The United States has assassinated Iranian commander Major General Qassem Soleimani in a major escalation of the conflict between Iran and the United States, which now threatens to engulf Iraq and the Middle East. President Trump authorized the drone strike that killed Soleimani at the Baghdad International Airport and four other people, including a high-level Iraqi militia chief, Thursday night U.S. time, Friday morning in Baghdad.
General Soleimani has long been one of the most powerful figures in Iran. He was the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force — Iran’s powerful foreign military force, similar to a combination of the CIA and U.S. Special Forces. Iran called Soleimani’s assassination an act of “international terrorism.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said, “The U.S. bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.” The Pentagon said, “General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” The Pentagon did not offer evidence of an upcoming planned attack.
Democratic lawmakers slammed the assassination as unconstitutional, as Trump did not have congressional authority to carry out the strike. Connecticut Democratic lawmaker Chris Murphy tweeted, “Did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?”
Both Presidents Obama and George W. Bush had rejected the idea of killing Soleimani, out of fears it would lead to outright war between the U.S. and Iran. This is Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking after the assassination.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: “If the Islamic Republic decides to challenge and fight a country, it will do so unequivocally. We are strongly committed to our country’s interests and our peace. We are strongly committed to the dignity of our country. We are strongly committed to the progress and greatness of our country. And if anyone threatens that, we will, without any hesitation, confront it and strike it.”
The targeted assassination came after members of an Iranian-backed militia and its supporters attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and set fire to a gatehouse, in response to a slew of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria that killed two dozen members of the Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kata’ib Hezbollah. These strikes were in retaliation to the killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack in Kirkuk, Iraq, one week ago. The head of the Kata’ib Hezbollah, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was also killed in the drone strike.
The New York Times reports General Soleimani had flown into Baghdad from Syria in order to urge Iranian-backed militias in Iraq to do more to stop the wave of anti-Iran protests that have swept Iraq in recent months. The militias are already accused of killing and disappearing protesters and human rights activists who are demanding an end to corruption and foreign influence on Iraqi politics.
The Pentagon has sent more than 14,000 American troops to the region since May. The United States is now warning Americans to leave Iraq immediately. The attack has sparked fear and alarm in Iraq and across the world. France’s deputy minister for foreign affairs said this morning, “We are waking up in a more dangerous world.” Tensions between the United States and Iran have been escalating since President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the landmark Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and imposed crushing economic sanctions on Iran. We’ll have more on the United States’ assassination of Suleimani — one of the most powerful figures in Iran — after headlines.
The United States’ assassination of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani came the night before the Senate returns to Capitol Hill to deal with Trump’s impeachment and only hours after the release of Office of Management and Budget emails that show how President Trump was directly responsible for the decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine to pressure its president to investigate Trump’s political rival, Joe Biden, ahead of this year’s election.
In one email, top OMB official Michael Duffey wrote that there was “Clear direction from POTUS to continue to hold,” in reference to the nearly $400 million of withheld military aid to Ukraine. POTUS is of course “president of the United States.” The House has impeached President Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress over the withheld aid. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is slated to address impeachment on the Senate floor today.
The Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate are in an unprecedented standoff over President Trump’s impeachment. House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi has refused to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate in efforts to pressure Senator McConnell to conduct a fair trial. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had been slated to meet with the Ukrainian president today in Kiev but has postponed his trip to Ukraine amid the mounting tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
In election news, Julián Castro has dropped out of the presidential race. He was the only Latino in the Democratic field. He served as secretary of housing and urban development in the Obama administration and was previously the mayor of San Antonio, Texas. Throughout his campaign, Castro struggled to gain traction in a crowded Democratic field of mostly white, wealthy candidates. He didn’t qualify for the last two debates in November and December. Castro has demanded the Democratic National Committee reform the presidential nomination system, including changing the order of primary election states, which for years has prioritized the majority-white states of Iowa and New Hampshire, and changing the debate qualifications, which has seen top candidates of color excluded from the stage. Castro ran on a platform of decriminalizing crossing the border, abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, and police reform, among other progressive issues. This is Castro in an interview with Democracy Now! in October. I asked him about President Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policies.
Julián Castro: “I hope that more and more Americans are paying attention to the depravity of this president and the cruelty that he’s inflicted on people that are simply seeking a better life. And that’s consistent with people from different places all over the world that have come seeking a better life, who have come from desperate circumstances throughout the generations. And so, this is nothing new in our country’s history or the history of the world.”
Julián Castro’s withdrawal from the presidential race comes after California Senator Kamala Harris also dropped out in early December. Marianne Williamson has also laid off her campaign staff nationally.
In more election news, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s campaign raised over $34.5 million for the fourth quarter of 2019 — more than any other Democratic candidate and well over $10 million more than former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign. Sanders’s campaign said it raised the $34.5 million from 1.8 million individual donors and that the average donation was $18. Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign raised $22.7 million in its fourth quarter. Politico reported last week that Democratic Party officials and insiders — including Hillary Clinton allies — now say it’s possible that Sanders might win the party’s presidential nomination. Party insiders had largely written off Sanders’s campaign. But in recent weeks some have reconsidered his chances as Sanders continues to rise in the polls. President Trump raised significantly more in the fourth quarter of 2019 than any Democratic candidate, including Sanders. He raised a total of $46 million.
Australia is bracing for what is expected to be the worst weekend yet in an already devastating climate-fueled wildfire season that has ravaged the southeastern part of the country, killed at least 18 people and nearly half a billion animals, and destroyed 14.5 million acres of land. Temperatures are expected to soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with high winds expected. New South Wales transport minister Andrew Constance described the coming conditions as “a blast furnace.” On Thursday, the state of New South Wales, which includes Sydney, declared a state of emergency, and Victoria declared a state of disaster. As the catastrophe in Australia deepens, conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison is facing widespread condemnation for his administration’s climate inaction. On Thursday, angry fire victims chased Morrison out of the town of Carbago.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison: “How are you?”
Fire victim 1: “I’m only shaking your hand if you give more funding to RFS. So many people here have lost their homes. We need more help.”
Fire victim 2: “This is not fair! We are totally forgotten about down here. We get nothing. If we were Sydney, if we were North Coast, we would be flooded with donations, with emergency relief.”
We’ll have more on the wildfires in Australia later in the broadcast.
Amazon has threatened to fire workers who speak out about the online retail giant’s environmental policies. Leaders of the group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice say they’ve received letters reprimanding them for speaking to the media without the permission of Amazon’s corporate offices. Last September, thousands of Amazon workers joined a youth-led global strike for the climate, with some of them speaking out publicly on social media.
Allyson: “I’m walking out.”
Rebecca: “I’m walking out.”
Sohrab: “I’m walking out.”
Rob: “To show solidarity with the youth leaders who have started the Fridays for the Future movement.”
Danilo: “Because global warming is the biggest issue we’re facing today.”
Yoshi: “Because global climate change affects everybody, but it is going to affect the most vulnerable of society first.”
Kat: “Because it’s important that I show my son a model for what it looks like to fight for justice.”
Sarah: “Because it’s the right thing to do.”
Bob: “Because Amazon does not demonstrate the same leadership on climate change that I’m expected to demonstrate every day on the job.”