Qassem Soleimani was at the Baghdad International Airport last week when he was assassinated in an airstrike ordered by President Donald J. Trump. The Iranian general’s death has been at the center of increasing tensions between Iran and the United States.
Soleimani was viewed as a national hero. Across that country there were an unprecedented funeral procession in major cities over the last three days. His death has raised concerns that Iran will carry out lethal revenge for his death.
The United States is already acting. President Trump has deployed some 3,500 troops to the Persian Gulf, some coming from Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
But war is always a concern to Indian Country. American Indians and Alaska Natives have a higher participation in the military than any other ethnic group in America. And all of the relatives have thoughts.
"I was frustrated that just a day before the announcement, we as a tribe were dancing for peace, rain and blessings while other people were talking about war,” said Ricardo Cate, a cartoonist from Kewa Pueblo in response to rising tension in Iran.
Others shared similar sentiments including this Twitter user:
U.S. officials are preparing for any possible retaliation from Iran, they said in a press conference today. One official added that the U.S. anticipates a “major” attack within the next day or so. Another said they aren’t clear on the intentions of Iran’s recent military moves.
“Personally I am saddened by this as many families are scared for their husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, sons or daughters who have been deployed into a volatile situation,” said Kella Kay With Horn, a Cheyenne River Sioux veteran who served in the Army during the Desert Storm Era.
“We may not always understand or agree but we have a commander-in-chief who we report to,” Horn said. “Ultimately, this is what we do.”
Earlier today a stampede broke out that killed at least 56 people and injured more than 200 in a funeral procession for Soleimani, Iranian news reports said. There is no information about what set off the crush. Online videos showed people lying apparently lifeless. Officials say Soleimani’s burial will now be delayed. A new date or time has not been announced.
Trump, who has been vocal on Twitter, said 52 sites in Iran have been identified as targets should Iran decide to retaliate against the U.S. In a series of tweets, he said some of the sites are “at a very high level & important to Iran and the Iranian culture.”
This has prompted dialogue of sacred site protection in Indigenous communities.
“The targeting of cultural sites is viewed to be a violation of international law during times of war,” said Casey Douma, a Laguna Pueblo and Hopi-Tewa attorney. “The potential of the U.S. destroying cultural sites in Iran is concerning for all peoples of the world.”
Douma added, “... the protection of cultural sites is important. Right now, there are places like Chaco Canyon, Bears Ears, and Mauna Kea, that could benefit from the same level of concern as we are giving to Iranian cultural sites.”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper was quick to react and responded, “We will follow the laws of armed conflict.”
The military actions of President Trump have caused lawmakers, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, to discuss the president’s military authority moving forward. Pelosi announced she will hold votes in the U.S. House of Representatives this week to limit Trump’s ability to engage Iran. A Senate vote is expected to follow.
Native congressional members have chimed in the discussion as well. Reps. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk and D-Kansas, and Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo and D-New Mexico, have stated their opposition to the killing of Soleimani.
Reps. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, and Markwayne Mullin, R-Oklahoma, are on the other side of the aisle. They have shared their approval of the president’s actions to kill Soleimani.
Other Native organizations and public figures have released statements on their stances with the Iranian conflict. Most notably, Mark Charles, Diné, who is running for president.
“I condemn the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that resulted in the death of a US contractor,” said the Independent presidential candidate in a statement. “I also condemn the impulsive response by the Trump administration of assassinating top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.”
The Red Nation, an organization “dedicated to the liberation of Native people from capitalism and colonialism,” released a statement on Saturday demanding withdrawal of U.S. troops and halting hostilities with Iran. The organization says they’ve been closely following action in the Middle East for some time.
There are no imminent threats of attack but metro cities have been preparing for any type of threat. New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio said their city has been vigilant. Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., are also on the alert. There is also increased security at government sites.
Support Indian Country Today by becoming a member. Click here.