This is no way to welcome the start of a new year or of a new decade. But, how can we not worry that the assassination the other day of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s most admired military commander, on orders of the president of the United States, could trigger the escalation to a more complex level of the unceasing Middle East conflict? Close to 2 million Filipinos work in that volatile region, dutifully remitting their hard-earned wages to their families. We know from experience that many of them would rather face the prospect of being killed in war in a country not their own than come home empty-handed and unemployed. The bulk of our fuel oil requirement comes from Middle Eastern crude oil, and any sudden rise in oil prices is bound to jack up the cost of food, transport, electricity, and nearly everything else. We went through this during the early martial law years, when gasoline had to be rationed.
It has been almost 17 years since America invaded Iraq. Since then, every attempt has been made to replace the repressive peace maintained by the cruel regime of Saddam Hussein with something more enduring and democratic. But the leadership vacuum left by the ouster of Iraq’s strongman triggered colossal infighting among warring ethnic tribes and religious sects. Before anyone would realize it, Iraq had become the breeding ground of a radical extremism that envisioned the formation of an Islamic Caliphate that would cut across national boundaries. Conflict in the Middle East was expected to simmer down following the defeat of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis). The irregular army assembled by this dreaded terrorist network, using volunteer jihadist fighters recruited from every corner of the world, had been universally opposed by governments in the region. But the naïve expectations of a decade of political restabilization proved to be premature.With Isis out of the picture, the most powerful countries in this part of the world began to maneuver to assert their influence in those societies that had been destroyed by the American war machine. Because of their wealth and military capability, three regional powers in particular have been busy trying to shape developments in these war-ravaged countries — namely, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Still, America and Russia have remained the principal players in this volatile region, nurturing and arming their respective proxies in a landscape already teeming with mercenaries and paramilitary units. While Russia had learned a costly lesson from the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the United States has remained generally unperturbed by the disastrous outcomes of its unwarranted 2003 invasion of Iraq and its 2011 intervention in Libya. Today, under Trump, it appears to be itching to start a war with Iran, reversing whatever gains had been achieved under Obama who patiently worked to negotiate an enduring peace with Iran. America’s killing of the top military commander of Iran, a country with which it is not at war, is without any doubt a provocation of the highest order. It cannot be compared with the targeted assassination of the al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in 2011 inside Pakistan, or the American raid that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2019. Both men were fugitives from international law. General Soleimani was an active military officer of a sovereign country. At the time of his assassination, he had not been formally charged with engaging in hostile acts against the United States or its citizens.
Reports say that Soleimani had arrived at the Baghdad international airport on a regular flight from Lebanon. There he was met by the deputy commander of a security force under the Iraqi military command. From the airport, they traveled on a two-vehicle convoy, totally unprepared for what awaited them.
The Pentagon, after the attack, issued a statement that reeks of American imperial arrogance: “At the direction of the president, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qassem Soleimani. This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.”
President Trump promptly sent a tweet of the American flag with no words. Later, he added that the man should have been killed earlier. He had clearly been told about Soleimani and his impudent riposte to the American president’s threat against Iran in 2018. A legend among his compatriots, Soleimani had supposedly said: “Mr. Trump, the gambler!… Come we are waiting for you. You know that a war would mean the loss of all your capabilities. You may start the war, but we will be the ones to determine its end.”
Thus, the world teeters on the edge of war mainly because of the unbridled machismo of two men who have been made to wield too much power. Expecting the worst, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a staunch critic of Trump, quickly made it known that, “The administration has conducted tonight’s strikes in Iraq without an Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iran. Further, this action was taken without the consultation of the Congress.” Iran would be stupid to formally declare a war against the United States, which it cannot hope to win. But, nothing would prevent it from supporting retaliatory action by the countless Shia forces in the region that Soleimani had nurtured when he was head of the elite Quds Force, the unit in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps specializing in unconventional warfare. This conflict can spread to virtually any part of the world where American power and its proxies are visible.