Over the weekend, news broke that Qasem Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike ordered by President Trump. The military commander was regarded as the second most powerful man in Iran, a national hero, whose military career included supporting Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s civil conflict and guiding Iraqi militia groups against ISIS. He was responsible for ensuring Iran’s influence further in the Middle East and had been a man on the US watch list since 2003. To the US, he was a terrorist planning attacks against their diplomats and military personnel. However, the United Nations Charter states that there is almost no legal justification for assassination on the ground of pre-emptive self-defence. With no armed attack taken against US sovereign territory, the US may have committed an international war crime.
With reportedly millions attending the commander’s funeral in Tehran, Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei has promised that Iran will respond with vengeance. He has stated they will no longer adhere to the restrictions imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal and that they have already begun to make increases on its level of enrichment.
With an estimated 5,200 US personnel currently deployed in Iraq, there is significant risk of Iraq becoming a battleground if Iran enact their promised revenge. Iraqi civilians are at extreme risk if Iran do choose to respond with an armed attack against US troops. With Trump threatening to purposefully target UNESCO world heritage sites and other places of extreme religious and cultural significance to Iran and Iraq in response to any further attacks against Americans, tension between the three countries is dangerously high.
The Iraqi government have denounced the unlawful attack in their country and have passed a non-binding resolution calling for all foreign troops to be removed from the country. However, Trump has threatened the country with extreme sanctions if they do force US troops out. There is a risk of 400 British troops being caught in the potential crossfire. Boris Johnson has stated that he won’t lament the death of Soleimani but he, along with other leaders, are calling for de-escalation on all sides, saying that war is in no one’s best interest. He also hopes that British forces can remain in Iraq in order to continue the fight against Islamic State.
So, with extreme threats being made and much anger in Iran generated from this assassination, many people have begun to see this event as a repeat of the past, particularly the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in 1914 which sparked the beginning of the First World War. What we do know is that Iran could choose to follow up its threats of violence and that Iraq and its population could be stuck in the line of fire as an ally of both countries.
Right now, we can only hope that Iran decides against military action in order to avoid another war in the Gulf and the inevitable civilian casualties military action would cause. However, with Soleimani now a martyr, as stated by his daughter, and his popularity with the Iranian public, it may be that while intending to stop war, America may have just started one. As for the other consequences of this event, we can not be sure. Iraq may rescind its decision to evict foreign troops from the country, which is reasonable considering the border threat from Islamic State and the sanctions threatened by the US. Iran may still decide to respect the 2015 nuclear deal. The next few days and weeks will be tense between the Middle East and the USA.