By SOCIALIST RESURGENCE
The new decade has just begun and United States imperialism is already threatening to bring the world into a brutal war. In the early hours of Jan. 3, an airstrike in Iraq authorized by U.S. President Donald Trump killed Iran’s top military leader, Qassim Suleimani. The assassination took place when a U.S. drone fired missiles into a convoy that was leaving the airport in Baghdad. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandes, deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, a coalition of militias that are backed by Iran, also lost his life in the attack.
The Iranian regime has vowed to retaliate against the United States following three days of public mourning. Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, called the assassination an act of “international terrorism” and warned that “the U.S. bears responsibility for all consequences.”
Suleimani led the Quds Force within Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and also coordinated Shiite militias in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. He was the chief military leader behind Iran’s intervention into the war in Syria on behalf of the Bashar Assad regime. According to one report (Zaman al-Wasl), two days before he was killed, Suleimani visited a military base in Aleppo province, where Iranian-backed militias have worked with the Assad regime to defeat the last holdout of rebel forces in northern Syria.
The airstrike culminated a series of confrontations that took place last month after a U.S. military contractor had been killed in a rocket attack that the U.S. blamed on the Iraqi Kataib Hezbollah militia, which is allied with Iran. The U.S. retaliated for the strike with an air attack on Kataib Hezbollah facilities; from 25 to 31 people reportedly died in the assault. That prompted a two-day militant protest outside the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, which ended on Jan. 1.
A series of war moves by the U.S.
Since the U.S. government re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran, the threat of outright warfare has been bubbling under the surface. Following its unilateral exit from the “Iran Deal” in 2018, the United States attempted to force a wedge between the Iranian and world economies in an effort to drive Iranian capitalism into a crisis it hoped to exploit to gain back influence lost after the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the creation of the Islamic Republic.
Sanctions have forced working people, farmers, and the unemployed to go without medicines, food, and other essentials as prices for basic goods skyrocketed last summer. The United States has maintained and tightened the sanctions regime, as well as taking other escalatory diplomatic measures like classifying the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.
The U.S. maneuvers against Iran have spilled over from economic measures to outright military action several times since the beginning of last year. In June, Trump claimed to have called off a military strike onto Iranian territory just 10 minutes before its planned execution—when warplanes were already in the air. Then, instead of attempting to reach any sort of diplomatic agreement with Tehran to de-escalate the crisis he had created, the United States launched a cyber-attack against Iranian intelligence facilities. Either of these actions could be considered an act of war in themselves.
Alongside these attacks, at least 14,000 U.S. troops and a large amount of heavy artillery have been moved into countries bordering Iran, including Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The Pentagon sent 750 rapid-strike troops to Kuwait following the confrontation at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and has said that some 3000 more could be sent in coming days.
Why Iran? Why now?
Many analysts of Middle Eastern and global geopolitics recognize that the forces of U.S. capitalism are no longer unquestionably dominant in the region. Despite spending over $5 trillion on military occupations and activities in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan since 2001, the ability of U.S. companies to decide how the region’s resources are used has declined. Stark examples include the bilateral Russian-Turkish agreement to patrol northern Syrian territory and China’s $600 billion trade deal with Iran that was struck amidst rabid U.S. sanctions.
During this scramble for influence between imperialist and regional powers, there has been a general upsurge in class struggle throughout the Middle East. The United States is surely seeing the weakness of Iranian influence in shaping the protests as a determining factor in why it is choosing now to escalate to the maximum tensions with Iran.
Backed into a corner of its own construction, Trump’s administration is trying to force Iran to either retaliate and be drawn into a never-ending conflict or to fold and agree to the U.S. terms of economic policy. Either situation threatens to open up new conflicts not only between Iran and the United States; it could also bring in the European Union, Russia, China, and all of the regional players.
A lifeline for Iraqi and Iranian rulers?
In the short term, the Jan. 3 attack has sent shockwaves across the region. Many thousands mourned Suleimani in Iran. Polls indicate that the general was a popular figure, even a celebrity, among the Iranian public; now he has become a martyr.
Meanwhile, in Baghdad, a few demonstrators who have protested Iranian intervention into Iraq celebrated Suleimani’s death. But others called for restraint, while a group of students gathered in Tahrir Square to renounce any foreign intervention in Iraq. One anti-government protester told Al Jazeera, “We condemn the spilling of Iraqi blood regardless of who is behind this attack, but we equally reject the struggle between Iran and U.S. from taking place on Iraqi soil. … We will remain steadfast in the face of any challenges and continue to call for the change we want, away from these proxy wars.”
Nevertheless, the assassination could give a timely lifeline to the regimes in Iran and Iraq, which, like much of the Middle East and northern Africa, have been challenged by huge protests in recent months. Workers and poor farmers in both countries have risen against their national capitalists and U.S. imperialism’s continuing attempt to strangle them into submission.
Iran saw protest demonstrations in over 50 cities in 2019, ignited by plans to raise fuel prices against the background of falling living standards that have been exacerbated by U.S. sanctions. The government responded with brutal repression, as troops cut down protesters with machine guns, sometimes shooting from helicopters. Over 1500 people were killed, according to Reuters, and many more were wounded and arrested.
In Iraq, beginning in October 2019, working people built mass demonstrations that called for an overturn of the government and an end to the sectarian-based governmental system. The protests were sparked by the evidence of governmental corruption as well as by deteriorating living conditions and widespread unemployment. Demands were raised that both the U.S. and Iran withdrew their military forces from the country. Iranian consulates in Najaf and Karbala were set on fire. The protesters showed the world that there is light in the darkness of capitalism’s death agony with their persistent fight against U.S. and Iranian influence in the midst of almost two decades of almost apocalyptic imperialist occupation.
Iranian-affiliated militias in Iraq were accused of joining the government security forces in suppressing the protesters with extreme violence. Suleimani made two trips to Baghdad in October, soon after the eruption of protests in Iraq, and it is widely thought that he helped to coordinate the assaults on the demonstrations.
Now, as a consequence of the U.S. attack on Jan. 3, the Iraqi and Iranian rulers have been handed a new weapon to deflect the anger of working people away from the regimes. Perhaps as a sign of this shift, Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr has issued a statement condemning the assassinations and ordering his Mahdi army to mobilize “to protect Iraq.” Al-Sadr’s forces clashed with pro-Iranian groups in the past, and although he has been growing much closer to Iran in the recent period, he backed the Iraqi anti-government protests not long ago.
We say no to U.S. attacks on Iran! End the sanctions! U.S. and all occupying troops out of Iraq!