Trump’s assassination of Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani will likely weaken his hand in Iraq

With hostilities between the US and Iran sure to escalate, the Iraqi government may no longer support the presence of American troops on their land, writes Patrick Cockburn

Friday 03 January 2020 13:11 GMT
Qassem Soleimani, commander of Quds Force, in a 2018 meeting with Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei
Qassem Soleimani, commander of Quds Force, in a 2018 meeting with Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei (EPA)

The assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the most famous Iranian general, in a US airstrike as he left Baghdad airport ensures an escalation in hostilities between the US and Iran. The most serious consequence is likely to be that the Iranian leadership will use the killings to pressure the Iraqi government to expel US forces from Iraq.

The Iranian government will not be the only ones looking to retaliate. Among those who died in the car in which Major-General Soleimani was travelling was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the head of the pro-Iranian paramilitary group Kata’ib Hezbollah, whose militants could well resume their assault on the US embassy in the Green Zone in Baghdad, where they staged a limited incursion earlier this week. Crucially, the Iraqi security forces stood aside, underlining the vulnerability of the American embassy and all US bases in Iraq, where 5,000 US troops are stationed.

The most likely Iranian reaction will be to step up its efforts to end the US military presence in Iraq, acting through the Iraqi government and the pro-Iranian paramilitary forces. The Iraqi leadership, which normally balances between Washington and Tehran, was already angry that the US had unilaterally attacked Kata’ib Hezbollah bases on Sunday, killing 25 of its fighters.

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