Trump draws back

from war with Iran – twice


On 14 July 2015, the US signed a nuclear agreement with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  The other four permanent members of the Security Council – China, France, Russia and the UK – plus Germany, were also party to the agreement.



Iran: one of the original signatories to the NPT


Iran was one of the original signatories to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the internationally accepted rules-based system governing nuclear activity by states.  It signed the NPT as a ‘non-nuclear-weapon’ state on 1 July 1968 and, by so doing, undertook not to develop nuclear weapons.  It hasn’t done so.  As required by the NPT, Iran’s nuclear facilities are and always have been under IAEA supervision.  The IAEA has never detected any diversion of nuclear material from these nuclear facilities for possible military use. 


Iran’s leaders have repeatedly denied that they have any ambitions to develop nuclear weapons.  What is more, in a speech to nuclear scientists on 22 February 2012, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, declared the possession of such weapons a “grave sin”.  There was nothing new in this statement: in 2005, he issued a fatwa – a religious edict – saying that “the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Islamic Republic of Iran shall never acquire these weapons”.


Of course, this is not an absolute constraint on Iran developing nuclear weapons, but it’s unlikely that the religious authorities in Iran would modify this principle unless Iran was perceived to be under an existential threat, most plausibly, after having been attacked by the US and/or Israel.



George Bush “angry”


In November 2007, a US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) entitled Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities landed on President Bush’s desk.  This concluded that Iran hadn’t got an active nuclear weapons programme. 


One might have thought that a President, who was supposedly dedicated to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, would have been delighted by this news that the central aspect of his Iran policy was working.  But instead he was “angry”.  He told us so in his memoir Decision Points.  He was “angry” because it cut the ground from under his efforts to maintain international support for what he termed “dealing with Iran”, which clearly went beyond ensuring that it did not possess nuclear weapons. 


Crucially, the NIE made it impossible for him to take military action against Iran:


“The NIE didn’t just undermine diplomacy.  It also tied my hands on the military side. …  But after the NIE, how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?”


The President should have been pleased that Iran was not developing nuclear weapons.  Instead, he was angry that this evidence from his own intelligence services had undermined the his campaign to maintain international pressure on Iran and had removed any justification for US military action against Iran.


The US had then and has now an interest in saying that a nuclear-armed Iran is imminent.  And the same is true of Israel.



An ‘inalienable right’ to uranium enrichment


In return for surrendering their right to develop nuclear weapons, the NPT grants ‘non-nuclear-weapon’ states like Iran the right to develop nuclear facilities for peaceful purposes.  Article IV(1) of the Treaty makes this clear:


“Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.”


So, on the face of things, the NPT gives all ‘non-nuclear-weapon’ states what it calls an ‘inalienable right’ to uranium enrichment on their own soil so long as they conform to Article II, that is, so long as enrichment is not for weapons manufacture. Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands are all in the same position as Iran. They are all ‘non-nuclear-weapon’ state parties to the NPT.  And all of them have uranium enrichment facilities without being accused of breaching the NPT.


John Kerry was Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2009 to 2013, when he became President Obama’s Secretary of State and led for the US in the JCPOA negotiations.  He told the Financial Times on 10 June 2009 that Iran had “a right to peaceful nuclear power and to enrichment in that purpose” and he went on to describe the Bush administration’s “no enrichment” approach to negotiations as “bombastic diplomacy” that “wasted energy” and “hardened the lines”. 



US tried to force Iran to cease enrichment


Nevertheless, for a decade prior to the signing of the JCPOA in 2015, the Bush and Obama administrations tried, with the backing of the EU, to force Iran to cease uranium enrichment.  If the US/EU had gotten their way, Iran would have been the only state in the world which was banned from having uranium enrichment facilities on its own soil.


As part of this enforcement campaign, from January 2012 onwards the Obama administration unilaterally imposed severe economic sanctions on Iran which sought to prevent it from engaging in international trade, especially the export of oil.  These sanctions owed their existence to legislation passed by the US Congress in December 2011 at the behest of the Israeli lobby in the US, legislation which was accepted by President Obama.  The EU joined in, unilaterally banning imports of Iranian oil from June 2012 onwards.


These US/EU sanctions halved Iran’s revenue from oil to $5 billion annually and caused Iran’s GDP to fall by about 6% in 2012 (see BBC The impact of Iran sanctions).  In October 2012 during his re-election campaign against Mitt Romney, President Obama boasted Trump-like that he had “crippled” Iran’s economy.


However, despite applying this extraordinary economic pressure, the US/EU failed to force Iran to cease enrichment.  On the contrary, whereas in 2005 there were no centrifuges enriching uranium in Iran, by 2015 around 19,000 centrifuges were installed and about 10,000 of them were in operation. 



The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)


In early 2013 or thereabouts, the Obama administration did a U-turn and abandoned its attempt to force Iran to cease uranium enrichment on its own soil. That's why the US negotiations with Iran about its nuclear activities, which began secretly in Oman in March 2013, ended successfully in Vienna on 14 July 2015 with agreement on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  Without that reversal of policy, there would have been no deal, because retaining enrichment facilities on its own soil has always been Iran’s bottom line and it was prepared to endure years of wholly unjustified sanctions in order to defend that bottom line.


The JCPOA is an extraordinarily wide-ranging and complex agreement (see, for example, JCPOA Key Requirements, Arms Control Association).


Aside from no longer demanding that Iran cease uranium enrichment, the deal required the lifting of all nuclear-related sanctions against Iran, those imposed unilaterally by the US and EU in 2012 plus the earlier rather mild UN sanctions.  It even went beyond ending sanctions into the area of trade promotion: in Section 29, the US and the EU are required to “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalisation of trade and economic relations with Iran” and in Section 33 the EU commits to “agree on steps to ensure Iran’s access in areas of trade, technology, finance and energy” and “consider the use of available instruments such as export credits to facilitate trade, project financing and investment in Iran”.  In Section 22, the US agreed to “allow for the sale of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services to Iran”.  


However, the US sought to constrain Iran’s nuclear programme in other ways.  In particular, it insisted that the JCPOA imposed very severe, albeit time-limited, restrictions on Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities and its enriched uranium stockpile and on many other aspects of its nuclear programme. 


On the former, for example:

(a)   For the next 10 years, the number of uranium enrichment centrifuges installed is limited to about 6,000 (that is, 13,000 had to be de-installed);

(b)   For the next 15 years, the level of enrichment is capped at 3.67% uranium-235, the level appropriate for power generation reactors;

(c)   For the next 15 years, the stockpile of enriched uranium is capped at 300kgs of 3.67% uranium-235, a 98% reduction in its stockpile prior to the JCPOA (to achieve this, Iran has had to sell the excess, or ship it abroad for storage, or dilute it to natural uranium levels).


There was no justification for imposing these extraordinary restrictions on Iran’s civil nuclear programme: as a ‘non-nuclear-weapon’ party to the NPT, Iran is forbidden to acquire nuclear weapons, but the NPT places no limits on civil nuclear activity, providing it is under IAEA supervision.  No other party to the NPT has had limitations placed on its civil nuclear programme.


Iran agreed reluctantly to the JCPOA to get rid of crippling sanctions by the US/EU and in the hope that after the US-imposed restrictions had expired they would have a civil nuclear programme of their own choosing, which is their right under the NPT.



JCPOA endorsed by the Security Council


On 20 July 2015, the JCPOA was endorsed unanimously by the Security Council in Resolution 2231 and thereby became an international agreement, to which all UN member states had a duty to adhere.


Resolution 2231 also charged the IAEA with the task of monitoring Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA.  To enable it to fulfil that task, the agreement itself prescribed that Iran be subjected to the most comprehensive inspection and verification regime that has ever been operated by the IAEA. 


On 16 January 2016, the IAEA certified that Iran had taken the steps necessary to restrict its nuclear programme and put in place appropriate arrangements for increased monitoring of the programme.  This triggered the lifting of US, EU and UN sanctions.


From then on, the IAEA issued quarterly reports on Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA.  Its tenth such report on 9 May 2018, like all its predecessors, confirmed Iran’s compliance, the IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano stating:


“Iran is subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime under the JCPOA, which is a significant verification gain. As of today, the IAEA can confirm that the nuclear-related commitments are being implemented by Iran.”



The US violates Security Council Resolution 2231


The day before, on 8 May 2018, President Trump had announced that the US intended to violate Security Council Resolution 2231.


Annex II B of the JCPOA states:


“The United States commits to cease the application of, and to seek such legislative action as may be appropriate to terminate, or modify to effectuate the termination of, all nuclear-related sanctions as specified in Sections 4.1-4.9 below … “ (p43 of Resolution 2231)


On 8 May 2018, the President signed a presidential memorandum showing that the US intended to breach that commitment and “begin reinstating U.S. nuclear sanctions on the Iranian regime”.  It stressed that the US “will be instituting the highest level of economic sanction”.


Reinstating sanctions against Iran is a clear violation of Resolution 2231 and a very significant one at that, which has almost led to military conflict between the US and Iran.  Yet it is highly unlikely that you will have read that the US is violating Security Council Resolution 2231 by reinstating sanctions, since the mainstream media constantly refer to this outrageous act as “withdrawal from the nuclear deal”.


There’s a much better chance that you will have read that Iran is violating Resolution 2231.  Iran is regularly accused of developing ballistic missiles in violation of 2231, which “calls upon” Iran not to “undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons”.  If that is true (which Iran rejects), it’s a much less serious violation of 2231 than that of the US, which has had very serious consequences for the Middle East.



US reinstatement of sanctions


First and foremost, the US reinstatement of sanctions has had very serious consequences for Iran, where it has created widespread human misery.  According to the BBC, Six charts that show how hard US sanctions have hit Iran, 9 December 2019


(1)   As a result of the sanctions, Iran's gross domestic product (GDP) contracted an estimated 4.8% in 2018 and is forecast to shrink another 9.5% in 2019, according to the International Monetary Fund.

(2)   The Statistical Centre of Iran reported that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) 12-month rate of inflation for households stood at 42% in late October 2019. Food and beverage prices were up by 61% year-on-year and the price of tobacco was up by 80%.

(3)   As regards oil production, OPEC data suggest that at the start of 2018, Iran's crude oil production reached 3.8 million barrels per day (bpd) of which about 2.3 million bpd were being exported.  However, by October 2019, Iran's crude oil production had fallen to 2.1 million bpd on average, of which only 260,000 bpd on average was being exported.


Human Rights Watch published a report, ‘Maximum Pressure’: US Economic Sanctions Harm Iranians’ Right to Health, on 29 October 2019.  It documents how broad restrictions on financial transactions, coupled with aggressive rhetoric from United States officials, have drastically constrained the ability of Iranian entities to finance humanitarian imports, including vital medicines and medical equipment.



Pompeo’s ultimatum


On 21 May 2018, shortly after President Trump announced that the US was going to reinstate sanctions, his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued an ultimatum to Iran making 12 demands that it must satisfy before sanctions are lifted:


“First, Iran must declare to the IAEA a full account of the prior military dimensions of its nuclear program, and permanently and verifiably abandon such work in perpetuity.


“Second, Iran must stop enrichment and never pursue plutonium reprocessing. This includes closing its heavy water reactor.


“Third, Iran must also provide the IAEA with unqualified access to all sites throughout the entire country.


“Iran must end its proliferation of ballistic missiles and halt further launching or development of nuclear-capable missile systems.


“Iran must release all U.S. citizens, as well as citizens of our partners and allies, each of them detained on spurious charges.


“Iran must end support to Middle East terrorist groups, including Lebanese Hizballah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.


“Iran must respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi Government and permit the disarming, demobilization, and reintegration of Shia militias.


“Iran must also end its military support for the Houthi militia and work towards a peaceful political settlement in Yemen.


“Iran must withdraw all forces under Iranian command throughout the entirety of Syria.


“Iran, too, must end support for the Taliban and other terrorists in Afghanistan and the region, and cease harboring senior al-Qaida leaders.


“Iran, too, must end the IRG Quds Force’s support for terrorists and militant partners around the world.


“And too, Iran must end its threatening behavior against its neighbors – many of whom are U.S. allies. This certainly includes its threats to destroy Israel, and its firing of missiles into Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It also includes threats to international shipping … and destructive cyberattacks.


“That list is pretty long, but if you take a look at it, these are 12 very basic requirements. The length of the list is simply a scope of the malign behavior of Iran. We didn’t create the list, they did.”


Pat Buchanan remarked that Pompeo’s speech “read like the terms of some conquering Caesar dictating to some defeated tribe in Gaul, though we had yet to fight and win the war, usually a precondition for dictating terms”. 


Pompeo was kind enough to say that “once this is achieved” (that is, once Iran has fulfilled all 12 demands) the US is prepared “to end the principal components of every one of our sanctions” (which presumably doesn’t mean all sanctions), “to re-establish full diplomatic and commercial relationships” and even “to permit Iran to have advanced technology”.


Predictably, Iran’s response to Pompeo’s demands was to disregard them.



E3 ineffectual


Iran continued to abide by the terms of the JCPOA even though the US intended to violate them and it looked to Germany, France and the UK (aka the E3) for political support and for help in countering US sanctions – but it has looked in vain.


Theoretically, France and Germany and the UK are still in favour of maintaining the JCPOA.  But the three of them have provided the US with an excuse for violating it by continuously echoing the US complaints that it doesn’t cover the full range of Iran’s alleged sins and therefore needs to be modified.


They have done nothing to help Iran trade with the outside world, meekly accepting the damage to their own trade with Iran as a result of US sanctions. 


True, over a year ago, on 31 January 2019, the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the UK announced the creation of INSTEX, the Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchanges, to facilitate the exchange of goods between Iran and the EU without the direct transfer of money.


Originally, it was pitched as a means of getting around US sanctions, but now it’s going to be used for trade in humanitarian goods - pharmaceutical, medical and food products only – which are exempt from US sanctions, but difficult for Iran to acquire from abroad because banks are reluctant to have any dealings with Iran.  Plans to facilitate the trade of oil and gas via INSTEX have been abandoned lest such unfriendly sanctions busting annoy the US.


However, no goods have thus far been exchanged through INSTEX over a year after its creation was announced (see EU-Iran Instex trade channel remains pipe dream, DW, 31 January 2020).



Iran adopts a more aggressive stance


A year or so after the US reinstatement of sanctions, with the three European states proving to be of no help, the prospects for Iran looked bleak: US sanctions were hurting and there was no obvious way out.  So, Iran decided to adopt a more aggressive stance.


On 8 June 2019, it announced that it would no longer be bound by the JCPOA's limits on heavy water and low-enriched uranium, while emphasising that the steps it proposed to take were easily reversible if the other parties to the JCPOA came into compliance.


Earlier, on 12 May 2019, four commercial ships (3 oil tankers, 2 registered in Saudi Arabia and 1 in Norway, and an Emirati registered bunkering ship) were damaged off the coast of the UAE in the Gulf of Oman.  There were no casualties.  On 13 June, two more oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman.  Again, there were no casualties.  The US and most of its allies blamed Iran for all these incidents, but no action was taken against Iran.  The UAE stood out by refusing to blame anybody.  Iran denied responsibility. 


Whoever delivered it, it appeared to be a message to the world from Iran saying that, as long as it is barred from exporting oil, it would be unwise to assume that other states would be able to export their oil unhindered from the Gulf.


On 20 June, Iran shot down an unarmed (and unmanned) US military surveillance drone, which Iran said had entered Iranian airspace but the US said was over international waters.  The drone was a RQ-4A Global Hawk reputedly the largest used by the US military and costing $176 million.  US military retaliation against Iranian radar and missile sites was planned but, according to President Trump, he called it off at the last minute, having been told that it was likely to kill 150 people.  He did so against the wishes of his chief advisers John Bolton and Mike Pompeo.


Had the US retaliation gone ahead, Iran might have felt obliged to respond, especially if 150 Iranians were killed, which could have led to a prolonged military exchange if not all out war.  Trump nipped that possibility in the bud by not retaliating at the outset.  For that, we should be grateful.  He hasn’t started another US war in the Middle East - yet.


That’s what he promised in the platform on which he was elected.  But if he is serious about forcing Iran to submit to demands along the lines specified in Pompeo’s ultimatum then war with Iran is inevitable.


(The Iranian authorities claimed that a US P-8A manned aircraft also intruded into Iranian air space at the same time as the drone and they could have shot it down but didn’t because it was manned.  The US military has confirmed that a P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft was close to the drone when it was shot down, so the Iranian account may be correct.  The president, himself, seemed to think so, and expressed appreciation to the Iranians for saving the lives of the 38 people on board.  There’s little doubt that, had the P-8A been brought down with the loss of American lives, Trump would have retaliated big time with unknowable consequences.)



Saudi Arabia: making peace with Iran?


On 14 September, two of Saudi Arabia's major oil facilities, Aramco's Abqaiq and Khurais, suffered a major attack using drones and cruise missiles (but nobody was killed).  The Houthis claimed responsibility, but the US and Saudi Arabia said Iran did it.  Trump said it was up to Saudi Arabia to respond, but the US might help if the Saudis paid for it.  No retaliation took place.


Saudi Arabia had suffered a serious military attack and was apparently defenceless against more of the same but, instead of rushing to its aid as an ally should, the US was seemingly uninterested in punishing the party whom it said was responsible.  This was a clear indication to Saudi Arabia that the US cannot be relied upon to have their back in relation to Iran while Trump is in charge.  Whether that becomes a permanent feature depends on the outcome of November’s presidential election.  Also, Iran has been at pains to point out to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States that if they assist the US in taking military action against Iran, for example, by allowing their territory to be used, they would be sure to suffer the wrath of Iran


All this seems to have convinced Saudi Arabia that a better course of action would be to make peace with Iran.  In the not very distant past, the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was outrageously belligerent towards Iran:  in November 2017, he described the Supreme Leader of Iran as “the new Hitler of the Middle East”, who needs to be confronted, not appeased, and earlier in 2017 he said that the kingdom (of Saudi Arabia) would make sure any future struggle between the two countries “is waged in Iran”. 


He was a different person when interviewed on CBS on 29 September 2019.  Asked if Saudi Arabia was going respond militarily against Iran for the attack on its oil infrastructure, he replied “I hope not” saying that “a political and peaceful solution is much better”.  Asked if President Trump should sit down with President Rouhani and craft a new deal, he said that’s what we are all asking for.


Whether this leads to some form of a non-aggression pact between Saudi Arabia and Iran remains to be seen, but we do know that an embryonic dialogue is going on between them, with Iraq acting as a mediator.  Abdul Mahdi, the former Prime Minister of Iraq, had been expecting to meet with Qasem Soleimani on the day he was assassinated.  Abdul Mahdi said:

“He came to deliver me a message from Iran, responding to the message we delivered from Saudi Arabia to Iran.”


Rouhani says no to meeting with Trump


Heads of state gather in New York in late September every year to speak at the UN General Assembly.  Last September, President Macron tried to take advantage of this to arrange a meeting between President Trump and President Rouhani (see Macron says conditions in place for Trump, Rouhani talks, Al Jazeera, 25 September 2019). 


Trump was very keen.  Rouhani was not.  Speaking to the General Assembly, Rouhani said:


“On behalf of my nation and state, I would like to announce that our response to any negotiation under sanctions is in the negative. …


“If you require a positive answer, and as declared by the leader of the Islamic Revolution, the only way for talks to begin is return to commitments and compliance. …


“A memorial photo is the last step of negotiation; not the first one.”


Understandably, Iran is not going to negotiate with the US while it is violating the existing deal.



Trump orders killing of Qasem Soleimani


On 3 January 2020, President Trump ordered the killing of Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), who was a US ally in the fight against ISIS in Iraq.  He was killed by a drone strike near Baghdad airport, along with four members of the Iran-backed Shia militia, Kata'ib Hezbollah, including its commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.  President Bush designated the Quds Force a foreign terrorist organization in 2007; President Trump designated the IRGC as a whole a “foreign terrorist organisation” on 8 April 2019.


A few days earlier, on 29 December 2019, President Trump authorised the bombing of five locations, three in Iraq and two in Syria, belonging to the Shia militia Kata'ib Hezbollah, which is part of the Popular Mobilization Forces backed by Iran.  25 members of Kata'ib Hezbollah were reportedly killed and 51 wounded.  The US justified the bombing on the (questionable) grounds that Kata'ib Hezbollah was responsible for an attack on the K-1 air base, which killed an American civilian contractor and wounded four American military personnel. 


These murderous actions by the US were carried out against the wishes of the Iraqi Government and were therefore gross violations of Iraq sovereignty.


The former Iraqi Prime Minister, Abdul Mahdi, was told in advance by the US Defense Secretary Mark Esper about the Kata'ib Hezbollah bombings and tried to have them stopped but Esper refused.  Mahdi said he asked the US for the intelligence that Kata'ib Hezbollah were responsible for the attack on the K-1 air base but his request was refused.  Mahdi said he tried to warn Kata'ib Hezbollah about the upcoming US military action.


The Iraqi Government wasn’t told in advance about the killing of Qasem Soleimani and his companions.


In response to the killing of Qasem Soleimani and his companions, on 8 January 2020 Iran fired ballistic missiles at two air bases in Iraq, Ayn Al Asad and Erbil, where US and other military personnel are located.  Twenty-two in all were fired, says Iran; 12 reached their target, says US.  There were no serious casualties, which appears to have been Iran’s intention.  Later, the US military said that 110 of their troops had been diagnosed with “mild traumatic brain injury” due to blast, 77 of whom had already returned to duty.



War avoided – for now


Did these US attacks, authorised by the President, demonstrate a shift away from his stance in June 2019 when he halted planned military action against Iran in retaliation for the shooting down the US drone?  That indicated a definite preference for avoiding war with Iran.


Now he has taken military action against a militia supported by Iran and, much more seriously, killed a senior military officer of the Iranian state.  That certainly risked war with Iran, but thanks to Iran responding in a manner calculated not to kill Americans, war seems to have been avoided – for now.


A few hours after Iran responded, surrounded by his Chiefs of Staff, he addressed the American people:


“… no Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime.  We suffered no casualties, all of our soldiers are safe, and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases.  Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.”




John Bolton’s legacy


But why did he authorise the killing of Qasem Soleimani?  NBC News gave a possible explanation on 13 January 2020:


“After Iran shot down a US drone in June, John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser at the time, urged Trump to retaliate by signing off on an operation to kill Soleimani, officials said. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also wanted Trump to authorize the assassination, officials said.


“But Trump rejected the idea, saying he'd take that step only if Iran crossed his red line: killing an American. The president's message was ‘that's only on the table if they hit Americans’, according to a person briefed on the discussion.


Then, when an American civilian was killed on the K-1 air base on 27 December 2019, according to NBC News, Defense Secretary Mark Esper presented Trump with a series of response options, including killing Soleimani after he arrived at Baghdad airport – his travel plans were known.  Esper recommended killing Soleimani, as did Pompeo, and Trump agreed. 


A few hours later, his re-election campaign was boasting about killing terrorist leader Soleimani, in addition to al-Baghdadi the leader of ISIS.  Perhaps, he had his re-election campaign in mind when making his choice.



Qasem Soleimani’s role in the defeat of ISIS


Qasem Soleimani played a very important role in the defeat of ISIS in Iraq in alliance with the US.  The following snippets from his Wikipedia page give some idea of his importance:


·       Soleimani had a significant role in Iran's fight against ISIL in Iraq. He was described as the "linchpin" bringing together Kurdish and Shia forces to fight ISIS, overseeing joint operations conducted by the two groups.


·       Amirli was the first town to successfully withstand an ISIS invasion, and was secured thanks to an unusual partnership of Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers, Iranian-backed Shiite militias and US warplanes.


·       A senior Iraqi official told the BBC that when the city of Mosul fell, the rapid reaction of Iran, rather than American bombing, was what prevented a more widespread collapse


·       Soleimani played an integral role in the organisation and planning of the crucial operation to retake the city of Tikrit in Iraq from ISIS


This contribution by Qasem Soleiman has been largely written out of history by the US and its allies and therefore by the mainstream media.  But, near the end of his remarks on 8 January, President Trump seemed to suggest to Iran that the US and Iran should renew their alliance against ISIS and “other shared priorities”.  Here’s what he said:


“Tens of thousands of ISIS fighters have been killed or captured during my administration.  ISIS is a natural enemy of Iran.  The destruction of ISIS is good for Iran, and we should work together on this and other shared priorities.”


A few days earlier he had ordered the assassination of a man who had made a major contribution to the destruction of ISIS.  This is bizarre.



Iran: the major destabilizing influence in the Middle East


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regularly asserts that Iran is “the major destabilizing influence in the Middle East”.  He did so in an interview on CNBC on 11 May 2019.  Think about that!  This is the same Mike Pompeo, who a year earlier issued a 12-point ultimatum to Iran and threatened it with economic strangulation if it didn’t obey.  That couldn’t possibly be destabilizing, could it?


A few weeks later, in June 2019, Iran shot down a US military drone and a military response by the US was called off at the last minute.  In September 2019, Saudi oil infrastructure was attacked.  We don’t know for sure who did it, but we do know for sure that neither would have happened if the US hadn’t reinstated sanctions and issued an ultimatum against Iran, in violation of Security Council Resolution 2231 in May 2018.


To be fair to Mike Pompeo, he seems to accept that – on his way to Jeddah on 18 September 2019, he told the press travelling with him:


“I would argue that what you are seeing here is a direct result of us reversing the enormous failure of the JCPOA.”


He was speaking to journalists about the attack on Saudi oil infrastructure a few days earlier, which he seems to be saying was a direct result of reversing the JCPOA.


There have been some other examples of US destabilisation in the Middle East in recent times, notably the invasion of Iraq (with a little help from the UK) in 2003 on the false premises that (a) it possessed “weapons of mass destruction” and (b) its leader Saddam Hussein had a hand in the 9/11 attacks on the US.


The invasion and its aftermath cost the lives of perhaps a million Iraqis, certainly hundreds of thousands.  The precise number will never be known.  In March 2015, Physicians for Social Responsibility published a review of the various estimates and concluded that “the war has, directly or indirectly, killed around 1 million people in Iraq” (p15) from the invasion in March 2003 until December 2011 when US troops were withdrawn.  It wrecked the Iraqi state and transformed what was an al-Qaeda free zone into a territory in which al-Qaeda, and later ISIS, flourished.


In January 2019, the US Army published a two-volume report on the invasion and occupation of Iraq.  It concluded:


“At the time of this project’s completion in 2018, an emboldened and expansionist Iran appears to be the only victor.” (p639)


Other examples of US destabilising in the Middle East in recent times are Libya 2011 and Syria 2011-2020 – and then there’re the ones we don’t know about.


You can see why in a speech in Cairo on 10 January 2019, Pompeo felt able to be “very blunt and direct” and assert “America is a force for good in the Middle East”.



David Morrison

6 March 2020