Rashid A Mughal
THE New Year started with bang politically, both
the United States and Iran pointing guns at each
other, creating a tense and war-like situation. The bickering, accusations and threats and war of words soon culminated in an alarming situation with the killing of Iranian General, Qasem Soleimani, by a US drone in Baghdad, where he was on an official visit. The action sparked massive reaction in entire country and huge demonstrations in the length and breadth of Iran. According to Vali Nasr, former State Department Advisor during President Obama, “though Trump achieved his purpose and goal of eliminating a powerful and admired Iranian General but little did he realize what his decision may lead to. As a result of this ill-conceived and reckless thinking, the move galvanized the public opinion in Iran and whatever opposition the government was facing two months ago in the shape of streets protests in major cities of Iran, turned in favour of the same administration”, he stated in a BBC talk.
“The killing of Iranian General also invited widespread protests in Iraq and a major political blow to Trump policies as the Iraqi Parliament, which once had invited US forces to be stationed in Iraq, passed a resolution for their ouster”, Nasr added. In a tit-for-tat move, Iran fired volley of missiles in the green zone of Baghdad, housing government offices and US embassy compound, claiming to kill 80 American soldiers which was denied by US. Two days later, US President Donald Trump announced, further sanctions against Iran but said Tehran was “standing down” after the missile strikes. He made no mention of further military action. Thanks to timely, effective and positive role by Swiss Embassy in Tehran. The tension seems to have subsided, at least, for the time being. But Vice-President Mike Pence told Fox News that “on the President’s direction we’re going to remain vigilant”. In another interview for CBS, Mr Pence said the US was receiving “encouraging intelligence” that Iran was sending messages to its allied militias not to attack US targets.
The US House of Representatives, in the meantime, voted on a resolution, four days after the killing of Iranian General, to force Mr Trump to halt further military action against Iran unless Congress gives it the all-clear. “Members of Congress have serious, urgent concerns about the administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran and about its lack of strategy moving forward,” Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, said in a statement. In a news conference covered by Iranian state media, Revolutionary Guards aerospace commander Brig-Gen Hajizadeh said Iran had been prepared to fire hundreds or even thousands of missiles. In the event fewer than 20 were fired. The intention had not been to kill any US troops, he said, but the operation could have been planned in such a way that as many as 500 died in the first stage. “We had thought that the clash would continue for three days to one week. We had prepared a few thousand missiles for such circumstances,” he said in remarks carried by the Fars news agency.
Brig-Gen Hajizadeh also said that Iran had launched cyber attacks which had disabled US systems for tracking missiles during the strikes. However, US officials say casualties at the bases were prevented because early warning systems worked effectively. BBC Persian’s Jiyar Gol says the commander’s appearance – with the flags of numerous militia groups lined up behind him – was a significant show of regional power, as it means the groups are under Iranian command. The flags included those of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces – whose leader was killed alongside Soleimani – as well as Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas. The flag of Yemen’s Houthi Movement, which until now Iran has always denied controlling, was also present. On Wednesday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei described the attacks on US forces as a “slap in the face” for the US, but said revenge was a “different issue”.
Gen Soleimani was widely regarded as Iran’s second most powerful man. As head of the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, he was an architect of Iranian policy in the Middle East. His assassination on 3 January followed a sharp escalation between the US, Iran and Iran-backed groups in Iraq sparked by the death of a US military contractor in a missile attack on a US base in Iraq – for which the US held Iran responsible. The US responded with air strikes against the Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah. Militia supporters then attacked the US embassy in Baghdad. Soleimani was regarded as a terrorist by the US government, which says he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American troops and was plotting “imminent” attacks. The US has not provided any evidence to this allegation, so far to their claim.
Meanwhile the US said it was “ready to engage without preconditions in serious negotiations” with Iran following the country’s exchange of hostilities. In a letter to the UN, it justified Soleimani’s killing as an act of self-defence. Tension between Tehran and Washington began rising in 2018 after President Trump pulled the US out of a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. The accord was intended to curb Iran’s nuclear programme and prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. Mr Trump wanted a new deal that would also curb Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its involvement in regional conflicts. He is actively engaged in persuading Germany and France, important members of NATO and Iran accord to walk out of agreement reached by Obama Administration and also re-imposed sanctions on Iran to cripple its economy.
In the meantime, the latest “USA Today” poll since these hostilities started, says Americans do not feel safer since Iran’s top General was killed. The poll found that 55% of Americans say the killing of Soleimani makes the US less safe, while 57% oppose the threat of US airstrikes on Iran’s cultural sites and 53% support Congress limiting Trump’s ability to order military strikes. Elsewhere, anti-Americanism has soared around the world since Trump took office, according to new Pew research published three days back. The US’s European and NATO allies do not support Trump’s latest strikes on Iran, nor pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. It’s notable that Germany’s Angela Merkel went to Moscow Saturday to visit Russian President Vladimir Putin to try to defuse the current crisis. She did not go to Washington.
— The writer is former DG (Emigration) and consultant ILO, IOM.