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Afghanistan may not rank in the top tier of U.S. President Joe Biden’s policy priorities, given the host of pressing crises in the United States. But Afghanistan’s fate hinges in large part on how the Biden team decides to approach the country’s conflict and its tenuous, still-nascent peace process. Biden will be compelled to make critical decisions on Afghanistan during his first months in office that will affect the country’s conflict—and relationship with the U.S.—for years to come.

Over the past year, the outgoing U.S. administration attempted to set a peace process in motion by signing a political agreement with the Taliban in February 2020, exchanging a commitment to withdraw international military forces for assurances the insurgent group would address transnational terrorism concerns, enter peace talks with the Afghan government, and work toward a cease-fire and political roadmap to end the war, among other things.…  Seguir leyendo »

In a major speech in May 2018, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlined how the Trump administration sought to make Americans more secure from attack by Iran, deny that adversary a path to acquiring nuclear weapons, stop Iranian-backed terrorism, and reduce Iranian influence in the Middle East. By affirming these objectives, Secretary Pompeo was broadly adhering to the bipartisan consensus on US–Iranian policy that has prevailed for the last half-century. But to achieve these goals, President Trump and his administration adopted a radically different strategy from the previous administration’s.

President Obama and his administration made denying Iran a nuclear weapon their highest priority, and then deployed a mix of coercive and engagement policies—economic sanctions, cyber-attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities, as well as direct bilateral diplomacy—to persuade the Iranian government to negotiate an agreement to constrain Iran’s nuclear weapons program, which came to be known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).…  Seguir leyendo »

As tensions escalate in the Middle East, US President Donald Trump has threatened to strike targets in Iran should they seek to retaliate over the killing of Qassem Soleimani. According to the president’s tweet, these sites includes those that are ‘important to Iran and Iranian culture’.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper was quick on Monday to rule out any such action and acknowledged that the US would ‘follow the laws of armed conflict’. But Trump has not since commented further on the matter.

Any move to target Iranian cultural heritage could constitute a breach of the international laws protecting cultural property. Attacks on cultural sites are deemed unlawful under two United Nations conventions; the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property during Armed Conflict, and the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.…  Seguir leyendo »

Mourners in Iran gathered around a vehicle carrying the coffin of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani in Kerman, his hometown, on Tuesday.Credit...Atta Kenare/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

It was a hot day in June, 30 years ago. I was sweating in a chador, a speck in the black-clad throng of mourners pouring through Tehran for the funeral of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. As the keening crowd surged dangerously toward the grave site, I was lifted off my feet, lost in a heaving mass of humanity.

Then, I was a Middle East correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. My job was to understand and explain why what may have been the largest crowd of mourners ever assembled wept hysterically for a man my readers considered monstrous.

Today, three decades of diplomatic failure later, I watch from afar on cable news as a similar crowd in Iran, this time a deadly one, mourns Maj.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Trump preparing to call on Wednesday for new diplomatic efforts toward Iran.Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times

After a few days of quiet, Iran carried out its promised “severe revenge” for the United States’ killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani last week.

On Wednesday morning in the Middle East, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps launched 22 missiles at two American-run bases in Iraq. The attack was symbolically significant but resulted in limited damage and no loss of life. It demonstrated Iran’s ability to hit American assets in the region, but was calculated to give President Trump an off-ramp from escalating tensions into an all-out war.

Thankfully, he seems ready to take it. But even if war was avoided this time, heightened tensions and sporadic attacks will be the new normal in the Middle East.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protesters hold up an image of Qassem Soleimani during a demonstration in Tehran on 3 January. Photo: Getty Images.

An unexpected bounty for Iran

Sanam Vakil

The assassination of Qassem Soleimani has been an unexpected bounty for the Islamic Republic at a time when Iran was balancing multiple economic, domestic and regional pressures stemming from the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign.

Coming on the heels of anti-Iranian demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon, and following Iran’s own November 2019 protests that resulted in a brutal government crackdown against its own people, the Soleimani killing has helped the Iranian government shift the narrative away from its perceived regional and domestic weaknesses to one of strength.

The massive funeral scenes in multiple Iranian cities displaying unending waves of mourners chanting against the United States has provided the Islamic Republic with a unique opportunity to showcase its mobilizing potential.…  Seguir leyendo »

A demonstration against the killing of General Suleimani in Tehran on Saturday.Credit...Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press

The last time I wrote seriously about a war with Iran was in 2012. It had been an especially fraught year, with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards running naval exercises in the Persian Gulf, Israel and the United States conducting joint drills, and the safety of oil shipping lanes looking entirely unassured. Oil prices rattled skittishly, everyone suddenly monitored ships, and headlines speculated that Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear sites.

My assignment was to consider “the day after” — to imagine how Iranians would react if their country was bombed by Israel. My piece featured scenes of distraught young people gathering on crowded intersections singing the national anthem — suddenly everyone was a terrified Iranian citizen rather than an aspiring guitarist or a day laborer or whatever they were the day before — and a screaming mother buying formula to stockpile from a supermarket.…  Seguir leyendo »

Demonstrators marched in Washington on Saturday to protest the United States’ killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani of Iran.Credit...Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Much of the discussion in the aftermath of the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani last week has focused on the legality of the attack: whether or not his death was carried out by “assassination” or “targeted killing.”

Administration officials have chosen the latter, following the war-on-terror playbook. They consider the strike a targeted killing, elaborating that it was justifiable as an act of self-defense. General Suleimani, officials say, was “actively plotting” a “big action” that would have cost “hundreds of lives,” thus posing an imminent threat. Others, such as Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have rightly rejected the term “targeted killing” and called it an assassination, implicitly raising a question about the legality as well as the wisdom of the strike.…  Seguir leyendo »

A heavy water secondary circuit at a nuclear plant near Arak, Iran, last month.Credit...Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, via Associated Press

The costs of the United States’ targeted killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, are mounting beyond the already significant risks of Iranian retaliation and subsequent military confrontation.

On Sunday, Tehran announced that it will cease to honor all “operational restrictions” imposed by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the Iran nuclear deal, which aimed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

While Iran has not announced what, if any, specific nuclear activities it intends to resume, its decision to remove the restrictions on its uranium enrichment, production and research could soon pose a challenge for the Trump administration at least as great as retaliation against the assassination.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iranians tearing up a United States flag during a demonstration in Tehran on Friday after the killing of General Suleimani.Credit...Atta Kenare/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Was the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, an act of war? If it was, it was a war in which the United States and Iran were already joined.

That war goes back to Lebanon in the early 1980s, where General Suleimani’s predecessors created what became Hezbollah. Iran, with Syria, helped stage the 1983 bombings of the American Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Americans involved in a peacekeeping mission. As a young Foreign Service officer who survived those bombings, I saw how Iran succeeded in forcing the United States to withdraw its forces from Lebanon through terrorism.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, right, with Mr. Trump at an Oval Office meeting last month.Credit...Al Drago for The New York Times

The targeted killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani and four others in a precision strike by an MQ-9 Reaper drone at Baghdad International Airport was an impressive display of American military prowess. And it liquidated a destabilizing figure: The general was the commander of the Quds Force, which is responsible for Iran’s covert and extraterritorial military operations. In the scheme of things, he had it coming. Yet killing him made little strategic sense for the United States. In some ways, the most significant thing about his death is what it shows about the breakdown of American foreign policymaking.

President Trump ordered the strike directly, prompted by the death of an American contractor on Dec.…  Seguir leyendo »

A U.S. Army paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division preparing to leave Fort Bragg, N.C., on Wednesday.Credit...Jonathan Drake/Reuters

Americans would be wise to brace for war with Iran.

Full-scale conflict is not a certainty, but the probability is higher than at any point in decades. Despite President Trump’s oft-professed desire to avoid war with Iran and withdraw from military entanglements in the Middle East, his decision to order the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s second most important official, as well as Iraqi leaders of an Iranian-backed militia, now locks our two countries in a dangerous escalatory cycle that will likely lead to wider warfare.

How did we get here? What are the consequences of these targeted killings?…  Seguir leyendo »

No se puede exagerar la importancia del ataque estadounidense del jueves contra Qasem Soleimani porque él dirigió las operaciones militares de Irán en todo el Medio Oriente.

La televisión estatal iraquí informó el jueves que Soleimani, comandante de la Fuerza Quds del Cuerpo de la Guardia Revolucionaria Islámica de Irán (IRGC), fue asesinado por cohetes que golpearon su vehículo cerca del Aeropuerto Internacional de Bagdad. El Pentágono confirmó que fue un ataque estadounidense ordenado por el presidente Donald Trump el que mató a Soleimani.

Así fue como el general Joseph Votel, el entonces comandante del Comando Central de Estados Unidos, que supervisaba las operaciones militares estadounidenses en el Medio Oriente, explicó el papel de Soleimani en 2018: “Donde sea que veas actividad iraní, verás a Qasem Soleimani, ya sea en Siria, ya sea en Iraq, ya sea en Yemen, él está allí y es la Fuerza Quds, la organización que lidera, la que creo que es la principal amenaza mientras miramos esto y que son los principales que están avivando esta actividad desestabilizadora”.…  Seguir leyendo »

Iranians in Tehran protest against the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. air strike in Iraq. 3 January 2020. AFP/Fatemeh Bahrami

The killing by the U.S. of Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force, marks a dramatic turning point. Soleimani had been in Washington’s crosshairs for many years, and successive U.S. presidents could likely have ordered his assassination in the past. That they chose not to do so suggests that they worried the costs would outweigh the benefits. With his decision, President Donald Trump is making clear that he abides by a different calculus: that, given the vast power imbalance, Iran has far more to fear from war than does the U.S. The strike that killed the Iranian general along with others – notably Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a senior commander of the pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite militia – was, in accordance with this view, meant as a deterrent to further Iranian attacks.…  Seguir leyendo »

Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani of Iran’s Qods Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, in 2016.Credit...Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader, via Associated Press

More than any other American military operation since the invasion of Iraq, the assassination yesterday of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s Qods Force of its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, is a seismic event. The killings of Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leaders of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, were certainly meaningful, but they were also largely symbolic, because their organizations had been mostly destroyed. Taking out the architect of the Islamic Republic’s decades-long active campaign of violence against the United States and its allies, especially Israel, represents a tectonic shift in Middle Eastern politics.

To see just how significant Mr.…  Seguir leyendo »

Demonstrators in Tehran protested after a U.S. airstrike killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, leader of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.Credit...Vahid Salemi/Associated Pres

Few tears will be shed in many parts of the world for Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, whose Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps ruthlessly spread Iranian influence and contributed to the deaths of thousands of Syrians, Iraqis and Iranians, as well as hundreds of American servicemen in Iraq, over the past decade and a half.

But revenge is not a strategy, and the killing of General Suleimani is a major — and incredibly risky — escalation with Iran, a pivotal country of some 80 million people that has been largely estranged from the United States for 40 years. It will cause more instability and the loss of more innocent lives.…  Seguir leyendo »

Qassim Suleimani in 2014.Credit...Sipa, via Associated Press

The assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani of Iran by the United States was an unprecedented escalation in the 40-year standoff between the two countries. General Suleimani was the powerful head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ special operations forces, the Quds Force, and we can expect retaliation across the region. But the killing will not in itself weaken the Revolutionary Guards or Iran’s role in the region.

The idea that General Suleimani was all powerful and that the Quds Force will now retreat, or that Iran’s ties with Shiite armed groups in Iraq and Lebanon like Hezbollah will suffer, indicates a superficial, and frankly ideological, understanding of Iran and the Revolutionary Guard.…  Seguir leyendo »

Qassim Suleimani in Tehran in 2016.Credit...Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Reasonable people will debate the likeliest ramifications of President Trump’s decision to order the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the Revolutionary Guards Corps commander whose power in Iran was second only to that of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — and whose power in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq was arguably second to none.

What shouldn’t be in doubt is the justice.

By far the best account of Suleimani’s life was written by Dexter Filkins for The New Yorker in 2013. It’s worth reprising some of the details.

In 1998, Suleimani assumed command of the Quds Force — the Guards’ extraterritorial terrorist wing — whose prior exploits included a role in the bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘Suleimani may have, with his death, already have achieved the greatest revenge of all.’ A man holds a picture of Suleimani during a demonstration in Tehran on Friday. Photograph: Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images

The US has assassinated Qassem Suleimani, the famed leader of Iran’s Quds force, alongside a senior commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Units, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. To grasp what may come next, it is vital to understand not only who these men were but also the system that produced them.

Nicknamed the “Shadow Commander” in the popular press, Suleimani spent his formative years on the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s, when Saddam Hussein – who at the time enjoyed the support of western and Arab powers – was attempting to destroy the emerging Islamic Republic. But few remember that his first major mission as commander of the Quds force – the extraterritorial branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards – was involved in implicit coordination with the United States as it invaded Afghanistan in 2001.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘Donald Trump has consistently increased tensions and courted confrontation with Iran.’ Iranians burn a US flag in Tehran on Friday. Photograph: Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA

The Trump administration’s assassination on Thursday of General Qassem Suleimani could turn out to be its biggest foreign policy blunder. The killing could lead to a war with Iranian proxies across the Middle East, belying Trump’s supposed desire to extricate the US from its endless conflicts. But its most likely immediate effect will be to ratchet up pressure on the Iraqi government to expel US troops from Iraq. And that would mean Iran extending its already substantial influence over Iraqi government and society.

The Trump administration was quick to portray the assassination as a pre-emptive strike, saying Suleimani had been “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”…  Seguir leyendo »