I wish to point out some matters not getting a lot of attention in the US media.
An important one of those was reported two days ago by Juan Cole. It is that apparently it has not been determined for certain that the initial attack that set off this current round of deaths when a militia in Iraq attacked an Iraqi military base in Kirkuk in which an American contractor was killed, almost certainly a matter of collateral damage although not recognized as such, was actually done by Kata’b Hezbollah, the group reported to have done it. That group was commanded by al-Mushani, who was also assassinated with Soleimani, with whom he was allied. But it is not certain that they did it. As it is, the Kirkuk base is dominated by Kurdish Pesh Merga, with whom it is not at all obvious the pro-Iranian militias like the Kat’b Hezbollah have hostile differences. This may have been cooked up to create an excuse for assassinating Soleimani.
Indeed, it has now been reported that seven months ago Trump had approved killing Soleimani essentially at the first instance there would be a good excuse for doing so. In fact it is now reported that although Trump had not heard of Soleimani during th 2016 election, within five minutes of his inauguration he suggested killing Soleimani. SecState Pompeo been encouraging and pushing this action, but it has been something Trump has been hot to do for some time. Going up for an impeachment trial looks like a really good time.
We have now seen quite a dance around reasons to justify this. We must keep clear that it is a matter of both US and international law that this sort of killing of a foreign national official such as General Soleimani is that there be an “imminent threat.” I shall not drag through the various versions of what was supposedly the imminent threat was here, but it has finally become clear that there was none. And as of today both Pompeo and AG Barr have now pivoted to saying that it was done for “deterrence,” but that leaves this assassination as illegal, with US troops in Iraq now declared to be”terrorists.”
Now indeed the further followup has become quite a mess, although hopefully the escalation has stopped and war will not happen, despite getting very close to the brink. So Iran made its strike on two bases with US troops in Iraq. While it initially looked like the Iranians were going out of their way to avoid killing any Americans, local US commanders now say that it appears that the strikes were in fact aimed at killing some Americans, and some were in fact injured. I do not know if this is true or not, but it is disturbing and shows how close we have gotten to heightened war.
Then we had this disaster of the Iranians themselves shooting down a commercial Ukrainian airplane (oh, the irony), killing 176 civilians, mostly Iranians, Canadians, and Ukrainians, plus some others. With the admission by the regime, anti-government demonstrations have broken out at universities especially in Tehran where many of the Iranians on the plane were from, and many of the university students heading to Canada. Those demos have gone on for three days bringing forth a harsh put down from the government, but with news people quitting their jobs out of disgust. The government has now arrested some supposedly responsible for the erroneous shootdown under heightened alert status, which would not have come to pass without the illegal assassination. It is unclear if these arrests will bring an end to the demonstrations, but it should be kept in mind that these involve much smaller numbers of people than turned out in the aftermath of Soleimani’s assassination.
Underlying this most recent uprising is the fact that Iran is suffering serious econoimic problems. Much of this is due to the Trump sanctions, but they also reflect entrenched corruption and spending on foreign adventures, such as support for foreign militias. These are difficult times, and let us hope that all sides step back and reduce the heightened tensions.