Happy 2020! Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. Iranian General Qassem Soleimani Killed In US Airstrike In Iraq
The US killed General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force in a drone strike in Iraq early on January 3. “At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad,” the Defense Department said in a statement announcing the death of General Qassem Soleimani, a commander of Iran’s military forces in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere throughout the Middle East. The deadly airstrike will likely raise tensions between the US and Iran, which were already heightened by the New Year’s attacks on the US Embassy compound in Baghdad. Another man, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, said to be the deputy of the militias known as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and a close adviser to Soleimani, was also killed in the airstrike near Baghdad’s airport, according to Iraqi television reports. The PMU tweeted that al-Muhandis and Soleimani were killed when their vehicle was hit on the road to the airport.
Generally considered by many to be one of the most brilliant military tacticians in recent history, Qasem Soleimani was born in 1957 in Iran’s southeastern province of Kerman. He was raised in a poor farmer’s family and worked as a construction worker. Soleimani continued his education until high school and then worked in Kerman city municipality until the Iranian Revolution broke out in 1978. After the successful conclusion of the Iranian Revolution in February of 1979, Soleimani joined the Revolutionary Guards in the Summer of 1979 shortly after its founding by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Soleimani then joined the Iranian forces in its war against Iraq between 1979 and 1988, where he was an officer for an Iranian military service company. After the Iranian victory over Iraq in 1988, Soleimani was appointed as the commander of the Quds Force. In this role, Soleimani was tasked to protect the Iranian revolution against any coup attempt in addition to training several anti-imperialist socio-political groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis and working to combat extremist militant groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Due to his fearless defense of Iranian sovereignty, as well as advocacy for oppressed groups throughout the Middle East, Soleimani developed a reputation as an anti-imperialist hero and as a staunch nationalist.
The US strike comes amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran over rocket attacks in Iraq that US officials had blamed on Iranian-backed forces, as well as the attempted breach of the embassy compound in Iraq. The conflict at the embassy occurred after US fighter jets struck weapons depots in Iraq and Syria that the US said were linked with a group called Kataeb Hezbollah, which it blames for attacks on bases of the US-led coalition fighting ISIS in recent months. At least 25 militia fighters were killed in the airstrikes. The strikes followed the death of an American contractor who was killed on December 27 in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base in Kirkuk that also hosted coalition forces. Several American service members were also injured. The Defense Department said in announcing the strike that Soleimani had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over several months, including the December 27 attack that killed the contractor. He “also approved the attacks on the US Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week,” the Defense Department said in the statement.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called the US action “an extremely dangerous and foolish escalation.” “The U.S. bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism,” Zarif wrote on Twitter. The former head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Mohsen Rezaee, vowed “strong revenge against the United States” on Twitter. General Hossein Dehghan, a top military adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, further stated that his country planned to retaliate against the US military targets for the killing of Qasem Soleimani. “The response for sure will be military and against military sites,” he said. “It was America that has started the war. Therefore, they should accept appropriate reactions to their actions,” Dehghan argued.
President Donald Trump warned Iran in a Twitter thread not to retaliate for the US strike, threatening that his administration had a list of 52 cultural sites in Iran that would be targeted if there was any military response. “The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment,” President Trump said in a follow-up tweet. “We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World! If Iran attacks an American Base or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way…and without hesitation!” Many critics have raised alarm with President Trump’s threat to strike Iranian cultural sites in retaliation against a potential Iranian strike against American forces in the Middle East, noting that such a decision would be considered a war crime under international law and would do little to defuse the long-standing tensions between the US and Iran.
2. In Response To The Killing Of Qassem Soleimani, Iran Announces That It Will Withdraw From JCPOA
Iran has announced that it will withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, following the US targeted strike that killed the country’s Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani in Iraq. “From now on Iran will no longer commit to any limits on the level of uranium enrichment, stockpile of nuclear fuel and also nuclear research and development,” Iran’s local English daily The Tehran Times reported, citing a government announcement. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif later tweeted about his country’s decision to end its commitments under the deal, arguing that other signatories were to blame. “As 5th & final REMEDIAL step under paragraph 36 of JCPOA, there will no longer be any restriction on number of centrifuges,” Zarif wrote. “This step is within JCPOA & all 5 steps are reversible upon EFFECTIVE implementation of reciprocal obligations,” he added.
Although President Donald Trump walked away from the landmark nuclear treaty in May 2018, Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Russia, and China attempted to keep the international agreement alive. The deal offered Iran sanctions relief and investment in exchange for curbing its nuclear program. Consistent reports from the United Nations’ atomic watchdog had found that Iran remained in compliance with the JCPOA’s terms, but Trump had long been critical of the agreement, arguing that it emboldened Iran to act against American interests throughout the region. Iran remained committed to the pact until May 2019, despite the reimplementation of American sanctions, as it negotiated with international leaders to preserve the agreement. However, it began taking steps to disregard some of the deal’s terms last year, one year after the US withdrawal.
3. Iran Launches Missile Strikes Against US Military Bases In Iraq In Response To Qasem Soleimani’s Killing
On January 7, Iran struck back at the US for killing its most powerful military commander, firing a barrage of ballistic missiles at two Iraqi military bases that house American troops in what the Iranian supreme leader said was a “slap” against the US military presence in the region. Even though the Iranian airstrike resulted in the deaths of approximately 80 American service members and widespread damage to the US military base, President Donald Trump claimed that the Iranian military stood down immediately following the attack. In response to the attack, President Trump announced that the US imposes new “punishing economic sanctions” on Iran to force it to stop its nuclear program and what he called its “hostilities” in the region. But he also said that the US was open to a deal with Iran.
“Last night they received a slap,” Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said of the Americans in a speech after the missile strikes. He made clear that Iran’s actions were in response to the US killing of Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani, whose death last week in a drone strike in Iraq prompted angry calls for vengeance and drew a crowd of at least 1 million Iranians to the streets in mourning. Khamenei himself wept at the funeral in a sign of his bond with the commander. “These military actions are not sufficient (for revenge). What is important is that the corrupt presence of America in this region comes to an end.” Satellite imagery showed at least five impact sites on the Ain al-Asad base in Iraq’s western Anbar province, each leaving charred blast marks that damaged or destroyed buildings.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif posted on Twitter that Iran had taken and “concluded proportionate measures in self-defense,” adding that Iran did “not seek escalation” but would defend itself against further aggression. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said he received notification from Iran just after midnight that its retaliation “was starting or would start soon” and would focus only on US positions. The militaries of Finland and Lithuania, which had personnel at one of the targeted bases, said they received information about an imminent attack and had time to move to shelters or leave the base. Iran’s attacks “appeared designed for maximum domestic effect with minimum escalation risk,” said Henry Rome, an analyst with Eurasia Group. “For a president who wants to avoid a war in the Middle East during an election year, the Iranians have provided an off-ramp he will likely take,” Rome said.
4. Senate Establishes Rules For Trump Impeachment Trial
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says he has the votes to establish rules for the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump without support from Democrats. Senator McConnell told reporters on January 7 that he has abandoned attempts to reach an agreement with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) after weeks of public bickering over Democrats’ demands to agree on a set of witnesses and rules for evidence in the trial. The decision to move ahead with the rules puts new pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to release the House-passed articles of impeachment so that a trial may begin.
“We have the votes once the impeachment trial has begun to pass a resolution essentially the same, very similar to the 100-to-nothing vote in the Clinton trial, which sets up as you may recall what could best be described as a maybe a phase one,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said about the process. He said the resolution would lay out a process for arguments from the prosecution, arguments from the President’s defense team, and written questions from senators. McConnell noted he is modeling the rules on the 1999 trial of President Bill Clinton. At the time, senators voted unanimously to approve a basic outline of how the trial would be conducted. They saved the question of witnesses and evidence for the second set of rules that were later approved along party lines. McConnell said he anticipated addressing questions about witnesses after the first phase of the trial was complete.
But Senate Democrats say the facts and circumstances of the Trump impeachment process cannot be compared to the Clinton trial. They say that the White House blocked key witnesses from appearing before the House and that they need to be vetted in the Senate. “Democrats believe that a fair trial means that all of the relevant facts come out,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “And witnesses and documents are part of that fair process.”Senate Democrats have refused to agree to that two-step process, saying it makes it less likely that any new witnesses will be called. Schumer has called it “a poorly disguised trap.”
Chuck Schumer and other Democrats say they need to hear from four witnesses who refused to testify before the House. The list includes acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton. Their demands were heightened this week after Bolton announced he would testify under a Senate subpoena. “Momentum for uncovering the truth in a Senate trial continues,” Schumer said in a statement following Bolton’s announcement. “If any Senate Republican opposes issuing subpoenas to the four witnesses and documents, we have requested they would make absolutely clear they are participating in a cover-up,” McConnell said the Senate could not move ahead with a vote on the resolution until Pelosi sends the articles over from the House. Schumer suggested that he believes Pelosi will do so soon and maintained that her strategy helped put pressure on Republicans to answer questions about witnesses. Under existing Senate rules, Democrats can still try to call witnesses once a trial has begun, but they would need 51 votes to do so. That means persuading four Republicans to agree, a high bar in the political trial of a Republican president.