The US drone strike at Baghdad airport that killed Iran's top commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and a senior leader of Iraq's Shia militia, has set the Mideast on fire. The Trump administration, which authorized the assassination, called it a 'pre-emptive' strike. Iran branded it 'outright murder.'
Soleimani was Iran's second most powerful figure and a national icon. He headed up the Quds Force, the elite branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, a key player in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and the Gulf region. Soleimani was also the most capable, intelligent and effective military leader in a region of third rate generals.
The 62-year-old general distinguished himself in the long Iraq-Iran War, the dirty war in Lebanon, and operations in Iraq. He played a key role in defeating the ultra-radical Islamic State movement in Iraq, working in tandem with the US. Soleimani helped turn the tide of battle in Syria, saving the regime of Bashar Assad.
As a result of his battlefield and political successes, Soleimani earned the enmity of the US, Israel and the US media. So many assassination attempts were launched against him that Iran's spiritual leader dubbed him a 'living martyr.'
His luck ran out this week, no doubt as a result of an intelligence leak in Iraq. His two-car convoy was incinerated by US missile strikes. Along with Soleimani, a leader of Iraq's Shia militia was also killed by the US attack as well as some ten other senior Iraqi and Iranian officials.
President Trump proudly took credit for authorizing the assassination, a brazen violation of international law. He seemed unfazed that most of the rest of the world sees the US as 'Murder Inc.' For Trump, the killing will boost his standing with Republican/Evangelical voters in this year's elections and promote his faux tough-guy image - this from a man who repeatedly dodged Vietnam era military service and called for an end to America's Mideast wars.
Iran's cautious leadership may hesitate to retaliate directly for this murder. Tehran may choose an indirect method of revenge to avoid giving Washington the reason to attack Iran that it has been seeking for the past two years. US forces are spread across the Mideast and thus easy targets.
Israel has long been itching to attack Iran's nuclear and military installations. An excellent new book, 'Rise and Kill First,' by Israeli author Ronen Bergman, exhaustively details the long record of Israel assassinating Palestinian leaders and militants. As Stalin famously quipped, 'no man, no problem.'
A large portion of the Palestinian leadership - notably the most intelligent and moderate - was killed by Israeli hit squads, leaving 'no one to negotiate with,' in Israel's words.
Israel's decisive influence over the Trump administration means that the US has fully embraced the same kill policies. Trump may now have the war with Iran he so obviously craves and that Israel and Saudi Arabia want. Any Iranian retaliation will be branded 'terrorism' by the administration and its media sycophants.
General Qassem was in line to become president of Iran. He was widely respected for his wisdom, religious faith, and clever diplomacy. He has now been removed. Trump's reckless policy may help his re-election, but it also makes it much more likely that the US will sink ever deeper into the morass of the Mideast.
America has always demonized troublesome Mideast leaders that defied its imperil writ. The region's complex problems were simplified into cartoon characters that were labeled 'bad guys' or 'terrorists.' Think of Iran's Mossadegh, Nasser, Assad, Arafat, Khomeini, Ahmadinejad, Saddam Hussein, Turkey's Erdogan and most lately Soleimani. More are sure to emerge.
- Eric Margolis is a columnist, author and a veteran of many conflicts in the Middle East. Margolis recently was featured in a special appearance on Britain's Sky News TV as "the man who got it right" in his predictions about the dangerous risks and entanglements the US would face in Iraq. His latest book is American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World.