By Sammy Barker
The assassination of Iranian General Soleimani, on Iraqi territory, by the US government has created the threat of a new and devastating war in the Middle East. For Trump, the action is a justifiable gamble in his re-election campaign. He assumes that the US’s overwhelming superiority in military power will prevent the Iranian government from making any serious military attack upon US forces. But the murder of Soleimani, and Abu Mahdi alMuhandis (deputy leader of the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Units), is a fearful affront to the people of the region, as it targeted the most effective infantry fighters against ISIS and Al Qaeda. It will not only be the actions of the Iranian and Iraqi governments which express the popular horror at this latest expression of imperialist arrogance. Trump’s action has also invited non-state actors to seek revenge with unpredictable consequences.
Just another terrorist?
Attempts to justify the action by characterising Soleimani as a “terrorist” are ridiculous. The General has been instrumental in the defeat on the ground of the ISIS/AL Qaeda/Al Nusrah forces in Syria and Iraq. His role in defending Iran against the US backed invasion of Iran by Iraq made him a national hero. In that war the US government supplied Saddam Hussein with weapons grade chemicals, which were used against the Iranians. Soleimani has been a successful leader of the Iranian armed forces for decades, and at times of the highest peril to the Iranian people.
Last year, Trump’s administration defined the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) as a “terrorist” organisation, despite it being part of the Iranian state. Such a characterisation has a long precedent in imperialist governments’ attempts to render the authentic forces of national liberation struggles as illegitimate. But legislative playing will never turn a national hero into a criminal.
Trump and friends hatred of Soleimani was because he represents the refusal of the Iranian people to bow to US imperialism. The “maximum pressure” tactic of sanctioning an entire population and state has failed. So Trump needs heads on stakes to show his electoral base that he has achieved something in Iran.
Ousting the occupier
In this terribly tense situation it appears that the Iranian government is concentrating on isolating the US in the region, rather than a simple military retaliation. As IRGC Aerospace Force commander Amir Hajizadeh told Fars News “If we strike every US base, if we kill Trump, if we kill their Secretary of defence, none of these are the blood money for Haj Ghasem (Soleimani). The blood money for Haj Ghasem is the removal of the US from the region”.
This is evidently the line of the Iranian government, and its first fruit was the vote in the Iraqi parliament for the removal of all foreign troops from their country. This followed a report from Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi who said “Haj Soleimani was in Baghdad at my invitation. He was scheduled to visit me and carried a letter with him from the Iranian leadership on how to de-escalate tensions with Saudi Arabi
Predictably Trump’s administration has rejected the assertion of Iraqi sovereignty. In so doing, both Trump and Pompeo threatened the Iraqis with sanctions. But US Brigadier General William Seely informed his Iraqi counterparts, in a letter dated Sunday 5th January, that US troops were preparing to leave Iraq. The letter said “We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure”. The subsequent embarrassed withdrawal of the letter highlights the political weakness of the Trump government.
The administration’s fear of having the real policy exposed found an expression in the refusal of the US government to grant a visa to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is due to address the UN Security Council on Thursday. His being debarred is a breach of the UN 1947 convention which allows diplomats to carry out UN business on US soil.
Mourning for the martyr
Alongside the Iraqi parliament, the Iranian people provided a further humiliation for Trump. The vast demonstrations of mourning for Soleimani showed his popularity. Across the major cities, uncountable numbers of Iranians publicly expressed their grief. This absolutely confirmed the 2019 University of Maryland survey, which found that 82% of Iranians held a positive view of Soleimani, and 59% a highly positive view. Instead of dividing the Iranian people, as Trump hoped, the martyrdom of Soleimani has united them.
One vivid example was in the interview given to the BBC by Ardeshir Zahedi, Iran’s foreign minister under Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (ousted by 1979 revolution). Zahedi said that Soleimani was “a patriotic soldier of Iran … he was a son of Iran”. Zahedi was strongly opposed to Trump’s action, and characterised the US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement as a “betrayal”.
This outpouring of grief amongst Iranians is an evident refutation of those glib politicians in the US, Britain and elsewhere who claimed he wouldn’t be mourned. Massive demonstrations of grief and anger also took place in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere. Such politicians mistake their circle of white friends for the world’s population.
Act now against US escalation and British government complicity
The limited strikes against US bases in Iraq on Tuesday night appears to be a one-off retaliation by the Iranian government, but at the time of writing it is far from clear that the Trump administration will not escalate matters further. In the past couple of days there were reports of anonymous sources suggesting the US government could tolerate a token reply.
Although the US has insufficient forces deployed in the region to consider a ground invasion, it has surrounded Iran with bases capable of inflicting terrible destruction. There are no guarantees that Trump won’t use these. It is therefore vital that the anti-war movement in the US, Britain and elsewhere has begun its mobilisation to oppose a war upon Iran. On Saturday 4th January there were demonstrations in over 90 US cities.
In Britain, the Tory government is reliably supporting Trump’s gamble. Johnson’s government hypocrisy is clear as it provides a fig leaf of opposing “escalation”, whilst endorsing Soleimani’s assassination and sending naval forces to the Persian Gulf. It is vital that all socialists join the broad based actions against the war, which were begun with the Stop the War demo at Downing Street on January 4th. The next action is the demonstration on January 11th called by Stop the War and CND (See details below). We must oppose war upon Iran; support the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and call for sanctions to be lifted against Iran.
No War on Iran –
Demonstration Saturday 11 January
Assemble 12pm – Outside the BBC, Portland Place, London
March to Trafalgar Square
Facebook Event here.