US Politics

Confused about the US and Iran conflict? Five things you need to know

Mourners gather to pay their respects to the slain Soleimani in his hometown. Source: Iran Press

An assassination, a missile attack, a plane crash: The situation between Iran and the US is changing everyday.

Developments on the relationship between Iran and the US could affect diplomacy around the world, with US allies facing questions on their position on Iran and what they would do if the conflict escalates. If you’re already feeling like you’re behind the news, here are some key details of what has happened so far.

Why was Soleimani’s assassination a big deal?

Qasem Soleimani was the Iran Major General of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a powerful military institution in Iran. It is considered a terrorist organisation by the US and, in turn, Soleimani was an enemy.

Soleimani was killed on January 3 by missiles shot from American drones in an attack signed off by President Trump. 

Trump initially stated Soleimani was killed to prevent an “imminent attack” on US embassies. New reports say President Donald Trump in-fact authorised the killing of Soleimani seven months ago if Iran's increased aggression resulted in the death of a US citizen. The decision explains why assassinating Soleimani was an option that the military presented to Trump after an attack by Iranian proxies in Iraq killed a US contractor.  

Iranian leaders heralded Soleimani as a warrior and tens of thousands of mourners attended his funeral procession, where a stampede killed more than 50 protesters. Reports say attendees chanted “death to America, death to Israel.” 

Iran immediately vowed revenge and launched a missile attack on two US military bases in Iraq. Iran claimed at least 80 “American terrorists” were killed, US and Iraqi military say there were no casualties.

Who will replace Soleimani?

Iran’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Brigadier-General Esmail Ghaani as Soleimani’s replacement. He has served as Soleimani’s deputy since 1997. Khamenei said in a statement published by state media, that the force's program "will be unchanged from the time of his predecessor." 

What happened to the Ukrainian passenger plane?

Soon after Iran launched a missile on two US military bases in Iraq, a Ukrainian passenger plane flying out of Tehran crashed, killing 176 people. Initially, Iranian leaders blamed the crash on technical failures, with some media outlets reporting allegations that Iranians were tampering with the crash site.

Days later, Iranian officials conceded that it was their own missile that collided with the plane and insist it was an accident.

This week, several people were arrested over the downing of the plane, with President Hassan Rouhani warning that those responsible would be punished.

Why is Canada so involved in the plane crash?

Fifty-seven Canadian citizens were on board the flight, with a total of 138 people on the way to Canada. The  Ukraine International Airlines from Tehran to Toronto, via Kiev, is a popular route for those travelling between the countries.

Canada is a popular destination for Iranian graduates and postdoctoral students, many aboard the flight were visiting home during the winter break.

Other victims of the crash included 82 Iranians and 11 Ukrainians, as well as nationals from Sweden, the UK, Afghanistan and Germany.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Canadian public have expressed anger toward Iran and the US for the events that led to the downing of the plane. 

This week Trudeau appeared to blame the crash on the US and Iran for the escalating tensions between the countries.

“I think if there were no tensions, if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families,” Trudeau told Global News television.

Why are the protests in Iran a big deal?

Hundreds of demonstrators have taken to the streets in response to the downing of the Ukrainian plane in a significant display of public dissonance. At the weekend, crowds gathered to commemorate the victims and to call for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down.

The demonstrations follow from a series of civil protests against the government and a poor economy at the end of last year. Iranian authorities have been quick to shut-down demonstrations -- according to human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Iranian police killed more than a hundred citizens. The government also implemented a nationwide internet shutdown.

The demonstrations prompted Trump to Tweet a warning to Iranian authorities to not kill protesters.

Social media videos show protesters kicking signs of Solemani and shouting chants against the president. Protesters and their those who support them on social media say they risk arrest, torture torture and death.