As far as modern American military blunders go, the assassination of Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, along with the deputy commander of the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, near Baghdad Airport last week is up there with the worst. This includes the fateful invasion of Iraq in 2003, which basically opened the floodgates of previously contained Iranian influence, altering the geopolitical balance of the region. In both instances, US decision-makers underestimated the deep cultural and religious links between Iraq (in particular its Shia citizens in the south) and its neighbour Iran.
In a reversal of weeks of anti-government protests in Baghdad and much of the south — which saw arson attacks against Iranian consulates — the backlash against America’s violation of Iraqi sovereignty by bombing its armed forces and murdering a celebrated war hero caused many Iraqis to go onto the streets to show the world how popular Soleimani was. The demonstrations also showed how strong the bond with Iran is and just how badly the administration of President Donald Trump has erred. An experienced US army intelligence analyst has started a Twitter thread explaining why killing Soleimani was a “huge mistake”.
Soleimani's slaying will backfire on US precisely because Iran has allies rather than proxies, who share deep historical, cultural, ideological & strategic ties, as I argue in my article "Challenging the sponsor-proxy model: the Iran–Hizbullah relationship”https://t.co/gbxSOWsAyf
— Amal Saad (@amalsaad_lb) January 4, 2020
According to the Director of Research at the National Iranian American Council, Reza Marashi, Trump’s foreign policy is driven by a desire to be “anti-Obama”, and has been since his inauguration in 2017; the US President is surrounded by hawkish advisors looking to “settle scores” with Iran. Marashi claims that US officials have told him that after going after Soleimani throughout his presidency, Trump finally took the bait and did it. Four years ago, he had no idea who Soleimani was.
What is going to happen now? The US can expect a renewed insurgency should it ignore the Iraqi government’s troop withdrawal order, although Washington will justify this by the need to contain Iran and fight Daesh remnants. Iran will support such an insurgency, but that should not be assumed to be “the Iranian response”. According to local sources, the US has asked via Swiss intermediaries that any retaliation should be “proportionate”.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu has “accidentally” let slip that his country is a nuclear power, forgoing its established policy of ambiguity somewhat conveniently at a time when Iran has said that it will abandon the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Whatever happens, America may well learn, like Israel before it, that assassinations yield minimal results. When the Israelis assassinated Sayyid Abbas Al-Musawi, the co-founder of Hezbollah in Lebanon, for example, they did not foresee that under the charismatic leadership of Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah the movement reach even greater political and military heights. Perhaps the Quds Force is destined to do likewise.
With so many hawks around him, I don’t believe that Donald Trump fully understands the implications of his order to kill Qassem Soleimani. How many more innocent people are going to lose their lives before he does?