As It Happens

Downed jet victims were 'collateral damage' from U.S. strike on Iranian general, says Democrat

If U.S. President Donald Trump hadn't ordered the drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the 176 people aboard Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752 would still be alive, says a Democratic congresswoman.

Bonnie Watson Coleman says 176 people would still be alive if Trump hadn't ordered general's assassination

Democratic U.S. Rep. Bonnie Coleman Watson of New Jersey blames the Trump administration for the downing of a Ukrainian airliner that 176 people, most of whom had direct ties to Canada. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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If U.S. President Donald Trump hadn't ordered the drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the people aboard Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752 would still be alive, says a Democratic congresswoman.

Iran says its Revolutionary Guard mistakenly shot down the commercial jet using surface-to-air missiles, killing all 176 people on board. Of those, 57 were Canadians and 138 were ultimately bound for Canada

"I feel so badly for the families, and I feel so badly for the lives that were snuffed out because of this mistake," Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"Had we not had this situation from the very beginning with the taking out of Soleimani, this probably would not have happened, and those people on their way to Canada to go to school or to reunite with families, they would have done so safely and successfully."

'There is no blame here for America'

Democrats have been pressing for answers about the Trump administration's motivations for assassinating Soleimani on Jan. 3 in Baghdad.

Trump told Fox News he ordered the strike to stop Soleimani from carrying out "imminent" attacks against four U.S. embassies. But U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper later said he'd seen no evidence of such threats. 

The prominent general's death provoked retaliation in the form of Iranian missile strikes against two bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops on Jan. 8. In the hours that followed those strikes, Iran shot down the commercial jetliner in Tehran.

People gather in Tehran for a candlelight vigil to remember the victims of the downed jet. (Ebrahim Noroozi/The Associated Press)

In an interview with Global News this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau drew a link between the crash and the Iran-U.S. conflict.

"I think if there were no tensions, if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families," Trudeau said.

But the Trump administration has repeatedly insisted it shares no blame for the deaths.

The top Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives sidestepped questions about whether the Trump administration should have warned Canada of its plan to kill Soleimani, CBC News reports.

"The president made the right decision," House minority leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

"There is no blame here for America. America stood up once again for freedom. Iran went past a red line they had not gone past before, killing a U.S. citizen. Iran shot down an innocent, commercial airliner. There's no doubt where the blame lies."

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has offered shifting rationales for the Soleimani assassination. 

Several U.S. officials — including U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr — told The Associated Press the strike was motivated by a broad effort to rein in a dangerously emboldened Iran.

But they didn't directly contradict Trump's claims that there was a specific plot against the U.S.

Watson Coleman says she has sat in intelligence briefings about Soleimani's assassination that left her with more questions than answers.

It was "mostly historical information about how bad he's been in the past, what kind of a potential threat he is or was — but nothing that indicated that there was something happening imminently that justified this," she said.

"If it were an imminent threat, and we thwarted that imminent threat, they could have told us. If they believed that that was the singular reason for doing what they did, their messages wouldn't be so confusing and contradictory."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canadians would still be alive if tensions hadn't escalated between the U.S. and Iran in recent months. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Trump tweeted on Monday that it "doesn't matter" whether Soleimani was planning an imminent attack.

"The Fake News Media and their Democrat Partners are working hard to determine whether or not the future attack by terrorist Soleimani was 'imminent' or not, & was my team in agreement," he tweeted. "The answer to both is a strong YES., but it doesn't really matter because of his horrible past!"

As for the downed airliner, the U.S. president said last week: "It has nothing to do with us."

Watson Coleman, however, disagrees with that assessment.

"I do believe it is collateral damage from the decision that this president initiated when he took Soleimani out," she said. "My heart bleeds for that."


Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News and The Associated Press. Interview with Bonnie Watson Coleman produced by Kate Swoger. 

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