The ‘Wil’ of the People: Tensions in Iran

(Graphic by Alex Dascalu/AQ)

On Jan. 8, almost 200 passengers and crew died on UIA Flight PS752, including 57 Canadian citizens and 29 permanent residents. Innocent people are dead because they got caught in a crossfire that could have never happened and had nothing to do with them. 

While Iran and the United States have had a tense relationship for quite some time for a plethora of reasons, this escalation which occurred within two weeks after a United States contractor was killed in Iraq by a missile attack which also wounded several Iraqi and American service members on Dec. 27. The United States blamed Hezbollah (an Iranian-backed militia) for the attack.

In response, on Dec. 29, the United States conducted strikes on various Hezbollah controlled locations in Syria and Iraq, including their headquarters, resulting in roughly 80 casualties, including four Hezbollah commanders. This escalation of tensions culminated in pro-Iranian protesters, enraged by the recent United States strikes, storming the United States Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq on Dec. 31. In retaliation, the United States, as ordered by President Donald Trump, killed top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and other Iranian officials in a drone strike on Jan. 2 near Baghdad’s airport. In response, the Iranians fired over a dozen missiles at two airbases in Al Assad and Irbil, housing United States troops, west of Baghdad, in the early morning of  Jan. 8. No United States troops were killed, but it has now been reported that 11 were treated for concussions. 

Iran made clear through its state media that this was its only retaliation to the United States’ actions, and that if the United States did nothing in return, the missile strike would be the end of the matter. So it was, at least for now. While the United States government could not state on evidence-based reason for their drone strike, Iran certainly did for their retaliation. Trump has claimed that the strike killing Soleimani was pre-emptive in order to prevent allegedly planned attacks on Americans in the region. No evidence has yet proven there were planned attacks on America. 

When it comes to the current escalation of tensions in the Middle East, and in Iraq and Iran in particular, the United States is culpable and should be held accountable for the deaths of the victims of flight PS752; alongside Iran, who fired the missile and shot down the passenger airliner accidentally, only admitting to doing it after originally denying the action. 

While there are investigations underway as to how the Ukrainian airliner was shot down and why, I will speculate what seemingly could have happened. The investigation might confirm or rebuke this.

On the night of this tragedy, the New York Times reported the plane crashed, just after taking off in Tehran, Iran, mere hours after the Iranian missiles had been fired at the airbases in Iraq. I instantly assumed Iran had shot down the plane, despite some skepticism of my friends, to which I was right. Iran had reason to expect retaliation from the United States that night, based on previous rash decisions Trump has made, and of course their anti-air and missile defense systems were prepared for that possibility. Flight PS752 took off, a ping showed up on a defense system radar in Tehran, and an Iranian military service member fired a missile, killing hundreds of innocents, and only thinking when it was far too late. This speculation of mine in no way is meant to demean Iranian actions, it is merely a likely possibility of what happened and why Flight PS752 was shot down. 

Amid international condemnation of Iran for this heinous act, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Jan. 17, “I want to be clear, we expect Iran to compensate these families.” Trudeau also said the Canadian Government will pay $25 thousand to the families of the victims (per victim), to help with any immediate needs they may have. Currently, Iran is reportedly co-operating with the Canadian Transportation Safety Board investigators in Tehran. However, Canada is still seeking official status in Iran’s investigation of the incident for the Canadian investigators to access the flight recorder’s data, a key part of understanding any aircraft incident. 

On Jan. 16, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Phillipe Champagne was in London, United Kingdom, meeting with high-ranking counterparts from nations that lost citizens in the crash, which are Canada, Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and the United Kingdom.

According to the CBC, Champagne said he and his fellow dignitaries laid out a series of demands for Iran which included “full access within Iran to allow them to provide consular services to relatives of the victims; assurance that the victim identification process is conducted with ‘dignity, transparency and to international standards, and to ensure families’ wishes are respected;” access to a thorough, independent and transparent international investigation governed by the Convention on International Civil Aviation, and a commitment from Iran that it will continue to assume full responsibility for the disaster and co-operate with compensation talks.” 

At the time of writing, Jan. 17, Minister Champagne is in Oman, meeting face to face with the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, expressing our nation’s sentiments, concerns and demands to the Iranian government. 

Hopefully the families of the victims of this tragedy get the justice they deserve, in as much as they can receive it. An important lesson for those of us learning the ways in which the world works is that no good comes from reckless action, like the United States drone strike which severely escalated the situation with Iran and certainly started the domino effect which led to the deaths of so many innocent people, with so much life to live and promise ahead of them. Our thoughts go to those impacted by this tragedy. The eyes of the world are indeed rightly focused on Iran now, but don’t let the United States escape from the periphery of culpability either.


The ‘Wil’ of the People is a biweekly political column focusing on local, provincial and national and international political events. It’s written by Wil Robertson.