THE assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani by the United States means 2020 begins with the risk of a devastating Middle Eastern war coming closer than ever.
This targeted killing was not just a “provocative and disproportionate action,” as US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi describes it — though the fact that even right-wing Democrats (from Joe Biden to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 running mate Tim Kaine) are voicing concern over “escalating aggression” and attacking President Donald Trump for having “tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox” shows just how reckless it was.
But it was also a violent and lawless act, one which is not only an act of war against Iran but rips up all the US’s agreements with Iraq, on whose territory the US decided to commit this outrage and whose government has decried a “brazen violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and blatant attack on the nation’s dignity.”
This aspect of the matter will likely be downplayed — the world has grown used to the US claiming the right to kill whoever it wants in whatever country it chooses in defiance of international law. It was Barack Obama who presided over the dramatic increase of murder-by-drone as a standard part of US foreign policy, yet even he is said to have rejected Israeli proposals to assassinate Soleimani, viewing it as far too risky in the light of Iran’s likely response to the murder of one of its most senior commanders.
Iran is vowing a “harsh” revenge and its networks of alliances throughout Iraq (where it works closely with the Popular Mobilisation Forces which, Iraq’s Communist Party notes, played an important role in “confronting terrorist Isis and achieving victory over it”), Lebanon and Syria mean it could strike back on a number of fronts, leading to a tit-for-tat escalation that could trigger a generalised Middle Eastern war on a wider and more catastrophic scale even than the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Iraq’s Communists point out that the transformation of their country into an arena for international power struggles makes “our people pay a heavy price in blood and destruction,” one they and peoples across the region have been paying since George Bush and Tony Blair set their country alight 17 years ago.
That’s why the chorus of international calls for restraint — fortunately emanating from the vast majority of governments even among US allies — is welcome. But Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s mealy-mouthed mumble that escalation “is in none of our interests” cannot hide the fact that Britain’s Tory government has done nothing to deter the ratcheting-up of US aggression against Iran over several years, beginning with Trump’s unilateral decision to walk out of an international agreement on nuclear development to which Britain is also a signatory.
It points to the need — largely avoided even by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour despite his decades of campaigning for peace, and the positive response his foreign policy intervention during the 2017 election received — for a serious effort across the left to build understanding of imperialism and the importance of fighting it.
If Labour under Corbyn has not questioned Nato membership, it seems unlikely any of the candidates hoping to succeed him will — yet the world’s most powerful military alliance (mocked as “brain dead” by the leader of one of its most important members, President Emmanuel Macron of France) puts us in dangerous lockstep with trigger-happy monsters such as Trump — and of course Turkey’s President Erdogan.
That means building a grassroots movement for peace with real social weight and political clout is a priority, and the Stop the War Coalition’s emergency demo outside Downing Street today deserves support from the whole of the left and beyond it, with a need to reach out across political divides to do all we can to stop this madness.
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