Escalation in the Middle-East: The Assassination of Qassim Suleimani

By Mubbashir Hussain

An unprecedented and expectedly very consequential event took place outside the Baghdad Airport on the third morning of the year 2020. Major General Qassim Suleimani, Commander of Quds Force of Iranian Revolutionay Guard Corps, was killed in a missile attack. According to a Pentagon statement, the attack was carried out at the directions of Donald Trump. Qassim Suleimani had a very elevated stature in the Iranian populace. He was considered to be a symbol of Iranian resilience against hostile adversaries; America and Israel. His assassination certainly has serious repercussions for the already turbulent state of affairs in the Middle-East.

In the view of a Washington Post columnist Max Boot Donald Trump’s presidency has dragged America into a close confrontation with the Islamic Republic. Despite a history of hostility, with the conclusion of Iran nuclear deal under Obama administration, relations became better momentarily. Since Trump is keen to reverse everything Obama did, he pulled US out of the deal even though Iran was complying with every provision of the treaty. Furthermore, he imposed crippling sanctions on Iran. These provocative actions lead to a reversal of all the improvements made during Democrats rule. The recent episode is expected to take the deterioration of relations to an unprecedented level.

As far as motivation behind the attack is concerned, Pentagon announced that this strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. It claimed that Qassim was planning to attack US personnel in the region. However, analysts are skeptic about the utility of the attack as Iran has threatened to take a ‘harsh revenge’. Some analysts hold the view that as Mr. Trump was facing trouble at home in the form of impeachment, he just wanted to unfold something bigger to divert his countrymen’s attention. Whatever his motives are, it is for sure that this gamble played by Donald Trump has serious implications for all the stakeholders in the region.

Foremost of these possible consequences is a full-fledge war between United States and Iran. Although the chances are less of such an escalation, but possibility cannot be ruled out. American feebleness in unconventional conflicts is visible in Afghanistan and Iraq. Iran may choose an overt war at its terms. Iran may also pose a threat to oil supply passing through Strait of Hormuz. It can also target oil refineries of US allies in the region. Chances of attacks on US personnel on Iraqi soil and elsewhere in the region are also there.

Iraq clearly does not want its soil to be a battlefield for the two adversaries. It has suffered a long period of violence and cannot afford to go through another. Iran will probably demand an exclusion of American forces from Iraqi soil. It will try to circumvent American influence on Iraq. One should not be oblivion of the potential of Shiite majority in Iraq. People who praise Qassim are more in numbers than those who disliked him. There will be a pressure on Iraqi government to get rid of heavy American presence in the country. Consequentially, the influence of United States over Iraq is likely to decrease.

In a nutshell, the provocative of Washington has exacerbated the uncertainty in ever-uncertain Middle-Eastern region. Damage has already been done, but it can be minimised. Trump has made a serious mistake by targeting Khamenei’s keyman. Few would doubt the possibility that Iran will retaliate strongly. However, in the wake of such retaliation, United States should exercise restraint to avoid further aggression, as it has already done its part of aggression. If it does not stop itself from going ahead, there might be another protracted conflict in future. And Americans do not have a good record in protracted conflicts.

The writer is a student in the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies in Quaid-i-Azam University.

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