Baghdad protest

January 27, 2020


IN its limited understanding of events, particularly the complex workings of the Middle East, the Trump administration feels it has achieved a masterstroke by assassinating Iranian Gen Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad earlier this month. However, in much of the region the hit has galvanised anti-American sentiment, with the peoples of the Middle East denouncing Washington’s brazen disregard for other states’ sovereignty, with calls for the US military to leave the region. Soon after the strike that took the lives of Soleimani and several others, including Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a prominent commander of Iraq’s Hashd al-Shaabi, the Iraqi parliament passed a motion calling for the removal of all American forces from their country. On Friday, thousands of followers of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr — whose forces have battled American troops in Iraq in years past — staged a massive march in Baghdad telling the “occupier” to “get out”. Muqtada al-Sadr also called for security arrangements between Iraq and the US to be cancelled.

The anti-American rage in Iraq is understandable, and the Soleimani assassination is only one of many triggers of the Iraqi unrest. Nearly 17 years after America invaded their country to rid it of weapons of mass destruction that have yet to be found, Iraqis have little to cheer about. While it is true that corruption among the Iraqi ruling elite plays a substantial part in the miseries of that country, clearly the root cause of Iraq’s deprivation is the American invasion. George W. Bush’s ill-advised foray managed to dislodge a dictator — though once upon a time Saddam Hussein was a valuable client in the campaign against Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran — but at the same time it destroyed a functioning country. Even elsewhere in the Middle East, America’s actions, along with many of its European and Arab allies, have brought nothing but trouble for the peoples of this region, with regime change helping fuel further chaos. For example, in Syria, the US-led bloc intervened in what was purely a domestic uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s iron-fisted rule, resulting in the internationalisation of the conflict, as Russia and Iran jumped in to protect their ally. The chaos in Syria also gave spaces for deadly outfits like the militant Islamic State group and Al Qaeda to take refuge in.

Yet, apparently no lessons have been learnt, as America still seems intent on playing global policeman. For example, Brian Hook, Mr Trump’s point man on Iran, has been quoted as saying that if Esmail Qaani, Gen Soleimani’s successor as Quds Force head, continues to threaten American interests, “he will meet the same fate”. Instead of indulging in such arrogant behaviour and imperilling the security of the region, the US needs to change tack. It should not be playing the role of an imperial overlord. If America were to approach the Middle Eastern countries with respect, it could go a long way in improving its own security, as well as that of the region.

Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2020