For long it seemed that the US government in Washington was for the most part happy to outsource direct military aggression against Iran to its trigger-happy friends in Tel Aviv, preferring to concentrate its own efforts (in public at least) on trying to strangle Iran economically through the imposition of brutal sanctions, leaving it to Israel to lob rockets at supposed ‘Iranian targets’ in Syria.
Cowardly attack on Kata’ib Hezbollah bases
However, this familiar pattern started to shift on Sunday 29 December, when direct US airstrikes against five Iraqi army Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) bases slew an estimated 32 militiamen and wounded another 45. The pretext for this cowardly attack on the KH base was an attack on a US base a few days earlier that had killed one US ‘contractor’ (read mercenary/spy).
The finger was pointed at the KH without any proof being offered, and it transpires that the KH positions that came under fire had been established to counterattack and raid an Islamic State (aka IS, Isis or Daesh) pocket at al-Qaem on the border between Iraq and Syria. (After US strike on Iraqi forces its troops will (again) have to leave, Moon of Alabama, 30 December 2019)
The KH brigades are an integral part of Iraq’s armed forces, alongside other Iraqi militias that originated in the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) that have been key to the expulsion of Isis terror gangs from Iraqi soil. These Iraqi militias have benefited from fraternal assistance from Iran, and it is they who have been most successful in defeating the terrorists and driving them out of Iraq.
Despite imperialist propaganda that portrays them as ‘tools of Tehran’, the reality is that these are Iraqi militias which sprang directly from the urgent need to free Iraq from the presence of US troops and from the plundering of national resources by foreign powers.
It suits imperialism to pretend that every patriotic Iraqi voice that is raised against the continued and intensifying US military occupation of their country must by definition be further proof of a malign Iranian influence. Yet it is Iranian support and the incorporation of Iranian-backed militias into Iraq’s armed forces that were largely responsible for ridding the country of Isis – a fact well-known to all Iraqis.
It is not the fraternal assistance of Iraq’s Iranian neighbour that is trampling on the sovereignty of Iraq, but the would-be puppet-masters in Washington.
The cowardly attack upon KH forces, Iraqi soldiers who had been tasked with uprooting the last remnants of Isis, will only have succeeded in convincing more Iraqis that the fight against the US occupation follows on logically from fight against Isis – the unacknowledged offspring of imperialism.
Murder of Major General Qasem Soleimani
Less than a week after the airstrike against the KH bases, in an act of criminal aggression that has electrified the middle east, Iran’s top general, Qasem Soleimani, was assassinated by a drone strike near Baghdad.
The outgoing prime minister strongly implied that the general had been lured into a trap, explaining: “I was supposed to meet him in the morning the day he was killed, he came to deliver a message from Iran in response to the message we had delivered from the Saudis to Iran.” (The reason Qasem Soleimani was in Baghdad shows how complex the Iran crisis is by Kim Sengupta, The Independent, 7 January 2020)
About half an hour before the murder took place, US defence secretary Mark Esper warned Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi what was planned. Both Prime Minister Mahdi and the president, Barham Salih, begged Esper to call off the attack, but to no avail.
To increase the humiliation, it turned out that at the very time that US president Donald Trump was on the phone to Abdul-Mahdi, thanking him for helping to end a siege of the US embassy in Baghdad, plans to murder the Iranian general on Iraqi soil were already far advanced.
While most world leaders reacted at first with stunned silence, struck momentarily speechless by the enormity of what had been done, Britain’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab leapt to Trump’s defence, claiming:
“It was General Soleimani’s job description to engage proxies, militias across not just Iraq but the whole region not just to destabilize those countries but to attack western countries who were legitimately there. In those circumstances the right of self-defence clearly applies.” (UK foreign secretary says Soleimani’s job was to attack western troops ‘legitimately’ in the middle east – like in Syria?, RT, 5 January 2020)
In which middle-eastern countries does Raab suppose that the west’s armies have a ‘legitimate’ presence? Syria has made it clear from the outset that US troops are not welcome, and two days after the assassination Iraq’s parliament formally denounced the continued de facto occupation of their country.
The truth is that the man whom the demented US president now identifies as the “number one terrorist anywhere in the world” was an outstanding national hero who commanded enormous respect for his services to his country. His death has been mourned by millions of his people, who took to the streets in every town and city in a great outpouring of popular grief and rage.
Even the imperialist media on occasion displayed some grudging respect for the general’s military genius, as for example in a Newsweek report back in 2015, entitled ‘Iranian military mastermind leading battle to recapture Tikrit from Isis’.
The report said that Soleimani “is spearheading the Iraqi offensive on the Isis-held city of Tikrit, providing tactical expertise and a key link to Tehran for supplies to the Iraqi militias advancing on the terror group’s territory.
“This week, a combination of 30,000 Iraqi security forces, sunni and shia militiamen launched a campaign to retake Tikrit from the terror group after it swept through northern Iraq last summer. Iraqi security forces, backed by the majority-shia Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU), are advancing on the city from three directions, north, east and south, where the main entry points into and out of the city lie.
“Major General Qasem Soleimani, the shadowy former leader of the elite Quds Force, the special operations arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IGRC), is directly overseeing the eastern offensive on Tikrit.”
It would be interesting to read the present thoughts of “top US general Martin Dempsey”, paraphrased in the Newsweek report as maintaining “that the involvement of Iran in the fight against Isis in Iraq could be a positive step”, and noting that “almost two-thirds of the 30,000 offensive were Iranian-backed militiamen, meaning that without Iranian assistance and Soleimani’s guidance, the offensive on Tikrit may not have been possible.
“Without the financial and military backing of Iran, it would be extremely difficult for Iraq to launch a successful offensive on Tikrit.” (Jack Moore, 3 May 2015)
But of course it was never the intention of the US to completely eradicate Isis. It would rather keep Iraq weak and plagued by jihadis than let it be restored to independence and sovereignty.
Iran’s prompt reprisal attacks against occupying US forces have served preliminary notice to imperialism that the axis of resistance will never bow down in the face of aggression.
If Anglo-American imperialism chooses to continue down the road of aggression against Iran, it will surely be digging its own grave in the middle east.