Photo: Still image of Iranian missile launch
By Mike Talavera
Hours before Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani’s body was laid to rest, Iran fired missiles at two military bases in Iraq which house US military personnel in what it claims was retaliation for the US assassination of Soleimani last week.
“Last night, [the US was] given one slap,” Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday. “Such military actions are not enough as far the importance of retaliation is concerned. What’s important is that their corruption-creating presence [in the Middle East] should end.”
Information about casualties is still unclear, but initial reports indicate that the missiles were targeted at sections of the base not containing US personnel, suggesting that the attack was a calculated step to deescalate the heightened antagonisms since Soleimani’s death. Iranian media reported that none of the missiles were intercepted despite heightened security, and at least five buildings were damaged or destroyed according to satellite images of Ain Assad Airbase, one of the oldest and largest military bases hosting US forces in Iraq.
There have been mass protests and an enormous funeral procession (where dozens were accidentally killed during a stampede) mourning Soleimani, one of Iran’s top generals and leader of its Quds Force, who was seen widely as a champion of resistance to US imperialism in the Middle East. He was killed by a US drone strike after arriving at Baghdad International Airport last Thursday.
The White House stated Tuesday night that US President Donald Trump would make a televised national address in response to the missile bombardment but then announced a postponement until today. Trump began the address by reiterating that as long as he was president, Iran would never have a nuclear weapon.
“As we continue to evaluate options in response to Iranian aggression, the United States will immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime,” Trump said. “These powerful sanctions will remain until Iran changes its behavior.”
The launching of the ballistic missiles represents the first time that Iran has directly confronted the US militarily instead of through its proxies since Trump took office. The US President has applied a “maximum pressure” campaign during his tenure, withdrawing from the so-called Nuclear Deal coordinated by President Obama and imposing various sanctions which have targeted Iran’s oil, finance, and manufacturing industries. Trump’s promise of even more sanctions today has left observers wondering what else could be sanctioned.
It appears that this latest move from Iran was intended to show strength while still dialing down recent tension, and Trump appears to have accepted this denouement. However, it is almost certain that Iran will rely on its proxies over the coming weeks to advance its campaign to expel the US from the region.
Earlier today, the leader of a subdivision of the Popular Mobilization Units (Iran-allied Iraqi militias), Qais al-Khazali, tweeted that “The initial Iranian response to the assassination of the martyred commander Soleimani has happened. Now it is time for the initial response to the assassination of martyred commander Muhandis,” referring to Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Iraqi militia leader who was killed along with Soleimani in the airstrike last week. He continued, “And because Iraqis are brave and zealous, their response will not be less than that of Iran’s. That is a promise.”
Both sides have clearly stated their objectives at this juncture: the US does not want Iran to have a nuclear weapon, and Iran wants the US out of the Middle East.
Some North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops have already pulled out of Iraq following Iraqi parliament’s passing of a non-binding resolution for all foreign troops to leave, but the US (after some confusion) has asserted that it intends to stay. In the long-term, though, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has initiated plans to redeploy US troops around the world to better counter China and Russia. This eventually could mean an exit or at least a substantial reduction of US troops in the Middle East.
As far as Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon, the nuclear deal is in fact still in place despite Iran’s incremental violations, including the recent announcement that Iran would no longer observe restrictions on the numbers or type of centrifuges it operates or on the degree of uranium enrichment. That being said, the deal is for all intents and purposes on life support, and would demand more commitment from other parties of the deal.
“The very defective [nuclear deal] expires shortly anyway, and gives Iran a clear and quick path to nuclear breakout. Iran must abandon its nuclear ambitions and end its support for terrorism. The time has come for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China to recognize this reality,” Trump said during his speech today. “They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal -– or JCPOA –- and we must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place.”
Out of the mouth of the US commander-in-chief, “safer” and “more peaceful” translate to the maintenance of US imperialism’s status as the sole hegemonic superpower. The protests against the US going to war with Iran must not obscure the fact that imperialism breeds war everywhere and that the contemporary conflict with Iran is the result of US meddling in the Middle East where it competes with Russia and China for resources and influence. It is not a matter of electing Trump out of office or changing the US budget: imperialism itself must be overthrown.