The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has dismissed comments that the Pentagon airstrike at Baghdad airport on Thursday killing top Iranian commander Maj Gen Qassem Suleimani was an act of war.
Pentagon, above, defended its move, saying Gen Suleimani was in Baghdad to finalise an “imminent” attack on US diplomats and soldiers and Washington thwarted it.
The explanation seems to be convincing if one looks at the turn of events this week.
On Tuesday, diplomats were trapped in the US embassy in Baghdad after thousands of pro-Iranian protesters attempted to besiege its compound. The people were protesting against US airstrikes that killed dozens of Iran-backed militias during the weekend.
The US forces said they were only retaliating against attacks by the militia that left one US contractor killed and four soldiers injured last week.
The storming of the embassy in Baghdad showed the US the extent to which Iran can get help from Shia-majority Iraq to pose a potential threat to its officials and soldiers.
Washington could also sense the mood of protesters who were chanting ‘Death to America’ and ‘US soldiers go back.’
The protesters ended their siege only after getting an assurance from the Iraqi prime minister that the parliament would pass a law for the full withdrawal of US troops from the country.
But the US sent 750 soldiers after the latest protests and more troops may arrive in the wake of the Iranian general’s killing. This may bring the protesters back to the streets.
A point that Washington fails to acknowledge is that Iraqis hate the presence of US troops in the country after what happened since the first Gulf War.
Earlier, Washington had sent clear warnings to Tehran of military action if it crosses the limits. One such transgression happened when Iran allegedly attacked the oil fields of the US ally Saudi Arabia in September last year.
When the US hinted at airstrikes on Iran and sought its clarity on Saudi oil field raids, Tehran said Yemen’s Houthi rebels had already claimed sending 10 drones to target two Saudi oil installations. If the US still blames the raids on Iran, it is only to prepare the ground for airstrikes, a foreign ministry said.
The US warning came just three months after its air force nearly launched an attack on Iranian targets over the downing of its surveillance drone by members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the Strait of Hormuz.
The ties between Washington and Tehran worsened much earlier after President Donald Trump walked away from the historic nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on that country upsetting other signatories of the deal, Russia, China, France, the UK and Germany.
Iran ignored all warnings maybe because it felt the US was politically too divided to take any decisive action. That proved wrong with the killing of Gen Suleiman.
His death will prompt Iran to hit back at US assets indirectly through its proxies in Lebanon, Syria or elsewhere to send a message that no country can mess with Iran. In the process, allies of the US like Israel, Saudi Arabia and or the United Arab Emirates may be targeted.
A conventional war is unlikely since Iran is aware of the costs involved in fighting a long war with a formidable foe like the US.
The US too has learned enough lessons from Iraq war and will try to avoid another disastrous conflict.
The killing of Gen Suleiman will boost the image of Trump as a leader who can take decisive action as he faces an impeachment trial in the coming weeks and a presidential election in November.