Geopolitical Responses to the US Baghdad Strike
In the early hours of this morning, the highest ranking Iranian military official was killed in a US airstrike. General Qasem Soleimani was the director of Iranian military operations in the Middle East. He was killed at Baghdad airport, alongside Iraqi leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khanmenei has said that "severe revenge" should be expected against the United States. Iranian foreign secretary Javad Zarif equally has tweeted that the attack was an "act of international terrorism", and that the US "bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism".
The context for the strike comes amidst elevated security tensions between Washington and Tehran throughout 2019. The US maintains that Soleimani was responsible for multiple orchestrated attacks against US personnel in the region, and was responsible for ordering the attack on the US embassy in recent days. In a wider geopolitical context, Iran has increasingly been aligning itself with traditional US rivals. In the last week, for example, it conducted trilateral naval exercises alongside Russia and China.
A number of states are involved in the region, though the decisions of most of these actors will be reactionary to the forthcoming decisions from Washington and Tehran. One might wonder, which power will Iraq tilt towards? Will the US' European allies support the US strike like the UK did with the Iraq invasion in 2003, or will they condemn it such as France and Germany in that same year.
The British foreign secretary Dominic Raab released this statement this morning:
"We have always recognised the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Quds force led by Qasem Soleimani. Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests".
It is debatable whether this statement can be interpreted as praise for the US strike or a neutral position. According to Lucy Fisher, defence editor at the Times, the Ministry of Defence is currently reviewing force protection and the readiness of UK forces in the region. This currently stands at 400 troops in Northern Iraq (close to Baghdad) and a Type 23 Frigate in the Gulf.
Future responses from Iran are unlikely to be overt, and are more likely (if to be seen at all) to involve a combination of hybrid warfare tactics. If Iran does choose to retaliate, it is more likely to be in a non-conventional manner. This might involve cyber warfare, for instance, or a hike in oil prices, or frustration of shipping lanes. Tehran will inevitably have to be careful with its response though, as anything too abrasive will invite more unsustainable sanctions, or even further force deployment.
Regardless, this is a development to keep an eye on as it develops.
Cover Photo: HMS Montrose
At the time of writing, Toby Irwin is a third year student at the University of St Andrews. He is studying International Relations. Areas that interest him the most are UK foreign policy and the defence/aerospace industry.