The third decade of the 21st century is here and the first thing that starts trending on Twitter in the early hours of New Year is World War-lll. Why though? The reason is the American drone attack on the Baghdad International Airport to take out one of the most important Iranian military generals and a national hero, Soleimani.
Amidst the impeachment process, Trump has taken a clever and dangerous political decision. It is also a good time to review the decision taken by Bill Clinton to airstrike Iraq in 1998 during his impeachment process, the impeachment debate was surely deferred, however, it happened in a couple of days.
Not to forget though how Trump, multiple times, has stated that starting a war with Iran would help Obama’s political career and 2020 is also an election year in the US.
A Short Timeline:
27th December- On the ‘holy day’ Friday, the militia group Kataib Hezbollah attacked the K1 military base in Kirkuk, Iraq. The major support of the militia group comes from Iran. During the attack, an American contractor was killed wounding several Americans and Iraqis.
29th December-Trump responds with airstrikes in sections of Iraq and Syria where members of the militia group were reportedly located.
31st December- Violence escalated as Iraqi supporters of Kataib Hezbollah begin storming the US embassy in Baghdad, trying to enter and damaging the outside and a reception area of the embassy.
After a few closed meetings, discussions and tweets-
2nd January 2020– A warning tweet by Dr Mark T Esper, Secretary of Defence, USA stated: “…then we will act, and by the way, if we get word of attacks or some type of indication, we will take pre-emptive action, as well to protect American forces, to protect American lives.” Soleimani is killed later in the night.
The tension between Iran and the US has fairly taken new turns since Trump broke the nuclear deal in May 2018 and a series of obnoxious events followed including sanctions, labellingIslamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation, multiple attacks from both the sides and non-state actors as well leading to escalated tension in the region changing the political dynamics.
Who was Soleimani and why it matters?
Described as “the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today” by an ex-CIA operative, the major general of IRGC was a popular figure in the region. A clever mastermind of unconventional warfare, he has supported and guided terror groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihadis, Yemeni Houthis and Shia militias in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Soleimani was a commander of Quds Force, a unit which is responsible for extraterritorial military and clandestine operations as per the records. Quds Force was established with a mission of liberating Al-Quds; Arabic name for Jerusalem translating to Holy Land (Quds – holy). The bible mentions the name Jerusalem, however, after the Arab invasion, it was called Al-Quds; it is interesting to note that Quran nowhere mentions about the place Al-Quds but just the ‘night journey’.
Religious sentiments are used to fuel attacks and invasions; hence it is important to understand the genesis. The Quds force in Iran was majorly formed to take control of Jerusalem from Israel.
Soleimani, as a head, has been the face of numerous international military strategies in the Middle East. A young man who joined IRGC in 1979 with minimal training, advanced rapidly rising to be a brave leader who took back the control of areas occupied by Iraq during 1980s war.
He established good relations with Kurdish Iraqi and Shia Badr organisation which gave him better influence in the region.
He supported Hezbollah in retaking southern Lebanon and supported the country during the Israel-Hezbollah conflict in 2006 as well. He was celebrated in Syria as well as he was a staunch supporter of Bashar-al-Assad government and trained the state force to recapture key cities and towns.
He closely worked with Russia as well, as he co-ordinated the region’s force to spread Iran’s influence. His leadership was such that he brought Kurdish and Shia forces together in the region to fight ISIS and played a major role in pushing back the terror group along with the US support.
Since the year 2007, started the series of sanctions against Soleimani and Iran. In 2011 the US sanctioned Soleimani due to his alleged involvement in providing material support to the Syrian Government.
Referred to as ‘Iran’s most dangerous General’, he gradually became America’s enemy. Iran’s ‘shadow commander’ who had built up a charismatic persona during the past 3 decades had played a defining role in coordinating the region who had a territorial vision. His actions were certainly irking the US and Israel too which is surrounded by the Arab nations and Iran’s influence.
His death creates a huge vacuum in the region making the state forces leaderless since his charisma and strategy was unmatched. Soleimani’s death has surely raged the people, however in the absence of his planning, it would be difficult to maintain this harmony and sync amongst the militias for a long. The significance of his presence in the region clearly reveals how this killing can destabilise the middle east politics.
What to expect?
It is not hard to guess that such an enigmatic figure would have foes in his own circle as well. A senior analyst, who refused to be named, stated that Soleimani was becoming ‘too influential’ and a few in the government were unhappy with the fact and there were rumours of him becoming a modern-day Kemal Ataturk who could seize the power.
If these hushed voices are to be trusted, there is a less chance of retaliation from Iran’s side. However, low-level attacks are to be suspected and tension in Lebanon, Gaza Strip, Iraq, Syria would increase.
America has multiple enemies, Soleimani is just one of them, and if Trump decides to assassinate him instead of retaliating to terror in Afghanistan or North Korea, this must be a least costly option as such an attack is difficult to stage without an insider’s assistance.
India shares cordial relations with the US and Iran both. The current turmoil might affect further ties with Iran which is essential for India to counter Pakistan’s troubling trade routes being built by China.
There is no doubt that oil prices would increase affecting the global economy. The debates and memes about World War 3 is completely a hoax, however, Iran has started to retaliate through attacks and has threatened to kill Trump.
The further expected set of events are uncertain, it is only a time to wait and watch the intensity of retaliation and also the American elections for which Trump has irrationally staked the security of the region to emerge as a strong leader.
The US military bases surrounding Iran(check link) have already been targeted and the attacks and threats from Iran suggest the destruction of US bases in the middle east. A partial withdrawal of the US from the middle east could be seen for a while as it happened in Iraq at the end of 2011, also the budget cuts have scaled back the Pentagon’s military presence globally.
This will certainly change the dynamics of middle east politics and regional balance which is difficult to forecast what shape and inclination it will take.
(This post first appeared here in The Tilak Chronicle.)
Sugandh Priya Ojha
Sugandh Priya Ojha is the co-founder of a political consultancy startup. She is also an IR professional and a polyglot with interest and experience in Political Analysis, Culture, International Security and Climate Governance.
The views and opinions expressed in the above article belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official opinion, policy or position of Lokmaanya.