One of Iran's most powerful political figures, General Qassem Soleimani, was killed in an airstrike carried out by U.S. forces on Thursday. The air raids occurred near Baghdad International airport, and Iranian Quds Force commander Soleimani was among the 10 people killed. He is considered to be the second-most powerful figure in Iran behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region," the Pentagon said in a statement. "General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more."
While the current state of Iran-U.S. relations continue to worsen, here's what we know about the situation so far.
What happened and why?
On Dec. 27, a U.S. contractor was killed during an attack on the K-1 Air Base in Kurkuk, Iraq. Over 30 rockets were launched at the air base, with four service members and two Iraqi security forces additionally injured. The U.S. blamed the Iranian-backed militia, Kata'ib Hezbollah, for the attack. On Dec. 29, the U.S. launched a series of airstrikes on the militia's headquarters, killing 25.
Two days later, protesters gathered at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, leaving anti-American graffiti and posters. Trump accused Iran of inspiring the protest, but the country's foreign ministry denied the claims. Ali Khameini said, "If Iran wants to fight a country, it will strike directly."
Reports surfaced on Thursday, Jan. 2 that Soleimani had been killed in a targeted U.S. airstrike near Baghdad International Airport. The attack, which was ordered by Donald Trump, came after tensions between the U.S. and Iran worsened for years as a result of America's withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and the more recent conflicts with the militia.
Trump tweeted a picture of the American flag as the news made the rounds. He later said he ordered the killing to prevent a new attack on Americans. "General Qassem Soleimani has killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more," he wrote. "He was directly and indirectly responsible for the death of millions of people."
In a verbal statement he added, "Last night, at my direction, the United States military successfully executed a flawless precision strike that killed the number one terrorist anywhere in the world, Qassem Soleimani."
What has the reaction been to the news?
Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei immediately condemned the attack and said there will be three days of mourning. He has vowed to "take revenge" against the U.S. due to the killing, while President Hassan Rouhani has also condemned the assassination.
Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, commended Trump's decision to execute the strike.
Republicans generally praised the move, while Democrats were quick to label the attack as incredibly dangerous. Bernie Sanders referred to the killing as "dangerous escalation that brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars."
Joe Biden released a statement in which he said "no American will mourn Qassem Soleimani's passing," but that doesn't negate the killing as a "hugely escalatory move in an already dangerous region."
House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy labeled Soleimani an "Iranian terroist leader" in a statement he issued.
British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab has urged Iran and the U.S. to focus on de-escalation. "We have always recognised the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Quds force led by Qasem Soleimani," he said in a statement. "Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests."
How has social media responded?
A good chunk of people on Twitter have struggled to process the news, resorting to jokes made in fear of a potential war. In fact, WWIII, FAFSA, TrumpsWar, and even Franz Ferdinand (whose assassination incited World War I) started to trend on Twitter just moments after it was revealed that Trump ordered the strike that killed Soleimani.
Additionally, Trump's previous comments about how Barack Obama was eager to start a war with Iran were brought up.
What could happen next?
The U.S. plans to deploy thousands of troops to the Middle East as a result of the increasing tensions. As CNN reports, the Pentagon has confirmed that the additional troops will come from the Immediate Response Force of the 82nd Airborne Division. Prior to the confirmation, it was reported these forces were placed on prepare-to-deploy orders.
As of right now the future is a little muddy, however, as it remains to be seen if the situation will continue to escalate. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the airstrike that killed Soleimani was a "defensive move," and that the U.S. is "committed to de-escalation" despite the deployment of extra troops. Further conflict is likely, but whether a war will take place is uncertain.
"Soleimani has been perpetrating acts of terror to destabilize the Middle East for the last 20 years," Trump said in his verbal statement. "What the United States did yesterday should have been done long ago." He also insisted, "We took action last night to stop a war, we did not take action to start a war."