In war there are no saints. Thus Major General Soleimani of Quds force, part of Iran’s most influential Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was no saint either. However, he can neither be equated with terrorists like Osama Bin Laden, Hafiz Sayyed or Masood Azar and nor General Soleimani was killed because US is a messiah out there killing terrorists for the sake of a better world. He was rather killed because the proxy war between Saudi Arab and US on one side, with Russia backed Iran on the other, is now coming out of the closet, and risks the possibility of the suboptimal conflict reaching the portentous optimal level with cataclysmic consequences.
For the uninitiated, let us put certain things in perspective. In the last few months, Trump Administration did a few things. In October 2019, Trump Administration literally abandoned the Kurd dominated Syrian Democratic Force (SDF), America’s most trusted ally in the war against ISIS, and gave a free hand to Erdogan’s Turkey to slaughter them in thousands. As per certain reports, SDF lost 11,000 personnel while fighting ISIS whereas the casualties of American soldiers can be counted on fingertips. But Trump ditched SDF when they needed him the most.
Also, in November 2019, Trump announced the resumption of peace talks with the Taliban. Trump’s desperation to see US withdrawing lock, stock and barrel from Afghanistan and safely depositing US personnel back to the US thereby leaving the Afghan space void for Taliban and ISIS to regroup, once again exemplifies the sheer hollowness of American claim of fighting terror for a better world.
What the US left behind in the form of trained Mujahids in 1989 in the Af-Pak region after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, eventually germinated various brutal Wahhabi Salafi ideology-driven Islamist terror groups, whose mayhem spread far and wide. Had it not been for the training, incubation, and funding of Mujahideens by US, Saudis, and Pakistan to fight America’s proxy war against Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the likes of Al Qaida, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Taliban or ensuing offshoots like Jaish-e-Mohammad, Jaish-ul-Adal, and many others, would not have formed and wreaked havoc at Pakistan’s behest once the US left. The US is repeating the same mistake for the rest in the region to pay price for once again. It has no problem in capitulating to the Taliban in lieu of safe exit in spite of the Taliban were responsible for death and injury to thousands of American soldiers.
Within days after assassinating General Qassem Soleimani, Trump Administration resumed military training programs for Pakistan Armed Forces. President Trump has no qualms in starting military training programs for a country which was only recently on the verge of being put in the blacklist of Financial Action Task Force for terror financing activities, a country which is home to 146 UN proscribed terrorists, a country termed ‘snake in the backyard’ by Hillary Clinton, a country castigated by President Trump himself in his January 2018 tweet when he accused Pakistan of giving ‘nothing but lies and deceit’ in return for the $33 billion in aid it received from the US, a country which has been the hotbed for incubating global terrorism and have used terrorism as an instrument of statecraft. And yet a country, which for curious reasons, remains an ally of the US.
So, the moot question is whether Trump Administration is attempting to make the world believe that Pakistan’s notorious generals, known for mentoring some of the most dreaded terror groups of the world, are less damaging for the world than General Soleimani, credited for spearheading Iran’s decisive war again ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Would the world continue to have trust on the convoluted definition of terrorism that US Administration keeps changing as per their convenience?
There might have been a sectarian Shia-Sunni rift that created a compelling obligation for Iran to fight tooth and nail against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria. No doubt that Qassem Soleimani’s Quds force galvanized several Shiite militia groups to put up a major fight against the Salafi ideology-driven ISIS. But while Trump might claim credit for killing a weakened and cornered Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the real credit for destroying ISIS’s grassroots network, institutional framework, the decimation of manpower and forcing them on the run goes to Iran, Russia and the Kurdish forces.
To that extent, the world owes it to Iran, Russia and the Kurds of SDF and Peshmarga for defeating ISIS in both Syria and Iraq. But what has been their reward? Well, Kurds of SDF have been slaughtered by Turkey with the tacit approval of the US, a top Iranian general, credited for spearheading the war against ISIS, have been assassinated by the US, while both Iran and Russia have been put under the stringent CAATSA sanctions by the US. If US finds rationale in putting Russia and Iran under the CAATSA (Countering American Adversaries through Sanctions Act) sanctions then on what ground Pakistan has been spared? If the US can kill a serving general of Iran then why can’t American surveillance and weapon systems track and liquidate UN-designated terrorists like Masood Azhar or Hafiz Sayeed? Is it a matter of convenience?
President Trump may want the world to believe that Iran is the epicenter of terrorism and General Soleimani was terrorist ‘Number One’. However, a quick fact-check would demonstrate how obnoxious and agenda-driven that proposition is. Has the world been tormented for long by the likes of Lashkar e Taiba, Jaish e Mohammad, Al Qaeda and its offshoots, Al Shabaab, ISIS, and its various offshoots, Jabhat al Nusra or Lashkar e Jhangvi to name a few? The answer is definitely in affirmative. Are these Salafi and Wahhabi ideology-driven organizations been founded, mentored, incubated and sustained by Iran? The answer is definitely a ‘NO’ in capital letters. Was 9/11 or 26/11
type terror attacks masterminded and executed by Iran backed terror groups? Was Osama Bin Laden of Iranian Origin? Were the Terrorists involved in 9/11 or 26/11 terror attack of Iranian origin? The answer to all these are again a ‘NO’ in capital letters. Surprisingly some of the countries, who are responsible for the proliferation, funding and ideological mentoring of groups involved in such attacks are major allies of the US.
One, however, can simply not absolve Iran of any involvement with groups like Lebanon based Hezbollah, Iraq and Syria based Kataib Hezbollah and Houthis of Yemen. Hezbollah’s role in attacks on Israel is well documented. Hezbollah is a terror organization and that cannot be denied. But in the larger context, even Hezbollah has limited aspirations compartmentalized in parts of Middle East and Hezbollah has not been the reason for global jihad across rest of Asia, Africa, Europe, and even the US. If Iran is to be termed as evil by US then Iran is definitely the lesser evil than many others masquerading as allies of the US.
The rise of Shia dominated and Iran supported Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq and Syria has more to do with the civil wars in those countries, triggered by external elements and foreign invasion, than with any global aspiration to spread their sphere of influence elsewhere. The same has been the case with Libya where US-led forces destroyed the Gaddafi regime only to plunge the country into a quagmire of internal conflicts where eventually Al Qaeda and ISIS backed organizations got the upper hand. Likes of Saddam Hussain, Gaddafi or Assad were ruthless dictators who believed in the Baathist ideology of Arab nationalism but were never the proponents of radical Islamist terrorism ravaging the world today. Yet the US wanted the world to believe that they were epicentres of terrorism. The lies of US administration regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction in possession of the Saddam regime, that led to US invasion of Iraq, need no elaboration.
Iran’s support for the Assad regime during the Syrian civil war is well known. If Iran is culpable of giving logistical support to Assad regime and Iran backed Shiite militias fighting on behalf of Assad, then on the same yardstick, should US, and its Sunni Arab allies of Middle East, also not be held responsible for providing weapons and finance to Syria based radical Islamist groups linked to Al Qaeda? Those aware of the covert program titled, Project ‘Timber Sycamore’ of the Obama Administration, would know how a $ 500 million program to create a resistance group against the Assad regime in Syria, eventually ended up arming Al Qaeda linked Jabhat Al Nusra in Syria.
Perhaps, eventually, it is not about Fighting Terrorism but the Business of Arms Deals
If Iran is culpable of supporting the Houthi rebels of Yemen, responsible for the drone attack on Saudi Aramco’s oil refineries, then should the same culpability not be on the Saudi led coalition as well for its 18,000 airstrikes in Yemen resulting in the death of more than 70,000 people and reducing the country to rubble? Are the Americans also not culpable of double standards for their support of the same? Or is it a matter of convenience for the US Administration since the Saudis in 2017 decided to purchase US weapon systems worth $110 billion immediately and $350 billion over the next 10 years?
For decades, the US has provoked Iran with punitive sanctions, often at the behest of the Saudi led Sunni Arab lobby and also to maintain the dollar dominance in the global oil business. The sanctions have severely hit Iran and have often been driven out of oil export business in spite of having one of the largest reserves of oil and gas in the world. The void thus created provides ample opportunity for the US to step in and generate a market for American oil reserves which stands now more than proven reserves of even Saudi Arab and Russia. Therefore, beneath the veneer of grand lectures of ‘War on Terror’, the targeting of Iran and Russia with CAATSA sanctions has more to do with controlling the global oil business and for consolidating the market of US defense companies among Sunni Arab countries antagonistic towards Iran for sectarian reasons.
It is however also important to draw the caveat that Iran developing nuclear weapons would never be good news for world stability. The safest way to neutralize that possibility was the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA initiated by Obama Administration and signed by Iran, the European Union, China, France, Russia, the UK, and Germany. That agreement was aimed at giving much-needed respite to Iran from sanctions in lieu of Iran significantly giving up its military nuclear program. But with Trump walking out of the agreement, imposing CAATSA sanctions on Iran thereby pushing the Iranian economy once again into turmoil and subsequent assassination of Gen Soleimani has precipitated Gulf region into long term chaos. Iran’s decision to walk out of the nuclear agreement and subsequent retaliatory missile attacks by Iran on the US is perhaps only the harbinger of the shape of things to come.
On a concluding note, it would be important to keep in mind that Iran is not Iraq. It would not be that easy for US to bomb Iran into rubble and storm in, just as they did with Iraq not once but twice. Iran is geographically far bigger and has strategic depth to rely on. Backed by Russia and China and armed with S-300 missiles, a reasonably well-oiled military machinery, Iran has enough capability to defend itself if US ventures in. The eventual objective of Iran too perhaps would not be to trigger a major war but with sub-optimal infliction of damage, push the US and its allies to negotiate table and lifting of economic sanctions. That itself can significantly reduce price oil. But would the US and its oil-producing Arab allies want that? That’s the key question.
(Pathikrit Payne is a New Delhi based Geopolitical Analyst. The views and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing do not reflect the views of Republic TV/ Republic World/ ARG Outlier Media Pvt. Ltd.)