Dec. 27: Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi militia backed by Iran, launched rockets at the K1 military base near Kirkuk, which housed U.S. military service members and Iraqi personnel. The attack killed a U.S. civilian contractor and wounded four U.S. service members and two Iraqis.
Dec. 29: The United States responded with airstrikes on Kataib Hezbollah positions in western Iraq and eastern Syria. The strikes, which reportedly killed at least 25 militants, targeted weapons depots and command centers that the group had used to attack U.S. forces and allies.
Dec. 31: Supporters of Kataib Hezbollah stormed the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad to protest the U.S. airstrikes. 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. In a series of tweets, Trump accused Tehran of orchestrating the attack:
Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible. In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!
The U.S. Embassy in Iraq is, & has been for hours, SAFE! Many of our great Warfighters, together with the most lethal military equipment in the world, was immediately rushed to the site. Thank you to the President & Prime Minister of Iraq for their rapid response upon request.. Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced that the United States would deploy an infantry battalion from the 82nd Airborne Division in response to the attacks.
Jan. 2: Secretary 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.
Jan. 3: President Trump ordered an airstrike on a convoy of Iranian and Iraqi military leaders leaving Baghdad airport. The drone attack, launched on January 3 (January 2 US. time), killed seven people including General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the IRGC's elite Qods Force, and Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, a Kataib Hezbollah leader. Muhandis was also the deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella group of militias formed to fight ISIS. Many PMF militias have received arms, training and funding from Iran.
Trump defended his decision to conduct the airstrike as a “defensive action” meant to “stop a war.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that Soleimani was plotting “imminent attacks” on U.S. personnel and interests in the region. “It was time to take this action so that we could disrupt this plot, deter further aggression from Qassem Soleimani and the Iranian regime, as well as to attempt to de-escalate the situation,” he said.
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.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani as the new commander of the Qods Force and said that its mission would not change. Ghaani had worked closely with Soleimani and had been deputy commander of the Qods Force since 1997.
Leader of the Islamic Revolution appoints Esmail Ghaani as commander of the Quds Force following the blessed martyrdom of Hajj Qassem Soleimani. pic.twitter.com/PrI54LX09h— iranmilitaryvlog 🇮🇷 (@irmilitaryvlog) January 3, 2020
The loss of our dear General Soleimani is bitter. The continuing fight and ultimate victory will be more bitter for the murderers and criminals. pic.twitter.com/eKKNaHRCTv— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) January 5, 2020
Jan. 4: 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 city of Tel Aviv.
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.
Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American, & badly wounded many others, not to mention all of the people he had killed over his lifetime, including recently....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2020
....hundreds of Iranian protesters. He was already attacking our Embassy, and preparing for additional hits in other locations. Iran has been nothing but problems for many years. Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2020
....targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2020
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.
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.”
Jan. 5: 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.
Tens of thousands of people have poured onto the streets of Ahvaz and Mashhad in Iran for the funeral procession of assassinated general, Qassem Soleimani. pic.twitter.com/mbMfjbjXb3— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) January 5, 2020
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. The resolution was primarily backed by Shiite lawmakers. Some 150 representatives, including all 58 Kurds and most of the legislature’s Sunnis, boycotted the session. The draft bill would not go into law until signed by Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.
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.”
Iran announced that it would no longer abide by restrictions on uranium enrichment imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (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.
Jan 6: Hundreds of thousands of Iranians turned out for Soleimani’s funeral in Tehran. Many shouted “Death to America.” Supreme Leader Khamenei wept over the coffin. Soleimani’s successor, Esmail Gha’ani, warned that Iran would take revenge. The late general’s daughter, Zeinab, lashed out against President Trump. “You crazy Trump, the symbol of ignorance, the slave of Zionists, don’t think that the killing of my father will finish everything,” she told mourners. “The families of the American soldiers in western Asia will spend their days waiting for the death of their children.”
Jan. 8: Iran fired more than a dozen missiles at two Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops in retaliation for the U.S. killing of Soleimani. No U.S. or Iraqi personnel were harmed. Iran was quick to claim responsibility for the attack on U.S. forces. But its foreign minister also emphasized that Tehran did not seek war.
Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 8, 2020
We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.
Minutes later, President Trump took to Twitter and implied that the damage to the al Assad and Irbil facilities was not serious. “All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning,” he tweeted.
Later in the day, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Iran’s ultimate goal was to expel U.S. forces from the wider Middle East. “Military action like this is not sufficient. What is important is ending the corrupting presence of America in the region,” he said in a televised speech. As of January 2020, the United States had more than 60,000 troops deployed throughout the wider region, including Afghanistan, which borders Iran.
President Trump, in a televised address, said the United States would impose additional economic sanctions on Iran and continue to evaluate other ways to respond to the attack. He also called on the remaining parties to the 2015 nuclear deal – Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia – to withdraw from the agreement and work toward a new, more comprehensive one. “We must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place,” he added. “The civilized world must send a clear and unified message to the Iranian regime: Your campaign of terror, murder, mayhem will not be tolerated any longer.”
But he also made an overture to negotiate with the Islamic Republic and suggested the two countries could work together on issues of common concern, such as ISIS. “The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it,” he said.
Photo Credit: Ali Najafifar for Fars News Agency (CC BY 4.0)