Assassination of Qassem Suleimani will likely come back to haunt Trump

By | January 3, 2020

The New York Times reports:

For a president who repeated his determination to withdraw from the caldron of the Middle East, the strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, who for two decades has led Iran’s most fearsome and ruthless military unit, the Quds Force, means there will be no escape from the region for the rest of his presidency, whether that is one year or five. Mr. Trump has committed the United States to a conflict whose dimensions are unknowable, as Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, seeks vengeance.

“This is a massive walk up the escalation ladder,” wrote Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute. “With Suleimani dead, war is coming — that seems certain, the only questions are where, in what form and when?”

Bruce Riedel, the former C.I.A. officer who spent his life studying the Middle East, and is now at the Brookings Institution, said, “The administration is taking America into another war in the Middle East, bigger than ever.”

Yet it may not be a conventional war in any sense, since the Iranians’ advantage is all in asymmetric conflict. [Continue reading…]

Al Jazeera reports:

Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, killed early on Friday in a US air strike in Baghdad, was seen as Tehran’s man in Iraq and a sworn enemy of the United States.

Al-Muhandis – the widely-used nom-de-guerre for Jamal Jaafar al-Ibrahimi – was among the crowds of PMF members and supporters that protested at the embassy on Tuesday.

Known for his strong anti-US rhetoric during the US-led occupation of Iraq, al-Muhandis, 56, also built up close ties to Iran over decades.

“Muhandis was demonstrative of how Iran built its network of proxies in Iraq,” said Phillip Smyth, a US-based researcher focused on Shia armed groups, as cited by AFP news agency.

“He has history with basically every major network Iran had in Iraq. You would not have found a stronger ideal” of Iran’s influence in the country, he said. [Continue reading…]

Mohammad Ali Shabani writes:

Some will characterise the killings as a huge blow to Iran’s proxy capabilities and wider policy in the region. But such an approach ignores how the Iranian system is structured.

Suleimani’s successor as Quds force leader – his long-time deputy Esmail Qaani – was announced within 12 hours of his death. And while Suleimani was charismatic and played a personal role in cultivating many of Iran’s relationships in the region, those ties do not rely on him alone. Rather they are the product of extensive and deep bonds that often go back decades and, in many instances, involve family ties.

Suleimani was well aware of the dangers of the job: as was his singular boss, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who in years past deemed him a “living martyr”. So succession planning was never far from his mind. Indeed, 62-year-old Suleimani gave his younger lieutenants considerable operational authority. In practice, this has meant the elevation of a new generation of Quds force operatives, some of whom Suleimani had already begun positioning in vital posts: a case in point is Iraj Masjedi, the current Iranian ambassador to Iraq.

So what comes next? Predictably, the Iranian authorities have promised “severe retaliation”. How that unfolds in practice is anyone’s guess. There is certainly no shortage of US targets in the region. But Suleimani may have, with his death, already have achieved the greatest revenge of all, and without firing a single bullet: namely, his ultimate objective of ending the US military presence in Iraq. [Continue reading…]

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