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Lesson Plans

Study guide: US kills Iran's top general

January 6, 2020

Full Lesson

Demonstrators attend a protest against the assassination of the Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis who were killed in an air strike in Baghdad airport, in Tehran, Iran Jan. 3, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Nazanin Tabatabaee via REUTERS



Directions: Read the summary, watch the video and answer the questions. See additional articles or videos below under “Extension activities.” Also, be sure to check out PBS Colorin Colorado’s article on “How Schools Can Create a Safe Environment for Muslim Students.”


Iran vowed “harsh retaliation” after President Donald Trump ordered Friday’s airstrike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, one of Iran’s top military commanders.

According to the Trump administration, Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was killed because he was actively planning attacks on U.S. diplomats and service members. It is not clear what legal authority the U.S. had to carry out the attack, which took place on Iraqi soil. In the past, U.S. presidents claim broad authority to act without the approval of the Congress when American personnel or interests are facing an imminent threat.

The Trump administration has referred to Iran as an “imminent” threat but as of Jan. 6th has produced few details defining “imminent.” Soleimani has been blamed for attacks on U.S. troops and American allies going back decades. Iran has vowed to retaliate, raising fears of an all-out war.


Earlier last week, supporters of the Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah staged a 24-hour sit-in, scaled the U.S. embassy walls in Baghdad, Iraq and broke the reception area’s windows. They demanded the U.S. close the embassy and withdraw its more than 5,000 troops from Iraq.

Protestors were responding to U.S. airstrikes on Dec. 29th against members of the same militia. The U.S. blames the group for killing an American military contractor and attacking U.S. bases in Iraq 11 times in the last two months.

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a veteran Iraqi militant who was closely allied with Iran, was also killed in the same attack with Soleimani.

Al-Muhandis was the deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of mostly Shiite paramilitaries who trace their roots back to the Shiite insurgency against the U.S. after the 2003 invasion.

Additional U.S. troops sent to the Middle East

On Saturday, hundreds of U.S. troops were deployed from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Kuwait to serve as reinforcements in the Middle East amid rising tensions.

Demonstrators in dozens of cities around the U.S. gathered Saturday to protest the Trump administration’s killing of an Iranian general and decision to send thousands of additional soldiers to the Middle East.

Trump tweets

Trump tweeted Saturday that if Iran attacks any American assets in response to Soleimani’s death, the U.S. has 52 targets across the Islamic Republic that “WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.” Some are “important to Iran & Iranian culture,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo deflected questions whether targeting cultural sites violates international law on Sunday morning news shows. On CBS last week, Pompeo blamed the Iranian government for the upswell in violence, calling it “Iranian-backed terrorism that took place that threatened American interests.”

Iran’s reaction

Iran has vowed swift retaliation. “I am telling Americans, especially Trump, we will take a revenge that will change their daylight into to a nighttime darkness,” said the cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami.

On Monday, Tehran’s streets were packed with thousands of mourners following the funeral of Soleimani. Mourners pointed out that Soleimani helped defeat ISIS and others shouted “Down with the USA” and “Death to the USA.”

Members of Hezbollah (Iranian-backed armed Islamist group based in Lebanon) and their supporters gathered on Sunday in Beirut, Lebanon, to mourn the death of Suleimani.

Discussion questions (choose the questions that work best for your class):

  1. Focus question: What would a potential war with Iran mean?
  2. Who was General Qassem Soleimani? (if time allows, watch video here)
  3. What is the Trump administration’s justification for killing Soleimani?
  4. What has the reaction been in Iran and in the Middle East on Soleimani’s death?
  5. Congress didn’t vote on approving the attack on Soleimani. What is Congress’ role in approving such attacks?
  6. What is the relationship between Iran and the United States?
  7. How do you think the U.S. should proceed at this point in time?
  8. The thought of war can be very frightening. If you are upset or worried, who are a couple of people you can share your feelings with?
  9. You likely go to school with people of different backgrounds, races and religions. Why is it important to listen and be kind to others, particularly during volatile times when rhetoric tends to be ratcheted up?
  10. Media literacy: Be sure to check out a few other news websites (i.e. Fox, CNN, Young Turks, Washington Post, Al Jazeera) in order to get various perspectives on the killing of General Soleimani. What similarities or differences do you see in how these news outlets report the situation in Iraq and potential conflict with Iran? Why is it important to check reports from a few different news organizations?
  11. Media literacy: Soon after the news of the assassination, Instagram and the rest of social media were flooded with memes about the draft and WW3. What memes have you seen and how do they affect young people’s understanding of the situation?

Extension activities:

1. More teaching resources: Thanks to Melinda Anderson for these suggestions: Check out the article “As a teacher and a daughter: The impact of Islamophobia” at Rethinking Schools and this article “Greed as a Weapon: Teaching the Other Iraq War” at Zinn Education Project; also, this host of classroom resources at In addition, read Rusul Alrubail’s articles on PBS NewsHour. Rusul has provided us with a trove of deeply thoughtful works on Islam that teachers and students will benefit from.

2. Visit SHARE MY LESSON for additional lesson plans and resources on Iran:

3. If time allows, read the news article that best suits your class:

Protests across US condemn action in Iran and Iraq

Trump’s threats draw Iran’s cultural sites into tensions

More US troops deploy to Mideast amid tensions with Iran

U.S. kills Iran’s most powerful general in Baghdad airstrike

4. WATCH VIDEO: Why the U.S. military targeted Qassam Soleimani — and how Iran might react: How is Iran likely to react to the American military strike that killed top general Qassam Soleimani — and how well prepared is the U.S. to withstand that response? Media literacy: What questions would you ask the two guests? Are there differences in the two men’s perspectives? Did you notice any bias in the segment?

WATCH VIDEO: Take a look at this video for a recap of what happened leading up to the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

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