On Saturday, Iran updated its list of Americans it’s sanctioning for the Jan. 3, 2020 drone strike, ordered by then-President Donald Trump, that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani as he traveled through Baghdad, Iraq.
The Iranian announcement adds 51 more Americans to its sanctions list. The 51 new Americans include military leaders like Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) commander Gen. Kenneth Frank McKenzie, and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) commander Gen. Richard Douglas Clarke. The newly sanctioned Americans also include a number who worked closely with the Trump administration, such as former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, retired general and National Security Advisor Keith Kellogg, and private military contractor Erik Prince.
In January 2021, Iran placed Trump and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on its list of Americans to sanction for the strike on Soleimani. The Associated Press reported at the time that the sanctions were largely symbolic.
Current and former U.S. officials now believe the sanctions may communicate a threat or a call for Iran’s sympathizers to target those sanctioned Americans with physical attacks.
On Sunday, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said, “Yesterday, Iran purported to impose sanctions on 51 Americans. They do so as Iran’s proxy militias continue to attack American troops in the Middle East, and as Iranian officials threaten to carry out terror operations inside the United States and elsewhere around the world. Make no mistake: the United States of America will protect and defend its citizens. This includes those serving the United States now and those who formerly served.
“As Americans, we have our disagreements on politics. We have our disagreements on Iran policy,” Sullivan added. “But we are united in our resolve against threats and provocations. We are united in the defense of our people.”
The new sanctions listing also comes amid a string of attacks by suspected Iranian proxy forces in Iraq, as well as calls from Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi for Trump and Pompeo to be tried and convicted under Islamic law for the strike on Soleimani.
At the time of the U.S. drone strike, Soleimani was traveling through Baghdad with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Mohammed Reda, who were leaders in the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) Iraqi militia.
In the days leading up to the U.S. strike, PMF forces had carried out a deadly rocket attack that killed a U.S. contractor and wounded U.S. service members in Iraq. Supporters of PMF also staged a riotous attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad after U.S. forces launched strikes in retaliation for the deadly rocket attack.
Soleimani had been particularly supportive of Iranian-proxy attacks on U.S. forces throughout the region. Following his death, U.S. Army Gen. David Petreaus said Soleimani had shipped weapons and explosives to terrorist groups throughout the Middle East, which were used to kill an estimated 600 U.S. service members over the years.