Starting the new decade in Trumpian fashion, the United States has greatly increased the chances of a war with Iran. On Friday, the US launched airstrikes near Baghdad airport, killing 7 people including senior Iranian official Qassem Soleimani and leader of Iraq’s Shia militias Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Soleimani was the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force and was widely considered to be one of the most important figures in Iranian politics.
There can be no doubting that these US actions – extrajudicial assassination on foreign soil – amount to an act of war. It is a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty, which has been widely condemned in the country, and an act of aggression against Iran that has significantly raised the chances of major conflict across the region.
This escalation hasn’t come from nowhere – it is simply the latest in an ongoing campaign of hybrid warfare by the US and its allies against Iran in the Middle East. Iran has been a threat to US hegemony in the Middle East ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, when the country toppled its US-backed dictator, and the recent crisis is a direct product of the US attempting to reassert itself in the region after two decades of a failing ‘War on Terror’ policies have sent its influence into decline.
One of Donald Trump’s first acts as President was to unilaterally withdraw the US the Iran nuclear deal, which had widespread international support. That deal, signed during President Obama’s term, marked the highest level of normalisation of relations between Iran and the West in decades. In the aftermath of its demise, the US has set about a deliberate campaign of increasing tensions.
As part of its strategy of exerting ‘maximum pressure’ on the country, the US immediately reapplied harsh sanctions on Iran which have had a devastating impact on Iran’s economy and targeted the most vulnerable people. Within hours of Trump tearing up the agreement, Israel bombed numerous Iranian ‘targets’ in Syria and in the second half of 2019 Israel again bombed Iranian positions in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
European countries including the UK initially pledged to stick to the agreement, but over the last year have backtracked and instead ratcheted up their own combative rhetoric. This culminated in Britain seizing an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar in July last year, which provoked Iranian retaliation, the rapid militarisation of the Hormuz strait and the US preparing airstrikes on Iranian targets, which were called off at the eleventh hour.
President Trump has been playing a balancing game between his war-weary core base, to whom he once promised an “end to endless wars,” and the neoconservative right-wing interests in his administration and the Pentagon, whose clear ambition for twenty years and more has been a war with Iran. Stop the War has long argued that the erratic leader is a warmonger inching towards military confrontation, and that the British government would follow suit in such a scenario.
Both May and Johnson have made an effort to bolster the ‘special relationship’ with the US, something that can be seen not least in the grand efforts made to accommodate Trump three times in the past two years. With the next stages of trade deal negotiations, these ties are only likely to deepen.
Johnson, who has supported every foreign military intervention Britain has taken part in and joked about dead bodies on Libyan beaches, is unlikely to provide resistance to a drive to war by the US. In September, as soon as Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, Mike Pence and Netanyahu arrived on a surprise visit to Downing Street to strategise about Iran. With his now comfortable majority in Parliament, we could well be heading down the path to yet more British military intervention in the Middle East.
Jeremy Corbyn rightly condemned the US aggression and placed it in the context of the “disastrous invasion of Iraq.” Socialists in the Labour Party must ensure that foreign policy is a litmus test for any contender for the leadership and that there is no room for a return to the days of Blairism, when the party was a voice for Western imperialism.
But wider than that, the anti-war movement needs to urgently organise resistance to war with Iran. The situation is extremely critical and Stop the War has called a protest outside Downing Street at 2pm today to mobilise the opposition to war with Iran and send a clear indication to Boris Johnson that we will not tolerate British support for US aggression in the Middle East.
Stop the War played a key role in the anti-Trump protests of 2018 and 2019, ensuring that the anti-war message was front and centre. The wide layer of activists and movements that came together to stand up to Trump then must now get active in the campaign to stop his wars.