Soleimani’s killing could open a path for peace if cooler heads prevail, argues professor of Middle East politics Sabah Alnasseri.
JAISAL NOOR: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
On Tuesday, dozens of mourners were killed in a stampede during the funeral of slain top Iranian General, Qasem Soleimani. The Middle East is still feeling the shockwaves from the U.S. assassination of Soleimani last week, and critics warn the strike brought the world to the brink of war. On Monday, the Pentagon disavowed Trump’s threats to bomb 52 targets in Iran, including cultural sites, which top Pentagon officials acknowledged would be a war crime.
Meanwhile, the U.S. threatened Iraq with new sanctions this weekend after the country’s Parliament demanded the withdrawal of U.S. troops. In the 1990s, U.S. killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including children, and critics say only solidified the rule of Saddam Hussein. On Monday, the Pentagon also mistakenly released a letter announcing US troops were withdrawing from Iraq, something officials blamed on a poorly-worded draft.
Britain’s Prime Minister Dominic Raab warned on Tuesday only Isis would benefit from a war between Iran and the U.S. Here’s that clip.
DOMINIC RAAB: We want to deescalate the tensions. We are concerned that if we see a full-blown war, it would be very damaging, and actually the terrorists, in particular Daesh, would be the only winners.
JAISAL NOOR: A historic protest movement had arisen in Iraq in recent months, uniting people across class and sectarian lines against Iranian influence. But even opponents of Soleimani have expressed anger at Washington for killing him on Iraqi soil and potentially dragging their beleaguered country into another conflict. Here’s a clip.
SPEAKER: It is a horrific atmosphere they want us to live in. Chaos worse than what we live in now. There will be more killings, and the fight between U.S. and Iran will move to Iraq. They don’t care that we are protesting for our rights. What is coming will be worse and the Iraqi Parliament will not vote for expelling the foreign forces from Iraq.
JAISAL NOOR: Now joining us to discuss this is Professor Sabah Alnasseri of York University. Thank you so much for joining us again. You always provide invaluable insight into what’s happening in Iraq and the region.
Something that I feel that’s been overlooked is the impact this is all having on Iraqis. It’s this country caught in the middle of this growing conflict. They had the Iran-Iraq War in the ’80s, the longest conventional war in modern history. You had the sanctions in the ’90s, which we’ll talk about. And then of course you had the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which was in the name of bringing freedom to Iraqis. But now that they’ve exercised that democracy and the Parliament voted for U.S. troops to leave, now the U.S. is threatening to punish them once again. Give us your thoughts.
SABAH ALNASSERI: Right. Good to be with you, Jaisal. Three things. The first one is, we need to be a bit precise. The Iraq Parliament, they didn’t ask, actually, for the U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq, but for the foreign troops to withdraw from Iraq. Meaning that the International Coalition and it’s a fight against Daesh, that is what it meant by it. Beside this one, there are two other agreements Iraq had with the United States. One of them is the withdrawal of troops in 2008, and the establishment of military bases in Iraq. And the second one, also in 2008, was the strategic agreement between the U.S. and Iraq.
These two were not actually mentioned or criticized during the last session of the Parliament. The last session of the Parliament refers only to the International Coalition, and there are two problems here. The first one is constitutional and legal. This Parliament and this government, they are in a constitutional and a legal crisis since November. The government resigned already, actually, by the 29th of November. So this government is not in a position to withdraw or reform or change anything on international agreement.
So the whole show by mostly the Shia political parties and militias for Iran in the Parliament, actually voted for the withdrawal of the international troops. The Kurds and the so-called Sunnis parties and the forces block off the decision. This is actually just a show. Let’s say it’s a rhetorical show of solidarity with Iran, but it doesn’t have really legal or political implication. The U.S. troops will not withdraw from Iraq. That’s for sure. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is, the major threat to the regime in Iran was actually not the U.S. or the U.S. troops, but the October Revolution in Iraq since October 1, 2019, since three months. As you said, it’s a massive democratic revolution; cross-class, cross-gender, cross-sect and religions, and so on. It actually instigated some of the protest movement in Iran on November 20, and I believe more than 1000 people were killed in one day in Iran.
So the Iranian regime feared that this revolution in Iraq could spill over to Iran and threaten the regime itself. So it has to oppress or put down the revolution in Iraq, and they tried. And especially Qasem Soleimani, was in charge of this file. They used snipers, and kidnappers, and killers, and intimidation and so on. It didn’t work. They wanted to militarize the revolution, just like in Syria and Yemen and so on. It didn’t work, too, because people were peaceful.
Then what they tried is, they tried to impose–after the resignation of the government of Adil Abdul-Mahdi–they tried to impose a new prime minister, which is a block with the four Iran Shiite political parties and their armed militias. They wanted to impose their candidate, with the help of Soleimani, on the president and prologue by all means and contra to people’s demands to ensure they adopt the influence in Iran who’d stay, and then through this new government, with a new minister present, they could put down the revolution. But it didn’t work too.
So they moved to the third steps, which is to escalate the conflict with the U.S. by attacking some military bases in the U.S., or by attacking the U.S. Embassy to drop the United States into actually a military confrontation. And through that they can first put down the revolution because the whole attention will be paid to the war and then they can easily attack the revolutionaries.
And the second is, because Iran is going through a massive crisis, especially economic crisis due to the sanction, it was a mean for Iran to mix up the cards through the military confrontation with the U.S. and Iraq, and try to manage its own crisis by shifting their attention on the internal conflict within Iran to Iraq and the United States. And, I think we are at this stage. But if you ask me, and I don’t know if you’re going to ask me, but my argument runs contra to the common sense of what does this cause in the meantime in the main, but also in the critical stream above the fear mongering, and war mongering, and the thought of more war, et cetera. I have a completely different argument.
JAISAL NOOR: Yeah, please enlighten us.
SABAH ALNASSERI: Sorry, I didn’t want to… okay. So my argument: Iran’s at fault. Qasem Soleimani became so powerful in Iran. He’s the second powerful man in Iran after Khamenei. And he became so powerful that many even, in Iraq or Syria political forces or militias that pro Iran and pro Soleimani, they became very fearful of Qasem Soleimani, and they felt sometimes threatened. And political forces within Iran, especially those who are interested in deescalating the conflict with the U.S., and probably tried to negotiate a new deal with the U.S., felt also threatened by Qasem Soleimani.
And Qasem Soleimani, recently, his approach was to–as I said–to influence the decision making in Iraq through Shiite political forces and the militias. As such that, a conflict with the U.S. in Iran would be probable if he would have managed actually to impose a new minister president in Iraq, who would [inaudible 00:09:45] block. So you have people in Iran and Iraq and in Syria feared Qasem Soleimani. Not only the U.S. So the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, and that’s my argument, make the war between the U.S. and Iran not more, but less, probable. Because I think this will open up the possibility of forces in Iran, but also in Iraq or Syria and so on, to look for a diplomatic or a political solution of the conflict.
Provided, and this is very important point, provided that the U.S. offers Iran some sort of an exit option by accepting a limited uranium attack on some U.S. material targets and creating some damage, not to American soldiers and so on, but just physical or material damage. And in this way, the Iranian government can tell its people that they avenged Qasem Soleimani’s death, and they can save as they’ve saved their face. And then this could open up a new space for negotiation between Iran and the United States.
And I think this is more probable because that will be beneficial for both Iran and the U.S. For Iran because then it would halt for renegotiation with the United States, with the Trump administration, the sanction would be lifted or eased. And, for the Trump administration, it can sell this during the election year as a success by trying to get the Iranians to renegotiate the nuclear deal according to Trump’s terms. That would be the political diplomatic exit option. And that would make the war less probable.
Now there’s one–
JAISAL NOOR: That is, if cooler heads prevail, of course.
SABAH ALNASSERI: That’s my gut, what it’s telling me; that will prevail. And there’s only one variable. And I think this variable, which create a major problem to Iran rather than to the U.S., which is the October Revolution. But also this variable that threatens the regime in Iran could be also resolved through this exit option because the Iranian regime reality is not to make war with the U.S., but to sustain the regime.
So war with the U.S. would be political suicide. I don’t think they will go into war with the U.S. So their priority is to sustain the regime, but there’s a problem. There’s a growing crisis due to the sanction. And that created a lot of issues and conflict and problems in Iraq. That’s part of the regime. So the exit option and renegotiation and easing the economic sanction will give the regime a breath to A: tell the people things will get better and make protest and maybe conflict less probable. And, this way, the fear of spilling over of the October Revolution of Iraq would be less likely. And I think the major threat as I said, to Iran, is the October Revolution in Iraq, and not so much the United States.
JAISAL NOOR: All right, Professor Sabah Alnasseri of York University. Thanks so much for providing us with your insight and we’ll definitely come back to you as the story continues to unfold. Thanks so much for joining us.
SABAH ALNASSERI: Thanks for having me, Jaisal.
JAISAL NOOR: And thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.
Studio: Cameron Granadino, Bababtunde Ogunfolaju
Production: Genevieve Montinar, Bababtunde Ogunfolaju, Andrew Corkery