Escalating US Conflict With Iran: What’s Next?

Escalating US Conflict With Iran: What's Next?

The US assassination of Iran’s top general, Qasem Soleimani, has escalated a “shadow war” in the Middle East between the US and Iran. US President Donald Trump authorized the airstrike against Soleimani without congressional approval, citing “imminent and sinister attacks.”

Soleimani was killed in a targeted, Jan. 3 airstrike near Baghdad International Airport in Iraq. His death has brought about massive demonstrations against the US and a warning that Iran will retaliate. The incident has led to raising the stakes in its conflict with Washington amid concerns of a wider war in the Middle East.

The assassination of Major General Qassem Suleimani, arguably Iran’s second most powerful figure, by an order by Donald Trump, has marked a major escalation in the long-simmering conflict between the Iran and the United States. and sparked fear of turmoil throughout the region.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, addressing a gathering of Iranians chanting “Death to America,” says the attacks are a “slap on the face” of the United States and that US troops should leave the region.

Tehran’s foreign minister says Iran took “proportionate measures” in self-defense and did not seek to escalate the confrontation. “God the Almighty has promised to take martyr Soleimani’s revenge,” Gen. Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s successor as commander of the Quds Force, told Iranian state television. “Certainly, actions will be taken.”

While Republicans largely united behind the president’s actions, many Democratic politicians raised concerns over what consequences the assassination will have, particularly the threat to Americans abroad and the likelihood of sparking another war in the Middle East.

The United States has no plans to pull its troops out of Iraq, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Monday, following reports by Reuters and other media of an American military letter informing Iraqi officials about repositioning troops in preparation for leaving the country.

Longtime foes Tehran and Washington have been in a war of words since the assassination of the Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, widely seen as Iran’s second most powerful figure behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iran’s demand for US forces to withdraw from the region gained traction on Sunday when Iraq’s parliament passed a resolution calling for all foreign troops to leave the country.

The leaked American military letter said US-led coalition forces would use helicopters to evacuate. Several were heard flying over Baghdad on Monday night, although it was not immediately clear if that was related.

How did we get here, and what’s happening next? The World is tracking recent developments in this timeline, which will continue to be updated.  Despite some periods of cooperation, the US and Iran have long been in conflict. Indeed, the longest currently active US national emergency concerns sanctions on Iran issued by former President Jimmy Carter in 1979. But significant US involvement dates back to 1953, when the US orchestrated a coup to overthrow Iran’s prime minister. Here’s a brief timeline of major events in US-Iranian relations.

This escalation doesn’t come without a backstory. The US-Iran relationship has faced many ups and downs over the past century. More recent tensions have risen after Trump walked away from the Iran nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions on the country in 2018. The United States has also grown increasingly concerned about Iran’s influence in Iraq, the government of which has faced months of popular protest.

Iran’s U.S.-educated foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has been denied a visa by the United States to attend a United Nations Security Council meeting this week. Last April, he appeared at Asia Society New York for a wide-ranging conversation with Asia Society President and CEO Josette Sheeran.

Less than a year after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Iran Nuclear Deal, Zarif told Sheeran that he did not think the president wanted conflict — but that Trump was mistaken if he thought his “maximum pressure” approach to Iran would work.

Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s top security and intelligence commander and arguably the country’s second-most powerful leader after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was killed last week at Baghdad International Airport in Iraq by a U.S. drone strike. The attack — to which Tehran vowed to retaliate — marks a striking escalation in the long-simmering conflict between Iran and the United States.

In May 2018, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, which mandated that Iran curtail its nuclear weapons program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.

Last April, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif appeared at Asia Society New York for a conversation with Asia Society President and CEO Josette Sheeran. In an excerpt embedded above, Zarif explains why Trump’s attempt to maximize pressure on Iran won’t work:

“I doubt that President Trump wants conflict. He ran on a campaign promise — and it seems to me that he’s very careful to at least try to implement his campaign promises — not to waste another $7 trillion in our region in order to make the situation even worse. So, I guess he wants to stick to that commitment.

He thinks through further pressure on Iran — the so-called “maximum pressure” policy — he can bring us to our knees. He’s mistaken. We have 7,000 years of history. We’ve had battles. We’ve had losses. We’ve had victories. Usually, we haven’t come to our knees. And this won’t be an aberration of that.

“We don’t look at history in terms of two, four, and six years, as [Americans] usually do with congress, or in the administration, or in the senate. We look at history in millennia. And our dignity is not up for sale. We have 7,000 years of history,” Zarif said. “We’ve had battles. We’ve had losses. We’ve had victories. Usually, we haven’t come to our knees. And this won’t be an aberration of that.”

Subscribe to our Newsletter