World, Middle East

Plane tragedy enrages Iran protesters

Iran said it 'unintentionally' shot down Ukrainian passenger plane

Syed Zafar Mehdi   | 15.01.2020
Plane tragedy enrages Iran protesters

TEHRAN

Iran's stunning admission that it "unintentionally" shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane with a missile, hours after launching missile attacks on bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq, has drawn anger and outrage across the country.

Iranians have staged demonstrations in different parts of the country to denounce what they call "sheer carelessness" that resulted in the death of 176 people on board. 

The plane tragedy came hours after Iran fired a dozen ballistic missiles on airbases housing U.S. troops in Iraq, in response to the killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a U.S. drone airstrike near Baghdad airport on Jan. 3.

After initially denying reports that one of its missiles had struck the passenger plane, Iran admitted that it had "unintentionally" shot down the aircraft, calling it a "human error".

While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani termed the incident "an unforgivable mistake", the elite Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) said the plane was mistaken for a U.S. cruise missile after it had changed its path and turned towards a sensitive military site.

"It is an unforgivable mistake, a big tragedy that could have been averted if necessary precautions had been put in place," a protester in Tehran who only gave his first name, Sodabeh, told Anadolu Agency.

"At the time of war, when you have launched a major military operation against your enemy, you just cannot keep your airspace open and allow flights to operate," he said, calling for an impartial investigation and strict action against those responsible.

Apology not enough

Another protester, Hisham, said an apology was not enough for the tragic incident.

"How can you justify killing 176 people because of a 'mistake'?, How can you explain this 'human error' to the families who lost their loved ones in this tragedy," he said. "It just won't make any sense to them."

There were 82 Iranians among the plane victims, in addition to 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Britons and three Germans.

According to reports, demonstrations have been going on in various Iranian cities since the plane incident.

People have also taken to social media to express their anger and resentment.

"I still cannot believe it. After the killing of Gen. Soleimani, people were in a state of mourning, but this is not the kind of 'revenge' we were expecting," wrote one Instagram user.

"How do we overcome this catastrophic tragedy, this heartbreaking event?"

Commenting on the protests, U.S. President Donald Trump took to Twitter to address the "the brave, long-suffering people of Iran".

"I've stood with you since the beginning of my presidency, and my administration will continue to stand with you. We are following your protests closely, and are inspired by your courage," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who according to reports had persuaded Trump to order the attack on Soleimani, said he stands with the Iranian people "who deserve a better future".

Unimpressed

But Iranians don't seem too impressed with the support extended by U.S. officials.

"The person who threatens to bombard Iranian cultural sites, which is a war crime, cannot be a well-wisher of the people of Iran," said Ali Reza, a protester.

"We are sad and shocked over what happened, but we don't need sympathy or support of Trump and his friends."

Pouya Alimagham, an Iranian-American historian and author at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), said Iranians have "every right to be angry and to protest" and authorities in Iran should be "held to account".

"But the U.S. government has no credibility vis-a-vis Iran and should mind its own business," he said. "Pompeo is blatantly intervening in Iran's domestic affairs."

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