Iran’s Qassem Soleimani was a risky target for Trump – but neither Tehran nor Washington will want all-out conflict

Both sides understand that an all-out confrontation will only harm them both

Friday 03 January 2020 20:31
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Who was powerful Iranian general Qassem Soleimani?

By all accounts, Qassem Soleimani was a risky target for the United States to assassinate – for that is what his extrajudicial killing does in fact represent. Despite his relative obscurity to the western public, he was a serious figure in Iran’s complicated and opaque power structures. While he is best understood as an amalgam of chief of staff, an unofficial foreign secretary and head spy, Soleimani still managed to maintain some distance from the more theocratic elements of the Tehran’s ruling class.

Thus he was more popular as a purely national figure than most of those ruling the Islamic republic with such authoritarian methods. For the Iranian public, and the wider Shia community pleading into Iraq itself, Soleimani represented Iran’s defiant attempts to defend its interest in a hostile region and, above all, anger at the (perceived) never-ending indignities imposed by America’s imperial ambitions.

Soleimani may, indeed almost certainly did, have American blood on his hands, being believed to have masterminded a series of operations against US personnel since George W Bush’s ill-starred invasion of Iraq in 2003. He would certainly have had knowledge of the protests and attempted invasion of the US embassy compound in Baghdad. Soleimani might have had further attacks on the Americans in mind (Washington hints that they had intelligence to this effect). He could be regarded – though it must surely push at the very limits of international and US law – as someone who would personally justify a lethal pre-emptive strike by drone. Still, his execution by presidential order is a remarkable act, even by contemporary standards. We are not quite back to the days when the CIA would happily try to knock off dictators in Vietnam, Cuba or Guatemala who had outlived their usefulness or were inconvenient – but not so very far away.

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