by Hans Izaak Kriek*
President Trump ordered the airstrike on Baghdad Airport that killed Iranian military commander Soleimani, who as the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, IRGC became the architect of Tehran’s proxy conflicts in the Middle East.
The US had intel that Soleimani was in multiple countries in the region planning specific attacks on US interests, including US personal. The intelligence suggested that Iranian plans were maturing, and it became a strategic time to take out Soleimani.
A source with knowledge said attacks against US personal were being plotted in the region and described the concern as being beyond the normal chatter about such plots.
US intelligence knew Soleimani was in Baghdad after the embassy attack to plan with Iranian proxy forces future hits on US. The President made rapid and decisive decision on this, the source said.
Iran’s leaders announced, ‘a crushing response’ for Soleimani’s death, “it will further strengthen the resistance front and will not halt the struggle of Muslims against Americans and the Zionists. In fact, it injected new blood”, said a spokesperson of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, IRGC.
Iran condemned President Donald Trump as a ‘terrorist in a suit’ after the U.S. president threatened to hit 52 Iranian sites hard if Tehran attacks Americans or U.S. assets in retaliation for the killing of military commander Qassem Soleimani.
Soleimani, Iran’s pre-eminent military commander, was killed on Friday in a U.S. drone strike on his convoy at Baghdad airport, an attack that has taken long-running hostilities between Washington and Tehran into uncharted territory and raised the specter of wider conflict in the Middle East.
In a series of tweets on Saturday Trump said Iran ‘is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets’ to avenge Soleimani’s death.
President Trump said the 52 targets represented the 52 Americans held hostage in Iran after being seized at the U.S. Embassy in 1979 during the country’s Islamic Revolution.
Iran’s army chief, Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi, was quoted by state television on Sunday as saying the United States lacked the courage for military confrontation with Iran. "In a potential conflict in the future, which I don’t think they (Americans) have the courage to carry out, there it will become clear where the numbers five and two will belong," he said.
Thousands of mourners turned out to pay respects to the slain commander on Sunday after Soleimani’s body was returned to Iran, the official IRIB news agency reported.
While many Iranians have rallied in to show grief over the death of Soleimani, regarded as the country’s second most powerful figure after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, others worry that his death might push the country to war with a superpower.
Thousands of mourners dressed in black marched through the streets of Ahvaz beating their chests in live footage aired on state TV.
British foreign minister Dominic Raab said on Sunday he had spoken to Iraq’s prime minister and president to urge efforts to relieve tensions in the region following the U.S. strike.
Raab, who described Soleimani as a ‘regional menace’ and said he was sympathetic to the situation the United States found itself in, said he also planned to speak to Iran’s foreign minister.
"There is a route through which allows Iran to come in from out of the international cold”, he told Sky News. "We need to contain the nefarious actions of Iran but we also need to de-escalate and stabilize the situation."
Friday’s U.S. air strike also killed Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Iraq’s parliament was set to convene an extraordinary session on Sunday where lawmakers told Reuters they would push for a vote on a resolution requiring the government to request the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
"There is no need for the presence of American forces after defeating Daesh (Islamic State)," said Ammar al-Shibli, a Shi’ite lawmaker and member of parliament’s legal committee.
Despite decades of enmity between Iran and the United States, Iran-backed militia and U.S. troops fought side by side during Iraq’s 2014-2017 war against Islamic State militants.
Around 5,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, most of them in an advisory capacity. The militia were incorporated into government forces under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilisation Forces which Muhandis led.
Many Iraqis, including opponents of Soleimani, have expressed anger at Washington for killing the two men on Iraqi soil and possibly dragging their country into another conflict.
On Saturday evening, a rocket fell inside Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone near the U.S. embassy, another hit the nearby Jadriya neighborhood and two more were fired at the Balad air base north of the city. No one was killed, the Iraqi military said.
The U.S. strike followed a spike in U.S.-Iranian hostilities in Iraq since last week when pro-Iranian militias attacked the U.S. embassy in Baghdad after a deadly U.S. air raid on Kataib Hezbollah, a militia founded by Muhandis.
Washington accused the group of an attack on an Iraqi military base that killed an American contractor.
Iran has already replaced Soleimani, Esmail Ghaani is the new Iranian general who now stepped out of the shadows to lead the country’s expeditionary Quds Force, becoming responsible for Tehran’s proxies across the Mideast as the Islamic Republic threatens the U.S. with “harsh revenge” for killing its previous head, Qassem Soleimani.
The Quds Force is part of the 125,000-strong Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary organization that answers only to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Guard oversees Iran’s ballistic missile program, has its naval forces shadow the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf and includes an all-volunteer Basij force.
While much still remains unknown about Ghaani, 62, Western sanctions suggest he’s long been in a position of power in the organization. And likely one of his first duties will be to oversee whatever revenge Iran intends to seek for the U.S. airstrike early Friday that killed his longtime friend Soleimani.
“We are children of war,” Ghaani once said of his relationship with Soleimani, according to Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency. “We are comrades on the battlefield and we have become friends in battle.”
The question is whether we’re at a dangerous escalation point or not. Is the important thing now to contribute to a de-escalation with prudence and restraint? The regional conflicts can only be resolved through diplomatic channels.
Russia’s Putin and France’s Macron also talked about the situation in Iraq. The two presidents first reviewed the situation and stay in close contact ‘for the next few days to avoid another dangerous escalation of tensions and to call on all parties to hold back’.
*International pollical commentator for European Business Review and editor-in-chief at Kriek Media