Fears of WW3 after US drone kills Iranian hero

“Death to America!”: Thousands marched yesterday behind the remains of Qasem Soleimani. © Getty

Are we on the brink of WW3? The USA has killed a powerful Iranian general. Iran has threatened revenge and Donald Trump has promised to “hit them harder than they have ever been hit before”.

Three days ago, Donald Trump ordered the assassination of the most powerful Iranian military leader — a legend and a hero to his people. Qasem Soleimani, the head of the notorious Quds force, was killed instantly by a drone strike on Baghdad airport in Iraq.

A former revolutionary guard, Soleimani had for decades orchestrated Iranian, clandestine military operations across the Middle East.

He was described by a former CIA agent as “the single most powerful operative” in the region. He created and influenced a range of dangerous proxy groups, helping to cement Hezbollah as a political force in Lebanon, empowering the Houthis in Yemen and providing Bashar Al-Assad with support throughout the Syrian civil war.

Soleimani was also behind attacks on Western troops and officials.

Despite his track record of terrorist support, the assassination has courted controversy.

Unlike Bin Laden or Al-Baghdadi, Soleimani was a senior state official and the attack likely broke international law. The consequences are only beginning to be felt.

Yesterday, the Iraqi parliament — feeling their sovereignty had been breached by the assassination — voted to expel all foreign troops from the country.

Why did Trump chose to act now?

Although the Pentagon has said it was an act of self-defence against plans to attack US forces, it is possible that Trump simply wanted to look like a strong leader for the upcoming US presidential election this November.

More likely, the US calculated that Iran is now too politically isolated and economically vulnerable to be able to respond to such an attack.

Though at times they have shared foes such as IS (Islamic State), ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran has declared itself the sworn enemy of the US.

George W Bush named Tehran as part of the “Axis of Evil”. After Iran pursued a nuclear program, the US applied devastating sanctions. Though these were reduced following a deal with Obama, that deal was torn up by Trump. In the last year, the Strait of Hormuz has been the scene of fraught confrontations.

As threats of revenge and retaliation continue to grow in volume, should we be expecting war?

#WW3

There is a precedent: the assassination of a senior political figure, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, lit the fuse which sparked World War One. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Israel could all be implicated in any escalation of the US-Iran war. With those countries either unstable or run by unpredictable strongmen — who knows what disaster could happen next?

On the other hand, it is unlikely that any major powers will end up on Iran’s side if they risk direct conflict with the US, which has the world’s most powerful military. Global powers might criticise the US’s show of force, but it is unlikely that Russia or China would ever seek to get involved themselves. Further proxy wars in Iraq and Syria and another global oil crisis are far more likely outcomes.

You Decide

  1. Do you think it can ever be right for a country to carry out an assassination?
  2. How important is world peace to you? Talk about any experiences you or your family might have had of war.

Activities

  1. Research the history of the US’s relationship with Iran, then plot the key moments of conflict on a chronological chart. Are these taking place more frequently?
  2. In groups of three or four, imagine that you are UN negotiators coming up with a peace plan to stop the break out of war. What two things would you ask both Iran and the US to promise?

Some People Say...

“One type of paradise that men imagine is about streams, beautiful maidens, and lush landscape. But there is another kind of paradise — the battlefield.”

Qasem Soleimani (1957-2020), assassinated Iranian general

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
According to the IMF, the Iranian economy shrank by more than 9% last year. Iran controls 10% of the world’s oil production and 15% of its gas. Soleimani ran the Quds Force for over two decades and was the organiser behind dozens of bloody and destabilising attacks. Trump has said that he is ready to bomb 52 Iranian sites if the Middle Eastern nation retaliates.
What do we not know?
It is unclear exactly why Trump chose to act now. The decision to carry out the attack was not shared with allies, and took many within the US military by surprise. It is not known whether this conflict will spill out into neighbouring nations, like Iraq and Syria, or whether Iran’s influence abroad will wane with Soleimani no longer there to steer it.

Word Watch

Quds
Paramilitary Iranian group (the equivalent of a cross between the SAS and MI6) set up to liberate Muslim land, it takes its name from the Farsi for “Jerusalem”.
Clandestine
Secretive or under-the-table.
Proxy
An organisation which fights on behalf of another.
Hezbollah
Shi’ite terrorist organisation that has become a major player in Lebanese politics, largely responsible for the 2014 war against Israel.
Houthis
Shi’ite rebels that ousted the Saudi-backed leader of Yemen, currently engaged in a gruelling civil war which is serving as a proxy for Saudi and Iranian tensions.
Bashar Al-Assad
Syrian president who remains in power despite years of crisis fighting off pro-democracy forces, ISIS militants, Kurds and more, in what has been the most devastating conflict of the 21st Century.
Al-Baghdadi
The most notable leader of the short-lived caliphate of IS (Islamic State).
Sovereignty
The right of a nation to govern itself.
Pentagon
The USA’s defence headquarters. Military decisions are made in what is the world’s largest office building.
Islamic Revolution
Popular Iranian uprising which replaced the US-backed Shah with a religious and spiritual anti-Western leader. The conflict also led to an oil price crisis and is seen as one of the most critical moments in 20th Century history.
Tehran
Capital city of Iran.
Axis of Evil
Phrase used by the former US president to describe hostile nations, including Iraq and North Korea.
Strait of Hormuz
Thin waterway to the south of Iran linking the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. A third of the world’s liquified natural gas and almost 25% of total global oil passes through the strait.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.