Author: Kanan ROVSHANOGHLU
The beginning of the new year turned out to be quite hot for the whole world not because of the global warming or the unprecedented fires in Australia, which led to numerous casualties among the population, animals and plants.
The flames of two jeeps, blown up at the exit from the Baghdad airport, could turn into a much greater threat to humankind than the global challenges listed above. The killing by the U.S. military of the symbol of successful operations of the Iranian army, General Qasem Soleimani, nearly pushed Tehran and Washington to an open war.
According to reports, on January 3, at about 01:00 a.m., Major General of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the commander of the Al-Quds brigade specialising in covert military operations outside Iran, arrived from Damascus (possibly from Libya) to Baghdad where he was met at a high level. There were also a close friend of General, Mehdi al-Muhandis, the head of operations or the chief of staff of the Iraqi militia Hashd al-Shaabi, the organisation's spokesman Muhammad Reza Jabiri and several others. There were ten people in the group. At the exit from Baghdad airport, their cars were allegedly fired by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or helicopters.
The Shadow General
Iran suffered an extremely powerful blow, because Soleimani was not only a general and commander of the Al-Quds brigade, but also symbol of an invincible commander for the Iranians. His personality and heroism were a subject of films, numerous programs and propaganda videos. Despite previous involvement in operations in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, information about the general was scarce until Soleimani appeared before the cameras after the occupation of the second largest city of Iraq - Mosul by ISIS terrorists in 2014. On the same day, Iraqi volunteers, along with Iranian officers, liberated the town of Amirli from ISIS under the leadership of Soleimani. After that, numerous photographs and videos began to appear in the Iranian and world media covering Soleimani's military operations in Syria and Iraq, which had soon made the leader of the Iranian armed groups fighting ISIS famous.
General Soleimani was one of the founders of the Hashd al-Shaabi in Iraq, as well as behind the organisation and armed groups like Fatimiyyun, which supports the Syrian government and consists mainly of Pakistani and Afghan Shiites, Abulfazl Abbas (mainly Iraqis) and others. Soleimani and his organisation also supported the Houthi rebels, who actually seized power in Yemen.
For the Americans, General Soleimani was known as a "shadow general".
War of symbols and gestures
As expected, the killing of a high-ranking military official has provoked a rapid increase in anti-American sentiments and calls for revenge in Iran. In fact, Tehran itself contributed to this, carrying the coffin with the body of the general first to the holy places in Iraq and Iran, and then holding a farewell ceremony with five million people in the capital of the country to ensure political and social mobilisation of the population.
According to Washington, Soleimani was killed because he had planned to conduct new operations against the U.S. and had been directly involved in the killing of a large number of U.S. troops in the region. By the way, just a few days before the incident, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was attacked.
In response to Tehran's threats of revenge, the U.S. president announced his readiness to attack 52 cultural sites in Iran, including religious and historical sites, representing 52 Americans taken hostage during the notorious seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979. Later, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, ruled out this intention despite wide circulation of the news in the world media.
On the night of January 8, namely at the same hour when the car of Qasem Soleimani was blown up in Baghdad, the Iranian army rocketed the American military base Ain al-Assad in Iraq. Immediately after that, another blow targeted the military base of the international coalition deployed at the Erbil Airport. Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei personally monitored the operation from Sepah's headquarters in Tehran, hinting to Washington about his direct involvement in the attack.
General Soleimani was buried in his hometown of Kerman. At a press conference held on January 9, the commander of Sepah (IRGC Air Forces) announced the launch of thirteen rockets at the Ain al-Isa base, which is allegedly the location from which the UAVs killing Soleimani and his entourage took off. The main purpose of the attack, according to the military, was the destruction of the base and equipment, but not the troops. Earlier, President Trump said that thanks to the early warning system, the base contingent managed to hide in time and escaped victims. The media, meanwhile, claimed that the Americans were warned by the Iraqi prime minister, who, in turn, was notified by the Iranians themselves.
Either way, the situation seems to suit both sides of the conflict. Contrary to expectations, President Trump did not declare war on Iran, but called on the leadership of the country for peace talks immediately after discussing the details with his administration. In continuation of the sanctions policy on Tehran, Trump signed a new package of sanctions against Iran on January 9. At the same time, the U.S. government sent a letter to the UN Security Council expressing its willingness to negotiate with Iran without any preconditions.
Meanwhile, Tehran announced that the revenge actions will continue. Khamenei called the January 8 rocket attacks only a "slap" in the United States, and revenge, he said, is yet to come. And although a number of experts predicted a tighter confrontation, the likelihood of a large-scale war was ruled out, at least in the near future.
Neither the U.S. nor Iran are interested in a large-scale war. Tehran understands that under the current economic situation, full-fledged military operations can lead to unexpected consequences. Washington is not interested in the war with Iran either, at least in light of the upcoming presidential elections in November. Moreover, the presidency of Donald Trump is still threatened with impeachment, and public opinion in the United States opposes the war with Iran.
Apparently, having neutralised the Iranian "warrior number one" in the Middle East, Trump wanted to remind the allies and foes of America that the United States was and remains a world superpower. And the Iranian attack on U.S. military bases in Iraq is nothing more than an attempt to prove Iran's readiness and potential for an open clash with the United States.
However, even if in the near future the emotions on both sides of the barricades cool down, the parties to the conflict will keep their finger on the trigger in readiness to clash at any moment.
Peace next door
As one of Iran's closest neighbours, Azerbaijan could not remain indifferent to the events in and around this country. At the same time, official Baku maintained a traditionally restrained and balanced position in a dangerous round of U.S.-Iranian confrontation.
The day after Soleimani's death, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov held a telephone conversation with his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif to discuss recent developments and the aggravation of the situation in the region. Azerbaijan called on all parties to refrain from violence and to remain committed to strengthening regional security. At the same time, Mammadyarov expressed his condolences to the leadership and people of Iran in relation with the death of General Soleimani.
Baku and Tehran are connected with each other by mutually beneficial partnership within the framework of regional projects, common borders, religious and cultural values and, no less important, the presence of a multi-million Azerbaijani community in Iran.
Azerbaijan also maintains mutually beneficial cooperation with the United States on various issues, including in energy security of Washington's European partners.
Given these and a number of other factors, Azerbaijan maintains good neighbourly relations with Iran and partnerships with the United States, while trying to stay as far as possible from the geopolitical risks caused by the confrontation between the two countries.