The commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds force, Qassem Soleimani, was killed in a US airstrike in Baghdad. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Iran, Iraq and numerous other countries to honor the memory of the legendary general, one of Iran’s most important leaders after Hassan Rouhani and Ayatollah Khomenei.
The assassination of Soleimani was preceded by a series of events in Iraq that culminated in Friday’s tragedy. It all started in October with the outbreak of massive protests in Iraq (the largest the country had experienced since 2003), where slogans against poverty and corruption quickly became challenges to the government, including direct demands for a change of power.
In parallel, some forces deliberately began trying to spoil Iranian-Iraqi relations by accusing Tehran of trying to influence Baghdad’s policies in the civilian sphere and via the military organisation Al-Hashd al-Shaabi.
On December 27, the Pentagon reported that Kata’ib Hezbollah had fired 30 rockets on US coalition forces, killing one civilian contractor.
On December 29, the US launched airstrikes against five Kata’ib Hezbollah facilities in Iraq and Syria and accused Iran of supplying weapons to the organization. The US justified their actions as “a response to attacks by Shiite militants” and to growing Iranian influence. In total, 25 people were killed and more than 50 injured in the attack.
Aftermath footage of US airstrikes on Kata’ib Hezbollah bases in Al-Qa’im, western #Iraq.
5 KH bases bombed by the US in apparent retaliation for the suspected role of KH in the bombing of the K-1 base near Kirkuk which killed/wounded Americans. pic.twitter.com/lp1UEGVAiY
— H. Sumeri (@IraqiSecurity) December 29, 2019
On December 31, indignant Iraqis and pro-Iranian forces stormed the US embassy (albeit briefly) in response.
On January 3, the US killed Qassem Soleimani and his comrades-in-arms in an Iraqi airport. Without warning, without declaring war, they carried out a surprise airstrike that shocked the world. President Donald Trump later confirmed that he had personally given the order. According to the media, he gave the order despite the Department of Defense having suggested a softer course of action. The president’s aides, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, supported and encouraged the decision.
Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American, & badly wounded many others, not to mention all of the people he had killed over his lifetime, including recently….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2020
On January 4, the first rockets struck the American Embassy’s Green Zone in Iraq.
Soon after, Iran appealed to the UN Security Council, inspiring a variety of reactions: almost no one could keep silent after such a flagrant case of violation of international law.
Numerous countries and forces openly expressed their condolences and support for Iran including Turkey, Palestine, China, Russia and Syria.
Cumhurbaşkanı Erdoğan: Şehit Süleymani’nin yokluğu derinden üzüyor https://t.co/9Og4IWn09p
— Aydınlık 🇹🇷 (@AydinlikGazete) January 4, 2020
Others were careful not to express support for Iran, but criticized the US’ belligerent action all the same. In the US itself, the majority of Trump’s opponents took such a position, including members of Trump’s own party. Many European actors followed suit. In Italy – the Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio took this position, in France, National Assembly member Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of «La France insoumise».
— Jean-Luc Mélenchon (@JLMelenchon) January 3, 2020
Other forces openly supported Donald Trump and justified his actions. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu predictably said Trump was “worthy of all appreciation” for ordering the assassination, adding that Israel stands alongside the US in its anti-Iranian campaign. Saudi Arabia supported the decision, as did some European governments (especially the UK). Individual European politicians and parties (Salvini, Le Pen, Kurz) and the Syrian opposition (e.g. in Idlib) also came out in support of the assassination.
Others reacted neutrally or vaguely, referring to “a peaceful settlement” and “the need to negotiate.”
There were varied reactions in Iraq: the majority of citizens are anti-American and oppose US domination of the country, although not all of them are pro-Iran. Importantly, Iraq called for the immediate withdrawal of all American troops (at least 5000 soldiers), saying they have become useless after the victory over ISIS.
“There is no need for the presence of American forces after defeating Daesh (ISIS),” said Ammar al-Shibli, a Shia lawmaker and member of the parliamentary legal committee. He added that Iraq has its own armed forces capable of protecting the country.
Threat of war crimes
Washington celebrated Soleimani’s murder, who was blamed as a “terrorist,” willingly ignoring his role in special operations against ISIS at critical moments over the past few years. Soleimani was a leading figure in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East, and particularly against those terrorists that had been created and supported indirectly by the US proxies.
Despite the sharp reaction, Trump has already announced his readiness to strike a further 52 targets in Iran, including important cultural sites and objects.
The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment. We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World! If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way…and without hesitation!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 5, 2020
Trump wrote that “Iran has been nothing but problems for many years,” and threatened them openly:
….targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2020
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif responded by saying that targeting cultural sites is a war crime. “Whether kicking or screaming, end of US malign presence in West Asia has begun,” he added.
-Having committed grave breaches of int’l law in Friday’s cowardly assassinations, @realdonaldtrump threatens to commit again new breaches of JUS COGENS;
-Targeting cultural sites is a WAR CRIME;
-Whether kicking or screaming, end of US malign presence in West Asia has begun.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 5, 2020
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi said that Tehran will respond to any of the threats in Trump’s declaration in turn.
Iran has once again summoned Swiss envoy over Trump’s threat to target 52 Iranian sites. Iran has expressed strong protest over the threatening remarks, and said such a threat reminds one of Mongols’ invasions or terrorists’ destruction of cultural heritage
— Dorsa Jabbari (@DorsaJabbari) January 5, 2020
Neoconservative agenda of the US
US’ actions are in the spirit of classic neoconservative agenda. Washington is trying to sow discord between Iraq and Iran in order to provoke new instability in in the region and to destabilize Iran. But the tragedy has united the Shiites in mourning, and also pushed the antiglobalist Shia-Sunni axis to work closer together. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, during a telephone conversation with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, stated the need to stand united against the United States to prevent any further acts of aggression.
“Our silence against such aggressive actions can only lead to more audacity,” Rouhani told Erdogan.
Trump’s decision was disappointing to many. Taking an increasingly pro-Zionist position over the years, Trump finally gave up on playing a role in fostering a multipolar world with this decision. His name will now arouse nothing but resentment among a large part of the Muslim community (and not only in religious circles)… there is no chance for reconciliation, the death of the person, who was a hero for many, will not be not forgotten. As a result, all of Trump’s positive undertakings have been definitively undermined by this unexpectedly harsh and unjustified action.
Iranian Information and Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi wrote:
Like ISIS, like Hitler, Like Genghis!
They all hate cultures. Trump is a “terrorist in a suit”. He will learn history very soon that NOBODY can defeat “the Great Iranian Nation & Culture”.#HardRevenge#QasemSoleimani https://t.co/N2iQ5AMX7M
— MJ Azari Jahromi (@azarijahromi) January 5, 2020