If you’re getting whiplash from all this Iran news don’t fret! Randi is here to break it down because as we know, thanks to Twitter, our brains don’t work so good.
Randi D (@wascaleywabbit)
The assassination of General Qasem Soleimani became a flashpoint for Iran-US diplomacy. Who was Gen. Soleimani and why does it matter?
To answer this, we have to understand the unique structure of the current Iranian government. Iran is an Islamic theocratic republic, a pseudo-democracy if you will. Since 1979, after the Iranian Islamic Revolution, Iran has been run by a religious Supreme Leader who makes all the final decisions of any legal and governmental consequence. The current Supreme Leader is Ali Khamenei who has been in power since 1998. The Supreme Leader holds rank above even the President of Iran.
The President of Iran is elected by a general election and chosen by a direct vote. However, The Supreme Leader must approve the results of the election and has the authority to dismiss the President and any government officials at his own discretion.
Iran has a conventional military made up of various branches the way the American military apparatus does. Iran’s military is called the Islamic Republic of Iran Army and has various arms that handle ground, naval, air defense etc. One such arm of the ground forces is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC). The Quds Force is an elite subset of the IRGC (think like Navy Seals). The Quds Force has a morally problematic existence, specializing in unconventional warfare and military intelligence operations. Responsible for extraterritorial operations, the Quds Force supports non-state actors in many countries, including Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Yemeni Houthis, and Shia militias in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
Another important related group to understand is Kata’ib Hezbollah, an offshoot of the original Lebanese Hezbollah group, operating in Iraqi as a Shia paramilitary group which is part of the Popular Mobilization Forces. Kata’ib Hezbollah is supported by Iran and often acts a proxy for Iranian military interests. The group was commanded by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Kata’ib Hezbollah are ideologically opposed to the occupation of Iraq post the American invasion. Unlike the Quds Force they are not an officially sanctioned arm of the Iraqi Military although the believe they serve the interests of the Iraqi people. Kata’ib Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organization by the US, UAE and Japan.
Here’s a timeline of recent events:
During the month of December 2019, Kata’ib Hezbollah attacked several US military bases in Iraq, the final incident was on 12/27 on an airbase in Kirkuk, killing American soldiers and one military contractor.
Dec 29th – The U.S responds by launching an air strike with guided missiles on Kata’ib Hezbollah operation sites inside Iraq and Syria. These attacks were not sanctioned by the leaders of either of these countries. These countries are supposed to be our regional allies in the war against ISIS and “terrorism” at large. Iraqi leaders declared this a violation of their sovereignty.
December 31st- Kata’ib Hezbollah wages a siege on the US Embassy in Baghdad in an act of resistance to the American occupation and a retaliation for our attacks on December 29th. It resulted only in damage to property.
January 3rd, 2020- In response to the attack on the embassy, the US launches a drone strike inside the Iraqi borders near the Baghdad airport on a convey that kills General Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
This is when the proverbial shit hits the fan.
The January 3rd attack becomes the second attack the US orchestrated inside Iraqi borders without their knowledge during this localized conflict. This understandably angers Iraqi leadership who has since called for the US to immediately end their occupation and withdraw.
On January 10th, The Washington Post released a bombshell story that on December 31st, 2019 the US was also engaged in a covert operation in Yemen targeting Abdul Reza Shahlai. Abdul Reza Shahlai was a financier who was also key commander in Iran’s elite Quds Force who has been active in Yemen. Thankfully, this mission was unsuccessful and did not result in the death of Mr. Reza Shahlai.
We have a saying in my house: Once in an accident, twice is a trend. It appears the US military is intentionally engaging in aggressive covert operations against key Iranian officials.
General Soleimani was commander of the Quds force. He rose through the ranks of Iranian military after serving in the Iran-Iraq war. He was appointed by the Supreme Leader and was considered a high ranking state official as is Abdul Reza Shahlai. These men are officals in The same way our Secretary of Defense and military generals are. Iran is considered a sovereign nation and is part of the U.N. The United states and the European Union made strides to strengthen its alliance with Iran by entering into the Iran deal in 2015. The Iran deal was one of the highlights of the Obama administration. While the United States has complicated relationships with Middle Eastern nations, everyone was making a concerted diplomatic effort to bring Iran into a mutually advantageous relationship.
Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment: It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that General Soleimani was part of orchestrating proxy conflicts that can be morally questionable. Some of these conflicts involve collateral damage to American enemy combatants and hostile occupiers including military contractors. It’s also fair to say the United States military engages in proxy wars that also kill innocent people. Everyone in this situation can fairly be argued to be a bad actor.
Regardless of how anyone, President Trump or otherwise, personally feels about Iran’s government structure and their leaders is irrelevant, Iran is considered a sovereign ally and their officials have to be given the same deference that we would expect for our own officials. The reality is, at the end of the day, General Soleimani was a high-ranking military official, short of him standing at the door step of a US Embassy with a bomb strapped to his chest, he can’t be considered an enemy combatant or a terrorist. Any supposed “imminent threat” should have scrutinized to the nth degree. Iran’s leaders are smart and sophisticated. They know that, if in fact, The Quds Force ever perpetrates a terrorist attack directly at US civilians, they are risking their own legitimacy on the world stage, their U.N. status and immense retaliation. This seems highly unlikely.
If the United States doesn’t like how Iran chooses to run its country and would rather treat it as a terrorist state; then they can go about that in an official way. What the United States cannot do, is treat Iran as an ally to their face then violate their sovereignty and assassinate their heads of state behind their backs. This is a diplomatic violation of epic proportions.
This situation is primed for escalation.
As a budding first world nation that has friction wrought relationships with its neighbors, Iran has every right to be concerned about the optics of this situation and saving face. If Iran shows military weakness in the face of obvious unprovoked aggression, it invites other hostile countries to possibly take their own shot at Iran.
President Trumps tweets are not helping matters.
On January 4th, The President of the United States literally tweeted death threats to Iran. This is what the American people have to contend with for leadership.
What would any reasonable leader of a country do? Should Iran sit back and let a disgraced real estate agent publicly threaten and humiliated them after assassinating one of their own?
This author personally predicts more conflict for this situation in the near future while crossing her fingers that Iran finds the resolve to be the better person here. The biggest losers in this situation are the American and Iranian people. Neither of which wants a war.