Mains Articles

US-Iran Conflict Explained [Mains Article]

The direct confrontation between the two countries has put the global future at stake, a wrong move and the world faces the nuclear wrath.
By IT's Mains Articles Team
January 11, 2020


  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Latest conflict
  • Will World war 3 start?
  • Impacts on India
  • Way ahead

US-Iran Conflict Explained

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  • The present conflict between Iran and U.S. is the result of longstanding differences between the countries spanning around four decades.

Iran's Qassem Soleimani and Iraq's Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis killed in US air strike 1

  • The decades saw Iran aspiring a nuclear program and the resulting trade sanctions imposed on it by U.S., formulation of JCPOA and the withdrawal of U.S. from the deal in 2018.
  • The tensions have escalated presently with the killing of the Iran’s top security and intelligence commander Major General Qassem Soleimani in a drone attack in Baghdad claimed by U.S.


Iran’s nuclear program:

  • Iran has pursued a nuclear program since at least 1957, with varying degrees of success. By the late 1980s during a brutal war with Iraq, Iran decided to develop nuclear weapons to ensure its security.
  • Consequently, Iran pursued nuclear agreements with China and Russia throughout the 1990s to support its ongoing research into the development of nuclear weapons.
  • Under growing scrutiny and international pressure, in 2003-04 Iran agreed to terminate its nuclear weapons program, insisting only that it maintain its nuclear centrifuges for nuclear energy
  • However, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) exposed that Iran had continued to pursue nuclear weapons later in 2003.
  • P5+1 countries (United States, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) began a series of negotiations in an effort to constrain Iran’s nuclear program and prevent the development of nuclear weapons.
  • To encourage Iran to cease uranium enrichment and come to the negotiating table, the UN Security Council imposed economic sanctions on Iran in 2006.
  • The negotiations of P5+1 resulted into an agreement called JCPOA in 2015, giving Iran relief from some sanctions.
  • The U.S. government under Trump opted out the deal in 2018 citing it was redundant, bringing the countries on front foot again. 


Latest conflict:

What happened in Baghdad?

  • Gen Soleimani was killed in an airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq on 3 January 2020, for which the US later claimed responsibility.

Why General Qassem Soleimani mattered 1

  • The airstrike came after a week of conflict between the United States and Iranian-backed militia (PMF) in Iraq, starting with a rocket attack from the later at a US military base on December 27, which killed an American contractor.

Who was Gen Soleimani and what is Quds Force?

  • Gen Soleimani, 62, was in charge of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) since 1998, headed Iranian military operations in the Middle East and looked after intelligence gathering and covert military operations.

Qassem Soleimani 1

  • He drew immense influence from his closeness to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and was seen as a potential future leader (Presidential candidate) of Iran, according to various reports.
  • IRGC was a branch of the Iranian Armed forces founded after the Iranian Revolution in April 1979.
  • The Quds Force undertook Iranian missions in other countries, including unconventional warfare, intelligence activities and other covert operations.

Guardians of the Revolution

  • It had been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by USA in April 2019.

About Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC):

  • Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini set up the IRGC in 1979 after the Iranian Revolution ended to protect the Islamic order of the new Iranian government.
  • IRGC has contributed roughly 125,000 men to Iran’s forces and has the capability of undertaking asymmetric warfare and covert operations.
  • This includes the Quds Force that over the years has established links with the Hezbollah of Lebanon, Shi’ite militias in Iraq, Shi’ites in Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories.

How the US justified his killing?

  • Since the US had designated Revolutionary Guards as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in April last year, the Department of Defence whitewashed the assassination by stating that the Soleimani’s leadership role was in conflict with the interests of US.
  • They further cited that General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.

Iran withdraws from JCPOA:

  • Iran has announced its full withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal,

. Iran withdraws from JCPOA

  • The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is an agreement between Iran and P5+1 countries (United States, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom).
  • The nuclear deal was endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, adopted on July 20, 2015 and requires Iran to significantly cut its stores of centrifuges, enriched uranium and heavy-water, all key components for nuclear weapons, in exchange of relief from the sanctions implied on it.
  • Donald Trump had walked away from the landmark nuclear treaty in May 2018 arguing that it emboldened Iran to act against American interests and gave Iran greater negotiating power.
  • Iran decided to fully withdraw from the pact criticizing U.S. for General’s killing and the international community for failing to adequately pressure the U.S. to return to the deal.

Iran fired missiles on Iraqi air bases hosting U.S. military forces:

  • Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at al-Asad airbase in Al Anbar and another base in Erbil, Iraq in retaliation for the killing of top Iranian General which has claimed to have killed 80 U.S. nationals on January 8.
  • S. has maintained that the air strikes killed none and the assessment is continued.

What could happen now?

  • The exchange of fire from both sides has left the Middle East on edge, with possible repercussions beyond the region.
  • The possibility of Iranian retaliatory attacks, possibly including cyber-attacks and terrorism on American interests and allies increases.
  • If the United States and Iran continue to engage in a military conflict, Iran could attempt to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which 30 % of the world’s oil flows, which would raise oil prices globally.
  • A U.S.-Iran confrontation could trigger an escalation of proxy warfare in countries like Syria and Yemen, or an increase in Iranian missile strikes targeting the seventy thousand U.S. troops in the Middle East.
  • Iran is already isolated in the global front, the United States risks isolating itself from already beleaguered allies especially in the Middle East.

Will World war 3 start?


  • Iran President Hassan Rouhani has said the country is facing “unprecedented pressure” from international sanctions, calling it a “war unprecedented in the history of Islamic revolution”.
  • US has said it does not want war with Iran “fundamentally” but pressurise Iran to bring it back to the negotiating table.
  • Iran is adamant that it won’t negotiate with the U.S., but has also made it clear that the country does not want a war.
  • The U.S. reviewed its military plans against Iran and has included sending over 120,000 troops to the Middle East in case the Iranian forces attack U.S. personnel stationed in the region, or start accelerating its work on the nuclear programme.
  • The Iranian side is also on the cusp of a full-scale confrontation with the enemy.
  • However, the possibility of a full-fledged world war is very low.
  • But it will for sure escalate the tensions between the countries and will have ripple effect in Middle East and will be seen as growth of Terrorism, unconventional wars and escalating oil prices globally.

Impacts on India:

  • India’s overall relationship with Iran can also get affected by the growing tensions, according to observers. For India, Iran provides an access to Central Asia and Europe by bypassing Pakistan.
  • It can adversely affect Indian investments in Chabahar Port in Iran, as the tensions in the country will be detrimental to the completion of the project.
  • It can lead to rise of Taliban in Afghanistan, backed by Iran, in order to disturb the Afghan Peace Deals as it is in the interest of US. This can hamper Indian interests and investments in Afghanistan.
  • Over 8 million Indian migrants who live and work in West Asia could be affected by a potential conflict in the region.
  • The conflict has caused oil prices to increase which are further expected to soar if it continues to exist.
  • The conflict has led to downfall in Share markets and will lower Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) and Foreign Institutional Investments (FIIs), hitting Indian economy further.

India needs to finely balance its approach towards Iran and U.S. since India’s interest lies in both the countries.

Way ahead:

  • The direct confrontation between the two countries has put the global future at stake, a wrong move and the world faces the nuclear wrath.
  • In absence of a pact like JCPOA, Iran will advance its nuclear program and train proxy forces throughout the Middle East, and the conflicts will increase further in future.
  • Hence, the need of the hour is a strong deal of negotiations between the countries and moving towards a better agreement which suits the interests of both the countries and global community.
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