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Trump’s Rhetoric Of ‘Imminent Threat’ Was Engineered To Cover Suleimani’s Killing

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The story orchestrated by Trump and his aides exploded when Iraq’s caretaker Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi, a key ally of the US in the region, told the parliament that Suleimani’s visit to Iraq was a part of Iraq-led mediation efforts to ‘de-escalate’ tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, writes Mudassir Changwani. 

US President Donald Trump’s decision to assassinate Iranian General Qassem Suleimani on 3rd January has spurred debates across academia, scholars, writers, and policy-makers over the issue of the legality of Trump’s actions. On the one side, war and fear-mongers have started aligning their opinions with the administration’s narrative that they had no other option but to eliminate Suliemani on the basis of grave imminent attacks he was planning against Americans.

On the other hand, criticism is mounting on the administration’s gross failure to present any convincing proof to justify its blunt use of lethal force.

A recently-published piece in The Atlantic titled ‘Why Kill Suleimani Now?’ allots sufficient space to the Obamas era’s strategy of targeted killing – a term used for strikes to kill terrorists in the ongoing war against Al-Qaeda and Daesh. If neutralizing a threat posed by a terrorist aligns its meaning with targeted killing then it means the said terrorist was purporting serious imminent threats that needed to be neutralized before it could successfully carry out its attack. In lieu of the notion, the Obama administration launched the targeted killing of Osama bin Laden and Trump administration credits itself with the targeted killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS.

Needless to say, that Qassem Suleimani was neither Osama nor al-Baghdadi. He was an agent and representative of the Iranian state and practicing as a person of importance second only to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei. Also, the men he trained and the proxies he engendered fought successfully against the UNO designated terrorist organizations, Al-Qaeda and ISIS. So, if the notion of the targeted killing is strictly attached to the kinetic way of elimination of non-state terrorists then certainly there is no ground to associate it to Suleimani’s killing.

The Charter of the United Nations governs in a way to ensure complete independence and freedom of a state in its internal and external affairs and delegitimizes intervention and impingement on a state’s right to sovereignty. In order to establish peace and security among nations, the UNO Charter (Article 2(4) UN Charter) strictly prohibits threats and use of force against other states: All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.

However, in certain cases, considering the necessity of the situation in terms of impending hostilities and dangers, the Charter allows a state to use force to defend its borders and protect its sovereignty. Here, Chapter VII of the UNO clearly establishes conditions for states on when to use force in their conducts: i) if the use of force is authorized by the UN Security Council to ensure collective security measures, and ii) if a state is defending itself against a foreign aggression (Article 51 of the UN Charter).

However, the irony of the situation is that the US and Iran are not in a war-like situation. In fact, for a brief period, after the sudden rise of the ISIS, both states have been informally partnering with each other to contain the regional menace constituted by unceasing brutalities and expansion of the terrorist organization. Additionally, before the arrival of Trump on the US Presidency, Iran and the US were parties to a highly significant 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Also, public sentiments aside, both states recognize the importance of each other’s role in managing the regional peace and security.

The question that continues to swirl is that what legal ground justifies Trump’s employment of lethal force to assassinate Suleimani. Interestingly though, neither Trump nor his secretary of state is claiming Suleimani’s killing in terms of an act in self-defense; instead, Trump and his aides are invoking the idea of pre-emptive strike to legitimize their assassination of Suleimani.

It should be noted that only after the 9/11 attacks, UN Security Resolution 1373 mandated use of force against non-state terrorist actors. The Resolution puts: Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, 2. Decides also that all States shall: (b) Take the necessary steps to prevent the commission of terrorist acts […].

Coming back to Suleimani’s assassination, hence, it is fundamental to ask whether the US actually faced an ‘imminent threat’ to its security and interests from Qassem Suleimani.

So far, the administration has failed to bring any proof to establish the legitimacy of its claim. In order to furnish ‘imminent threat’ of the scale that justifies Suleimani’s assassination, the administration has to bring forth specific details on the supposed impending dangers to American lives and interests due to Qasim Soleimani.

In fact, the whole story orchestrated by Trump and his aides exploded when Iraq’s caretaker Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi, a key ally of the US in the region, told the parliament that Suleimani’s visit to Iraq was a part of Iraq-led mediation efforts to ‘de-escalate’ tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Further, in an interview with the Washington Post, Abdul Mahdi said, ‘He came to deliver me a message from Iran, responding to the message we delivered from Saudi Arabia to Iran.” According to his statements, therefore, Suleimani was not on to planning a killing spree, as Trump administration portrayed; instead, he was on a mission to lay forth the foundation for peace and mediation in the Middle East region.

Since the assassination of Suleimani, Trump is ceaselessly conveying gangster-like threats, such as completely destroying civilian and cultural sites in Iran. This argument cleared the reality that Trump administration is lying and that the notion of ‘imminent threat’ is engineered to give cover to the administration’s unethical, illegitimate and brutal assassination of Qasim Suleimani.

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