Following President Donald Trump’s decision to order a drone strike and kill Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani, there was considerable debate on whether or not the action was legal. But what about Iran’s response?


A complicating factor is location. When the United States killed Soleimani in Baghdad, the Iraqi government denounced it as a violation of its sovereignty. Does this apply to Iran as well, which attacked U.S. forces in the same country? While Tehran did inform Baghdad shortly ahead of time, it does not appear that authorization was sought or granted since the Iraqis are primarily concerned about their country becoming a frontline between the U.S. and Iran.

As such, in this respect, it was illegal.

The Iraqi President Barham Salih’s office went on to release a statement denouncing Iran’s “repeated violation of Iraqi sovereignty and its transformation of Iraq into a battlefield for confrontation between belligerent parties.” He was joined by the country’s Speaker of Parliament Mohamed al-Halbousi.

However, the Iranian attack differs from the American one in one crucial manner: its target. It is important to remember that though Soleimani was the primary target of the U.S. airstrike, he was not the only one killed. Alongside the late Quds Force commander was the deputy leader of the Popular Mobilization Units, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Though considered by many an Iranian proxy, he was in fact incorporated into the Iraqi command structure during the fighti against the Islamic State. Consequently, it can be interpreted that Iran was attacking in Iraq but, unlike the United States, was not attacking Iraq itself.

Noteworthy in the international responses to Iran’s action was the relative absence of legal condemnation. Rather, criticism was primarily centered around the risk of escalation. While French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian did call for respect for Iraq’s sovereignty, he mostly highlighted its “solidarity with the Coalition” and the importance of maintaining the fight against ISIS.

Similarly, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq noted the violation of Iraqi sovereignty but primarily warned of the dangers of “senseless violence” and that “Iraq should not pay the price for external rivalries.”