Washington’s recent military operation in Iraqi territory against officials of both Iran and Iraq was a violation of the territorial integrity of both nations and an act of terrorism.
THE SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
On January 3, Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, along with 10 commanders of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces aboard, were in two cars at an airport in Baghdad. The vehicles were targeted by US military drones which attacked and killed all of the passengers. The Pentagon claimed responsibility for the strike, announcing that it had been ordered by President Donald Trump.
Trump argued that Iran had been behind the events at the US embassy in Baghdad last week. Of course, US officials have become accustomed to claiming that Iran is behind every incident opposed to their interests in the Middle East– naturally, they have not come forward with any proof of their claims.
The Pentagon says that the US Army’s attack was a response to Iran’s anti-American activities in the region. However, let’s remember that just a week ago, the US launched several airstrikes against the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, provoking an extremely negative reaction from the Iraqi authorities.
REACTIONS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared that harsh vengence awaits all those who carried out the assassination. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani also said that the people of Iran and the region will seek revenge for the attack. Iran’s National Security High Council said in a statement that it will take revenge against America whenever and wherever it deems appropriate. The US, it seems, will be held accountable for its actions.
US State Secretary Mike Pompeo delusionally tweeted that Iraqis are happy about Soleimani’s death, while Trump tweeted an American flag as a symbol of victory.
Iraqis — Iraqis — dancing in the street for freedom; thankful that General Soleimani is no more. pic.twitter.com/huFcae3ap4
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 3, 2020
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu predictably praised Trump’s decision. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, however, called the measure a perilous intensification of tensions, noting that the strike was launched without the permission or consultation of Congress.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:
"Just as Israel has the right of self-defense, the United States has exactly the same right.
Qassem Soleimani is responsible for the death of American citizens and many other innocent people. He was planning more such attacks. pic.twitter.com/tuCKQn0mbf
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) January 3, 2020
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the assassination a recklessly provocative action. The spokeswoman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova, said that the US is attempting to alter the balance of power in the middle east, but assured that the assassination will only result in further escalation of tensions.
New #Soleimani talking points: Russian MFA's Zakharova complains that "US military acted on the orders of US politicians. We need to remember and understand that. US politicians have their own interests, notably, that's it's an election year" #WagTheDog https://t.co/a19ko5sqKx pic.twitter.com/18RTUp0eCf
— Andrew S. Weiss (@andrewsweiss) January 3, 2020
The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed concerns about increasing tensions between Iran and America, announcing that the US’ airstrikes are increasing insecurity and instability. Turkey said that Iraq must cease to be a scene of clashes and called on all parties to work toward peace and stability in the Middle East.
The spokesperson for Justice and Development Party, Omer Celik, called the US’ operation a provocative action against Iraq and the entire region. Celik added that actions such as assassinations, internal interventions and religious disputes will drag Iraq and the region as a whole into serious a situation of serious instability. The spokesman for Turkish president, Ibrahim Kalin, called on all sides to behave rationally and refuse to take any measures that might further increase tensions.
“#Turkey has always been against foreign interventions, assassinations & sectarian conflicts in the region,” @MFATurkey says after US strike kills Gen. Soleimani. “We are deeply worried about the escalating tension between the US & #Iran in the region.”https://t.co/PJObVm0NX2
— Emre Peker (@wsjemre) 3 января 2020 г.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi described the US’ action as hostile. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also heavily criticized the United States’ unauthorized use of force. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands warned that the violence in Baghdad would only increase as a result.
The assassination of Soleimani and subsequent reaction of politicians throughout the region could likely severely reduce the US’ influence in Iraq.
Trump’s actions have created a deeper alliance among loyal forces to Iran, and assured that Iran is justified in engaging in military defense beyond its borders in the eyes of other nations. Iran can now take advantage of the US’ reduced influence in Iraq and push for more political activity from Popular Mobilization Forces like Lebanese Hezbollah under the auspices of loyal forces to Iran.
GENERAL SOLEIMANI’S ACHIEVEMENTS IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, the country’s defensive strategy has been designed in response to Israeli threats, often based on proxy wars. To this end, Iran established the most important tool in its arsenal, the foreign branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, the Quds Force.
In 1997, concurrent with upsurge of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Qasem Soleimani was appointed commander of the Quds Force to help prevent the infiltration of the Taliban into Iranian territory. Later, by properly applying Iran’s defensive strategy, he was able to significantly strengthen the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah and Palestinian militias. The Quds Force played an important part in liberating Lebanon from Israeli occupation in 2002 under Soleimani’s leadership. This achievement helped Hezbollah play a more effective role in Lebanese political arena, eventually gaining cabinet and parliamentary membership in the Lebanese government.
Soleimani played a very important role in Iraq as well. In 2007, when the US Army attacked the consular office of Iran in Erbil and detained five Iranian diplomats, Soleimani launched sophisticated response operations. In the course of these operations, forces linked to Iran broke into an American military base in Karbala leaving 5 dead and 3 wounded. This was when Soleimani became well known in the international arena.
After ISIS emerged in Iraq, Soleimani concentrated his effortts against this new and dangerous terrorist organization, helping to unify Iraqi military forces while training and supporting them with groups such as Saraya Al-Khorasani, As’ib Ahl Al-Haq and Kata’ib Hezbollah.
In Syria, Soleimani succeeded in designing and organizing the National Defense Forces to fight against ISIS.
— Giselle (@Edoardo_zm) January 5, 2020
Soleimani also successfully established the Liwa Fatemiyoun group by organizing Afghani combatants and the Liwa Zainebiyoun group with Pakistani combatants, both of which played a critical role in the war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
Before Soleimani took command, the Quds Force only operated in limited areas of Lebanon and Palestine. After he took charge, the force expanded its operational base across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel, Jordan, North Africa, Iraq, Syria and finally the Arabian Peninsula. This expansion led to a reduction in US influence in the Middle East. This reduction in influence was one of the main reasons behind the US geopolitical shift from the Middle East to Asia.
Short promo vid for the IRGC sponsored #Afghan militia Liwa Fatemiyoun and #Pakistani militia Liwa Zainebiyoun SE of #DeirEzzor, #Syria. Few shots of armor & other heavy equipped operated by the groups, and of course a quick appearance by Soleimani. pic.twitter.com/jWRH5tQGLU
— Vince Beshara (@vincebeshara) November 28, 2017
Under Soleimani’s leadership, the IRGC’s Quds Force played a very direct role in the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, as well as in the Lebanese and Palestine resistance against Israel. It also helped integrate and maintain relations between Syria and Iraq in the fight against terrorism.
However, one of Soleimani’s most important achievements was the fostering of friendly relations between the people and the military at home. A highly charismatic figure to begin with, he became extremely popular among Iranians because of his role in the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. He did a great deal to improve relations between the population and the army, overcoming conflicts that had sprouted up as a result of British and American propaganda.
WHO WILL SUCCEED SOLEIMANI?
Iran’s leadership has chosen General Esmail Ghaani as Soleimani’s successor.
Gen. Esmail Ghaani made his remarks in an interview with Iranian state television. https://t.co/Xpujcmxp8u
— HuffPost (@HuffPost) January 6, 2020
Ghaani previously served as a deputy in the Quds Force, commanding a division during Saddam Hussein’s war with Iran. He participated in many important and sensitive operations which led to Iran’s victory.
Unlike Soleimani, Ghaani is not a well-known figure and few interviews with him have been released.“If there were no Islamic Republic, the US would have burned the whole region,” Ghaani once said. This Friday, Ghaani vowed to take revenge against the US for his predecessor’s murder: “Be patient, and you will see the bodies of Americans all over the Middle East.”
On the whole, it is clear that General Ghaani’s thought is in line General Soleimani’s, and that he will continue in much the same direction. Iranian leadership also announced that the Quds Force would maintain its previous policies regardless of Soleimani’s assassination.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?
Political authorities of nations from around the world expressed concerns about the rebellion, tension and expanded clashes between Iran and America that will likely result from Soleimani’s assassination. Naturally, Trump’s decision will provoke a serious reaction on the part of Iran: an enormous battle might be looming ahead, the apex of the 40-year long enmity between the two nations.
Iranian officials have made clear that they will issue a swift and powerful response to Washington’s terrorist attack. In recent years, Iran has effectively reacted to measures contrary to its interests and attacks, regardless of the source. For example, after Israel’s air strike on positions of western part of Iraq, a drone strike against an Aramco refinery in Saudi Arabia was carried out.
Iran decisively responded to terrorist attacks by ISIS in Tehran, attacking the terrorist organization’s positions in Syria with missile barrages. Iran also reacted strongly to the seizure of its oil tanker seizure in Gibraltar, retaliating by seizing a British oil tanker in turn.
When a US spy drone violated its airspace, Iran did not hesitate to destroy the craft.
With this in mind, it is likely that Iran will soon take retaliatory measures against the US. There are several possibilities:
Missile-attacks could be launched against US positions in Iraq. There is also a possibility that Iran will target US drones wherever they are in range of their air defense systems.
Actions could be taken against US allies like Saudi Arabia or Israel, carried out by forces allied with Iran such as Hamas, Lebanese Hezbollah or the Houthi movement in Yemen.
The third option is more likely, as Iranian officials have always tried to de-escalate the level of tension in the Middle East. For the same reason, it is rather outlandish to believe Iran will wage a face-to-face confrontation as opposed to its current proxy war strategy against the US and its allies. Iran’s defensive strategy in the Middle East is based on proxy wars: a tool which Soleimani himself designed and enacted.
However, the US’ actions have pushed the country toward an all-out war, and have provoked a decidedly negative reaction throughout the region. Although the assassination itself was successful, it will likely be followed by the forced full withdrawl of American troops from Iraq, regardless of how Iran responds. In other words, Washington’s terrorist attack has led to a general questioning of the philosophy of continued American troop presence in Iraq.
The US openly violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq with this strike, murdering Iranian and Iraqi officials. Internationally, this essentially amounts to a proclamation of war against both countries and has spurred serious insecurity across the Middle East.
The US has shown time and time again that is is desperate to justify the deployment of troops in throughout the Middle East through various provocations; however, this time, Trump might have something even more dangerous aim in mind, taking decisive aim at the people of the Middle East.