January 3rd marks the first anniversary of the US assassination of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who was killed by a US drone strike in Baghdad. With the upcoming anniversary, US officials have been scaremongering about possible Iranian or Iranian-backed attacks.
In the latest warning from the US, an anonymous official told CNN’s Barbara Starr on Friday that “Iranian maritime forces in the Persian Gulf raised readiness levels in last 48 hours.” The official acknowledged that it is not clear if the moves are “defensive” because Iran is expecting a US attack or if Iran is gearing up to go on the offensive.
In the weeks and months leading up to the anniversary of Soleimani’s killing, Iran has faced constant provocations from the US and Israel. Tensions began to simmer in November after a report said President Trump reviewed options to attack an Iranian nuclear site. Iran responded to the news by preaching caution to its allies in the region, while Israel took it as a signal to escalate tensions.
Since that November report, Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakrhizadeh was killed, and the US flew B-52 bombers near Iran’s coast on three separate occasions.
If the US claims are true, and Iran has boosted the readiness of its forces, there’s little doubt that the move is defensive in nature. Iran has no reason to launch an attack on the US and risk provoking a war in the final weeks of the Trump administration. The incoming Biden administration is expected to return to diplomacy with Iran and possibly lift sanctions to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
Even some Pentagon officials have downplayed the threat of an Iranian attack. An unnamed senior Pentagon official told CNN on Thursday that there is “not a single piece of corroborating intel,” showing that an Iranian attack is imminent.
Regardless of the reality of the situation, the US is still poised to blame Iran for any US casualties in the region between now and January 20th. On December 20th, rockets were fired at the US embassy in Iraq in Baghdad’s Green Zone. President Trump blamed the attack on Iran and said he would hold the Islamic Republic “responsible” if any Americans are killed.
Iran denied responsibility for the rocket attack and has explicitly warned its allies in Iraq not to fire on US targets. But some groups rejected the Iranian warning.
Soleimani was killed alongside Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, the leader of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Force (PMF), a group of mostly Shia Iraqi state-sponsored militias formed in 2014 to fight ISIS.
The series of events that led to the killing of Soleimani and al-Mohandes was sparked by a rocket attack on a US base in Kirkuk, Iraq, on December 27th, 2019, that killed a US contractor.
The US blamed the Kirkuk attack on Kataib Hezbollah, a Shia militia that is part of the PMF. Iraqi intelligence and military officials later revealed to The New York Times that they believed the Kirkuk attack was more likely carried out by ISIS, and that the US did not share intelligence with Iraq’s government about the attack, something they normally do.
The US went ahead and bombed Kataib Hezbollah targets in response to the Kirkuk attack, killing 25 of its members. The airstrikes enraged many in Iraq, and demonstrators stormed the US embassy in Baghdad, which led to President Trump ordering the drone strike that killed Soleimani and al-Mohandes.
After the assassinations, Iraq’s parliament voted unanimously to expel the US from their country. According to The Wall Street Journal, on Sunday, January 3rd, a demonstration is planned in central Baghdad to demand that US troops leave the country.