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The Killing of Iran’s Soleimani: Did the United States Cross the Rubicon?

A missile strike killed Qassem Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds force in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. Soon after, the U.S. Government announced President Trump had authorized the attack, asserting that the U.S. had information Soleimani was planning attacks against Americans. In other words, we launched a preemptive strike.

The confrontation between the United States and Iran has crossed its Rubicon. Iran cannot let this attack on a prominent Iranian figure go unchallenged. Tehran’s instincts predict a careful, calculated response that will raise the cost for the United States. Look to see Iran exploiting Iraqi indignation at this affront to Baghdad’s dignity and sovereignty.  It appears that the Iraqi Government will find itself forced to submit a bill to parliament calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.  If this passes and U.S. personnel withdraw, Iran will have achieved a political victory that it could claim as a sufficient and not requiring further escalation. However, even if sober heads in Tehran caution against precipitated action, the fact that the attack also killed senior Iraqi Army official Haj Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was also the deputy head of Al-Hashed Al-Shaabi, (the coalition of pro-Iranian militias), raises the stakes to an unprecedented high level. Violence will escalate; Tehran may be unable to prevent militias associated with Muhandis from taking revenge against Americans.

The assassination puts Iraq into an impossible situation. Legally, the United States Government takes credit for the extrajudicial killing of a senior official of a foreign government, as well as the killing of a senior Iraqi Army officer on Iraqi territory. We have insulted Iraqi sovereignty and will force Baghdad to act against our presence. We should expect to see U.S. forces removed from Iraq within a few months. There may be a silver lining; throwing out the Americans removes the biggest excuse for the equally unpopular Iranian presence, but we should not forget that pro-Iranian Iraqis are still Iraqis.

Every pundit in Washington has his or her own explanation as to why the Trump administration took this huge risk. Some claim he did it to distract attention from the impeachment. Others that Pompeo and his hawks appealed to Trump’s macho pretensions in order to stampede him into a war he neither wants nor needs. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to believe that he can take credit for persuading the U.S. to go to war with Iran and thus ensure his reelection. Whatever the reason, listening to Brian Hook, the Iraqi special representative on NPR this morning, indicates the Administration hasn’t a clue about what it has just done.



Ambassador Patrick Theros is a Strategic Adviser for Gulf International Forum.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Gulf International Forum.

Ambassador Theros has held such positions as Political Advisor to the Commander in Chief, Central Command; Deputy Chief of Mission and Political officer in Amman; Charge D’affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission in Abu Dhabi; Economic Counselor in Damascus; and U.S. Ambassador to the State of Qatar. In a career spanning almost 36 years, he also has served in diplomatic positions in Beirut, Managua, Dharan and Abu Dhabi, as well as in the Department of State. During that period, he earned four Superior Honor Awards. After retirement Ambassador Theros served as President of the U.S. Qatar Business Council in 2000-2017.


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