Iran Crisis: Latest Updates (1/13/20)


via Axios

During the afternoon hours of New Year’s Eve, a mob of militiamen stormed the outer grounds of the US embassy complex in Baghdad, Iraq. The mob owed allegiance to Kata’ib Hezbollah, the Iraqi branch of an Iranian-backed paramilitary organization of the same name, and struck in retaliation against airstrikes against their organization by the US.

Once the outer perimeter was breached, the protestors vented their anger by burning trailers used by US military personnel and stormed a reception area, tearing down signs, burning a security booth, destroying surveillance cameras, and attempting to scale the wall into the inner compound by cutting the barbed wire on top of it. Garrisoned US soldiers and marines fired teargas to fend off the mob.

While Iraqi security forces do guard the compound, they made little to no attempt to disperse the mob, and videos taken on scene show some officers joining the mob. The protestors reportedly shouted “Death to America!” as they raided the compound.

In response to this, President Trump authorized reinforcements to the compound and the Middle East as a whole, tacking on a further 750 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division to the some 60,000 US military personal present in the Middle East. In a statement on Twitter, Trump pointed the finger at Iran, claiming that they will pay a “very big price”. The Iranian government has denied responsibility. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, responded, taunting “You can’t do anything”.

We are not leading the country to war, but we are not afraid of any war and we tell America to speak correctly with the Iranian nation. We have the power to break them several times over and are not worried.”

— Brigadier General Hossein Salami (in an interview with the Tansim News Agency)

The burnt-out reception area in the outer perimeter of the complex (via The Military Times)

The following day, the protestors vacated the embassy grounds at the instructions of protest leaders and Iraqi officials. While the physical threat to the ambassadors and other employees inside the embassy itself was over, the incident had already highlighted what many perceive as the United States’ weakening influence in the Middle East, and the tension between Iran and the US reaching new heights as embattled Iraqi government struggles to remain in both sides’ good graces. Comparisons were quickly drawn to the infamous Tehran Embassy Siege of 1979 and the Benghazi Attack of 2012, both of which were noted as severely damaging the reputation of the standing President at that time.

Protestors in the embassy compound (via Time)

The day following the evacuation, an American airstrike in Baghdad resulting in the death of one of Iran’s most prominent generals. General Qassem Soleimani was head of the Quds Force, the unconventional warfare and intelligence branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was killed alongside the Popular Mobilization Forces (an umbrella group of paramilitary organizations in the Middle East with varying ideologies) Committee head Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. The strike happened on an access road near Baghdad International Airport that resulted in 7 deaths. Khamenei has vowed revenge against those who carried out the strike.

Qassem Suleimani in October of 2019 (via The Associated Press)

His departure to God does not end his path or his mission, but a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands”

— Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

As a result of this, the US has urged any American citizens in Iraq to evacuate immediately, and many oil companies in the region have already begun bringing them home.

UPDATE – 1/10/20: On January 8th, 2020, Iran launched about a dozen missiles at the Erbil and Al-Asad military bases in Iraq, both of which were housing US troops. The attack was dubbed Operation Martyr Soleimani, and was launched in response to the American killing of the aforementioned major general.

According to US military sources, the attack left no casualties and damaged several buildings and a runway. US sources also claim that early warning systems on-site gave the troops on-base adequate time to seek shelter.

While the attack resulted in no loss of life, US officials, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, maintain that this was not Iran’s intention.

via CNN

President Trump made a statement the following morning, in which he praised those on the bases and the technology which prevented any soldiers from being in harm’s way. He also condemned the attack by Iran and Soleimani himself, claiming that he had the blood of Americans on his hands as the orchestrator of previous attacks against US troops.

In his 9 minute address, he also criticized a portion of the now-defunct 2013 nuclear deal with Iran that gave them $150 billion as well as another $1.8 in cash, which Trump claimed was subsequently used to fund attacks against Americans in the Middle East. According to an Associated Press fact check, there is no evidence of a $150 billion payment being given to Iran by the US Treasury or any other nation’s treasury. The $1.8 billion, however, was intended as a payment to an “old IOU.”

As long as I am President of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.”

— President Donald Trump; Opening Statement at White House Grand Foyer

In this address he also claimed that Iran was “standing down”, highlighting it as a positive for all parties involved. Capping off his speech, President Trump extended an olive branch to Iran, claiming that the US wants to see it prosper, and is willing to embrace peace with any who seek it.

Shortly after his speech, two rockets exploded in Baghdad’s Green Zone, an area of the city housing many of Iraq’s foreign ministries and missions, including the American Embassy complex. Iraqi officials have stated that nobody was injured.

Meanwhile, the House approved a measure to restrict President Trump’s war powers in the Middle East.

On the night of the 8th, Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752 crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport. Nearby residents reported hearing two loud noises before the crash. While Iranian officials maintain there was no foul play involved, US, British, and Canadian officials assert that it was shot down by two Iranian surface to air missiles. When international news crews reached the site of the crash, they found it scrubbed of almost all debris. Iran has stated that it will examine black box recordings to determine the cause of the crash.

Debris left at the crash site. (via Reuters)

UPDATE – 1/13/20: Widespread anti-government protests have been reported across Iran’s cities, fueled by popular anger over the downing of a Ukrainian commercial airliner. While there was no official cause that had been determined as to the cause of the crash the day following the incident, the Iranian government admitted on the 11th to mistakenly shooting down the plane and asked for forgiveness from the international community.

The protests have been met with stiff police retaliation; including tear gas, rubber bullets, and witness reports of live ammunition, according to The Guardian. While the Iranian government has denied claims that they have used live ammunition on protestors, The Associated Press and the Center of Human Rights claim to be in possession of verified footage indicating the opposite. However, the Iranian government has not changed its story in light of these videos surfacing.

Police did not shoot in the gatherings since broad-mindedness and restraint has been the agenda of the police forces of the capital.”

— Gen. Hossein Rahimi, Tehran Police Chief

One protestor told Business Insider: “They were firing tear gas repeatedly, we couldn’t see anywhere and we were screaming. We were getting blinded. Forces were firing tear gas back to back. A young girl beside me was shot in the leg. It was terrible, terrible.”

via The Telegraph (WARNING: Graphic content)

Some protestors in the capital have chanted for the death of the state’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali-Khamenei, and demands for him to leave the country. “They killed our elites and replaced them with clerics” was another popular chant among protestors.

Last year, Iranian citizens protested over a hike in gas prices. Amnesty International described the government’s response as a “bloody clampdown”, shutting down internet and reporting approximately 208 deaths as police reportedly shot to kill. The United Nations also claims to have video evidence of these events.

President Donald Trump responded to the protests on Twitter in a post written in Farsi, making it the most liked Farsi social media post in history.

via The Daily Mail (translated below)