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". Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei warned that "retaliation is waiting". On 4 January, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said there was "no specific, credible" threat to the U.S. mainland but warned about Iranian capabilities. Trump warned Tehran that any retaliation would result in the U.S. targeting 52 Iranian significant sites, including cultural sites. The 52 sites were reported to represent the 52 American hostages held during the Iran hostage crisis. 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. U.S. secretary of defense Mark Esper later asserted that cultural sites would not be targeted because "That's the laws of armed conflict."
In 2014, the U.S. intervened in Iraq as a part of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), an American-led mission to fight 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. In 2017, ISIL forces in Iraq were largely defeated amidst a civil war, with the help of primarily Iran-backed Shia militias—the Popular Mobilization Forces, reporting to the Iraqi prime minister since 2016—and the U.S.-backed Iraqi Armed Forces.More Info
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 on 31 December. By late 2 January, Trump had finalized his decision of the most extreme option his advisors had provided him, which reportedly "stunned" top Pentagon officials. The Times report cited unnamed U.S. officials as saying 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". U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence were reportedly the most hawkish voices arguing to retaliate against Iran. Vice President Pence later wrote that Soleimani was plotting "imminent" attacks on U.S. persons. U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien insisted that Soleimani "was plotting to kill, to attack American facilities, and diplomats, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines were located at those facilities".More Info
Soleimani's killing sharply escalated tensions between the U.S. and Iran and stoked fears of a military conflict. Iranian leaders vowed revenge, while U.S. officials said they would preemptively attack any Iran-backed paramilitary groups in Iraq that they perceived as a threat. Many in the international community reacted with concern and issued statements or declarations urging restraint and diplomacy. Five days after the airstrike, Iran launched a series of missile attacks on U.S. forces based in Iraq, the first direct engagement between Iran and the U.S. since the naval battle precipitating the Vincennes incident on 3 July 1988. Following the shootdown of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 amidst the escalation, leaders from both countries seemed reluctant to further escalate the crisis.More Info
On 3 January 2020, at 12:32 a.m. local time, General Soleimani's Airbus A320 Cham Wings plane arrived at Baghdad International Airport from Damascus International Airport after being delayed for two hours for unknown reasons. An MQ-9 Reaper drone of the U.S. Air Force and other military aircraft loitered above the area as Soleimani and other pro-Iranian paramilitary figures, including Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a U.S.-designated terrorist, entered two vehicles and departed the airport towards downtown Baghdad. At 12:47 a.m., the Reaper drone launched several missiles, striking the convoy on an access road as it departed the airport, engulfing the two cars in flames and killing 10 people.More Info
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. On 9 January, Trump said "We did it because they were looking to blow up our embassy. We also did it for other reasons that were very obvious. Somebody died, one of our military people died. People were badly wounded just a week before." On 10 January, Trump claimed that Soleimani had been planning attacks on four U.S. embassies in the Middle East. Afterwards several members of Congress, including Mike Lee and Chris Murphy, claimed that the Trump administration had not informed them of this in the intelligence briefing on the strike. Three days after Trump's remarks, Defense Secretary Mark Esper clarified that, although "there was evidence" of a plot against the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, the president "didn't cite intelligence" about the other three embassies he mentioned, and that the president instead shared his belief that there "probably could have been" a plot against those embassies.More Info
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