In January, demonstrators stormed an American federal facility. The protesters were able to mill about in the lobby area and ransacked the offices inside. While the protesters were ordered to leave, the brazen nature of the breach caused alarm in Washington.
I am not writing about the protesters who stormed the US Capitol building on 6 January.
I am writing about Iraqi demonstrators, affiliated with the Iranian-aligned militia Kataib Hizballah, who stormed the US embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone, but left on New Year day 2020.
In response to the protesters storming the American embassy, Trump ordered a drone strike thereafter that killed General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, as well as Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, an Iraqi Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU) commander and leader of the aforementioned Iraqi militia.
It is ironic that Trump responded to the breach of the US embassy with an assassination almost exactly a year ago, yet encouraged demonstrators to storm the Capitol in a similar fashion.
Comparing the two events has significance today, as the storming of the embassy led to a series of escalatory events that resulted in the downing of a Ukrainian civilian airliner and the death of 176 passengers, on 8 January 2020, exactly a year ago.
Trump bears responsibility in both events.
Simply stated, my argument is that Trump bears responsibility for the downing of a Ukrainian airliner over Iranian airspace as a result of him leaving the Iran nuclear deal.
Prelude to Soleimani’s assassination
Trump’s decision to pull out of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the “Iran deal,” and imposing sanctions on Iran, led to the Islamic Republic retaliating by manipulating Iraqi militias to undermine American influence there.
Iraq’s militias began launching rocket attacks against the US embassy and its forces on Iraqi military bases as of the summer of 2019.
A spiral of violence began on 27 December 2019 when the militia attacked the al-Taji base, where an American contractor was killed.
In a tweet, Trump wrote: “Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will.”
What Trump failed to mention was the contractor was an Iraqi-American Muslim and an immigrant, Nawres Waleed Hamid. He was a translator for American forces in Iraq. Most likely Trump was even unaware of this.
Two days later, the US responded with an air raid on several targets related to the Iraqi militia, which resulted in the death of at least 25 members of the Kataib Hizballah. On 31 December, Iraqi demonstrators stormed the US embassy to protest that air raid.
Trump has no problem ordering protesters to seize a US government building, as long as they are his supporters. However, a year ago, Trump reeled from imagery that was reminiscent of the 1979 hostage crisis in Iran, and lashed out on 3 January 2020, ordering a drone strike against Soleimani and Muhandis.
In a single pre-dawn raid, Trump enraged both Iraqi and Iranian nationalist sentiments and turned their ire away towards Washington. Iraqis MPs demanded an American withdrawal from their country and the Islamic Republic was bound to retaliate.
Tehran responded on 8 January by launching 22 Fateh ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases housing American forces. No one was killed.
The downing of Flight 752
Fearing American retaliation, Iranian air defense commanders outside of Tehran mistook the Ukrainian airlines flight that had just taken off for a hostile, incoming attack aircraft, and fired a missile that brought it down, resulting in the death of 176 passengers, primarily Iranian civilians.
The downing of the airliner on 8 January was the fault of Iran’s military, yet the causal process that led to this accident began because of Trump’s ego and his obsession with negating the policies of his predecessor Barrack Obama and his diplomatic triumph, the Iran deal.
After the government misled the public about the cause of the downing of the airliner, Iranians took to the street to communicate their anger at this deception.
Trump cheered these protests, by tweeting:
“To the brave and suffering Iranian people: I have stood with you since the beginning of my presidency and my government will continue to stand with you. We are following your protests closely. Your courage is inspiring.”
Then Trump cynically attempted to take advantage of the protests on the streets of Tehran. In act of desperation, he did so again, not in a foreign capital, but in Washington DC itself.
Trump’s desperate gambit failed. The confirmation of the Biden victory finally offers hope of Washington reentering the nuclear deal and undoing the event that led to the tragedy that occurred exactly a year ago.