The assassination of Qassim Suleimani and the march to war
Thousands of worshippers march after Friday prayers in Tehran following the assassination of General Qassim Suleimani who headed up the elite Quds Force in a US drone strike. Still image from YouTube.
It is no stretch to imagine that the assassination of one of Iran’s top military officials may lead to the outbreak of a global conflict.
On the evening of January 2, the world witnessed a callous and dangerous attack perpetrated by US forces and officially sanctioned by president Donald Trump. Qassim Suleimani, a high-profile commander of Iran’s secretive Quds Force, was visiting Baghdad when he was killed by a drone strike directly ordered by the US President.
Suleimani was a revered military commander and recognized as one of the principal strategists responsible for defeating ISIS and other fundamentalist insurgencies in recent years. Unsurprisingly, Iran has strongly denounced this attack as an unfounded provocation and has vowed “harsh retaliation.”
Back in September, Iran was also blamed for attacking Saudi Arabian oil infrastructures despite a glaring lack of evidence.
The misleading rhetoric that underlines official US policy on Iran has been compared to the disinformation used to justify the invasion of Vietnam and Iraq. If we are indeed witnessing a redux of those terrible wars, then we already have an idea of the devastation and loss of life that may result from such a conflagration.
A brief look at US-Iran relations
Following the Iranian revolution of 1979—a consequence of the US sponsored coup against the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953—US-Iran relations have been extremely tense. Over the years, the US has fostered intimate ties with other regional players, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and, most significantly, Israel, all of whom consider Iran to be a dangerous outlier.
According to diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, a principal element that shapes interaction with Iran is the American commitment to maintain Israeli dominance in the region. The Israel lobby’s influence on US-Iran relations is blatantly expressed in the cables where diplomatic officials speak about the necessity of maintaining Israel’s “qualitative military edge.”
The Wikileaks cables also reveal the important economic interests hidden behind a potential US-led war with Iran. Beginning under the Clinton presidency, the desire to push the American missile defence program on Western allies and Gulf states has greatly influenced US attitudes regarding Iran. Exaggerating Iran’s nuclear capabilities and its other offensive military capabilities has served to sell fearful states on the missile defence program and on the purchase of US-built weapons. This strategy was effectively maintained under both the Bush and Obama administrations. According to Gareth Porter, who analyzed the Wikileaks cables:
The Obama administration’s line about the Iranian missile threat to Europe and the Middle East also served the strong interests of the Pentagon and its corporate allies in selling missile-defence and offensive technology to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait, and constructing a system for an integrated missile defence system in the Gulf region.
The Obama administration was effective in exploiting fears surrounding Iran. In 2008, the UAE purchased missile defence technology from American arms manufacturers, culminating in a $5.1 billion contract with Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. In 2010, Saudi Arabia officially signed a contract to purchase $60 billion worth of arms from the US. The sale included 84 Boeing F-15 aircraft, 70 of Boeing’s Apache attack helicopters and 36 of its AH-6M Little Birds.
Incidentally, only minutes following the White House’s confirmation of Suleimani’s assassination, stocks for US weapons manufacturers Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin all jumped several percentage points. It would be hard to find more compelling evidence of the clear correlation between US economic and imperialist interests and the conflicts it provokes.
An escalation of tensions
Despite presenting Iran as a significant threat, the Obama administration did manage to negotiate a historic nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which could have served to reduce tensions. The deal was short lived, however, as Trump pulled out of the deal following his election victory, preferring to impose harsher sanctions instead. The effects of these sanctions have been felt primarily by the Iranian population which now suffers from increasingly suffocating economic conditions.
The sanctions have been denounced by both the International Criminal Court, which ruled them unlawful in 2018, and humanitarian organizations such as Human Rights Watch. The latter produced a report which details the impacts of the sanctions on the health of Iranians who are struggling to access essential goods, such as medications.
This progressive escalation of belligerence has now turned to outright aggression. A day after the assassination of Suleimani, the Iraqi press reported airstrikes near the US embassy. Though it remains unclear how this conflict will develop, it is certain to lead to horrific crimes, abuses and bloodshed if not stopped.
Suleimani: an ally in the fight against ISIS
Absent from much of the coverage of the assassination is Suleimani’s role in combating ISIS. For a time, his Quds forces were allied with Western armies caught in the fight against extremist groups in the region. These fundamentalist Sunni factions, which are associated with the Wahhabi doctrine of Saudi Arabia, pose an existential threat to the Iranian Shia population. This has led to brief cooperation between Suleimani and American troops.
It is ironic for the White House to have ordered the execution of a former ally whilst maintaining strong ties to Saudi Arabia. These ties endure despite the Kingdom’s exporting of Wahhabism.
The complacency of the mainstream press
The reactions of the mainstream media to this dangerous escalation have mostly been complacent regarding the belligerent actions of the Trump administration. Many outlets have been uncritically repeating Washington’s talking points, echoing the unproven and convenient assertion that Suleimani was in the midst of orchestrating an attack against the United States and its allies in the region.
Minutes following the assassination of the Iranian commander, NBC celebrated the death of “the world’s number one bad guy.”
There has been no investigation into the claims of Iranian provocations that are being used to justify this latest escalation. Just as he was celebrated for dropping the “Mother of All Bombs” in Afghanistan with no regard for civilian causalities, Trump is now being celebrated for his strong response to Iran’s supposed aggression. The lack of critical reporting, particularly given the immense stakes of a conflict between Iran and a Western coalition, is deeply troubling.
As we consider the immense dangers that surround a prospective war with Iran, it is of vital importance to denounce the lies and fabrications currently peddled to justify it. Moreover, in light of the powerful interests that are pushing for this latest conflict in the Middle East, it is essential to harness the collective and civil opposition needed to stop this insane war.
Elizabeth Leier is a freelance journalist and graduate student at Concordia University in Montreal. Her interests include international politics, foreign policy and climate justice. Follow her on Twitter.