Donald Trump and the man he executed in a targeted assassination on Jan. 3, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, mirror each other as war criminals who treat the people of Iraq and the greater region as pawns in their power game. And, in fact, they were long de facto allies—Soleimani had been overseeing a “dirty war” in Iraq against Sunni militants and suspected ISIS sympathizers. His allied paramilitary forces have serially massacred anti-government protesters in Baghdad over the past months. In less explicit alignment with Washington, Soleimani also provided similar services on a far greater scale to the Bashar Assad dictatorship in Syria. As overall commander of Iranian forces in Syria backing up Assad’s genocidal counter-insurgency campaign (and by no means just against ISIS and jihadists, but the secular opposition as well) Soleimani is probably responsible for the loss of hundreds of thousands of Syrian lives.
This is why all of the media talk (echoing Trump) about how he “killed Americans” reeks of racism and imperial narcissism. However many US troops Soleimani may have been responsible for killing in Iraq, this was the least of his massive crimes. Similarly, calling him a “terrorist,” implying he was responsible for attacks on Westerners (always the connotation of that label in mainstream Western discourse), is a vast understatement. He was worse than a terrorist: he was a war criminal.
And if the reports are true that he was in Baghdad on a diplomatic mission to broker some kind of rapprochement between the equally tyrannical regimes of Iran and Saudi Arabia, it doesn’t make him any the less a war criminal.
And so, of course, is the man who ordered his assassination. In response to the drone strike that killed Soleimani, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Agnes Callamard tweeted that the assassination “likely” violated international law. “Outside the context of active hostilities, the use of drones or other means for targeted killing is almost never likely to be legal,” she wrote, entirely too generously.
Soleimani could only have been heartened over the past few years, as Trump’s warplanes turned the ISIS-held cities of Raqqa and Mosul into ruins and rubble. But now Trump is threatening to unleash US firepower on Soleimani’s homeland. Wedding utter moral depravity to schoolyard vindictiveness, he tweeted a warning to Iran that he has “targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.”
Human Rights Watch quickly responded that “Trump’s public threat to attack Iranian sites of cultural importance would be war crimes if carried out.” The Los Angeles Times thankfully noted in an editorial:
A part of the Hague Convention of 1907, signed over a century ago, says that “all necessary steps must be taken” to spare “buildings dedicated to religion, art, science, or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals, and places where the sick and wounded are collected.” Similarly, the Geneva Convention Protocol I, signed in 1949 and amended in 1977, renders unlawful “any acts of hostility directed against the historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples.”
Even amid the relentless horrors of World War II, Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto was spared US bombardment due to its cultural significance. Trump’s threat is, of course, redolent of the crimes against cultural heritage sites by ISIS (Palmyra, Hatra, Nimrud) and the Taliban (the Bamiyan Buddhas).
Fortunately, the Pentagon itself says it has ruled out striking Iranian cultural sites as violating “the laws of armed conflict,” contradicting Trump, the New York Times reports.
All this makes clearer than ever what secular-left forces in the Greater Middle East have been saying for nearly 20 years now: that the region is caught between two poles of terrorism—that of the US and that of political Islam.
There are plenty of signs that things are escalating toward a confrontation. The Iranian government announced it will no longer honor its commitment under the 2015 nuclear deal to limit its enrichment of uranium. (NYT) Iraq’s parliament has voted to expel the US military from the country, although the measure is non-binding and it is unclear if it will really lead to the withdrawal of the 5,000 US troops now stationed there. The US has announced that it is suspending operations against ISIS. (CNBC, The Hill)
And ominously, the strike on Soleimani came as Iran’s armed forces were holding joint naval exercises with Russia and China in the Indian Ocean—the first such trilateral maneuvers. (CNBC)
Amid all this, Iraqi protesters flooded the streets of Baghdad and other cities the day after Soleimani’s death to denounce the US and Iran alike as “occupiers,” chanting “No to Iran, no to America!” (AFP).
A similar neither/nor position is taken in a statement from the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran. Noting that Soleimani’s death closely follows a wave of murderous repression of protesters in Iran, they write: “On the one hand, the viciousness of the criminal Islamic regime became more apparent and on the other hand, it further showed the corrupt nature of US state terrorism, which does not care about the lives of their own nor those of the people in the Middle East… We reiterate that the contemporary Middle East is shaped by wars, massacres, displacement, and famine because of religious fanatics and terrorists on the one hand and the interference of international capitalists and backers (Eastern and Western Imperialism) on the other.”
Photo: Iran Briefing