UK braced for fall-out as Ira­ni­ans vow ‘se­vere re­venge’

●Bri­tain warned to stay dis­tant from Trump or risk be­ing target

The Scotsman - - FRONT PAGE - By PARIS GOURTSOYAN­NIS

Western al­lies in­clud­ing the UK have been warned they face an in­creased risk of reprisals after Don­ald Trump ordered an airstrike that killed a top Ira­nian gen­eral.

The Ira­nian gov­ern­ment promised “se­vere re­venge” for the killing of Gen­eral Qassem Soleimani, who was tar­geted by a mis­sile strike near Bagh­dad’s air­port yes­ter­day.

Gen Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds Force, was one of the most pow­er­ful fig­ures in Iran and the ar­chi­tect of his coun­try’s in­volve­ment in the proxy war in Syria.

The US De­fence Depart­ment

said it killed Soleimani be­cause he “was ac­tively de­vel­op­ing plans to at­tack Amer­i­can diplo­mats and ser­vice mem­bers in Iraq and through­out the re­gion”.

Al­lies in­clud­ing the UK are un­der­stood not to have been given ad­vanced no­tice of the airstrike, and yes­ter­day moved to har­den de­fences around mil­i­tary bases in Iraq that are home to hun­dreds of troops.

Sev­eral western gov­ern­ments in­clud­ing the US ad­vised their cit­i­zens to leave Bagh­dad “im­me­di­ately”, al­though the For­eign Of­fice has not up­dated its travel ad­vice. For­eign Sec­re­tary

Do­minic Raab called for a deesca­la­tion of ten­sions, and spoke to US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo yes­ter­day.

Mr Raab is­sued a state­ment say­ing the UK Gov­ern­ment had “al­ways recog­nised the ag­gres­sive threat posed by the Ira­nian Quds force” led by Gen Soleimani.

“Fol­low­ing his death, we urge all par­ties to de-es­ca­late. Fur­ther con­flict is in none of our in­ter­ests,” Mr Raab added.

Mr Pom­peo stressed that the White House “re­mains com­mit­ted to de-es­ca­la­tion”.

But on Twit­ter, the US Pres­i­dent did not tone down his rhetoric, post­ing a pic­ture of an Amer­i­can flag fol­lowed by the mes­sage: “Iran never won a war, but never lost a ne­go­ti­a­tion!”

Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son, who has been cel­e­brat­ing New Year on the private Caribbean is­land of Mus­tique, was yet to com­ment last night.

There are around 400 Bri­tish troops de­ployed in Iraq as part of the in­ter­na­tional coali­tion fight­ing Is­lamic State.

Tory MP To­bias Ell­wood, a for­mer de­fence min­is­ter who served as a cap­tain in the Army, warned on so­cial me­dia that western al­lies should “ex­pect reper­cus­sions.”

Mid­dle East ex­perts also warned of re­tal­i­a­tions fol­low­ing the US strike. Ian Bond, for­eign pol­icy di­rec­tor at the Cen­tre for Euro­pean Re­form, called the air strike a “big es­ca­la­tion” by Mr Trump and “a law­less step that in­creases risk to US and al­lies”.

And Seyyed Mo­ham­mad Marandi, the pro­fes­sor of North Amer­i­can Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Tehran, said: “If I was a western cit­i­zen I would leave the UAE im­me­di­ately. I would leave the whole re­gion.”

Dr Jack Watling, re­search fel­low at the Royal United Ser­vices In­sti­tute (RUSI), said the at­tack was “very sig­nif­i­cant” be­cause it was an “as­sas­si­na­tion” out­side a de­clared armed con­flict. But he said that Iran was not likely to want to pro­voke a war with the US.

Dr Watling added that “ul­ti­mately Iran does not want to pro­voke a full-scale con­flict” but warned that if the UK was seen by Iran to be par­tic­i­pat­ing in US ac­tions, it could cap­ture or ar­rest Bri­tish cit­i­zens in the re­gion.

“The Ira­ni­ans do not draw a di­rect line be­tween the UK and US,” Dr Watling said. “Cit­i­zens in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon would cer­tainly po­ten­tially be at risk, dual-na­tion­al­i­ties in Iran will cer­tainly be at risk of ar­rest un­der es­pi­onage charges.”

RUSI re­search fel­low Michael Stephens warned the sit­u­a­tion could grow into a wider re­gional con­flict. He added: “The US strikes in Iraq are a game chang­ing event that will have se­vere reper­cus­sions for re­gional se­cu­rity.”

The killing of Gen­eral Qasem Soleimani in a tar­geted strike by Amer­i­can forces marks a dra­matic and trou­bling es­ca­la­tion of con­flict be­tween the US and Iran.

Ten­sions be­tween the na­tions have been at break­ing point for some time, with tit-for-tat ac­tions be­com­ing in­creas­ingly com­mon­place, but the as­sas­si­na­tion, on the or­ders of Pres­i­dent Trump, of the com­man­der of the Ira­nian Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard’s Quds force takes things to a new level.

And while we can­not see with clar­ity what the Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent’s strat­egy is, we can say with cer­tainty that the world is now a more dan­ger­ous place.

It would ap­pear that Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son was kept in the dark about the strike on Soleimani. We are bound to say that, even though the UK had no in­volve­ment in its ally’s ac­tions in this in­stance, our Gov­ern­ment must con­sider the im­pli­ca­tions for the se­cu­rity of our cit­i­zens liv­ing and work­ing in Iran.

This ac­tion will, we be­lieve, be seen as an act of ag­gres­sion on be­half of the Western world and, there­fore, any blow­back won’t be nec­es­sar­ily fo­cused solely on Amer­ica.

Pres­i­dent Trump has spouted a great deal of hawk­ish rhetoric since com­ing to of­fice at the same time as he has re­fused to de­ploy troops where they ap­pear to be needed. His aban­don­ment of Kurds in the Turkey-syria bor­der re­gion is a shin­ing ex­am­ple of his con­fus­ing ap­proach to for­eign pol­icy.

The at­tack on Soleimani is in keep­ing with Pres­i­dent Trump’s un­pre­dictabil­ity.

The pres­i­dent will, no doubt, hope that the killing of Soleimani will cow Iran. This, we think, will re­quire him to take the most op­ti­mistic view of mat­ters.

Iran is cer­tain at some point to re­spond ag­gres­sively to what has been de­scribed by an ad­viser to for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama as lit­tle short of “a dec­la­ra­tion of war” by the Amer­i­cans.

And that re­sponse may not be as pre­dictable as a strike on a US fa­cil­ity in the Gulf re­gion.

There is a cliche that says when­ever a po­lit­i­cal leader needs a boost at the polls, he or she finds a con­flict with which to en­gage. Pres­i­dent Trump may now be think­ing that there is noth­ing quite like a bit of a war to bring pa­tri­ots be­hind the com­man­der-in-chief.

There is no ques­tion that Iran presents a dan­ger to in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity.

This be­ing so, we should be deeply con­cerned about Pres­i­dent Trump’s provo­ca­tions, which ap­pear to be unac­com­pa­nied by any kind of strat­egy.

0 Crowds protest against the killing of Gen­eral Soleimani by a US mis­sile strike near Bagh­dad’s air­port early yes­ter­day

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