The early interpretation of Iran’s counterstrikes against bases hosting US troops in Iraq is that the rocket attacks were a matter of national pride.
The state-on-state response was preordained given Qassem Soleimani’s status.
Javad Zarif made it clear (or as clear as it’s going to get for right now) that things need not escalate further, at least in terms of actual, direct IRGC strikes on US targets.
Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched.
We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 8, 2020
In addition to that tweet, Zarif told reporters that Iran sent a message to America “immediately after the attack” which he emphasized was “done in self defense”.
There are no reports of casualties on the US side or the Iraq side. Iraq said it received verbal notification prior to the strikes and that Tehran has made it clear that Iran will limit attacks to US positions.
Hopefully, there is no connection to the Boeing 737 which crashed after takeoff in Tehran with 167 passengers and nine crew aboard. Ukraine International Airlines has indefinitely suspended flights to Tehran and is “closely cooperating” with aviation authorities to figure out what befell the doomed flight.
For now, “technical” problems are blamed, but it goes without saying that between rockets flying around and Boeing’s recent trials and tribulations, there are more questions than answers. Authorities in Tehran say the plane likely had an engine fire. The aircraft was an older 737 that predates the troubled Max model.
The plane underwent a scheduled technical service on Monday and there are no indications of pilot error. Video circulated on social media clearly showed an object on fire plummeting from the sky, but the footage was shot from afar.
Whatever the case, it’s been a bad week for Iran, until you consider that one of the ironies in all of this is that Qassem Soleimani spent 15 years attempting to expel US troops from Iraq. In death, he may well accomplish his goal.
In addition to the parliament vote to expel US troops, Iran has now served notice that the IRGC will conduct direct strikes (as opposed to attacks via proxies) on US targets inside Iraq in response to US aggression. The fact that at least one of the rockets was fired at Erbil means the Kurds are notice too – the Peshmerga were no strangers to Soleimani’s legend.
This will surely increase pressure on Iraqi politicians to move ahead with plans to formally demand the withdrawal of US forces, and you’re encouraged to remember that Iraqi politics is dominated by actors loyal to Iran.
Trump insisted on Tuesday that while he would like to let Iraq manage its own affairs, that isn’t possible right now. There are doubtlessly all manner of discussions taking place behind the scenes, but the bottom line is that if Iraq rescinds the invitation for US troops, the Americans will have to leave or else the presence of boots on the ground would constitute an occupation and the use of airspace without permission would be a violation of sovereignty.
Hassan Rouhani underscored all of this with a tweet on Wednesday.
General Soleimani fought heroically against ISIS, Al Nusrah, Al Qaeda et al. If it weren’t for his war on terror, European capitals would be in great danger now.
Our final answer to his assassination will be to kick all US forces out of the region.
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) January 8, 2020
Again, the irony is that, in death, Soleimani may be on the verge of achieving at least the narrow goal of forcing US troops to withdraw from Iraq.
Compelling Americans to leave the entire region, never to return, is a long-term goal nobody has been able to accomplish, even as it’s generally seen as a desirable outcome both by many state and non-state actors in the Mideast, and by American voters who long ago tired of sending their sons and daughters to die in conflicts with no discernible connection to 9/11.
“What matters is that the presence of America, which is a source of corruption in this region, should come to an end”, Khamenei said, addressing his nation on Wednesday. “This region does not accept the US presence”.