On Friday, it was revealed Gen. Qassem Soleimani was killed in a drone strike ordered by President Trump. Because of this, the U.S. is lurching toward a dangerous situation in Iran.
First, let’s back up. Qassem Soleimani was a top Iranian general. Officially, he is the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, which is the country’s military arm for special operations and military affairs outside of Iran. In practice, this position has made Soleimani one of the most important officials in Iran and the chief official responsible for relations with Iraq.
This is because Iraq has been on the receiving end of significant Iranian influence, primarily through Iraqi militias that are backed by Iran. These militias, the Popular Mobilization Forces, are nominally under the same rules as the Iraqi military and answerable to the prime minister of Iraq, but in practice, they took their orders from Soleimani and officials in Iran. These militias achieved greater prominence last month after the U.S. launched airstrikes against facilities associated with these militias in Iraq. Shortly afterward, the PMF militias and their supporters broke into the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. The U.S. accused Iran of ordering the embassy attack, which Iran denies, and it was this incident and other attacks against U.S. forces (including one where a U.S. contractor was killed) that the Trump Administration has used to justify the assassination of Soleimani.
To be clear, I am not defending Soleimani. He was a legitimate threat to U.S. forces in the Middle East. At the same time, I am worried about the consequences of this killing. Soleimani and his Quds Force were designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, but unlike something like al-Qaida, the Quds Force has official government backing, and its leader is a top official in that government. To Iran, this isn’t the killing of a rogue terrorist, but the assassination of a top military and political official. Iran won’t take this lying down.
After news of the attack broke, World War III and related hashtags trended on Twitter along with memes and jokes about Americans being drafted to fight in Iran. However, this is unlikely to happen. The last time citizens were drafted was the Vietnam War in the 1960s and ’70s, and previous American interventions in the Middle East have not resulted in drafting, so there’s no reason to suspect Iran will be any different. And that’s assuming there will be a conventional war in Iran.
While the Trump administration has been home to warlike voices like John Bolton (who recently resigned as National Security Adviser) and Mike Pompeo (who is still Secretary of State), the administration likely also realizes that a direct war would be unpopular and costly, just as Iran likely realizes that facing the U.S. Army openly will be less effective than unconventional tactics. However, the resulting conflict could still be deadly, as Iran launches reprisal attacks on U.S. bases that could harm the servicemen within. To Iran, Americans will effectively have a target on their backs if they are in Iran or Iraq.
Ultimately, this is a delicate situation that requires quiet and thoughtful actions, not reckless strikes on important government officials. Thankfully, legislation is in Congress making just that point. Senator Tim Kaine introduced a bill Jan. 3 which would require Congress to approve any war with Iran. With any luck, the bill will gain traction in Congress, and the president will take the hint and slow U.S. hostility in Iraq. Once that is done, we should let Iraq take the lead, and use both incentives and threats to get Iraq to crack down on its Iranian militias. While it likely won’t achieve peace in the Middle East, it will at least leave Americans safer.
Jason Zappulla is a UF history senior.