The murder of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, in the early hours of January 3 by US forces, only highlights the extent to which US strategy in the Middle East has failed. It is likely to provoke reactions that do not benefit US interests in the region.
- Federico Pieraccini
To understand the significance of this event, it is necessary to quickly reconstruct the developments in Iraq. The US has occupied Iraq for 17 years, following its invasion of the country in 2003. During this time, Baghdad and Tehran have re-established ties by sustaining an important dialogue on post-war reconstruction as well as by acknowledging the importance of the Shia population in Iraq.
Within two decades, Iraq and Iran have gone from declaring war with each other to cooperating on the so-called Shia Crescent, favoring cooperation and the commercial and military development of the quartet composed of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Such ties, following recent victories over international terrorism, have been further consolidated, leading to current and planned overland connections between this quartet.
Local movements and organizations have been calling for US troops to leave Iraqi territory with increasing vigor and force in recent months. Washington has accused Tehran of inciting associated protests.
At the same time, groups of dubious origin, that have sought to equate the Iranian presence with the American one, have been calling for the withdrawal of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) that are linked to Iran from Iraq. The protests from such groups appear to be sponsored and funded by Saudi Arabia.
With mutual accusations flying around, the US hit a pro-Iranian faction known as Kataib Hezbollah on December 29. This episode sparked a series of reactions in Iraq that ended up enveloping the US embassy in Baghdad, which was besieged for days by demonstrators angry about ongoing airstrikes by US forces.
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, blamed this volatile situation on Iran, warning that Tehran would be held responsible for any escalation of the situation involving the embassy.
In the early hours of January 3, 2020, another tangle was added to the Gordian Knot that is the Middle East. Qasem Soleimani was assassinated when his convoy was attacked by a drone near Baghdad International Airport. The most effective opponents of ISIS and Wahabi jihadism in general was thus eliminated by the US in a terrorist act carried out in foreign country in a civilian area (near Baghdad International Airport). The champagne would have no doubt been flowing immediately upon receiving this news in the US Congress, the Israeli Knesset, Riyadh royal palace and in Idlib among al Nusra and al Qaeda militants.
It remains to be seen what the reasons were behind Trump’s decision to okay the assasination of such an influential and important leader. Certainly the need to to demonstrate to his base (and his Israeli and Saudi financiers) plays into his anti-Iranian crusade. But there are other reasons that better explain Trump’s actions that are more related to the influence of the US in the region; the geopolitical chess game in the Middle East transcends any single leader or any drone attack. …