Retaliation, but no World War III following US killing of Iran general: experts

Hundreds marched on the streets of Tehran hours after a U.S. air strike in Baghdad killed Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran's elite Quds Force. Some marchers burned U.S., Israeli and UK flags and chanted anti-U.S. slogans.

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – There will be serious retaliation, but the American killing of Tehran’s top general likely won’t lead to a third World War, according to experts on international relations.

Carleton University professor of International Relations, Elliot Tepper, is surprised the U.S. decided to open the new decade by killing Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, because taking him out was previously considered too risky.

“The potential for targeting him has always been there, but the decision has been made until now that the cost may outweigh the benefit,” Tepper said. “The reaction across the region could be so severe, it’s better to deal with him as is than try to take him out.”

The potential for a larger conflict is there if Iran were to target American naval assets or hit numerous other targets in the area, according to UBC political scientist Chris Erikson.

“It wouldn’t surprise me to hear of soft targets even in the United States being attacked,” he said.

The strike marked a major escalation in the conflict between Washington and Iran, as Iran vowed revenge for the killing of the senior military leader.

The two nations have faced repeated crises since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and imposed crippling sanctions. The U.S. said it was sending nearly 3,000 more Army troops to the Middle East.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned that “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the U.S. after the airstrike, calling Soleimani the “international face of resistance.” Khamenei declared three days of public mourning and appointed Maj. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s deputy, to replace him as head of the Quds Force.

Now, there are calls for restraint as the world waits to see what Iran will do but Tepper says he doesn’t believe this will lead to a full-scale war.

“My more immediate concern would be for our troops that are there. We do have operation impact,” he said. “Iran’s Quds Force has already struck in Argentina and Belgium so they have a global reach and certainly many targets within Iraq itself and across the region.”

The Department of National Defence says Canada has more than 900 Canadian deployments in the Middle East.

“This is an area of endemic conflict that the people of Yemen have been suffering, the people of Syria certainly in particular and across the region there are people suffering in localized warfare,” Tepper said.

Ahmed Alrawi is from Iraq and an assistant professor of new social media and public communication at Simon Fraser University. He says Soleimani is symbolic and his influence reaches through the MIddle East into Lebanon, Yemen and indirectly in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

“He’s symbolic,” said Alrawi. “He’s been instrumental in fighting radical Islamist in Syria and Iraq, especially in the fight against Al Quieda and Isis,” he added, acknowledging the general was an aggressor toward the U.S. on many occasions.

“The key element here is that all sides agree to keep it restrained. That is, everybody understands the rules of the game, know that something’s going to happen and manage it,” he said.

Some Syrians in the rebel-held provinces of Idlib and Aleppo have celebrated the targeted killing of the top Iranian general by distributing sweets.

Pictures posted on Twitter showed men with a tray bearing baklava and a card reading, “We congratulate the free people of Syria for the death of criminal Qassem Soleimani. May the pig Bashar be next,” referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The U.S. attack near Baghdad’s international airport received a different reaction in Pakistan, where protesters in several cities burned American flags to oppose Suleimani’s killing. The demonstrations were organized by the country’s minority Shiite Muslims.

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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