Iraq’s parliament voted to expel U.S. troops from the country in response to the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani, a powerful Iranian military commander by an American drone in Baghdad.
In retribution, a Lebanese proxy of the slain general vowed to attack American soldiers and American bases as Gulf Arab states tried to mitigate retaliatory actions that would very easily spiral the tumultuous Middle East region into a bloody and violent protracted military confrontation.
The Iraqi parliament unequivocally denounced the U.S. drone strike as a clear violation of Iraqi sovereignty. The parliament also requested revocation of the government’s 2014 request for foreign / U.S. military assistance with repelling the invasive maneuvers of the Islamic State. which had been enjoying tactical victories in many key areas of the country.
Outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi spoke with great concern in a speech before and emergency session of the Iraqi parliament when he forcefully stated that “Confidence has been shaken between Iraq and the U.S.” A unanimous vote was tendered by all 172 legislators present at the parliamentary session to approve the solution, however nearly 160 mainly Sunni and Kurdish parliamentarians were absent and did note participate in the vote.
Meanwhile, U.S. led coalition training and related strategic operational efforts to combat the activities of the Islamic State — have been suspended, with resources being repurposed and redirected to protecting and fortifying Iraqi bases and other U.S. interests that host and cater to coalition troops.
While relatively unknown to many Americans, the now deceased General Soleimani was indeed a highly regarded military official in Iran. However, General Soleimani was also widely associated with terrorism around the world as well. As Soleimani’s body returned to Iran, scores of Iranians could be seen congregating in the streets, many shouting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”
The U.S. assassination of Soleimani also served as a major setback to global leaders in their recent efforts to reach agreement on a nuclear deal with Iran, with officials coalescing to consider further retreats from the 2015 pact, which President Donald Trump abandoned more than 18 months ago. Outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi intimated that he was actually scheduled to meet with General Soleimani, who was carrying Iran’s response to a Saudi Arabian strategy letter on how to de-escalate tensions between the two Middle-Eastern countries.
Hezbollah, which is Iran’s Lebanese ally, issued a statement advising that the conflict had entered a “new phase” and the price of Soleimani’s death should be the end of U.S. military presence across the region, and that Tehran’s allies could respond anywhere in the Middle East. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s words were indeed stark and ominous: “The just punishment is the following: the American military presence in our region, the American military bases, the military ships and every American soldier and officer,” he said.
If the United States does withdraw from Iraq it will close a chapter of military and diplomatic engagement that began with the 2003 invasion by U.S. and allied forces to topple Saddam Hussein. The announcement of pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq came after a succession of tweets from President Trump about possible U.S. military targets in Iran that would be engaged in the event that Tehran chooses to retaliate. Although he did not provide any substantiating evidence, President Trump also stated that he approved the lethal strike because he knew that General Soleimani was in the process of orchestrating “imminent and sinister attacks” against American diplomats and military personnel.
President Trump’s brash declarations and threatening bravado on Saturday somewhat contradicted his previously assertion that the U.S. had not wished to “start a war” with the lethal drone strake at Baghdad airport on Thursday. President Trump’s statements appeared to directly contradict Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who in recent days had repeatedly reaffirmed the steadfast commitment of the U.S. to easing tensions with Iran in his discussions with officials across the Middle East and Russia. Specifically, Secretary Pompeo stipulated in a statement to ABC TV that any attacks against Iran would involve “lawful” targets.
Bracing for Response
General Soleimani was a decorated leader of foreign operations of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Soleimani was held in high esteem in Iran for his contributions in defeating the Islamic State and resisting U.S. influence through his development of a dutiful network of hand-picked deputy operatives he had nurtured and cultivated Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and Yemen.
Gulf states friendly with United States and thereby considered ripe targets for Iranian reprisal trumpeted conciliatory overtures amidst concerns of the troubling possibility of new conflict in the world’s top energy-exporting region. Tehran’s realistic ability to retaliate may be significantly limited, however, by the deleterious effects American sanctions have exacted upon the Iranian economy — sanctions reimposed after President Trump withdrew from the landmark nuclear accord in 2018. Additionally, the Iranian government has dealt with long-term anti-government protests which have challenged the regime’s dominance at home, as well as in Iraq and Lebanon.
On Saturday the Green Zone in Baghdad, which houses the U.S. Embassy compound as well as a U.S. military airbase that houses American service members, experienced a fusillade of incoming rocket fire. No coalition casualties were reported.
Global economic indicators have reflected the uncertainty wrought by the recent events as well. Specifically, all global markets have been adversely affected. Most notably, oil futures surged by more than 4% in both London and New York, and Gold prices spiked to their highest levels in four months. Additionally, 10-year Treasury yields trended toward their biggest drop in three weeks. U.S. stock markets also reacted to the impact of global uncertainty with the S&P 500 Index declining broadly. As of Sunday 05 JAN, all major Middle East equity gauges notably plummeted, and the default insurance costs for Saudi Arabian debt also spiked considerably.
“Positive investor forecasts of an overall manageable geopolitical climate in the Middle East, and North Africa region received a sobering wake up call within the first 48 hours of the New Year” said Patrick Ukata, PhD, foreign affairs strategist at Washington, D.C. based PATEGO GLOBAL. “Unfortunately we predict a year of escalating geopolitical tensions in the middle-east region.”
The U.S. assassination of General Soleimani has sparked a torrent of uncertainty and initiated wide-ranging currents of diplomatic activity, with U.S. European allies urging U.S. decision makers to work toward easing tensions with Tehran and warning of the consequences of the U.S. and Iran engaging in back-and-forth reprisals. Iran has been in strategic communication with officials from both Russia and Turkey relevant to the recent developments as well.
Calls for de-escalation have been unanimous amongst U.S. Allies across the European Union and in the UK, as concerns have been expressed concerning the developing tensions in Iraq, including the killing of Soleimani by U.S. forces. Josep Borrell, the High Representative for the European Union and a commissioner for foreign and security policy, invited Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Brussels to continue engagement, reiterating the importance of preserving the nuclear deal.
Commissioner Borrell further “urged Iran to exercise restraint and carefully consider any reaction to avoid further escalation, which harms the entire region and its people.”