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Iran crisis: Void left by Qassem Soleimani’s death risks engulfing region in devastating war, former SAS leader warns

Exclusive: Iranian general’s judgement ‘made him perversely a moderating force who may prove to be missed now he is gone’, says Major General Jonathan Shaw

Kim Sengupta
Defence Editor
Tuesday 07 January 2020 19:12 GMT
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Dominic Raab: UK looking to 'deescalate tensions' with Iran

A former head of the SAS has warned that the targeted US killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani threatens to engulf the Middle East in a devastating new war.

Major General Jonathan Shaw, who was the commander of UK forces in Iraq when Iranian-backed militias carried out lethal attacks against British and American troops, writes in The Independent that Soleimani “may be missed now that he is gone,” with the risk of uncontrolled violence erupting in the void he leaves behind.

Maj Gen Shaw led the forces based in Basra during some of the most violent times following the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. Militias in the region, such as the Badr brigade and the Mahdi army, carried out a sustained and bloody bombing campaign, with Iranian support from across the border.

Major General Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, was viewed as Maj Gen Shaw’s direct opponent during the vicious strife that defined the period.

Donald Trump’s decision to order the killing will not eliminate the potency of the forces he had created but will become the catalyst for a wider conflict, Maj Gen Shaw believes.

“The one thing this assassination will not be is ‘decisive’ in the sense of being the conclusion to anything,” Maj Gen Shaw said. “The fear is that it will be decisive in marking a turning point, an escalation of conflict into open war that no one in the region, or Trump himself, for electoral reasons, wants.’’

The former Director Special Forces continues: “One of the dangers of the focus on ... Qassem Soleimani, is that it obscures the deeper truth that he was the embodiment of an ideology rather than the ideology itself; killing Soleimani will not kill his cause.

“His death had been expected and prepared for; Supreme Leader Khamenei referred to Soleimani, when alive, as a ‘living martyr’ and as he said while announcing [Soleimani’s] successor, the plans of the Quds Force will remain exactly the same.’’

Giving examples from the fighting and negotiations in Iraq, Maj Gen Shaw pointed out that the Iranian commander primarily used combat for political ends and his killing may remove that constraint.

“I would judge him as notable for the judgement shown in his use of military action for political purposes,” said the former head of the SAS. “This strategic judgement on tactical action made him perversely a moderating force who may prove to be missed now he is gone.”

His comments contradict the UK government’s reaction to Soleimani’s death.

While calling for de-escalation, foreign secretary Dominic Raab said that the UK “understands the position the US found themselves in” before Soleimani’s killing – an attack the US said was carried out based on unspecified intelligence that the Iranian general was plotting attacks against American interests.

Defence secretary Ben Wallace told parliament on Tuesday that the US was confident about this intelligence, and said: “The UK will always defend the right for countries to defend themselves.”

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