When US President Donald Trump ordered the assassination of Iran’s General Soleimani and Iraqi PMU leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis he made this development inevitable. The Iraqi parliament has demanded the withdrawal of all foreign troops.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Soleimani was killed because he was planning “imminent attacks” on US citizens. But Pompeo’s careful choice of the word “imminent” specifically refers to the Bethlehem Doctrine of Pre-Emptive Self Defence, as Craig Murray, a former British diplomat pointed out.
Developed by Daniel Bethlehem when Legal Adviser to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Bethlehem Doctrine elaborates on the right of “pre-emptive self-defence” against “imminent” attacks.
While most international law experts and judges, would accept this as a valid notion, very few people, and almost no international lawyers, accept the key to the Bethlehem Doctrine suggesting that “imminent” – the word used so carefully by Pompeo – does not need to have its normal meanings of either “soon” or “about to happen”.
An attack may be deemed “imminent”, according to the Bethlehem Doctrine, even if you know no details of it or when it might occur. The US-ordered drone strike assassination of Soleimani, one of Iran’s most senior and respected military commanders, has heightened Iranian-US tensions.
Also, the murder of Soleimani is not an Iranian matter only, since he was respected in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.
I was given this poster tonight by 2 young men next to a stand that offered tea and dates to motorists (dates as a sign of mourning in Iran), I want to stick it on my car’s rear window. It reads: A world will avenge you, with hashtag #crushing_response
Trump currently wrongly maintains that Soleimani was responsible for the “deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans”. Most American soldiers were in fact killed by Sunni Muslims financed and supported by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf satellites – all American allies.
Soleimani and the US fought on the same side in 2001 when Iran supported the invasion of Afghanistan. It used its good relations with the Hazara Militia and the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, which both the CIA and Iran had supplied for years, to support the US operation. The Wikipedia entry for the 2001 uprising in Herat lists US General Tommy Franks and General Qassem Soleimani as allied commanders.
The collaboration ended in 2002 after George W Bush named Iran as a member of his “Axis of Evil”.
But in 2015 the US and Iran collaborated once more to defeat ISIS in Iraq. During the battle to liberate Tikrit the US air force flew in support of General Soleimani’s ground forces, Newsweek reported at the time.
Soleimani was an accredited combatant general of a foreign state which the world – including the USA – recognises. The Bethlehem Doctrine specifically applies to “non-state actors”.
He represented Iran in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government, to which the US government is allied. This greatly exacerbates the illegality of his assassination even though the general was described by Trump as the “number one terrorist anywhere in the world”.
Former head of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), August Hanning, has now warned of Iranian attacks on Jewish, Israeli and US facilities on German soil after the murder of the Iranian general.
“The Germans know that Iran, with the help of organisations it controls, has the potential to carry out terrorist attacks in Germany,” Hanning told Tagesspiegel on Monday .
In the event of a military conflict between the United States and Iran, it is feared that Iran will also react outside the Gulf region. “We have seen in Germany in recent years that potential targets of terrorist attacks have been spied on by members of the Al-Quds brigades led by Soleimani,” said Hanning.
Iraq has demanded that all US soldiers be withdrawn from Iraqi territory since Iraq has a Shia majority. Previously, an American civilian was killed in an attack on a US military base in December last year. So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Ex-BND chief Hanning added: “Both sides are not interested in large-scale armed conflicts”. Iran fears economic damage and a destabilization of the regime, while the United States was planning to “withdraw from the region in the long run”. Hanning headed the federal intelligence service for seven years. He is a board member of the US lobby organisation “United Against Nuclear Iran” (UANI).
Iran has meanwhile taken a decision to exceed the number of centrifuges that are allowed to run under the JCPOA nuclear agreement which the US has exited. The decision had been expected under §36 of the agreement which allows Iran to exceed the limits if the other sides of the JCPOA do not stick to their commitments.
Iran will therefore still remain within the JCPOA guidelines as the IAEA will continue to have access to Iran’s sites and will continue to report regularly about Iran’s civil nuclear program. JCPOA co-signatories France, the UK and Germany issued a statement denouncing the decision which strangely does not mention the US assassination of Soleimani.
The German federal government announced this week that it will partially withdraw the armed forces from Iraq. Against the background of the tense situation in the region, 30 soldiers stationed in Baghdad and Taji are to be temporarily transferred to Jordan and Kuwait, German daily Die Welt reported, citing a letter from Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) and Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU) the leaders of the Foreign and Defense Committee.
The measure is done for security reasons. However, Germany said it was ready to continue to support Iraq “if this is desired and the situation allows it” after the targeted killing of the Iranian general at Baghdad airport.
The almost 90 German soldiers in the northern Iraqi Kurdish region are exempt from the transfer. The Bundeswehr is committed to the deployment of the international alliance against the terrorist militia Islamic State in Iraq in 2015.
At that time, the Ministry of Defense moved fighter jets to the region for reconnaissance flights over Syria. German soldiers are also training Iraqi security forces.
There have been reports of the American troops getting ready to withdraw, but they were quickly denied.
US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Monday denied the information, as “there’s been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq. Period.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described Soleimani’s killing as an “extremely dangerous, foolish escalation” and an act of “international terrorism”.