The first days of the new decade have certainly kicked off with a geopolitical bang. As someone who has studied and now analyzes Iranian geopolitics I could have never anticipated this week’s events to unfold as they did — and thankfully, anticlimactically fizzle out as soon as they started.
To break things down a bit, the timeline goes as follows:
Although the buildup has been a long time coming, the initial events began when an independent American contractor was killed by Iranian proxy para-military forces while working with coalition forces at an Iraqi base in Kirkuk. Kataib Hezbollah, one of the many militia groups that Iran trains was blamed for the attack.
Soon after, President Donald Trump issued the assasination of General Qasim Soleimani, the head of the Quds Forces (which is the international leg of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who have spearheaded Iran’s military strategy in the region). This was not taken lightly in Iran by the leadership, nor the people.
It is undeniable the appalling atrocities that General Soleimani has committed. He recently acted as an advisor to the Iraqi government that has killed hundreds of its own citizens since they have poured into the streets for anti-government protests. Nonetheless, he was an Iranian celebrity that people in the country believed acted on behalf of Iran’s best interests and his death triggered the unification of citizens in the country — from reformists to hardliners.
Trump’s leadership thought the people would pour into the streets to protest the government and celebrate his death, but instead, millions poured into the streets to mourn.
What followed was an Iranian “proportional response.” Iran attacked an Iraqi base housing US troops, but issued a warning to the Iraqi Prime Minister beforehand, producing no casualties.
Both leaders have signaled deescalation, indicating an unlikelihood of war or further attacks. But if how quickly things have escalated is any indication, the situation can erupt as quickly as it ended.
Now, what do these events mean?
While the President may have killed a central figure to Iran, General Soleimani’s deputy Brigadier-General Esmail Ghaani (who has been groomed for the position) stepped in within hours of his death. The network that this group has created is extensive and killing the General by no means signals the end of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
To make matters worse, Iran’s clerics may get what they want after all… the death of Soleimani played into the hands of hardliners ahead of the upcoming parliamentary election. It is just another thing that clerics can put on the long list of what has gone wrong under the current reformist government. And you better believe they will use it to get a parliamentary majority.
So what was the point of all this? Is anyone safer as a result?
No. It may erupt again, and the groups who will suffer the losses are the Iranian people who will continue to suffer economically and the Iraqi people whose country has become a positional pawn. Haven’t these people already suffered enough?