Can't the United States and Iran just call it a draw?

The U.S. assassination of Iranian General Qassim Soleimani, the legendary leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, sparked fears of a major conflict in the Middle East, but luckily this has not yet happened.

However, the events that unfolded surprised many who forecast that Iran would retaliate proportionately, but not immediately. The retaliation was almost immediate; Iran on Tuesday carried out a missile attack on two military bases hosting U.S. forces in Iraq.

What was surprising was that the Iraqi prime minister’s office said it had received an “official verbal message” from Iran informing it of an imminent missile attack on U.S. forces and had conveyed the message to the United States.

This must be Tehran’s message to the United States - that it does not want to escalate the crisis any longer, but that it had to do something to satisfy its domestic public opinion.

Trump got the message and, deviating from his usual threatening rhetoric, gave the impression that he does not want to escalate the crisis either. Analysts of international affairs were nicely surprised by Trump’s relatively conciliatory tone.

The consequences of the crisis were also unexpected. Before Soleimani’s assassination, Iranians were demonstrating in the streets of the major cities to voice their discontent with the government. The assassination reversed this trend and led the people to forget their daily problems and re-unite against the United States.

A similar trend emerged in the United States. There was speculation that Trump had approved Soleimani’s killing in order to boost his popularity ahead of this year’s presidential elections, and demonstrations in various U.S. cities showed many Americans were against the killing. Furthermore, U.S. laws state that Congressional approval is required to carry out such operations in foreign countries. Democrat members of Congress may use Soleimani’s killing in the impeachment process as further evidence of Trump’s breach of U.S. laws.

Iraq was the first country to react to Soleimani’s killing. The Iraqi parliament adopted - with the votes of its Shia members - a resolution to expel U.S. forces. The decision is not binding on the government, but Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi also asked U.S. forces to leave Iraq. Together with recent disturbances in Baghdad, this may cause new unease about the U.S. military presence in Iraq.

The resolution adopted by the Iraqi parliament also called for “the withdrawal of other foreign military units”. This may be a reference to the Turkish military detachment stationed in the Kurdish autonomous region in the north of Iraq.

Iran has for many years adopted a doctrine of asymmetrical warfare. This means it would avoid a frontal confrontation especially with a superpower, but that it has means of harming even superpowers.

Everyone expected Iran would retaliate against the United States, one way or another, but any retaliation is also a step towards further escalation of the crisis. If escalation continues, Iran cannot be expected to emerge victorious. Both peoples would suffer the consequences, but Americans are not as resilient against hardship as Iranians, so Americans are more likely to be affected by heightened tension.

Iran’s restrained retaliation demonstrated that it has the capability to harm U.S. interests or those of the United States’ allies in the Gulf area, such as Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. One may consider there is now a draw between the two sides. The best scenario, in these circumstances, would be to leave it there and not to provoke any further escalation.


© Ahval English

The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.