January 10, 2020

Grave Provocation against Iran

BY killing Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, the US president Donald Trump has created a grave provocation which amounts to a declaration of war against Iran. Soleimani was the commander of the Quds force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. He was assassinated in a drone strike just when he was leaving Baghdad airport. Killed along with him was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, a Shia militia which is considered part of the Iraqi armed forces.

The United States believes it can kill anyone anywhere in the world, if it declares that person poses a threat to the United States. The drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, South Yemen and other places have been taking place from the days of the Obama presidency to take out leaders of terrorist groups and extremist Islamist organisations in an extra-judicial manner. But the assassination of Soleimani is of a different category altogether. He was an important military leader of an armed force of a sovereign country who also held a diplomatic passport. He had gone to Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi prime minister to negotiate about the growing standoff between the US and Iran-backed militias in the country.

Apart from Soleimani, the killing of al-Muhandis, who was part of the Iraqi armed forces, on Iraqi soil by US forces is a gross violation of the terms under which the US troops are based in Iraq.

The United States has, under the Trump presidency, targeted Iran and adopted a policy of “maximum pressure”. The United States unilaterally called off the nuclear deal with Iran which it had signed with other European powers. It re-imposed sanctions and added new ones to cripple the Iranian economy and its oil industry.  Last year in June, Trump had ordered missile attacks on three centres in Iran after a US drone was shot down off the coast of Iran.  Just minutes before the launch, Trump rescinded the order but it was clear that the US was bent upon escalating the situation. 

Trump ordered the strike and publicly announced he had done so probably because he thinks this will help his re-election prospects in November this year. Moreover, he may have found it convenient to divert public attention from the impeachment trial coming up before the Senate.

Trump’s latest order to assassinate Soleimani has only served to harm US interests in Iraq and the region. Earlier, the US missile strikes on Iraqi militia bases had killed 26 Iraqis.  This is what enraged the Iraqis and led to the assault on the US Embassy in Baghdad.  The killing of Soleimani and an Iraqi militia chief on Iraqi soil has outraged the people of Iraq. The United States is now faced with the demand adopted by the Iraqi parliament that all foreign forces quit Iraq.  The US has 5,000 troops in Iraq. In seeking to isolate Iran, it has ended up isolating itself in Iraq.

The supreme leader of Iran, Khamenei, warned of a harsh retaliation. Soon after the funeral of Soleimani, Iran has struck with missiles two Iraqi bases where US troops are based. This is the beginning of the Iranian response. 

The whole of West Asia and the Gulf region is tense. Israel and Saudi Arabia can be expected to line up behind the United States against their common enemy.  However, the US interventions in Iraq and Syria have actually helped the growth of Iranian influence in these countries and in Lebanon. The “axis of resistance”, which includes the Shia militias in Iraq, Syria and the Hezbollah in Lebanon  would ensure that any further American aggression against Iran will widen the conflict into the whole region.

The prospects of imminent conflict in the region have already led oil prices to rise sharply and it has touched $70 a barrel.  For countries like India, which is experiencing a serious slowdown in the economy, this is bad news. 

However, the Modi government’s response to the Soleimani assassination reveals its determination not to rub the US on the wrong side. It has refused to disapprove of the assassination, and merely noted that an Iranian general has been killed by the US. The Modi government had already cooperated with the US sanctions by stopping the purchase of Iranian oil altogether early last year.  It has, in line with the US approach, forged closer ties with Saudi Arabia and Israel.  By doing so, it has actually harmed India’s own interests. 

The Modi government should keep India’s national interests above all and tell the United States directly and unambiguously that its aggressive policy towards Iran is harmful and India will have no part in it. 
(January 8, 2020)