U.S. Strike on Soleimani Raises Questions of International Law

A blog post by Patrick Carey, Junior Associate. 

The United States ordered the drone strike that killed Iran’s top military commander, Qasam Soleimani,at the Iraq International Airport on January 3.[1] In Iran, General Soleimani, leader of the Quds Force, was one of the most powerful people in the country and he was viewed by many as a national hero.[2] However, American officials claim Soleimani was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of soldiers during the Iraq war and the pentagon released a statement that “General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”[3] This attacked has raised questions of international law for killing a state actor and for carrying out the strike on Iraq soil.

The relevant law of the UN Charter, Article 51, allows for the use of force against someone when the force is authorized by the UN Security Council and when a country is acting in self-defense.[4] The U.S did not have authorization from the UN Security Council but claims to have acted in self-defense to prevent “imminent attacks” being planned by Soleimani.[5] According to a 2010 UN report it is permissible to use force in self-defense “against a real and imminent threat when the necessity of that self-defence is instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation.”[6] The American government has not yet provided evidence of any imminent attacks.



[1] Michael Crowley, Falih Hassan & Eric Schmitt, U.S. Strike in Iraq Kills Qassam Suleimani, Commander or Iranian Forces, NY Times (Jan. 7, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/02/world/middleeast/qassem-soleimani-iraq-iran-attack.html.

[2] Archi Shukla, The Killing of General Soleimani- A Blatant Violation of International Laws, Jurist (April 14, 2020), https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/04/archit-shukla-general-soleimani-international-law/.

[3] Crowley et al. supra note 1.

[4] U.N. Charter art. 51.

[5] Reality Check Team, Soleimani Attack: What does International Law Say?, BBC News (Jan. 7, 2020), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-51007961.

[6] Id.; Human Rights Council, Rep. of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston (Special Rapporteur) on its Fourteenth Session, at 15, U.N. Doc A/HRC/14/24/Add.6 (2010).

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