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Trump risking war in the Middle East

Sollich Rainer Kommentarbild App
Rainer Sollich
January 3, 2020

By killing Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, US President Donald Trump risks sparking an uncontrollable wave of violence. He is also weakening pro-democracy forces in Iran and the wider region, says DW's Rainer Sollich.

Protesters rip a US flag at a demonstration in Tehran following the killing of Qassem Soleimani
Image: Reuters/WANA/N. Tabatabaee

All signs point to an escalation of violence in the wake of the targeted assassination of top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. The situation is explosive and Iran and its allies have already sworn revenge. It seems inevitable that more violence will come — and that the situation could quickly spiral out of control.

US allies, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, but also Lebanon and especially Iraq, could soon bear the grave consequences of US President Donald Trump's actions. No one can seriously rule out the possibility of attacks on personnel, facilities, institutions, oil tankers and pipelines, or even rocket attacks, in retaliation to Friday's killing. Teheran has no choice but to see the US action as a humiliating failure and a declaration of war. Domestic considerations alone prohibit Tehran from letting such an act go unanswered.

Rainer Sollich
DW editor Rainer Sollich

Iran can answer militarily, though it is not the country's only option. Thanks in large part to Soleimani's effective military and intelligence gathering activities, Iran has a fully functional network of well-armed auxiliary forces in the region. They range from pro-Iranian militias in Syria and Iraq, to Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, to Houthi rebels in Yemen — the latter having been directly confronting Iran's archenemy Saudi Arabia for the past several years, as well as being a declared enemy of Israel and the United States.

Killing was a political mistake

By assassinating Soleimani, the US removed the operative head of Iranian expansion and power politics in the region. To put it in neutral terms, it is beyond surprising that Iran was not capable of protecting its most important general from such an attack on foreign soil. Yet, as is all too clear, anyone operating in the Middle East can be replaced, even Qassem Soleimani, the notorious head of the Quds Force. The network of Iranian-backed militias that he built up in the region will continue to be effective and dangerous without him, and a successor has already been named.

Although Soleimani deserves credit for fighting "Islamic State" (IS) in Iraq and Syria, he was nevertheless a henchman for a regime that supports terrorism and among the country's most brutal of rulers. There is no reason to mourn the loss of such a man.  Nevertheless, his targeted assassination was a political mistake. In killing Soleimani, Trump, the commander-in-chief of the US armed forces, has needlessly stoked the possibility of war across the Middle East — a region he has previously said he wants US troops to leave.

But Trump also risks further stoking anti-American and anti-Western sentiment in the region. And by doing so, he has directly threatened the future of pro-democracy movements in Iraq, Lebanon and even Iran itself because all of these movements share a common enemy, the regime in Tehran. Should those movements now falter, Trump would have aided Iranian interests by killing Soleimani.

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