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January 27, 2020

A post- Soleimani region


January 27, 2020

The writer works as professor in thedepartment of management sciences at SZABIST, Karachi.

Politics in the Middle East has taken an ugly turn after the assassination of top Iranian military commander General Qassem Soleimani at the hands of the US. Iran responded quickly with missile attacks targeting US military bases in Iraq.

Since then, there has been marked de-escalation of tension but the clouds of war are still hovering over the Middle East as both sides have taken extreme positions on a range of issues. The US blames Iran for supporting terrorism in the region through its proxies while Iran accuses the US of sabotaging the nuclear deal Iran signed with the P5+1 in 2015.

Amid this very volatile situation, there are many questions being raised by all and sundry as to why the US killed Qassem Soleimani in a targeted drone attack at a time when the Middle East is brewing with tension because of proxy wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Libya.

According to one theory, Qassem Soleimani was targeted because Trump wanted to divert the attention of American public from his own impeachment process. The other theory says that Trump was convinced by the extremist combo of Pence and Pompeo to kill Soleimani in order to placate Zionist lobbies as the increasing influence of Soleimani was posing a threat to Israeli interests in the region.

Qassem Soleimani was the head of the Quds force, a division primarily responsible for extraterritorial military and clandestine operations. Soleimani was popular among many Iranians, who viewed him as a “selfless hero fighting Iran’s enemies”, while others considered him a murderer. Soleimani was personally sanctioned by the United Nations and the European Union, and was designated as a terrorist by the US.

Soleimani played the role of both military commander and diplomat. He travelled to different regional counties such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen to raise militias and mobilize them against Isis, Al Qaeda and Al Nusra.

When Isis was knocking down on the doors of Bagdad and Najaf after overtaking Mosul, it was Soleimani who blocked the entry of Isis into these cities. Had Soleimani not been there, Isis would have likely taken over Baghdad and Najaf easily.

Soleimani was also one of the staunchest supporters of the Assad regime in Syria. He took over control of Iranian intervention when Tehran became deeply worried about the ability of the Assad regime to fight the opposition militant groups. He commanded the Hezbollah and Iranian militias and coordinated attacks, trained militias and set up an elaborate system to monitor rebel communications which ultimately culminated in the defeat of Isis in Syria.

Soleimani may not have been much educated or well trained in a military academy but his deep knowledge of the terrain as well as the art of tribal warfare got him in a better position not only to thwart the advances of Isis but defeat it in Iraq. He played the role of linchpin in building the fighting coalition of Kurdish, Shia forces and the Iraqi army under one umbrella to fight against Isis which ultimately resulted in its total decimation from Iraq.

Because of the rising influence of Soleimani and Iran in the region, the US considered him a threat to its own interests and the interests of its allies. It was in this context that Soleimani targeted and killed.

Soleimani is not first one the US has targeted; whoever in any region of the world emerges as a threat to US strategic and ideological interests is eliminated. And we have a number of such examples. For instance, Che Guevara was killed in Bolivia in 1967 by the Bolivian army in a CIA-backed operation when he was emerging as a threat to the interests of corporate America.

Unlike Soleimani, Che was orthodox Marxist and a committed revolutionary. He too was opposed to the increasing influence of the US in South America. He was radicalized by soaring poverty, hunger and disease which he attributed to imperialism and corporate capitalism. In his ‘Motorcycle Diaries’, Che described the poor as shivering flesh-and-blood victims of capitalist exploitation perpetuated under the dictators being coddled by the US. Batista in Cuba and Samoza in Nicaragua were the darlings of the US. Once President Franklin D Roosevelt had remarked about Samoza that: “he may be a son of b***h but he is our son of a b***h”.

To get rid of hunger, poverty and disease, he undertook a 20-day journey of Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela and viewed Latin America not as collection of separate nations but a single entity requiring continent-wide liberation strategy. He wanted to build a borderless united Hispanic America sharing a common Latino heritage through revolutionary struggle. In this regard, he raised militias in Cuba, Colombia and other countries to topple the dictatorial regimes aided and abetted by America.

If we look at history, America has always eliminated or allegedly attempted to take away leaders and activists who have shown resistance to its hegemony and posed a threat to its interests from Qassem Soleimani to Che Guevara, and from Castro to Gaddafi and recently Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.

To curtail the threat of Iran, American policy seems to be hinging on three prongs – economic pressure, diplomatic isolation and military deterrence. However, after killing Soleimani the US is facing more isolation and stands weak. No one has supported it except Israel. On the other hand, the killing of Soleimani initially generated unprecedented unity in Iran and made America more vulnerable and insecure, a sentiment that was expressed even by American Senators and congressmen and women.

Honestly speaking, I don’t think the elimination of any leader, activist or general will bring lasting peace in the Middle East which is riddled with poverty, unemployment, bad governance, uneven distribution of resources, economic inequalities and concentration of power in the hands of entrenched dynastic elites who are using power and resources to serve their own interests at the cost of public. Look at Iraq which is still yearning for peace despite the US spending trillions of dollars, sacrificing thousands of soldiers. Interestingly, despite being an ‘ally’, it has asked US troops to leave its territory.

At the moment, the Middle East is on fire and with the killing of General Qassem Soleimani more instability and chaos has enveloped the region. I don’t think the US wants a stable Middle East as it may not be in its interest. Henry Kissinger has remarked once, in the 1970s, that an unstable Middle East is in the interest of America. Since then, American unilateral actions have turned the Middle East into a boiling cauldron; and interestingly unilateralism is being justified in the name of so-called peace. According to the world’s top public intellectual, Noam Chomsky, that greatest threat to world peace is not Russia, China or Iran but American unilateralism. And historically, everyone knows how Hitler’s unilateralism ultimately led to WWII.

Finally, if the oppressive political and economic systems continue in the Middle East with the blind backing of the US, depriving common people of their rights, more Soleimanis will emerge to resist US unilateralism in the region. It will shed more blood and spawn more instability and disorder.

It is time for the US to change its policy towards Iran since a peaceful and prosperous Iran is in the interest of everyone in the region and beyond. We have seen how American unilateralism in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya has produced devastating human catastrophe.

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