In a Friday morning attack in Iraq, a United States military strike killed one of Iran’s most powerful men, Revolutionary Guard Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Relations between the U.S. and Iran have been tense for some time, and while the two countries aren’t officially at war, American allies are urging deescalation.
Jeremi Suri, professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs, says the assassination comes as Iran increases its military activity in Iraq, in order to tamp down American influence in the Middle East. Suri says Soleimani was the second most powerful person in Iran, and that the assassination was “close to” an act of war.
“It’s basically a statement by the United States government that it believes the military leadership of Iran is at war with the United States … that they are basically creating an imminent threat against American force,” Suri says. “That’s the justification for the president using military force in this way.”
The Trump administration says the airstrike that killed Soleimani could prevent future American deaths. But Suri says it’s unclear whether that’s true; he says it could actually have the opposite effect.
“Some are concerned that this will actually increase the level of violence used by Iran against American forces,” he says.
There is similarity between this incident and events that led to the war in Iraq in 2003, Suri says. Then, the U.S. increased its use of force over a short period of time, and claimed that a Middle Eastern government was an imminent threat to American security. The difference now is that the U.S. killed Soleimani with a single airstrike and without an official declaration of war.
Moving forward, Suri expects Iran to retaliate. He says diplomats on all sides will have to work together to prevent full-blown war.
Written by Caroline Covington.