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January 5, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8463

Al-Jazeera Reporting Following Soleimani's Killing: Retaliation Is 'Something Absolute And Inevitable' And Its Arena Will Stretch From Palestine To Uzbekistan

January 5, 2020
Qatar | Special Dispatch No. 8463

In the days since the January 3, 2020 U.S. killing of IRGC Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani, Al-Jazeera has published numerous op-eds on its English-language website. For example, Ibrahim Al-Marashi, identified as an associate professor at the Department of History, California State University, San Marcos, wrote on January 3 that Soleimani's assassination "may prove to be U.S. President Donald Trump's most reckless foreign policy decision in the Middle East" and that "the events of the last week demonstrate how the U.S. continues to misunderstand the ramifications of its actions in the Middle East."

Sultan Barakat, identified as Professor of Politics at the University of York, UK, provided a summary of the events leading up to Soleimani's killing, and termed "promising" the Qatari foreign minister's January 4 visit to Tehran and his call for "finding a peaceful solution to reduce the tension." He added: "Qatar enjoys the respect and trust of both Iran and the United States and has a direct interest in defusing the tension, given it hosts the largest U.S. airbase in the region and shares gas fields with Iran."


Ibrahim Al-Marashi; Sultan Barakat

In fact, the Qatari foreign minister's visit to Iran conveyed a different message – he was accompanied by a delegation and met first with Iranian President Hassan Rohani, and only afterwards with his counterpart Javad Zarif. His meeting with Rohani bore all the trappings of a conventional condolence visit; indeed, on social media, one tweet described it as just that and quoting the foreign minister as telling Rohani: "We convey to you from Qatar our warm condolences for the martyrdom of General Qassem Soleimani, a loss to the people."


twitter.com/HeshmatAlavi/status/1213420934696198145, January 4, 2020.

In addition, Al-Jazeera interviewed known anti-U.S. figures, and reported extensively and sympathetically on demonstrations in London and Los Angeles at which protestors accused President Trump of fomenting war against Iran. Additionally, the Al-Jazeera review of foreign media coverage of the aftermath of Soleimani's killing focused almost exclusively on condemnation of it and of the U.S.

On Al-Jazeera TV, Lebanese political analyst Faysal Abdel Sater said, on January 5, that Iranian retaliation was inevitable and could come anywhere in the world; former Iranian diplomat Amir Musawi said in an interview that aired January 4 that Iran has a blacklist of U.S. politicians and military officers and that the Iranian hand would reach them; and Mohammad Marandi, who heads the American Studies department at Tehran University, said in a January 3 interview that American and Western citizens should leave the region immediately.

The following are the op-eds by Al-Marashi and Barakat, and MEMRI TV clips of the statements by Faysal Abdel Sater, Amir Musawi, and Mohammad Marandi.

 

"Soleimani's Death Will Give Iran Renewed Legitimacy" – Ibrahim Al-Marashi, January 3, 2020

"In the early hours of January 3, a U.S. air raid killed General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' (IRGC) Quds Force, as well as Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, a commander of the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs).

"The attack may prove to be U.S. President Donald Trump's most reckless foreign policy decision in the Middle East. It was a grave violation of Iraq's national sovereignty and it is likely to result in further instability in the country and beyond.

"It came on the tail of mass protests in both Iran and Iraq which challenged the Islamic Republic both domestically and regionally. Trump's decision to approve the assassination of Soleimani, however, has given a lifeline to the Iranian leadership and its allies in Iraq by driving nationalist sentiments and turning attention away from the failings of the governments in Baghdad and Tehran.

"Escalation In Iraq

"After Trump's withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the 'Iran [nuclear] deal,' it was clear that the Islamic Republic would retaliate through its Iraqi proxies, undermining U.S. influence in the Middle East.

"As the U.S. reimposed sanctions and introduced new ones, Iran launched a low-intensity war against the U.S. and its regional allies. It is suspected of being behind multiple attacks on tankers in the Gulf as well as a drone attack on Aramco facilities in Saudi Arabia.

"The Islamic Republic felt increasingly under pressure at home, as the economic situation deteriorated and it was forced to increase fuel prices by almost 200 percent, which sparked mass demonstrations.

"On December 27, pro-Iranian Iraqi militias within the PMU attacked an Iraqi military facility, killing an American contractor and injuring several troops. Two days later, the U.S. responded with an air raid on several targets related to Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi militia that is part of the PMUs, which resulted in the death of at least 25 of its members.

"The situation escalated and on December 31, the U.S. embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone was stormed and its reception area set on fire. The brazen nature of the breach of the heavily fortified diplomatic compound sent a message to Washington which Trump clearly did not get.

"This latest violation of Iraqi sovereignty will not only result in greater frustration among the Iraqi public, making the U.S. even less popular, but it will also lead to renewed pressure on the lame-duck Iraqi government to expel the 5,000 American forces stationed there.

"Iraqi Anger

"Since October, Iraq has witnessed a wave of protests against corruption, government mismanagement, and deteriorating living conditions across the south and center of the country. Protesters have also rejected Iranian interference and support for the government.

"Never had Iran's influence in Iraq been so precarious since the 2003 Iraq war. Iranian-affiliated PMUs have been accused of targeting the protesters, who for the most part are their Shia coreligionists. The Iranian consulates in Najaf and Karbala were torched and Adel Abdul Mahdi, the Iraqi prime minister, whom Iran supported, had to resign in the face of the escalating violence against peaceful protests.

"Iraq has never faced an intra-Shia crisis on this scale. The U.S. attack, however, will likely undermine the Iraqi protest movement and may reunite Shia forces. While Iraqis may have protested against the PMUs, they would take even more umbrage at the U.S. attacking one of their own leaders who led the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS). The U.S. made al-Muhandis a martyr.

"Trump's decision to assassinate him and Soleimani offered a lifeline to the Iranian-affiliated militias, as well as the Islamic Republic, shifting the Iraqi demonstrators' anger from corruption to the brazen violation of national sovereignty.

"A Potential Blowback

"With just 10 months left until the U.S. presidential election, Trump seems set to fail on one of his main 2016 campaign promises: To withdraw from American commitments overseas, particularly in the Middle East. After the sacking of the American embassy, his administration announced 750 troops would be sent to the Middle East, with 4,000 more preparing to follow.

"This is in addition to 14,000 U.S. personnel who have been deployed to the region since May as a result of an escalation of tensions with Iran, including 3,000 who were dispatched in October after the drone attack on Aramco's oil facilities in Saudi Arabia.

"If the security situation deteriorates further, more troops will likely have to be committed. Iran has a number of fronts where it can escalate its efforts against the U.S. and its allies, including Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and the Gulf.

"In Iraq, it can intensify the attacks of the PMUs on U.S. troops and facilities. It can also push for the Iraqi government to demand the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country. Pro-Iranian political parties have already requested this in the past, most recently after Trump visited a U.S. base unannounced a year ago, without meeting Abdul Mahdi in Baghdad. The U.S. attack gives them yet another opportunity to renew this demand.

"Apart from the PMUs and pro-Iranian political factions, other Shia forces are also not particularly happy with the U.S. presence in Iraq. Shia leader Muqtada Al-Sadr, whose Sairoon coalition won the most seats in the 2018 parliamentary elections, has always been wary of Iranian influence in Iraq and has clashed with pro-Iranian groups, but he has opposed American influence even more. He came to prominence after 2003 by leading his militia in a years-long fight against U.S. forces in Iraq. Several hours after the U.S. attack, he issued a statement mourning Soleimani and Al-Muhandis' deaths and ordering his militia, the Mahdi army, to mobilize 'to protect Iraq.'

"As we enter a new decade, the events of the last week demonstrate how the U.S. continues to misunderstand the ramifications of its actions in the Middle East. Trump has given both the beleaguered Islamic Republic and the PMUs the opportunity to shift the narrative of the Iranian and Iraqi protest movements away from them and towards the US. What the Islamic Republic and its allies lost in the deaths of two military commanders will be made up in their martyrdom being used as a source of new legitimacy in Iraq and beyond."[1]

"Trump's Opportunism Could Plunge The Middle East Into Turmoil" –  Sultan Barakat, January 4, 2020

"The U.S. strike in the early hours of January 3 that killed Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani has surprised many in the Middle East and beyond. A brazen attack, carried out without permission on the soil of a sovereign nation, it was more reminiscent of the covert operations of Israel's Mossad against its pro-Iranian rivals than an act a global leader with a great stake in the region should engage in.

"The assassination of Soleimani is likely to further destabilize a region already rocked by nearly a decade of upheaval.

"Soleimani was a figure who loomed large in the Middle East over the last few decades. As a young man, he played a key role in the Islamic revolution and the Iran-Iraq war, and many in Iran will remember him as a war hero, who protected the very identity of the revolution.

"Yet outside Iran, he is also understandably widely loathed and considered the chief architect of chaos in the region. After his appointment in 1998 as the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' (IRGC) Quds Force, a division responsible for clandestine military activities abroad, he led many operations in the Middle East and elsewhere.

"These interventions almost always came at the expense of Arab nations' sovereignty and the wellbeing of their civilian population, whether it was the U.S.-Iranian pact that enabled the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and which allowed sectarianism to take root, or the deployment of Iranian forces to save the embattled Assad regime in Syria, which led to ethnic cleansing.

"As the campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS) concluded in 2017, the U.S. became more attentive to concerns voiced by Saudi Arabia about Iranian meddling in the affairs of its neighbors, as they found themselves confronting a real and/or imaginary Soleimani in Yemen, as well as Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, Israel, the U.S.'s closest ally, whose security under Trump's administration became more or less the sole concern of U.S. foreign policy in the region, started to feel the heat of the Iranian presence in Syria and that of Hezbollah, Iran's proxy in Lebanon, which emerged emboldened having fought alongside the Iranians on behalf of Damascus.

"As a result, the Trump administration grew less and less patient with Iran's foreign operations led by the Quds Force. This group has appeared increasingly out of control, even to the official Iranian foreign policymakers. The 'brief' resignation of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif back in February 2019, came as a direct result of having been sidelined from a meeting between Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and President Hassan Rouhani that took place in Tehran and was attended by Soleimani.

"In June 2019, two oil tankers (Norwegian and Japanese-owned) were attacked in broad daylight in the Strait of Hormuz, just one month after four tankers anchored off the UAE coast were targeted. The fact that the attacks on a vessel linked to Japan coincided with the visit of the Japanese Prime Minister to Tehran was seen by some observers as an attempt by the IRGC to undermine Iran's foreign ministry.

"As Iran was escalating against the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East, trying to push the Trump administration to relax some of the crippling sanctions it imposed after its withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the U.S. took the unusual step in April 2019 of declaring the IRGC a terrorist organization, which left Soleimani and his Quds Force open to the many counterterrorism options available to Washington and its allies in the region.

"Meanwhile, protests erupted in Iraq which changed the regional calculus. Protesters blamed the 'muhasasa' or sectarian quota system for triggering sectarian violence across Iraq and allowing certain individuals and groups to enrich themselves while much of the Iraqi population endured economic hardship.

"Both Tehran and Washington were surprised in equal measures by the Iraqi people demonstrating against corruption, sectarianism, and foreign interference. For both, controlling Iraq suddenly became something that could not be taken for granted.

"For Iran, this was particularly problematic given that Iraq has been its main lifeline in the face of the U.S. sanctions and a key link for its maneuvers in Syria and Lebanon. As a result, it sent Soleimani multiple times to Baghdad to coordinate ways to control the situation with its political and paramilitary allies in the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), including escalating violence against the protesters and hitting back at the US.

"The meddling in Iraq that Soleimani was accused of over the past couple of weeks would have most likely passed unpunished if it were not for the opportunity a military response offered to a U.S. president impeached by the House of Representatives and an Israeli prime minister facing trial on corruption charges. Ahead of the November U.S. presidential election, Donald Trump gets to demonstrate his strength in the face of successive failures of his foreign policy initiatives, while [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu gets a useful distraction from his legal troubles ahead of the upcoming Israeli parliamentary vote in March.

"In the Middle East, however, Trump and Netanyahu's political opportunism will have dire consequences. While both the U.S. and Iran are likely to avoid direct confrontation – which was evident from Washington's choice to stage its attack on Iraqi soil – the latter has already vowed to retaliate.

"As Iran concludes its three days of national mourning, its revenge strikes will likely be carried out by proxy forces. It has a wide choice of tactical responses, including bombing, kidnapping and even cyber security attacks. This could involve operations in Iran's immediate neighborhood similar to those carried out in September on Saudi oil installations or disruption of oil shipping routes in the Gulf. Attacks on U.S. positions in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and potentially Afghanistan are also likely.

"While the assassination of Soleimani demonstrated that neither the U.S. nor Iran is willing to respect Iraqi sovereignty, its real political fallout is likely to result in the weakening of the Iraqi protest movement which has, for the first time, unified Iraqis around a nationalist, non-sectarian platform and has threatened Iranian influence in the country and called for the expulsion of U.S. troops.

"Now, the unfolding events can be exploited by politicians to advocate for the continued role of Iran in Iraqi politics. In the current atmosphere of shock and emotion, there is little appetite for diplomacy.

"This is unfortunate because even this week speculation abounded over the secret willingness of both parties to re-enter negotiations over the nuclear deal. Given the statements made by some European countries, including Germany, justifying the U.S. attack, it is now possible that Iran leaves the JCPOA entirely or at least announces a significant increase in enrichment of uranium.

"In coming days, it is vital that the voices of calm and diplomacy win out over those calling for escalation and confrontation, to avert a regional war. Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani's visit to Tehran on January 4 and his call for 'finding a peaceful solution to reduce the tension' is promising.

"Qatar enjoys the respect and trust of both Iran and the United States and has a direct interest in defusing the tension, given it hosts the largest U.S. airbase in the region and shares gas fields with Iran.

"For de-escalation efforts to be successful, however, the U.S. must refrain from other targeted killings in Iraq. In addition, the U.S. and Iran must not heed the calls for violence and revenge from regional warmongers who stand to gain from their direct confrontation."[2]

Lebanese Political Analyst Faysal Abdel Sater On Al-Jazeera: Iranian Retaliation Is Inevitable, Could Be Anywhere In The World; There Are 52 U.S. States – January 5, 2020

On January 5, 2020, Lebanese political analyst Faysal Abdel Sater spoke on Al-Jazeera TV about Iranian retaliation for the killing of Soleimani. Expressing hatred and issuing threats that Iranian officials had not, he said that there may be more than one retaliation and that the main retaliation will naturally be in Iraq, because it is the "scene of the crime," and that the arena for retaliation will stretch from Palestine to Uzbekistan. While this is not necessarily what the Iranians will do, he said, it is what the American logic will be. He added that any U.S. assets can be targeted at any moment, including as embassies, high-ranking officials, military bases, naval vessels, and so on. Iran, he said, "considers retaliation as something absolute and inevitable." He also insinuated that there may be Iranian retaliation on U.S. soil.

To view this clip on MEMRI TV, click here or below:

Former Iranian Diplomat Amir Musawi On Al-Jazeera: Iran Has A Blacklist Of U.S. Politicians And Military Officers; The Iranian Hand Will Reach Them – January 4, 2020

Former Iranian diplomat Amir Musawi said in an interview on Al-Jazeera TV that the Iranian National Security Council had issued instructions, sanctioned by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, to all branches of the military, and they are now waiting for zero hour. Iran, he said, has a blacklist of U.S. military, intelligence, and political leaders and "the Iranian hand will reach them." Adding that this is not yet a comprehensive war, he said that if the U.S. accepts Iran's retaliation quietly, it would end there – but if the U.S. reacts with "insolence," he believes, things "will go downhill." The interview aired January 4, 2020.

To view this clip on MEMRI TV, click here or below:

Mohammad Marandi, Head of American Studies at Tehran University on Al-Jazeera: American, Western Citizens Should Leave the Region Immediately – January 3, 2020

Mohammad Marandi, head of American Studies at Tehran University, said in a January 3, 2020 interview on Al-Jazeera TV called the U.S. assassination of Soleimani earlier that day an attack on the Iranian and Iraqi peoples, and added a warning that Americans and Westerners in Iraq, the UAE, and elsewhere in Southwest Asia should leave the region immediately. The U.S., he said, is acting with impunity in Iraq; it created Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan; it brought about 9/11; it is responsible for the existence of Saudi-funded Wahhabi terror groups such as ISIS; and it is guilty of destroying the Middle East. Marandi added that Israel is also guilty of supporting terror groups in Syria. Soleimani's killing, he said, constitutes an act of war against both Iran and Iraq. He also warned that the countries that stand by the U.S.'s actions will pay the price.

Following are excerpts from the interview:

Mohammad Marandi: "This [U.S. killing of Qasem Soleimani] is targeting the Iranian people, it is targeting the Iraqi people. In my opinion, Western citizens should leave the region immediately. If I was in the United Arab Emirates, in Iraq, or elsewhere, I would think of leaving as soon as possible.

[…]

"Who is it that continues to act with impunity in Iraq and that murders Iraqi soldiers who are fighting ISIS? It is the regime in Washington. Who created Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? Who created the menace that brought about 9/11? It was the United States. Who supported the extremist groups in Syria? Who destroyed Syria? Who is responsible for the rise of ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Jaysh al-Islam, and other such terrible evil groups that are Wahhabi-oriented and funded by Saudi Arabia, and who the Israeli regime allowed to be based alongside their borders with Syria, alongside the occupied Golan Heights, in fact…

[…]

"So it is the Americans that are guilty of destroying this region.

[…]

"The menace of Western countries in this part of the world – and the rest of the world – is nothing new. Colonialism, Eurocentrism, hegemony and empire have been a part of this reality that we are living. But how the United States has gone too far. They have carried out an act of war against a sovereign country – they have carried out an act of war against two sovereign countries. And those regimes that stand by the U.S. in this act of war will have to pay the price as well.

[…]

"If I was an American in Iraq, I would leave now.  If I was an American in any part of Southwest Asia, I would leave immediately."

To view this clip on MEMRI TV, click here or below:

 

[1] Aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/soleimani-death-give-iran-renewed-legitimacy-200103123848983.html, January 3, 2020.

[2] Aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/trump-opportunism-plunge-middle-east-turmoil-200104080741894.html, January 4, 2020.

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