Dr. Haytham Mouzahem, head of Beirut Centre for Middle East Studies talks to International Affairs Review on the assasination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani by US strikes in Baghdad airport earlier today and the implications for the region.
Do you see this assasination as an escalation between the US and Iran?
The region is in great tension due to the American assassination of General Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds Force in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and it is expected that Iran will retaliate against [the assasination of] Suleimani, but not immediately, not through a military or security escalation, or directly. Iran will respond at an appropriate time and place and through its allies in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Palestine and other places.
Why do you think the assasination, along with that of Iraqi Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, happened now?
Washington wanted the assassination of Suleimani to send a message of deterrence to Iran that its embassy in Iraq and its American citizens are a red line that should not be crossed. After Tehran felt President Trump’s weakness when Iran shot down a US drone plane over Iranian territorial waters, America did not respond. Then the Houthis attacked Saudi Aramco facilities and Riyadh accused Iran of the attacks and Washington did not respond. The Iranians thought that Trump was avoiding the war and therefore they could push him in Iraq and push his soldiers to leave after they raided 5 Popular Mobilization positions in Syria and Iraq a week ago. But if Trump were silent, he would be considered weak and affected by the matter in the elections, as it would endanger America’s strategic interests, its citizens, and its military without retaliating or deterring it.
What do you think would be the regional implications of this assasination?
The Iraqi government is in an unenviable situation, as it will be embarrassed in front of its Shiite audience specifically after the killing of one of the leaders of the Popular Mobilization (al-hashd), Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, by its ally, America, which has its forces in Iraq. It is also embarrassed in front of its ally Iran because of the killing of Suleimani, the Iranian policy coordinator in Iraq. Iraqi Shiite popular pressure may intensify on the Iraqi government in Parliament and the street, as well as Iranian pressure on Iraqis to ask the Americans to leave Iraq. There is no doubt that the caretaker government cannot take such a decision, as well as in light of an internal political split between supporters of Iran and those of America. We will see more division and chaos in Iraq.
Source: International Affairs Review