At the time of his assassination, General Qasem Soleimani’s strategy in Iraq and other countries in the Middle East with large Shia populations had become counterproductive. He is now guaranteed the status of a great Iranian warrior and a Shia martyr, in spite of the mistakes he made in the last years of his life. The violent repression, orchestrated by Soleimani, of small-scale protests in Iraq last October provoked something close to a mass uprising by the Shia community. Iran and its proxies were blamed for the deaths of more than five hundred protesters and injuries to another fifteen thousand; demonstrators chanting anti-Iranian slogans burned the Iranian consulates in the Shia holy cities of Kerbala and Najaf. Later the same month in Lebanon, vast crowds filled the streets of Beirut, demanding an end to a political status quo that Hizbullah, Iran’s local ally, has fought for decades to create. In Iran itself, protests over fuel price rises were ruthlessly suppressed in November: according to Amnesty International 304 people were killed. At home and abroad, the Shia coalition built up by Iran with immense effort since the revolution of 1979 was falling apart; the Iranian state and its two most powerful regional allies, Hizbullah in Lebanon and the Hashd al-Shaabi (the Popular Mobilisation Forces) in Iraq, were losing their legitimacy as defenders of their communities and opponents of foreign interference in their countries.
Tag Archives: Iraq
For those of us in Iraq who get the latest news from WhatsApp groups, the dawn of 3 January was filled with apprehension and fear. It felt like the huge events of the recent past: the night of the declaration of war in 2003, the news of Saddam Hussein’s arrest, the day of his execution, or the day the Iraqi military collapsed in the face of Islamic State’s occupation of Mosul.
To this list we can now add: the day the Americans killed General Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Iranian Quds force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy chief of the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU), an umbrella group of Iran-backed militias.
Everyone had heard the news before the sun had even risen, with horrific images circulating of the remains of the dead bodies.
U.S. President Donald Trump was determined to get revenge. But on Dec. 28, he still wasn’t sure exactly how to go about it. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley traveled from Washington, D.C. to Florida, where Trump was vacationing in his luxury property, Mar-a-Lago. Outside, tourists were strolling along the beach. Inside, U.S. leadership was discussing how best to effectively punish Iran.
The day before, Tehran allies had carried out a rocket attack on a military base in northern Iraq, killing an American. The U.S. was certain that Tehran had ordered Kataib Hezbollah, one of the Shiite militias Iran cooperates with, to carry out the assault.
U.S. military leaders prepared a retaliatory attack and presented Trump with several options, most of them conventional military targets such as, according to an account in the New York Times, ships, missile facilities or Kataib Hezbollah positions. But as they generally do, the Pentagon officials also included a more extreme option: killing General Qassem Soleimani, the second-most powerful man in Iran and the country’s chief military strategist.
Soleimani had long been considered untouchable due to his senior position in Tehran. As commander of the Quds Force, he was in large part responsible for Iranian activities in the Middle East. Trump’s predecessors in the White House, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, had both rejected the idea of killing Soleimani due to the very real risk of it triggering an uncontrollable war with Iran.
Trump, too, was initially wary of making such a move, instead authorizing the Air Force to bomb Kataib Hezbollah positions on Dec. 29. But that did little to quell the burgeoning crisis. On the contrary, Islamists attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad two days later, again likely at the behest of Iranian leaders.
Washington is not willing to bow to Iraqi demands to withdraw its troops and any future discussions with Baghdad will be purely confined to the future structure of its forces in the country, the US state department has said.
The recommitment to US troops in Iraq defies an Iraqi parliament vote last week demanding all US forces leave in the wake of the killing of the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani by a drone strike in Baghdad. The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said the US was only willing to discuss force reconfiguration with the Iraqis, and a greater contribution by Nato forces.
Pompeo, still under pressure about the legality of the attack, defended the breach of Iraqi sovereignty inherent in the killing by insisting there was clear evidence that Suleimani “had been plotting a large-scale imminent attack on US facilities throughout the region, including US embassies”.
Later, Donald Trump teased some more details in a manner unlikely to satisfy sceptics. “We will tell you probably it was going to be the embassy in Baghdad,” the president told Fox News. “I can reveal that I believe it would have been four embassies.”
I was in Iraq in April 1991 when government security forces crushed the Shia uprising against Saddam Hussein’s regime, killing tens of thousands and burying their bodies in pits. I had been expelled from Iraq to Jordan at the start of the rebellion in March and then, to my surprise, allowed to return, because Saddam wanted to prove to the world that he was back in control.
I was taken along with other journalists to see Grand Ayatollah al-Khoei, the vastly influential spiritual leader of the Shia in Iraq and elsewhere, who was being held in a nondescript house in Kufa in southern Iraq.
He lay on a couch looking all his 92 years, surrounded by Iraqi security men who were hoping that he would condemn the rebellion.
Iran launched more than a dozen missiles at Iraqi bases hosting US and coalition troops overnight, declaring the strikes to be retaliation for the killing last week of the senior Iranian general Qassem Suleimani.
Al-Asad airbase in Iraq’s Anbar province was hit 17 times, including by two ballistic missiles that failed to detonate, according to the Iraqi government. A further five missiles were targeted at a base in the northern city of Erbil in the assault, which began at about 1.30am local time on Wednesday (10.30pm GMT).
In what appeared to be an attempt to lessen the diplomatic fallout from bombing its neighbour, Iran notified Iraq shortly after midnight that an attack had begun and clarified that any strikes would be limited to locations where the US military was present, the Iraqi prime minister’s office said.
As part of the incendiary and escalating crisis surrounding the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, there has come an explanation of why the Iranian commander was actually in Baghdad when he was targeted by a US missile strike.
Iraq’s prime minister revealed that he was due to be meeting the Iranian commander to discuss moves being made to ease the confrontation between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia – the crux of so much of strife in the Middle East and beyond.
Adil Abdul-Mahdi was quite clear: “I was supposed to meet him in the morning the day he was killed, he came to deliver a message from Iran in response to the message we had delivered from the Saudis to Iran.”
It does not matter where the green light for the U.S. targeted assassination in Baghdad of Quds Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani and the Hashd al-Shaabi second-in-command Abu Madhi al-Muhandis came from.
This is an act of war. Unilateral, unprovoked and illegal.
President Donald Trump may have issued the order. The U.S. Deep State may have ordered him to issue the order. Or the usual suspects may have ordered them all.
According to my best Southwest Asia intel sources, “Israel gave the U.S. the coordinates for the assassination of Qassem Soleimani as they wanted to avoid the repercussions of taking the assassination upon themselves.”
Iraqis have a well-honed instinct about approaching danger which stems from their grim experience during 40 years of crisis and war. Three months ago, I asked a friend in Baghdad how she and her friends viewed the future, adding Iraq seemed to me to be more peaceful than at any time since the US and British invaded in 2003.
She replied that the general mood among people she knew was gloomy because they believed that the next war between the US and Iran might be fought out in Iraq. She said: “Many of my friends are so nervous about a US-Iran war that they are using their severance pay on leaving government service to buy houses in Turkey.” She was thinking of doing the same.
My Iraqi friends turned out to have been all too right in their depressing prognosis: the killing of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani by a US drone at Baghdad airport is an act of escalation by President Donald Trump that ensures that Iraq faces a violent future. It may not lead to a full-scale military conflict, but Iraq will be the political and military arena where the US-Iranian rivalry will be fought out. The Iranians and their Iraqi allies may or may not carry out some immediate retaliatory act against the US, but their most important counter-stroke will be to pressure the Iraqi government, parliament and security forces into pushing the US entirely out of Iraq.
A for Algeria, B for Bolivia, C for Chile, E for Ecuador, F for France… by now what triggered their protests may not matter very much, and satisfying the demonstrators’ initial demands may have little effect. Chile’s president Sebastián Piñera didn’t clear the streets of Santiago by cancelling a 4% rise in the price of metro tickets, and the government of Hong Kong failed to calm its opponents by withdrawing an extradition bill. Once protests get going, the authorities have to make more concessions or send in the police or the army. Or, as in Iraq, Chile and Argentina, promise to amend the constitution.
No sooner has the fire been extinguished in one place than it breaks out somewhere else. The people’s demands are colossal: ‘The people want to bring down the system’ (ash-shaab yurid isqat an-nizam), according to the slogan widely used since the Arab Spring. How will they achieve that and what will they do then? They often don’t know, yet they press on. In Algeria people have been demonstrating for nearly a year; in Hong Kong they started last March. Their courage is great: fear of brutal repression could paralyse them, but they don’t give up. What is happening in Iran where even the number of demonstrators murdered is a secret?