrorist by the European Union. Nine other passengers were also killed, including the deputy chairman of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was listed as a terrorist in Japan, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

The strike occurred during the 2019–20 Persian Gulf crisis, which began after the U.S. withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran in 2018, reimposed sanctions, and accused Iranian elements of fomenting a campaign to harass U.S. forces in the region. On 27 December 2019, the K-1 Air Base in Iraq, which hosts Iraqi and U.S. personnel, was attacked, killing an American contractor. The U.S. responded by launching airstrikes across Iraq and Syria, killing 25 Iran-backed Kata'ib Hezbollah militiamen. Days later, Shia militiamen and their supporters retaliated by attacking the U.S. embassy in the Green Zone.

The United States asserted that the strike was approved by U.S. President Donald Trump to disrupt an "imminent attack" and the United States Department of Defense issued a statement that it was decisive "defensive action" for prevention of further attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, while Iran maintains that it was an act of "state terrorism". Iraq said the attack undermined its national sovereignty, was a breach of its agreement with the U.S. and an act of aggression against its officials. On 5 January 2020, the Iraqi parliament passed a resolution to expel all foreign troops from its territory.

The legality of the attack was subsequently brought into question in respect to international law, as well as the domestic laws of the United States and its bilateral security agreements with Iraq.

Soleimani's killing sharply escalated tension between the U.S. and Iran and stoked fears of a military conflict. Iranian leaders vowed revenge, while U.S. officials said that they would preemptively attack any Iran-backed paramilitary groups in Iraq that they perceived as a threat as well as cultural sites. On 5 January 2020, Iran took the fifth and last step of reducing commitments to the 2015 international nuclear deal. Many in the international community reacted with concern and issued statements or declarations urging restraint and diplomacy.

Background

The United States intervened in Iraq in 2014 as a part of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the United States-led mission to degrade and combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terror organization, and have been training and operating alongside Iraqi forces as a part of the anti-ISIL coalition. ISIL was largely beaten back from Iraq in 2017 during the Iraqi Civil War, with the help of primarily Iran-backed Shia militias—Popular Mobilization Forces, reporting to the Iraqi prime minister since 2016—and the U.S.-backed Iraqi Armed Forces.[4]

Concerning the provisional nuclear deal with Iran, some critics of the treaty condemned that Iran could make a nuclear bomb after expiry of the limited-term nuclear deal.[5] U.S. President Trump also criticized the 15-year nuclear deal with Iran by the previous U.S. administration's paying $1.7 billion cash to Tehran.[6][7][8] Tensions rose between Iran and the United States in 2018 after Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions against Iran,[9] which severely affected Iran's economy,[10] as a part of the U.S. administration's strategy of applying "maximum pressure" against Iran for the purpose of establishment of the new Iran–U.S. nuclear deal.[11][12][13]

The Quds force which Solemaini led has been designated a terrorist organization by Canada,[14] Saudi Arabia, Bahrain,[15] and the United States.[16][17] Solemaini himself was listed as a terrorist by the European Union[18] and was on U.S. terror watchlists.[19]

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was designated a terrorist by the United States in 2009.[20] The 25,000-strong militia he commanded,[21] Kata'ib Hezbollah, is considered a terrorist organization by Japan,[22] the United Arab Emirates,[23] and the United States.[24]

Evaluation of the Pentagon

The Pentagon evaluated Soleimani was the leader of Tehran's attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq, including the 2019 K-1 Air Base attack and killing of a U.S. civilian, and the shooting down of a U.S. aerial vehicle. Regarding the decision to kill Soleimani, the U.S. focused on both his past actions and a deterrent to his future action as the Pentagon announced that "he was actively developing plans to attack U.S. diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region."[25][26][27]

Prior threats against Qasem Soleimani

Former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both considered and rejected targeting Qasem Soleimani, fearing that it would escalate to a full-scale war. Retired CIA officer Marc Polymeropoulos told The New York Times that Soleimani, unlike other adversaries killed by the United States, felt comfortable operating in the open and was not hard to find. He often took photographs of himself and openly taunted U.S. forces.[28]

In September 2015, radio host Hugh Hewitt asked Donald Trump about Soleimani. After initially confusing him with a Kurdish leader, Trump argued that leaders like Soleimani would be dead under his administration.[29]

It was reported in 2015 that Israel was "on the verge" of assassinating Soleimani on Syrian soil; however, the United States, during the Obama administration's negotiations for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, thwarted the operation by revealing it to the Iranian officials.[30]

On 25 August 2019, Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz stated that "Israel is acting to strike the head of the Iranian snake and uproot its teeth ... Iran is the head of the snake and Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, is the snake's teeth."[31] In October 2019, Hossein Taeb, chief of the Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, told press that his agency had arrested an unspecified number of people, allegedly foiling a plot by Israeli and Arab agencies to assassinate Soleimani. He said they had planned to "buy a property adjacent to the grave of Soleimani's father and rig it with explosives to kill the commander".[32] He added the way of the assassination would have appeared as part of an internal Iranian power struggle to "trigger a religious war inside Iran".[33] In response, Yossi Cohen, chief of Israeli foreign intelligence agency Mossad, said in October 2019 that "Soleimani knows that his assassination is not impossible."[34]

Assassination in military doctrine and foreign policy

There is a history of assassination of high-level government and military figures being conducted, or at least being considered, including in the Middle East.[35] There has been an at least partial norm against such killings, but that norm has been weakening over time, especially since World War II.[36]

The costs and benefits of such actions are difficult to compute, especially when they depend upon the policies or capabilities of a successor, and perceptual biases held by government officials often negatively affect decision making in this area, such that decisions made to go forward with assassinations often reflect the vague hope that any successor will be less effective or will embody more favorable policies.[35]

Prelude

In October 2019, Major General Qasem Soleimani met with members of the Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq to discuss plans for future attacks against American targets, senior members of the militia group told Reuters. Such attacks would occur in the backdrop of protests in Iraq against growing Iranian influence in that country that Soleimani and his allies hoped would trigger U.S. retaliatory actions that would redirect public anger at the United States. He picked the Kataib Hezbollah because he believed the Americans would have difficulty detecting this group, which possessed drones capable of spotting targets for rocket launchers. Militia commanders told Reuters Soleimani ordered the delivery of this aircraft to his allies in the fall of 2019.[37]

On 27 December 2019, the K-1 Air Base in Kirkuk province, Iraq—one of many Iraqi military bases that host Operation Inherent Resolve coalition personnel—was attacked by more than 30 rockets, killing a United States civilian contractor and injuring four United States service members and two Iraqi security forces personnel. The United States blamed the Iranian-backed Kata'ib Hezbollah militia for the attack.[38] Furthermore, a senior United States official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said there had been a campaign of 11 attacks on Iraqi bases hosting OIR personnel in the two months before the 27 December incident, many of which the United States also attributed to Kata'ib Hezbollah.[39][40] On 29 December 2019, retaliatory U.S. airstrikes targeted five Kata'ib Hezbollah weapon storage facilities and command and control locations in Iraq and Syria.[41][42] 25 militia members died[43] and 55 were wounded.[37]

On 31 December 2019, after a funeral was held for the Kata'ib Hezbollah militiamen, dozens of Iraqi Shia militiamen and their supporters marched into the Green Zone and surrounded the United States embassy compound.[44] Dozens of the demonstrators then smashed through a main door of the checkpoint, set fire to the reception area, raised Popular Mobilization Units militia flags, left anti-American posters, and sprayed anti-American graffiti.[45][46][47] U.S. president Donald Trump accused Iran of orchestrating the attack on the embassy and added that they would be held "fully responsible".[48] Iran's foreign ministry denied they were behind the protests.[49][50][51]

Trump briefing

According to an unnamed senior U.S. official, after the bombing of Kata'ib Hezbollah in late December 2019, a security briefing was convened at President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate where Trump and his advisors, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff General Mark Milley discussed how to respond to Iran's alleged role in sponsoring anti-U.S. attacks in Iraq. Reportedly, the targeted killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, whom U.S. officials regarded as a facilitator of attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq, was listed as one of many options on a briefing slide for Trump to respond with.[52] Trump chose the option to target Soleimani. The president's order prompted the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies that have tracked Soleimani's whereabouts for years to locate him on a flight from Damascus to Baghdad, reportedly to hold meetings with Iraqi militiamen. The air strike would have been called off if Soleimani had been on his way to meet with Iraqi government officials aligned with the U.S.[2]

According to the Washington Post, Trump was likely motivated in choosing to kill Soleimani by a desire to appear decisive amid the ongoing Persian Gulf crisis, since his decision to call off an airstrike against Iran in summer 2019 after the downing of a U.S. drone had led to what he perceived as negative media coverage. Lawmakers and aides who had spoken to him told the Post that the president also had the 2012 Benghazi attack in Libya on his mind.[53] Pompeo had discussed killing Soleimani with Trump months before the strike, but did not garner support from the president or the defense team then in place.[54]

According to The New York Times, Trump initially rejected the option to target Soleimani on 28 December 2019, but made the decision after being angered by television news reports of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad under attack by Iranian-backed protesters, which occurred on 31 December. By late 2 January 2020, Trump had finalized his decision, selecting the most extreme option his advisors had provided him. Top Pentagon officials were reportedly "stunned" by his decision. The Times report cited unnamed U.S. officials as saying that the intelligence regarding Soleimani's alleged plot against the U.S. was "thin" and that the Ayatollah had not approved any operation for Soleimani to carry out. However, General Milley said the intelligence was "clear and unambiguous" with a time frame of "days, weeks". Vice President Pence wrote that Soleimani was plotting "imminent" attacks on U.S. persons.[55] U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence were reportedly the most hawkish voices arguing to retaliate against Iran.[2]

Trump did not advise the top congressional leaders of the Gang of Eight in advance of the strike. Senator Lindsey Graham indicated Trump had discussed the matter with him in advance of the strike, as he was visiting the president at his Mar-a-Lago estate.[56][57]

Robert O'Brien, the U.S. National Security Advisor, said that Solemaini “was plotting to kill, to attack American facilities, and diplomats, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines were located at those facilities.”[58]

Soleimani's trip to Iraq

Adil Abdul-Mahdi, Prime Minister of Iraq, said that he was scheduled to meet Soleimani on the day the attack happened, with the purpose of Soleimani's trip being that Soleimani was delivering Iran's response to a previous message from Saudi Arabia which Iraq had relayed.[59] Abdul-Mahdi also stated that before the drone strike, Trump had called him to request that Abdul-Mahdi mediate the conflict between the U.S. and Iran.[60][61]

Attack

In the early morning hours of 3 January 2020, Soleimani's plane arrived at Baghdad International Airport as an MQ-9 Reaper drone[62] of the U.S. Air Force and other military aircraft loitered in the area. Soleimani and other pro-Iranian paramilitary figures, including Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a U.S.government-designated terrorist,[24] entered two vehicles and departed the airport towards downtown Baghdad. Around 1:00 a.m. local time, the MQ-9 Reaper drone launched several missiles, striking the convoy on Baghdad Airport Road, engulfing the two cars in flames and killing 10 people.[63][64][65][66][67]

As news of the event broke, the United States Department of Defense issued a statement which said that the strike was carried out "at the direction of the president" and was meant to deter future attacks. Trump asserted that Soleimani had been planning further attacks on American diplomats and military personnel and had approved the attack on the American embassy in Baghdad.[68][69][70]

Casualties

Soleimani's body was identified using a ring that he wore.[71] As DNA results were still pending regarding the identification of those killed, a senior Pentagon official stated that there was "high probability" that Soleimani would be identified.[72][73] Ahmed Al Asadi, a spokesman for the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), confirmed the deaths of Soleimani and Muhandis.[66] According to Ayatollah Ali Sistani's office, the casualties included several commanders who defeated Islamic State terrorists.[74]

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) stated that a total of ten people were killed. Along with Soleimani, four other IRGC officers were also killed: Brigadier General Hossein Pourjafari, Colonel Shahroud Mozafarinia, Major Hadi Taremi and Captain Vahid Zamanian.[75] The remaining five casualties were Iraqi members of the PMF: deputy chairman Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, chief of protocol and public relations Muhammed Reza al-Jaberi,[76] Mohammad al-Shibani, Hassan Abdul Hadi and Heydar Ali.[77]

The New York Times compared the attack to Operation Vengeance in World War II, when American pilots shot down the plane carrying Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, which the paper said was "the last time the United States killed a major military leader in a foreign country".[2]

Aftermath

File:American Paratroopers deploy to Middle East, January 2020.jpg
U.S. paratroopers assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division deploy to the Middle East following the Baghdad airstrike, 4 January 2020

Soleimani and al-Muhandis' deaths raised tensions between the United States and Iran. A spokesman for the Iranian government said the country's top security body would hold an extraordinary meeting shortly to discuss the "criminal act of attack".[78] According to France 24, the targeted killing of Qasem Soleimani "has caused alarm around the world, amid fears that Iranian retaliation against American interests in the region could spiral into a far larger conflict".[79] Reuters reported that some Iranians including Soleimani supporters fear that a war could break out at a time of economic hardship and widespread corruption. Some older Iranians recalled memories of the Iran–Iraq War.[80]

Shortly after the attack, several planes with U.S. service members took off from bases in the eastern United States.[81] The following day, the United States Department of Defense announced the deployment of 3,500 members of the 82nd Airborne Division to the region, one of the largest rapid deployments in decades.[82] Defense officials stated that the deployment was not directly related to the airstrike which killed Soleimani, but was instead a "precautionary action in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities".[83] On 4 January, the United States Department of Homeland Security said there was "no specific, credible" threat to the U.S. mainland but warned about Iranian capabilities.[84]

The U.S. embassy in Baghdad urged Americans to leave Iraq immediately "via airline while possible, and failing that, to other countries via land".[85] The next day, Britain warned its nationals to avoid all travel to Iraq outside the Kurdistan region, and to avoid all but essential travel to Iran.[86] Australia issued a similar warning advising its nationals to "leave Iraq as soon as possible".[87] On 5 January, Britain announced that its navy will accompany UK-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz.[88]

Global oil prices rose moderately in reaction to Soleimani's death to heights not seen for a whole three months,[89] before falling back[90][91] Arms company stocks (Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon) also rose in the wake of the event.[92] On 6 January, Chevron evacuated all its American oil workers from Iraqi Kurdistan as a "precautionary measure".[93]

Further tensions

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei warned that "retaliation is waiting".[94] Reportedly, in the wake of the strike, U.S. spy agencies detected that Iran's ballistic missile regiments were at a heightened readiness but it was unclear if they were defensive, cautionary measures or an indication of a future attack on U.S. forces.[95] Trump warned Tehran that any retaliation would result in the U.S. targeting 52 Iranian significant sites, including cultural sites.[96] The 52 sites were reported to represent the 52 American hostages held during the Iran hostage crisis.[97][98] Hossein Dehghan, the main military adviser of Iran, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif asserted that attacks on Iranian cultural sites would be grave breaches of international law. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo avoided a direct answer when asked about cultural targets, saying that Washington will do the things that are right and the things that are consistent with U.S. law.[99] U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper later asserted that cultural sites would not be targeted because "That's the laws of armed conflict."[100]

On 5 January 2020, Iran announced that it would suspend all its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal[101] except that it would continue to cooperate with the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. The statement added, "If the sanctions are lifted ... the Islamic Republic is ready to return to its obligations."[102][103]

Alleged Taji road airstrike

The day after the Baghdad airport attack, Iraqi state news reported that there had been another airstrike against a convoy of medical units of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces near Camp Taji in Taji, north of Baghdad. An Iraqi Army source told Reuters that the attack killed six people and critically wounded three.[104] The PMF later said there was no senior commander in the convoy, and the Imam Ali Brigades denied reports of the death of its leader.[105] The PMF also denied that any medical convoy was targeted at Taji.[106] There was no information about who conducted the attack. Spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve Colonel Myles B. Caggins III said the coalition did not do it, while Iraq's Joint Operations Command denied reports of any such attack occurring, and that it was simply a false rumor that spread quickly due to the prior airport strike.[107]

Funerals

On 4 January, the funeral procession for Soleimani, al-Muhandis, and the Iraqi and Iranian militants was held in Baghdad and attended by thousands of mourners, including Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi,[108] who chanted "death to America, death to Israel" along with others in the crowd. The cortege began around Al-Kadhimiya Mosque, a Shiite holy site in Baghdad, before heading to the Green Zone government and diplomatic compound where a state funeral was held. From Baghdad, the procession moved to the Shia holy city of Karbala and on to Najaf, where al-Muhandis and the other Iraqis were buried, while the coffins of Soleimani and the Iranian nationals were sent to Iran.[109][110] Following the mourning procession in Baghdad,[111] unknown people fired short-range rockets towards the U.S. embassy and at the U.S. Balad Air Base.[112] The U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East, said no Americans were harmed by the sporadic rocket attacks on 4 January.[113]

The remains of Soleimani and the Iranian figures killed in the strike arrived in Iran on 5 January, where they became part of mourning processions in several cities, first in Ahvaz[114] and later in Mashhad, where one million people attended the mourning. It was initially reported that Iran canceled the mourning procession planned in Tehran because the city would not be able to handle the number of attendees expected after the turnout in Mashhad;[115][116] however, the Tehran service was held, at which Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly wept while leading prayers for the funeral. Iranian state media said the crowd of mourners numbered in the "millions", reportedly the biggest since the 1989 funeral of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.[117][118] Iranian authorities plan to take Soleimani's body to Qom on 6 January for public mourning processions,[119] then onto his hometown of Kerman for final burial on 7 January.[120][121] Before the national procession was completed, multiple infrastructure works, such as the international airport at Ahvaz and an expressway in Tehran, had already been renamed after him.[122][123] The funeral was boycotted by critics of the current government by using the hashtag #IraniansDetestSoleimani for the IRGC's war crimes.[124][125]

On 7 January 2020, at least 35 people were killed in a stampede during Soleimani's burial at Kerman. As a result the burial was postponed to a later time.[126]

US troops in Iraq

Al-Manar reported that "in an extraordinary session on Sunday, 170 Iraqi lawmakers signed a draft law requiring the government to request the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Only 150 votes are needed that the draft resolution be approved."[127] There are 329 lawmakers in total. Rudaw Media Network (Kurdish) described the 170 Iraqi lawmakers that signed the law as Shiite[128] and that "Iraqi parliament's resolution to expel foreign troops has no legal consequences."[129] Al Jazeera reported the resolution read "The government commits to revoke its request for assistance from the international coalition fighting Islamic State due to the end of military operations in Iraq and the achievement of victory" and "The Iraqi government must work to end the presence of any foreign troops on Iraqi soil and prohibit them from using its land, airspace or water for any reason."[130] The resolution was approved in the Iraqi parliament.[131] In response to the vote, Trump threatened Iraq with sanctions that would "make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame" and demanded reimbursement for American investments on military facilities in Iraq.[132]

On 6 January 2020, the Pentagon released a letter from Marine Brigadier General William Seely to Abdul Amir, the Iraqi deputy director of Combined Joint Operations Baghdad, informing him that "as requested by the Iraqi Parliament and the Prime Minister, CJTF–OIR will be repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement."[133] Shortly afterward, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said, "That letter is a draft. It was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released ... [it was] poorly worded, implies withdrawal, that is not what's happening."[134]

Iranian missile strikes on US bases

On January 7, 2020, Iranian forces launched more than one dozen ballistic missiles at the Al Asad Airbase and the town of Erbil, where American personnel were located.[135][136] The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps declared that the strikes were part of their retaliation for the killing of Soleimani. [137]

Legality

The airstrike's legal justification became a subject of debate.[138][139][140][141]

An alleged violation of International law

The Charter of the United Nations generally prohibits the use of force against other states, if a country does not consent to it on its territory.[142] The Government of Iraq did not grant a permission to the United States to target a military commander from another country on its soil.[141][142] Some legal experts believe that a lack of consent from Iraq makes it difficult for the United States to justify the attack.[142]

Mary Ellen O'Connell argued that the "premeditated killing" of Soleimani was against the Hague (1907) and Geneva (1949) conventions; thus unlawful;[143] Robert M. Chesney maintained that the attack could be justifiable if it was "self-defense", while Oona A. Hathaway stated that the available facts did not support that it was so.[142]

Agnès Callamard, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, maintained that the airstrike "most likely violate[d] international law incl[uding] human rights law", adding that killing of other individuals alongside Soleimani was "absolutely unlawful".[138][144]

Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia, said that the American action "grossly violates international law and should be condemned" and added that the U.S. should "stop using unlawful methods of force".[145] Wang Yi, the foreign minister of China, also took a similar position.[146] A spokesman for Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, said, "States have a right to take action such as this in self-defence."[147]

In terms of agreement with Iraq

PMF is legally incorporated into the Iraqi security forces by a series of laws enacted by the parliament and Prime Ministerial orders, therefore the United States killed a senior Iraqi official and other military personnel of Iraq.[148][149]

A mutual agreement signed in 2008 prohibits the United States from launching attacks on other countries from Iraqi territory.[142] Some legal experts believe that a lack of consent from Iraq makes it difficult for the United States to justify the attack.[142]

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi stated that the attack was a "breach of the conditions for the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq".[150] He also said "The assassination of an Iraqi military commander who holds an official position is considered aggression on Iraq ... and the liquidation of leading Iraqi figures or those from a brotherly country on Iraqi soil is a massive breach of sovereignty."[139] He and parliamentary speaker Mohamed al-Halbousi released separate written statements, both calling the attack a breach of Iraq's sovereignty.[151][152]

Domestic laws of the United States

The fact that the airstrike was orchestrated without the permission of Congress raised a number of legal questions.[141] The case was compared by AP reporter John Daniszewski to the drone killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki during the Obama administration.[153][154][155][156] Some analysts maintained that Trump had the authority to order the strike under Article Two of the United States Constitution, while the ambiguity of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) law may help Trump justify it.[138]

Executive Order 11905, signed in 1976 to prevent assassination attempts on Fidel Castro, states that "no person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination." The definition of assassination under the law—or whether it could be applied to this case—is not clear.[42]

Morality

Following the strike, members of Catholic communities in the United States raised concerns about its morality.[157][158] Sojourners Community leader Jim Wallis called the attack "not justifiable" and "immoral".[159]

Peter Singer, moral philosopher and professor of bioethics at Princeton University, concludes that if the attack counts an act of war, then Trump did not have the autority to order it, otherwise, "as an extrajudicial assassination that was not necessary to prevent an imminent attack, it was both illegal and unethical".[160]

Jan Goldman of The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, a leading expert on the role of ethics in intelligence operations, argues that the attack meets the criteria for "assassination", adding that "killing anyone on foreign soil that is not a battlefield could be considered unethical".[161]

Reactions

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei vowed to take "harsh revenge" against the U.S.,[162][163][164] and declared three days of mourning.[165] President Hassan Rouhani also said that Iran "will take revenge".[166] Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the attack "an extremely dangerous and foolish escalation".[167] Iran sent a letter to the United Nations, calling it "[s]tate terrorism" and said it violated principles of international law.[168] On 7 January, Iran's parliament approved a €200 million ($223 million) increase in the Quds Force's budget, to be used in two months.[169]

In Iraq, outgoing Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi condemned the attack, calling it an assassination and stating that the strike was an act of aggression and a breach of Iraqi sovereignty which would lead to war in Iraq. He said the strike violated the agreement on the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq and that safeguards for Iraq's security and sovereignty should be met with legislation.[170] The speaker of Iraq's parliament Mohammed al Halbousi vowed to "put an end to U.S. presence" in Iraq.[171] The Iraqi parliament voted to ask U.S. to withdraw their forces from Iraq. Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Sadrist Movement and the Saraya al-Salam militia, ordered his followers to "prepare to defend Iraq".[172][173]

File:President Trump Delivers a Statement on Iran January 3 2020.webm
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers prepared remarks on the airstrikes, Mar-a-Lago, 3 January 2020.

United States President Trump held a public statement saying he had authorized the strike because Soleimani was plotting "imminent and sinister attacks" on Americans. He added, "We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war."[174] He also said that he did not seek a regime change in Iran.[175] On 4 January, Trump tweeted that 52 Iranian targets (representing the 52 American hostages in the 1979-81 Iran hostage crisis) had been selected if Iran "strikes any Americans, or American assets".[176][177] Among those targets was Iranian "cultural sites",[178] and Trump subsequently insisted he would not hesitate to destroy such targets even after some said it could be considered a war crime.[179] On the day of the strike, U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo asserted the attack was ordered by Trump to disrupt an "imminent attack" by Soleimani operatives, although subsequent reports on that rationale were mixed.[180][181][113][182]

American politicians reacted along party lines. Republicans generally supported the mission, while Democrats blamed Soleimani "for the deaths of hundreds of American servicemen during the Iraq war" but questioned the wisdom and timing of the attack.[183] Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell celebrated the attack, referring to Soleimani as "Iran's master terrorist".[184] House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to the attacks as "provocative and disproportionate", and introduced a "war powers resolution" requiring Trump's administration to end hostilities with Iran not approved by Congress within 30 days.[185] All the Democratic candidates for the 2020 U.S. presidential election, political challengers to Trump, largely condemned the airstrike.[186] New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio put the police department on high alert, including the potential of bag checks at subway stations and vehicle checks at tunnels and bridges.[187] The question of characterizing the attack as "murder", "assassination", "act of war", or something else is controversial.[188][189] It was described as a wag the dog incident,[190] parallel to the bombing of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan by president Bill Clinton during his own impeachment process,[191] In 2011 and 2012, Trump asserted that President Obama would start a war with Iran to improve his reelection chances.[192][193]

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres expressed concern over the escalation and called for leaders to "exercise maximum restraint".[194] NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that "all members of the Atlantic alliance stood behind the United States in the Middle East" and that "Iran must refrain from further violence and provocations.", following a meeting on 6 January.[195]

See also

References

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