Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who was assassinated on US President Donald Trump’s orders on January 3, had no record of attacking non-uniformed Americans, says the writer. File picture: Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP
As the Middle East teeters on the edge of war, it is worth considering that while the US has attempted to assassinate about 51 world leaders, and attacked more than 35 countries since World War II, Iran has never attacked another country in the past 200 years.

It is also a fact that Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who was assassinated on US President Donald Trump’s orders on January 3, had no record of attacking non-uniformed Americans.

America’s killing of the most important military general in Iran and one of the most influential figures in the Middle East is a blatant violation of international law, and a war crime.

Had Iran assassinated America’s top military general while on a visit to neighbouring Canada it would have unleashed unprecedented bloodshed and probably World War III.

Iran is a sovereign nation, and the killing of one of its iconic leaders as well as a senior Iraqi official cannot be reduced merely to a US act of war. The international community needs to treat it as a war crime.

The Trump administration has repeatedly violated international law as well as international norms and standards. At some point, there must be a red line for US military misdemeanours at the behest of its increasingly unpopular president, whose popularity rating had sunk to 45% before the green light was given for Soleimani’s assassination, according to a Gallup poll.

It was also a convenient shift of media attention away from Trump’s potential impeachment to tension with Iran. One has to ask why it is that the US can sit on an arsenal of more than 4000 nuclear weapons, and Israel on more than 400 nuclear weapons, while they do everything to deprive Iran of the right to develop nuclear energy, let alone develop nuclear weapons. Such double standards are unsustainable in the future.

Trump is easily swayed by his advisers, and before Soleimani’s assassination, it was US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the former hawkish head of the CIA, who had Trump’s ear. Pompeo was reported to be “morose” when Trump rejected his advice to attack Iran after the downing of a US surveillance drone in June.

Pompeo had been pushing Trump to authorise Soleimani’s killing months ago, and Pompeo has peddled the justification for the killing as Soleimani’s supposed planning of “imminent” attacks on US targets, although when pressed for details he said: “This is not something that’s relevant.”

The proof for the US justification for its act of war against Iran is as non-existent or flimsy as the Bush administration’s justification for war with Iraq in 2003.

But who will hold the US to account?

The emerging powers are sitting back and watching as the US diminishes its own influence in the Middle East and will probably be chased out of both Iraq and Syria.

The Iraqi parliament voted this week to eject US military forces from the country, and it is doubtful that US military bases will be allowed to remain in Syria.

The countries maintaining US bases in the Gulf region will probably come under heavy pressure from their own people and from Iran and its proxies, as they are seen as American puppets.

The fact that the US has threatened to impose sanctions on Iraq if it expels US troops from the country exposes the US’s disregard for the sovereignty of nations or international law.

Similarly, Trump’s threat to bomb 52 Iranian cultural sites if Americans were killed in retaliatory attacks, including the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s heritage sites, is a violation of the rules of war and a war crime.

At the end of the day, Soleimani was a victim of his own success. He was a master of asymmetric warfare strategy by using proxy forces to bleed Iran’s enemies.

Soleimani was the long arm of Iran’s foreign policy abroad, and it was thanks to his military prowess that Islamic State was prevented from taking Baghdad in 2014. Soleimani had funded and trained anti-American militias that launched low-level attacks on US occupation forces since 2003, and he led the campaign to drive Islamic State out of Iraq in 2015.

Soleimani had also played a leading role in crushing the jihadist forces of Islamic State and al-Qaeda in Syria.

Soleimani’s success was unparalleled considering that he had more influence on the outcome of the Syrian war than the US, which spent $1billion (R14.2bn) trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

Given the sovereign equality of all states, under international law, Iran has the right to self-defence, but its leadership is strategic and full retaliation will come at the time and place of its choosing.

To date, Iran has been strategic in avoiding American casualties in its airstrikes on US bases in Iraq in order to avoid further escalation.

What is certain is that the US has engaged in a gross miscalculation that will ultimately reduce its power and influence in the region and the world.

* Ebrahim is the group foreign editor for Independent Media.