Friday’s assassination of Major General Qasem Soleimani , the commander of Iran’s Qods Force for over two decades, in Baghdad, is a reckless and unilateral act of provocation by the U.S. that could trigger another full-scale war in West Asia. The strike against Mr. Soleimani and several Iraqi Shia militia members when they were leaving the airport, was apparently in retaliation for the storming of the American Embassy in Baghdad by protesters earlier this week. Mr. Soleimani, who had a unique celebrity status among Iran’s military leaders, was highly popular among the hardliners. He was reportedly very close to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei , who once called him a “living martyr of the revolution”. Mr. Soleimani was also the main architect of Iran’s recent foreign operations, mainly in Syria and Iraq, which were crucial in saving the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and defeating the Islamic State (IS) in both countries. It was under his leadership that Iran founded and trained Shia militias and despatched them to the battlefields of both Syria and Iraq. The militias fought alongside Kurdish paramilitaries and the Iraqi Army, with air support from the U.S. Air Force, against the IS in northern Iraq, from Amirli to Mosul. Ironically, the same soldier who helped the U.S. and the Iraqi government defeat the IS has been assassinated inside Iraq by the Americans.
This was a crisis foretold by many, and U.S. President Donald Trump is squarely responsible for where U.S.-Iran ties stand today. He single-handedly destroyed the détente between the two nations established by the 2015 Iran nuclear deal by unilaterally pulling the U.S. out of the agreement in 2018 and reimposing sanctions on Iran. By sabotaging the fragile peace painstakingly negotiated over years between world powers, Mr. Trump, in a single act, pushed both the U.S. and Iran down a dangerous slope. Now, with the assassination of Soleimani, Mr. Trump has escalated the crisis to the levels not seen in the past; not even during the siege in 1979 of the American Embassy in Tehran by the revolutionaries. It might help an impeached President in an election year to divert attention from his domestic woes and mobilise political support, but for a region already struggling to cope with multiple armed conflicts and external interventions, it could be dangerously consequential. The attack has already killed off even the possibility of renegotiating the nuclear deal. Iran might see this as an act of war like any sovereign country would do. A full-scale war with Iran would be totally different from the wars the U.S. has fought in West Asia in recent years. It could trigger multiple attacks across the region, destabilising it further, cause heavy casualties and help the jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda and the IS regroup and re-emerge. It is unfortunate that the U.S., which is struggling to get out of Afghanistan after 18 years of war, which destroyed the Iraqi state 17 years ago, turning parts of the country into fertile ground for jihadists, is triggering another conflict in the Muslim world.