Iranian protesters have taken to the streets for a third day, after the Iranian military acknowledged it accidentally shot down a Ukrainian airliner last week, killing all 176 people on board, including 82 Iranians and 57 Canadians. Iran initially denied downing the plane, but Iran’s Revolutionary Guard took responsibility for what authorities now describe as a “disastrous mistake.” The plane was downed hours after Iranian forces fired 22 rockets at military bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops, in retaliation for the U.S. assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. Millions of Iranians took to the streets last week to pay tribute to Soleimani, but this week anti-government protests resumed in at least a dozen cities. There are reports of Iranian forces firing live ammunition and tear gas to disperse the protesters. Meanwhile, in Washington, Defense Secretary Mark Esper has publicly contradicted President Trump’s assertion that Soleimani was planning to attack four U.S. embassies at the time of his assassination. Esper said he had not seen evidence supporting Trump’s claim. For more on the Iranian protests, we speak with Ali Kadivar, assistant professor of sociology and international studies at Boston College. Kadivar grew up in Iran during the Iran-Iraq War and completed his undergraduate and first graduate degree at the University of Tehran, where he was active in the student movement.
AMY GOODMAN: Iranian protesters have taken to the streets for a third day, after the Iranian military acknowledged it had accidentally shot down a Ukrainian airliner last week, killing all 176 people on board. The dead included 82 Iranians and 57 Canadians. Iran initially denied downing the plane, but then Iran’s Revolutionary Guard took responsibility for what authorities described as a “disastrous mistake.”
The plane was shot down just hours after Iranian forces fired 22 rockets at military bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops, in retaliation for the U.S. assassination of Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani. Last week, millions of Iranians took to the streets to pay tribute to Soleimani, but this week anti-government protests resumed in at least a dozen cities. Vigils were also held in Tehran by relatives of victims of the plane crash.
PROTESTER: [translated] We gathered here because of some Iranian leaders’ inefficiency, because of some people’s inadequacy. … Our children were killed in the sky. That’s why we gathered together here. Where do we go?
AMY GOODMAN: There are reports Iranian forces have fired live ammunition and tear gas to disperse the protesters. Last night, President Trump used Twitter to warn Iranian leaders. He wrote, quote, “To the leaders of Iran–DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS.”
This comes as new questions are being raised about President Trump’s claim that Soleimani posed an imminent threat. Last week, Trump claimed he was planning to attack four U.S. embassies at the time of his assassination, but Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday he had not seen evidence supporting Trump’s claim.
In another development, NBC News is reporting Trump first authorized Soleimani’s assassination seven months ago. Meanwhile, The Washington Post has revealed U.S. forces unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate a top Iranian commander in Yemen on the same day Soleimani was killed in a drone strike in Baghdad, suggesting Soleimani’s death was part of a larger U.S. campaign to target Iranian commanders.
We go now to Boston, where we’re joined by Ali Kadivar. He is an assistant professor of sociology and international studies at Boston College. He grew up in Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. He completed his undergraduate and first graduate degree at the University of Tehran, where he was active in the student movement.
Professor Kadivar, we had you on last week. Now you have the Iranian government admitting they accidentally shot down the Ukrainian flight that was headed to Kiev, which has killed close to 200 people. And you have, from the millions in the streets honoring Qassem Soleimani to, once again, anti-government protesters in the streets. Describe all of these developments.
ALI KADIVAR: I think shooting the airplane by mistake was a game changer in Iran’s domestic politics, at least. The statement by the leadership of military said this was a human error, but this has been seen as beyond human error. This is a symptom of system failure, a system that has preferred loyalty over expertise. For 40 years, the officials of Islamic republic have said that they prefer people that are loyal to the regime, to recruit to the regime, than people that have expertise and competence. That is, I think, one important issue that has been highlighted in this incident.
Second is the issue of accountability. Iranian Armed Forces are under the direct command of Iran’s leader, Ali Khamenei. And not only he assigns the commanders of the military and the Revolutionary Guards, but he is also very much involved in the management of both military forces in Iran. Now protesters have kept him accountable. There is no other institutions in Iran that supervise military forces. Mr. Khamenei had three tweets, I think, after this incident. He expressed condolences, but you express condolences for something that you have not been responsible for. He has been responsible for this incident, but he has not apologized. No Iranian officials have resigned over this issue. And we hear among the chants from protesters that they ask for resignation of Mr. Khamenei, Iran’s leader.
You mentioned the millions that participated in Soleimani — I mean, those were Iranian people, but that was an event that was coordinated by the government. The security of the protesters, they’re guaranteed in that event. Protesters that came to the street in the last two days and today, this has been a very risky matter, because they have been protesting the Iranian government, the Islamic republic. In protests in December, the government killed hundreds of people, perhaps even more than 1,000. We still don’t know about that. Iran is a pluralistic society. There are different opinions. Iranians disagree about different matters. But what we need is a space that is safe for all Iranians to be able to express their opinions. Islamic republic does not allow that. So far they haven’t allowed protesters to grieve and to express their opposition and objection to this latest incident.
AMY GOODMAN: So, if you can comment on this switch, from the millions out, across the political spectrum, after there were massive anti-government protests, and then they come out against the United States, against the death of — the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, and now in the streets, today, are you getting word that Iranian forces have opened fire with live ammunition on the protesters? And if you can also comment, are some shouting “Death to the dictator”?
ALI KADIVAR: Yes. As I mentioned, there are various opinions in Iran. There are some — Iranian regime has some supporters, but I don’t think the majority of the Iranian population support the Iranian regime. The easiest sign to see this is that in the last 40 years the Islamic republic has not held one fair and free election that allows the Iranian opposition to have their own candidates. Iranians who mourned Soleimani were Iranians. Those were actual Iranians. There are anti-American sentiments. These protesters are also Iranians.
And actually, one of the major protests in Tehran on the first day was on Amirkabir University. The students of Amirkabir University, part of the students, released a statement that condemned oppression and autocracy in the country. You mentioned “Death to dictator.” Yes, they are targeting Mr. Khamenei, Iran’s leader, as a dictator. He has the biggest share of power in the Islamic republic. He’s not accountable to any other institutions. He has not held a press conference ever. He’s not accountable to Iranians, to the press or to any institutions within Islamic republic. So they count him accountable.
But in the same statement, they also oppose Americans’ presence in the region. So Iranian students are opposing both autocracy in the country and also imperialist presence in the region. They said American presence has only brought insecurity and chaos to the region. But the students in this statement have emphasized that. The government cannot hide behind imperialist propaganda to suppress Iranian people and to not allow Iranians to express their opinion.
AMY GOODMAN: Uh.
ALI KADIVAR: What have they called for? Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Keep going.
ALI KADIVAR: They have called for a return to popular politics. They want the government to let people to have their voice. And they have called for a return to social democracy and to political freedom.
AMY GOODMAN: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard senior commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh said the plane was shot down by an Iranian soldier who believed the plane was an incoming cruise missile. Again, this was after Iran had shot missiles at two Iraqi bases, warning Iraq in advance. No U.S. or Iraqi troops were killed. This commander blamed the U.S. for ratcheting up tensions in the region, which led to Iran mistakenly shooting down the Ukrainian passenger jet. This is what he said.
AMIR ALI HAJIZADEH: [translated] This is the cost from the mischief, inflammation and actions of the U.S. in the region. Really, that night, we were ready for a full-scale conflict. … Unfortunately, because of the hasty decision of one person, this great disaster happened.
AMY GOODMAN: And you have, “After hearing the news in the country’s west after implementing the military operation against American bases and when I made sure that this incident has happened, I wished I was dead,” said Hajizadeh at a news conference on the Ukrainian plane crash, apologizing for the jet tragedy. How significant is this?
ALI KADIVAR: People ask if they don’t need for him to wish death, but why hasn’t he resigned? Catastrophes like this have happened in Iran over and over. We do not know one official that has resigned in the wake of any of these incidents. If they really think — if they are really apologizing, why don’t we see any resignation?
Also, Iranians have spoken about the fact that the Revolutionary Guards made sure not to kill one American. But just for some reason, they made a mistake in which they killed 176 civilians. There were also about 40 people that died in the stampede in Soleimani’s funeral. So people highlight this kind of incompetence and ask, “What is the value of Iranian life for Iranian officials?” Iran, for long — the Islamic republic has claimed legitimacy to be an anti-imperialist force. Why is an anti-imperialist force not caring about Iranian lives? They care so much — they are so careful not to kill one American in their attack to the American bases in Iraq, but why do we see such a mistake to happen?
AMY GOODMAN: And, Professor Kadivar —
ALI KADIVAR: This cannot be just —
AMY GOODMAN: The detention of the British ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, apparently, he was there at a vigil for the plane crash victims, which became a protest, and then Iran accused him of leading the protest. He was soon released, after Britain got involved and put pressure on Iran.
ALI KADIVAR: Yes. The ambassador said he was there for a vigil. Iranian officials, again, used this as evidence that foreigners perhaps are behind protest. But this is also an old propaganda. Any kind of opposition to the policies of the Iranian government has been accused by the government as a plot by the foreigners. This is nothing new. This is just an insult on the agency of Iranians. If this was an agitation or plot by the ambassador, does this mean that Iranians have no agency, they cannot protest the wrong views of their government?
AMY GOODMAN: And, Professor, the significance of President Trump tweeting in Farsi his support for the Iranian protesters?
ALI KADIVAR: I don’t think this helped at all. Hard-liners have again accused America to be behind any sort of opposition, to the United States. This only emboldens the position by Iranian hard-liners. I personally do not see any sincerity in President Trump’s tweets. He has banned Iranians from entering the United States. He has put sanctions that have hurt ordinary people, and he has threatened to destroy cultural sites in Iran. I do not think that President Trump really cares for Iranian people.
AMY GOODMAN: Ali —
ALI KADIVAR: He has made also alliance — yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Ali Kadivar, I want to thank you so much for being with us, assistant professor of sociology and international studies at Boston College, grew up in Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, completed his undergraduate and first graduate degree at University of Tehran, where he was active in the student movement.
When we come back, we go to retired Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff of Secretary of State Colin Powell. He was instrumental in greenlighting the war with Iraq, says that was a mistake, and so would war with Iran be. Stay with us.