British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has come out in support of the United States’ decision to assassinate Iranian general Qasem Soleimani on Friday. Speaking to the BBC this morning, Mr. Raab described the U.S. attack at Baghdad International Airport as an act of “self-defence” in response to the “nefarious actions” of the Iranian state.
Soleimani has been the head of the Iranian Quds force since 1998 and was killed in a targeted strike alongside Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the head of Kata’ib Hezbollah, on 3 January. The action appears to have taken place as part of a sustained response to the latter group’s attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad last week, which saw several Iraqis and an American contractor killed. Last Sunday, the U.S. had already provoked the ire of the Iraqi government by unilaterally attacking Kata’ib Hezbollah bases, killing 25 people.
The frustration in the U.K. is that Mr. Raab’s comments have predictably committed the country to the support of a policy which is both tactically inept and morally baseless. At a time when Iran’s influence in Iraq was waning in response to the violent crackdown on anti-government protests (reportedly ordered by Soleimani), Trump’s decision to commit so crass a violation of Iraqi sovereignty is bound to bolster the hand of a country seen, however controversially, to be resisting Western neo-imperialist aggression in the region.
Mr. Raab has insisted that there is still the option of “a diplomatic solution” to the crisis should Iran be willing to come in “from the international cold.” The Foreign Secretary would do well to recall that this isolated position is largely due to Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal and the imposition of damaging sanctions on the country throughout his premiership. Of course, Iran has had a part to play in several regional proxy conflicts from Syria to Yemen, however, so have the U.K. and the U.S., neither of whom can claim to belong to the region themselves. How the U.S. might be expected to respond to an Iranian military strike on Guantanamo Bay may be a better guide to understanding Iran’s present position than the actions of Soleimani and Kata’ib Hezbollah against U.S. bases in Iraq.
Of course, these sorts of tit-for-tat recriminations could go on endlessly without solving the crisis. Each side will want to press its claims that they are responding proportionately to the other’s aggression. Mr Raab spoke of a country which had “for a long period been engaged in menacing, de-stabilizing activities” and of a leader whose job it was to “engage proxies, militias across not just Iraq but the whole region, not just to destabilize those countries but to attack” other countries. One may be forgiven for thinking that he was referring to the United Kingdom and United States’ invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, their decimation of the Libyan state in 2011, or their continued funding of proxy conflicts in Syria and Yemen. Going back further and in the specific context of Iran, one may wish to mention the Anglo-American coup which removed the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953, an undoubted precursor to the 1979 Islamic Revolution which installed the very dictatorial government the West continues to oppose.
The only hope for the U.K. in this situation is that it does not become embroiled in another endless Middle Eastern conflict with no discernible goals. A country in which 320,000 people are homeless according to the charity Shelter, and where over 800,000 food parcels were distributed in just six months last year according to The Trussel Trust, has no business spending millions of pounds on foreign wars. Mr Raab’s comments today, however, suggest that this hope is false.
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