When the world rang in the New Year on January 1, Iranians were reeling from the country’s worst political unrest in decades. Just weeks before, tens of thousands of people had poured onto the streets across Iranian cities, in an outburst of anger over corruption and hardship as the country’s economy buckled under the weight of US-imposed sanctions.
The protests were met with a deadly crackdown by the security forces, leaving many in Iran believing things could not get any worse.
Then on January 3, the United States assassinated a top Iranian general in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad.
The killing of Qassem Soleimani sent shockwaves through the Middle East and beyond, triggering fears of an all-out war between Washington and Tehran. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei pledged “severe revenge” and the country’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) responded a few days later by firing a volley of rockets at US targets in Iraq. The retaliatory attacks did not cause any deaths but shortly afterwards, an IRGC operator mistakenly fired two missiles at a Ukrainian passenger jet over the country’s capital.
All 176 people on board died. Most of the victims were Iranian.
The turn of events was dizzying.