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Disruptive Assassinations: Killing Qassem Soleimani

On the surface, it made not one iota of sense. The murder of a foreign military leader on his way from Baghdad airport, his diplomatic status assured by the local authorities, evidently deemed a target of irresistible richness. “General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” The words from the Pentagon seemed to resemble the resentment shown by the Romans to barbarian chiefs who dared resist them. “This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world.”

The killing of Major General Qassem Soleimani of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force in a drone strike on January 3, along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces, or Hash a-Shaabi and PMF Kata’ib Hezbollah, was packaged and ribboned as a matter of military necessity. Soleimani had been, according to the Pentagon, “responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.” He was behind a series of attacks on coalition forces in Iraq over the last several months including attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad on December 31, 2019.

US President Donald J. Trump had thrown caution to the wind, suggesting in a briefing at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida that an option on the table would be the killing of Soleimani. The Iran hawks seemed to have his ear; others were caught off guard, preferring to keep matters more general.

A common thread running through the narrative was the certainty – unshakable, it would seem – that Soleimani was on the warpath against US interests. The increased danger posed by the Quds Force commander were merely presumed, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was happy to do so despite not being able to “talk too much about the nature of the threats. But the American people should know that the President’s decision to remove Soleimani from the battlefield saved American lives.” (Pompeo goes on to insist that there was “active plotting” to “take big action” that would have endangered “hundreds of lives”). How broadly one defines the battlefield becomes relevant; the US imperium has decided that diplomatic niceties and sovereign protections for officials do not count. The battlefield is everywhere.

Trump was far from convincing in reiterating the arguments, insisting that the general had been responsible for killing or badly wounding “thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill may more… but got caught!” From his resort in Palm Beach, Florida, he claimed that the attack was executed “to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.”

Whatever the views of US officialdom, seismic shifts in the Middle East were being promised. Iraq’s prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi demanded an emergency parliamentary session with the aim of taking “legislative steps and necessary provisions to safeguard Iraq’s dignity, security and sovereignty.” On Sunday, the parliament did something which, ironically enough, has been a cornerstone of Iran’s policy in Iraq: the removal of US troops from Iraq. While being a non-binding resolution, the parliament urged the prime minister to rescind the invitation extended to US forces when it was attacked by Islamic State forces in 2014.

Iranian Armed Forces’ spokesman Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi promised setting “up a plan, patiently, to respond to this terrorist act in a crushing and powerful manner.” He also reiterated that it was the US, not Iran, who had “occupied Iraq in violation of all international rules and regulations without any coordination with the Iraqi government and without the Iraqi people’s demands.”

While the appeals to international law can seem feeble, the observation from the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnès Callamard was hard to impeach. “The targeted killings of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Humandis are most [likely] unlawful and violate international human rights law: Outside the context of active hostilities, the use of drones or other means for targeted killing is almost never likely to be legal.” To be deemed lawful, such targeting with lethal effect “can only be used where strictly necessary to protect against an imminent threat to life.”

The balance sheet for this action, then, is not a good one. As US presidential candidate Marianne Williamson observed with crisp accuracy, the attack on Soleimani and his companions had little to do with “whether [he] was a ‘good man’ any more than it was about whether Saddam was a good man. It’s about smart versus stupid use of military power.”

An intelligent use of military power is not in the offing, with Trump promising the targeting of 52 Iranian sites, each one representing an American hostage held in Iran at the US embassy in Tehran during November 1979. But Twitter sprays and promises of this sort tend to lack substance and Trump is again proving to be the master of disruptive distraction rather than tangible action.

Even Israeli outlets such as Haaretz, while doffing the cap off to the idea of Soleimani as a shadowy, dangerous figure behind the slayings of Israelis “in terrorist attacks, and untold thousands of Syrians, Iraqis, Lebanese and others dispatched by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Quds Force,” showed concern. Daniel B. Shapiro even went so far as to express admiration for the operation, an “impressive” feat of logistics but found nothing of an evident strategy. Trump’s own security advisers were caught off guard. A certain bloodlust had taken hold.

Within Congress, the scent of a strategy did not seem to come through, despite some ghoulish cheers from the GOP. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and chairman of the House Intelligence panel, failed to notice “some broad strategy at work.” Michigan Democrat Rep. Elissa Slotkin, previously acting assistant secretary of defence and CIA analyst, explained why neither Democratic or Republic presidents had ventured onto the treacherous terrain of targeting Soleimani. “Was the strike worth the likely retaliation, and the potential to pull us into protracted conflict?” The answer was always a resounding no.

By killing such a high ranking official of a sovereign power, the US has signalled a redrawing of accepted, and acceptable lines of engagement. The justification was spurious, suggesting that assassination and killing in combat are not distinctions with any difference. But perhaps most significantly of all, the killing of Soleimani will usher in the very same attacks that this decision was meant to avert even as it assists Iranian policy in expelling any vestige of US influence in Iraq and the broader Middle East. It also signalled to Iran that abiding by agreements of any sort, including the international nuclear deal of 2015 which the US has repudiated, will be paper tigers worth shredding without sorrow.

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17 comments

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  1. New England Cocky

    Something about the CIA in 2001 providing overwhelming evidence of Saddam Hussein having WMDs, Words of Mass Deception, comes to mind.

    Trump has no credibility for speaking the truth on any matter.

    The Iranians have a well deserved reputation of dong what they promise. it is time for ALL Australian military personnel to come home from Iraq ….. even if it is 18 years too late.

  2. king1394

    Most leaders like to keep a little distance from the bloody action, but Trump is happy to be seen as the instigator. I can’t imagine that there will be no reaction to this assassination.

  3. Phil Pryor

    Iranians should attempt to create a coalition of revenge, of disgust, of honest intent, of justice, and begin removing USA people from the scene all over the world, for they represent, innocent or not, an intrusive, thieving, murdering, domineering Trumpian regime of filth.

  4. Dennis Bauer

    Spot on Phil, our deaths will come from Christians, I think any time trumps presidency is threatened this is what happens, trump is there to stay, so keep an eye out for WW3 if he looks like losing in 2020. How simple is that. Look Dad snow, and its summer, dont put that snow in your mouth,it…..it doesn’t matter come back to the fire girl.

  5. Phil Pryor

    Dennis, about 1907, a news outlet in the “Middle East”, perhaps in then Persia, defended the assassinations and uprisings in those days arising from a revolution in which ordinary nationals tried to take back their heritage, their independence, their right to exist on agreed terms within the community and nationality. The editorial stated clearly, correctly, for eternal edification and information, that people must assassinate to assert and re-assert their position as equals in the struggle to be free, against organised military, government controls and weaponry, the pox and pestilence and filth and disease of imperial conquest, brutality, murder, theft, acquisition and degradation. There have been hundreds of “George Washingtons”, (defective as he was) but they have been reduced to forgotten and anonymous mentions, if that, in decent history. The killing of the powerful is never easy or common, for they are a product of prosperous filth, and, flourish from profiteering corporates, gangism of insiders, scraping and gouging us and this planet. The human race and the planet are doomed if the strident shitheads outshout us and win control. Killing them is sensible policy for the masses of ordinary people who want hope, peace, justice.

  6. Roswell

    Soleimani was a dangerous man who has the blood of many on his hands. For the 8 years before Trump came along America had countless opportunities to take this man out, but they knew that it was less dangerous to keep him alive than to kill him.

    Trump isn’t smart enough to think like that.

    There will be payback.

  7. Matters Not

    Re:

    a dangerous man who has the blood of many on his hands

    Well that’s the way it’s constructed (the meanings that are widely given). A commander of an apparently losing team must carry the odium for such actions but the commander of the winning team often escapes even mild disapproval. Seems like the winners not only get to ‘write the history’ but also enjoy the luxury of making the ‘moral judgements’ as well. Not that there’s anything novel in such developments.

    One wonders, nevertheless, about the Australian reaction if the Governor-General (the commander-in-chief of the Australian Defence Force) is assassinated as ‘payback’ on his next State visit to .. wherever? Vietnam might focus the mind.

  8. Roswell

    Matters Not, I certainly don’t believe Trump’s version that it’s the blood of thousands. Hundreds could be closer to the truth.

    Trump is known to exaggerate. 😳😳

  9. Michael Taylor

    I just heard the Iraqi parliament has voted that Australian troops are to leave the country. Unconfirmed.

  10. Matters Not

    MT, the Iraqi ‘parliament’ voted (yesterday) that all foreign troops should leave the country BUT it’s effectively a ‘recommendation’ rather than a binding resolution on those who have the ‘reins’ of power.

    Actually Trump was on the money when he claimed, we (US, Australia et al) had no business being there in the first place.

    This is Trump now simply throwing a ‘dead cat on the table’ but many will not have the wit and wisdom to see that.

  11. wam

    Words can be memory inducers when I read
    “…President’s decision to remove Soleimani from the battlefield saved American lives.” (Pompeo goes on to insist that there was “active plotting”)”
    I thought decision or just mouthing off and I recalled a blackadder the first episode, where brian blessed intones I only said will nobody rid me of this troublesome priest just as the killers entered.
    Well on checking up my memory, I discovered the old bastard’s still going and in top form!!!!

  12. Jenny Cartright

    Im not well read on history by any means but doesnt this sound like it has happened before? Perhaps Donald Trump should read “How WW1 started”. What a stupid idiot this man is.

  13. Roswell

    Jenny, that’s the plan I reckon.

    Apparently he’s been having a big whinge all day about his impeachment. WW3 is the perfect decoy.

  14. Jenny Cartright

    He is honestly no different to a 2 year old throwing a tantrum. Only problem is that its all of us that have to deal with the fallout. Literally. 🙁

  15. Lambchop Simnel

    A mafia hit. It s all I’ll say.

  16. DrakeN

    …and, Lambchop Simnel, I agree with you whole heartedly.

    The whole world of Politics, Corporatisation and Religions is, in reality, legalised (sometimes) corruption.

  17. Socrates.

    DrakeN you’ve probably read or heard by now that the Iranis have reacted fiercely to the US provocation with missile attacks on US bases in Iraq.
    Can you imagine if someone from Iran had assassinated Mike Pence, what would the response have been?

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