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Trump simply wants to impose his personal will on Middle East

Jan 08,2020 - Last updated at Jan 08,2020

US President Donald Trump's threat to bomb Iran's cultural sites in retaliation for attacks on US forces in the region makes him a modern day Hulagu. He was a Mongol warrior whose forces swept into Baghdad in November 1257, laid waste to the city and emptied the books in its libraries into the Tigris River, turning its waters black with ink. After putting an end to the Abbasid dynasty, Hulagu turned his attention to Syria where he overthrew the Ayyubid dynasty before marching his troops into Palestine. His army left devastation wherever it went.

Home to ancient, mediaeval and Islamic civilisations, Iran has scores of cultural sites adopted as World Heritage sites by UNESCO. By attacking them, Trump would also follow in the footsteps of Daesh. It razed 2,000-year-old temples at Palmyra and ravaged Mar Elian monastery in Syria and destroyed the 5,000-year-old city of Hatra, 3,000-year-old Niveveh, the 3,200-year-old Assyrian capital of Nimrod as well as Christian and Muslim religious sites in Iraq. Daesh's aim was to erase the history and culture of this region in order to make the Arabs forget their glorious past which enables them to resist the takfiri movement. Trump does not have such a grandiose objective: He simply wants to impose his personal will on the people of this region.

His repeated threats to reduce Iranian cultural heritage to dust is his way of reacting to Tehran's vows of retaliation for his assassination last Friday of Iran's Revolutionary Guard elite Quds Force commander, General Qassem Soleimani. He was a high profile figure in the military and political affairs of this region. After Shiite Iran found it could not export its revolution to nearby Sunni countries following the fall of the shah in 1979, Tehran attempted to court allies and provide military expertise to threatened regimes. Here Iran was more successful because of Solimani's gifts as a strategist and tactician who could judge when to cooperate with, and when to oppose the US. He did both.

Unfortunately for Soliemani, the US forgot about his assistance in training the Northern Alliance to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan and his 2008-ceasefire negotiations with Iraq's Shiite Mahdi Army, which was battling the US occupation. From one administration to another, US politicians and officials were totally obsessed by the humiliation of the 444-day detention by Iranian activists of 52 diplomats and staff at the US embassy in Tehran. Trump's fatal strike on Soleimani was intended to assuage residual US anger over this insult, even though some of those held captive have called for reconciliation and stated opposition to the assassination of Soleimani.

Trump wanted to exploit anti-Iranian sentiments for his own political purposes so he violated the multilateral, UN-backed agreement providing for Iran's limitation of its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief. Then he re-imposed and ratcheted up sanctions with the aim of degrading Iran's economy and exerting pressure on Iranians to overthrow their government. When this did not have the desired results, he carried out a plan to slay Soleimani, although his two predecessors, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, had refused to do so. Trump had been under pressure for months to kill Soleimani from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence and other anti-Iran hawks. But, the Pentagon refused to consider a "targeted" assassination, even after tensions with Iran increased due to the punitive sanctions regime and tactical pin-prick strikes on shipping in the Gulf and Saudi oil facilities which killed no one and did little damage. Iran rejected responsibility, but the US and the West blamed Tehran and Soleimani.

While The New York Times and The The Washington Post report that Trump took the decision to kill Soliemani only hours before the drone strike on his convoy outside Baghdad's international airport, the flow of events shows this was not the case. Trump informed Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a golfing buddy, about his intention to kill the general during a visit to Trump's Florida resort on December 23 and 24. Graham was, therefore, in the know three or four days before the December 27 attack on US forces at the Iraqi base near Kirkuk. A US contractor was killed and several soldiers wounded in the rocket strikes, which were blamed on Kitaeb Hizbollah, a powerful pro-Iranian Iraqi militia which denied responsibility. There were other possible suspects:  the Kirkuk area is prone to attacks by Daesh fugitives. The US retaliated for this on the 29th by mounting strikes on three bases in Iraq and Syria, killing 25 Kitaeb fighters. On December 31-January 1, Kitaeb members and allied militiamen laid siege to the US embassy in Baghdad.

These events were used by Trump and his hawkish aides to claim Trump's decision had been taken as a result of Iranian provocation and to justify the killing of Soleimani. They also accused him, without providing proof or specifics, of plotting to kill scores of US servicemen and civilians. The Guardian quoted The New York Times correspondent Rukmini Callimachi tweeting that two informed US sources said no information had been given because the case was “razor thin”.

The timing might have more to do with recent Saudi and Emirati efforts to reduce tensions with Iran than the build-up in Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi revealed that Soliemani had had arrived in Baghdad to deliver the Iranian reply to a Saudi proposal to end their rivalries in Iraq and the region. Abdel Mahdi also said US president Donald Trump had asked him to defuse tensions with Iran. Administration hawks, who would have been briefed, would have been alarmed over such a development as their aim has been to lash out at Tehran with the aim of provoking a war Iran cannot win and effect regime change. Such a conflict would, almost certainly, not be confined to Iranian or Iraqi territory and could engulf the Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and, perhaps, Jordan.

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