The Status of Iran-US Relations

Shaan Majid

With the rise in political tensions in Iran, you might be wondering: am I likely to get drafted for World War III?

The short answer is no- at least, not yet.

However, intelligently understanding the political context of the so-called imminence of World War III requires that one ignore the memes and viral hysteria and actually take time to soberly comprehend the complex relationship between the United States and Iran. That’s not easy to do, so we designed a crash course so that you feel more confident and capable to follow how this fragile, serious issue is quickly unfolding.

The seminal event establishing the foundation for the era of fiery relations between the United States and Iran was the CIA sponsored overthrow of the democratically-elected and immensely popular Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. During his administration, Iran nationalized its oil supply, which was formerly controlled by the UK. Both the US and the UK promptly became concerned by the threat of a diminished oil supply and increased petroleum prices, motivating the US to conduct a coup. As such, the old government was deposed, and a puppet regime, led by a “Shah” took its place.

The reign of the Shah was thoroughly disliked by the Iranian public. In 1979, its unpopularity reached its breaking point when large, national protests against the regime and the United States broke out across the country and the national military was attacked by guerilla groups, most of whom were factions or coalitions of leftists and Islamists.

Eventually, the Shah was overthrown in what became known as the Iranian Revolution, and a new, authoritarian theocracy was established by Shia Islamists, led by an “Ayatollah”, a Shia cleric. Since then, US-Iran relations have been hostile; the presence of an anti-American, Shia governed country in the Middle East posed a threat to the rest of the region, which held diplomatic ties to America and Sunni Muslim majorities. Only a year after the Iranian Revolution, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, with the support of the United States and much of the Middle East, invaded Iran, igniting what would become a bloody, eight-year long war. The war quickly taught Iran the futility of direct warfare in the Middle East, as it was completely surrounded by enemies; in response, Iran redirected its efforts after the war to extend its regional influence through the covert funding of militias in other countries, in an attempt to foster instability and aid in revolutions. They launched the Quds Force, a clandestine military intelligence group responsible for supporting international operations and non-state actors. Over time, the Quds Force established military networks to counter US and US-allied agents, funding and training Shia militias, including terrorist groups, such as the Hezbollah group in Lebanon, and governments, such as Assad’s Syria. As Iran gradually succeeded in expanding its ideology and influence in the Middle East — largely due to the military skill of Quds Force commander and Iran’s second-in-command, Major General Qasem Soleimani — the Quds Force became an increasingly important target for the US and its allies. After years of escalating tensions with Iran, the US military began zoning in on Soleimani. Following Iranian attacks on an American air base and embassy in Iraq in late December 2019, the US military finally decided to enact their plan to assassinate Soleimani, in hopes that killing him would severely hamper the Quds Force’s activity in the Middle East. 

We have provided a timeline of the following events to show how the situation has subsequently developed:

    • January 3rd – A US military drone strike, ordered by President Trump, killed Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani and nine other Iranian military officials, just minutes after their arrival in Baghdad, Iraq. Within hours, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and Minister of Foreign affairs all condemned the assassination and vowed for proportionate retaliation. In response, Iraqi citizens swarmed the streets, protesting both Iranian and American influence in their home country.


  • January 4th – Iran fired several rockets at near the US Embassy in Iraq’s Green Zone, a heavily fortified area in Baghdad used by the US military during the Iraq War, but no injuries were reported.
  • January 5th – In an emergency session, the Council of Representatives of Iraq, Iraq’s national legislative body, voted “to work towards ending the presence of all foreign troops on Iraqi soil”.
  • January 8th – In retaliation for Soleimani’s assassination, Iranian military forces launched ballistic missles against two Iraqi airbases housing American and European troops, in a mission codenamed “Operation Martyr Soleimani”. Although Iranian state media claimed that the attack killed 80 and injured 200 American troops, no American troops were killed and only 37 were injured, suffering traumatic head injuries. Iran then once again fired missiles near the US Embassy in Baghdad. Later that day, Ukranian International Airlines Flight 752 was shot down in Tehran, Iran’s capital, only minutes after taking off, killing all 176 individuals onboard. 



  • January 9th – The United States House of Representatives passed a non-binding war powers resolution to limit President Trump’s ability to unilaterally start conflict with Iran, calling for an end to military force against the country if congressional approval is not granted within 30 days.
  • January 11th – After initially denying responsibility, Iran admitted it accidentally shot down Ukranian International airlines Flight 752. The announcement came after days of international pressure and forensic investigations regarding the plane crash.
  • January 20th – Three rockets were fired into Baghdad’s Green Zone, two near the US Embassy, but no casualties were suffered.
  • January 26th – Iran once more fired rockets near the US Embassy, making it the fourth such attack in January. The rocket landed inside the embassy’s walls and injured at least one individual.  injuring at least one. One rocket landed inside the embassy’s walls.
  • February 13th – The United States Senate passed a resolution sponsored by Senator Tim Kaine, requiring congressional approval before any further military action in Iran. Passed by a 55 to 45 vote, with eight Republican senators backing the Democratic-led resolution, the bill will be soon sent to the House, which passed a similar bill earlier in January. However, President Trump pledged to immediately veto the bill if it passes the House, which would render the mandate ineffective.


Currently, the conflict between Iran and the United States appears to have deescalated into a stalemate, with both countries apprehensive to take any sizable action against the other. Instead, they seem to be opting for minor, merely symbolic skirmishes (such as Iran’s persistent attacks against the US embassy). However, just as this situation suddenly began last month, it can suddenly reignite into uncontrollable frenzy, making it incredibly important to stay informed about any possible developments.