News Digest: Week of December 30

December 30

Nuclear: Russia warned that the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was in danger of “falling apart” if the United States and the European Union did not begin complying with its terms. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, that Moscow would demand full compliance from western countries or would consider the deal “no longer existing.”


December 31

Protests: Supporters of Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah stormed the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad to protest U.S. airstrikes on December 29. The gunmen and demonstrators broke into a reception area inside the front gate but did not reach the main embassy buildings. They chanted “Death to America” and threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at the compound. Trump accused Tehran of orchestrating the attack and warned it would pay “a very big price.”


January 2

Military: Secretary of Defense Mark Esper warned that the United States “will not accept continued attacks against our personnel & forces in the region.” He said that the United States would take “preemptive action” to defend U.S. interests against Iranian plots. “The game has changed,” Esper told reporters during a briefing.  


January 3

Military: President Trump ordered an airstrike on a convey of Iranian and Iraqi military leaders leaving Baghdad’s airport. The drone attack killed seven people including General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the elite Qods Force, and Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, a Kataib Hezbollah leader. Muhandis was also the deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of militias formed to fight ISIS. Washington alleged that Soleimani was planning attacks targeting U.S. personnel and interests in the region.

Military: Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced that the United States would deploy 3,500 additional troops to the region after Iran’s supreme leader vowed “severe revenge” for the death of Soleimani. The United States urged all U.S. citizens to leave Iraq immediately.  

Military: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani as the new commander of the Qods Force. Ghaani had worked closely with Soleimani and had been deputy commander of the Qods Force since 1997. 


January 4 

Military: Iranian General Gholamali Abuhamzeh said that the IRGC had identified at least 35 U.S. targets that could be hit in retaliatory strikes. He specifically named U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf and the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.

Military: Trump warned that the United States had identified 52 targets, including cultural sites, and that Washington would strike if Iran attempted retaliatory attacks on U.S. interests. Trump said that the 52 sites represented the 52 American hostages held by Iranian protestors in the 1979 attack of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.  

Military: The Pentagon reported that two rocket attacks had occurred near bases that hosted coalition troops in Baghdad and Balad. No casualties were reported, and no group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks. 

Military: NATO announced that it would suspend a mission to train Iraqi security forces due to the threat of an attack by Iran. “The safety of our personnel in Iraq is paramount,” acting NATO spokesman Dylan White said. “We continue to take all precautions necessary. NATO’s mission is continuing, but training activities are temporarily suspended.”


January 5

Society: Thousands of Iranians gathered in the streets of Ahvaz and Mashhad to mourn the death of Soleimani as his body arrived in Iran for a funeral procession. Mourners shouted, “Death to America” and burned U.S. and Israeli flags.

Military: Iraqi lawmakers voted on a non-binding resolution calling for the expulsion of U.S. and all foreign forces. The resolution would also require the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to file a complaint at the United Nations against the United States for breaching Iraqi sovereignty. It also called for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the airstrike that killed Soleimani and Muhandis.

Diplomacy: The United States said that it was “disappointed” in the Iraqi parliament’s vote. “We strongly urge Iraqi leaders to reconsider the importance of the ongoing economic and security relationship between the two countries and the continued presence of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS,” said State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus. “We believe it is in the shared interests of the United States and Iraq to continue fighting ISIS together.”

Nuclear: Iran announced that it would no longer abide by restrictions on uranium enrichment imposed by the JCPOA. “The Islamic Republic of Iran, in the fifth step in reducing its commitments, discards the last key component of its operational limitations in the JCPOA, which is the limit on the number of centrifuges,” the government said. Tehran emphasized that all its actions were reversible and that it would return to the deal if sanctions would be lifted and its interests could be guaranteed. Iran said it would continue to cooperate with International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors.