Putin & Erdogan Officially Launch Turkstream Gas Pipeline, Jointly Condemn Soleimani Assassination, Call for Ceasefire in Libya; Merkel Makes Urgent Diplomatic Trip to Moscow Over Iran

“The presidents of Russia and Turkey commented on the situation. The two leaders’ joint declaration, signed following the talks in Istanbul, states that the U.S.’s operation against General Soleimani undermined security in the region and the use of force by any party doesn’t facilitate finding solutions to complex problems. After a 1.5-hour meeting, the presidents of Russia and Turkey officially put the TurkStream pipeline into operation.”

In the immediate aftermath of the latest escalations between the U.S. and Iran, Putin invited German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Moscow for a meeting, which will take place Saturday. German newspaper DW reported the following in anticipation of the meeting:

Conflict between Iran and the US will top the meeting’s agenda and Merkel and Putin will also discuss Libya, Syria and Ukraine, spokespeople for both leaders said. Germany and Russia have traditionally had deep economic ties and, among NATO and European leaders, Merkel has been a welcome guest in Moscow…

…Merkel and Putin may have been pushed apart by the Ukraine crisis but they are being brought closer “by the one-sidedness and unpredictability of US actions,” Baunov told DW, pointing to US sanctions leveled at the Russian-German gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 last year, and US President Donald Trump’s recent decision to kill Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned US actions against Soleimani as “reckless,” while German Foreign Ministry spokesperson Rainer Breul said Berlin has not been privy to “information that would allow us to see that the US attack was based on international law.”

Russian analysts have said that following US actions, Merkel and Putin now share the goal of preventing a further escalation of fighting in the Middle East.

“Russia is interested in making sure that what is happening in the Middle East doesn’t have wider, bloodier consequences,” Middle East expert Andrei Ontikov said, adding that Germany and the rest of Europe can play a positive role in de-escalating the situation in the Middle East. “So, of course, Russia needs to coordinate its policies, including with Europe.”

Read the full article here.

Putin Responds to EU Resolution Blaming Start of WWII on Both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union

Front Left of Monument to Siege of Leningrad, which lasted 900 days and killed 800,000 Russians. St. Petersburg; photo by Natylie Baldwin, May 2017

This past September, in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II, the EU passed a resolution stating that the war was the result of the non-aggression pact signed by Germany and the Soviet Union, also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. Here is an excerpt of some of the language of the resolution:

C. whereas, as a direct consequence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, followed by the Nazi-Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty of 28 September 1939, the Polish Republic was invaded first by Hitler and two weeks later by Stalin – which stripped the country of its independence and was an unprecedented tragedy for the Polish people – the communist Soviet Union started an aggressive war against Finland on 30 November 1939, and in June 1940 it occupied and annexed parts of Romania – territories that were never returned – and annexed the independent republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia;

D. whereas the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact directly violated a number of international norms, treaties and agreements – including the 1928 Paris Treaty, the 1932 Non-Aggression Treaty between Poland and the USSR, and the 1934 Declaration of Non-Aggression between Poland and Germany – and condemned the international peace established by the Versailles Treaty to failure; whereas the consequences of this treaty between two of the most brutal dictators in modern history demonstrates the importance of historical events for contemporary politics;

E. whereas the West’s desire to appease totalitarian regimes meant that decisions were taken without consulting the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, as was the case in Locarno and Munich, which demonstrated the weakness of the West in the face of these regimes; whereas this paved the way for the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, which in turn led to the outbreak of the Second World War;

F. whereas Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union cooperated politically, economically and militarily with the common goal of conquering Europe and dividing it into spheres of influence, as envisaged in the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact;

In this way, the EU is effectively blaming both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany equally for starting the war and having essentially the same goals. This would have been a surprise to many decades of WWII historians.

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Cartoon of Hitler and Stalin each with a foot in the same boot

In a previous post, I detailed the journey of how the Soviet Union came to enter into the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. It was a Plan B intended to buy time and Stalin embarked on it only after numerous attempts to forge an anti-fascist alliance with Britain and France. I will excerpt some important parts below:

By 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt and some of his advisers had recognized the serious threat to world peace that Hitler’s Germany posed.  They also realized why Stalin signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact with the Nazis, though FDR made a personal last-minute appeal to Stalin not to (Butler 2015).

Stalin was well aware of Hitler’s anti-Slavic views as reflected in Mein Kampf and subsequent speeches by the German leader.  Along with Jews, Slavs were considered sub-human.  Shortly after taking power in Germany, Hitler’s Nazi party implemented an anti-Soviet propaganda campaign and physically attacked Soviet diplomatic personnel and trade representatives in Germany (Carley 2019). 

Stalin knew that it was just a matter of time before Hitler would come gunning for the Soviet Union on behalf of Lebensraum (“living space” for Aryans) and resources. Consequently, he hoped to establish trade with the U.S. in order to obtain materials that might be useful in a war with Germany. But however sympathetic FDR might have been on the matter, he faced domestic obstacles that included strong isolationist sentiment and possible accusations of being a communist sympathizer.

The desire of the Bolshevik leadership for trade and cordial relations with the U.S. to balance out anti-Russian dynamics in Europe and in the Pacific started with Lenin as early as 1919, despite Wilson’s sending U.S. troops to assist the counterrevolutionary cause.  Lenin still advocated for such a policy in 1921 (Butler 2015).  After his death in 1924, Stalin proceeded to seek official recognition of the Soviet government and only succeeded after Roosevelt took office in 1933.

After Hitler had taken Austria, Czechoslovakia, and the Sudetenland, Stalin vigorously sought a security pact with Britain and France to counter any potential German aggression.  But Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain continually rebuffed such offers.  The fact that the British (Sykes 2017) and French elites tended to be fearful of communism and even sympathetic to fascism as a bulwark against it didn’t help matters (Carley 2016).  Britain, in particular, actually enabled the early stages of Germany’s aggression at several key points. 

When in 1936 Hitler marched into the Rhineland – a neutral territory established by the Versailles Treaty as a buffer between Germany and France – Britain made it clear that it would not assist France in repelling the German invasion.  Hitler admitted that Germany would have had to retreat if the French would have fought them in the Rhineland (Freeman 2019).  Britain again declined to help the French defend the Sudetenland as France was obligated to do by treaty with Czechoslovakia.  The Soviet Union was intentionally left out of the infamous Munich conference later in the year [1938] where Czechoslovakia was divided up (Freeman 2019).

In terms of the Soviets being able to defend border countries, it was also a problem that the Polish leadership would not agree to Soviet troops on its soil even in the event of a German invasion (Butler 2015).

Finally, at the end of July of 1939, diplomats from France and Britain were sent to the Soviet Union, but Chamberlain had them placed on a slow freighter instead of quicker transport that was available.  Upon arrival, a further delay occurred when it was realized that the British diplomat did not have documents authorizing him to officially negotiate.  When Soviet officials were finally told that Britain had minimal divisions available for potential military operations, the Soviets concluded that Britain was not acting in good faith (Butler 2015; Carley 2016). [Note: Sources detailed in original post]

So as one can see, the thrust of the EU resolution is fallacious and ignores or distorts significant historical context. But the basic idea of equating Hitler and Stalin has been ongoing in certain political circles within the west for years. And while there are a multitude of crimes that Stalin can rightly be condemned for, starting WWII is not one of them.

This is not to say that the Red Army soldiers endeared themselves to the people of Central and Eastern Europe. I have a Czech-American co-worker who told me about some of the stories relayed to her by her grandparents who experienced both German and Soviet occupation during the war. Red Army soldiers were not above raping women, taking provisions – such as food – with little regard for the well-being of the civilians living there, and committing other abuses.

But the Soviet Union did not go into other countries with genocidal intent as Hitler did, openly advocating for the physical annihilation of the Jews and other “undesirable” groups, such as Gypsies.

Professor Paul Robinson wrote an excellent piece last summer debunking the idea that the Soviet Union, even under Stalin, could be equated with Nazi Germany:

What then of the effort to equate communism and Nazism? Superficially, one can see the attraction. After all, both the Soviets and the Nazis engaged in acts of conquest in Eastern Europe, and their conquests were accompanied by widespread repression. But once you start looking at the matter more closely, you see that the comparison is devoid of merit. The Nazis came intending genocide; the Soviets did not. The Nazis sought to eliminate all the signs and institutions of statehood of the conquered peoples; the Soviets did not – while they absorbed the Baltic states and parts of Belarus and Ukraine, they preserved those states as autonomous entities within their Union, and likewise when they overran countries like Poland, Romania, and Hungary they maintained them as independent states. This was far removed from Nazi practice.

Furthermore, the Nazis came as colonizers. Not only did they aim to displace the existing population, but they were interested in their captured territories only in terms of extracting resources. By contrast, the Soviets invested heavily in developing the lands they occupied, creating industry, educating the population, and supporting cultural endeavours. It could well be argued that they didn’t do a very good job of it, but the difference in intent was enormous – the one overtly destructive; the other, at least in theory, constructive.

Russia has not been silent on the EU’s scurrilous attempt to re-write history in a way that is a slap in the face to the country that saw 27 million of its citizens perish as a result of the Nazi invasion, “tore the guts out of the Nazi war machine” at Stalingrad as Churchill admitted, and liberated Auschwitz:

On September 20, Russia’s Foreign Ministry labeled the European Parliament resolution as politicized revisionism.

The ministry complained that the text did not mention Western powers’ 1938 Munich Agreement that led to Nazi Germany’s invasion of Czechoslovakia.

“The European Parliament marked yet another outrageous attempt to equate Nazi Germany — the aggressor country — and the Soviet Union, whose peoples, at the cost of huge sacrifices, liberated Europe from fascism,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

This is the backdrop in which Putin recently announced that he is working with various archival documents and will write an article responding to the EU resolution and the historical inaccuracies that form its foundation. Below is a video based on a public appearance Putin made a few weeks ago in which he discussed some of the historical facts and documentation that will underpin his forthcoming article.

Iran Attacks U.S. Military Bases in Iraq; Anti-War Protests Scheduled Across U.S. for Thursday

Today, Iran lobbed a missile attack at U.S. bases in Iraq:

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran claimed responsibility for a missile attack on a U.S. airbase in Iraq Wednesday morning local time, confirming warnings that President Donald Trump’s decision to assassinate Gen. Qasem Soleimani would spark military retaliation and possibly erupt into a full-blown regional conflict…

…In a statement following the attack on the al-Asad airbase, which was reportedly hit by more than a dozen missiles, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said “the brave soldiers of IRGC’s aerospace unit have launched a successful attack with tens of ballistic missiles on al-Asad military base in the name of martyr Gen. Qasem Soleimani.”

The IRGC warned that any countries in the region who are hosting U.S. military bases and personnel would be potential targets:

“We warn all allied countries of the U.S. that if attacks are launched from bases in their countries on Iran, they will be a target of military retaliation,” the IRGC said. “We call on Americans to recall all their soldiers back home to prevent more damage.”

There are reports that there have been no casualties and that Iran specifically targeted the Ayn al-Asad base to avoid casualties. Anbar province and Iraqi Kurdistan were also targeted, presumably to reduce the chances of Shia casualties.

Trump will not be addressing the country tonight and it is being suggested that deescalation is being pursued by both sides. Antiwar.com is reporting:

9:55 PM ET Iran says their retaliation is finished, and that they will stop attacking so long as the US doesn’t attack them anymore.

10:30 PM ET: Tweets from President Trump and Iranian FM Javad Zarif are suggesting a deescalation of the situation following the Iranian strikes. Zarif says Iran considers what they did “proportionate” to what the US did, and Trump is saying that “all is well.”

Veterans for Peace, along with other peace organizations, is coordinating antiwar demonstrations for this Thursday:

This moment calls for us to continue to take action in a multitude of ways. Veterans For Peace has endorsed two national days of action, including the January 9th No War With Iran Day of Action, powered by About Face: Veterans Against the War, National Iranian American Council (NIAC), MoveOn, Indivisible and Win Without War. Check and see if an event is in your city!

Here is the latest analysis from Kim Iversen, recorded right before Iran’s retaliation.

Iraqi PM: Soleimani Killed in Midst of Diplomatic Exchange Between Iran & KSA; Iraqi Parliament Votes to Expel U.S. Forces

Unsurprisingly, the Iraqi parliament has voted to expel all U.S. forces from the country in the wake of the assassination by drone of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani. Iran’s Press TV reported this morning:

Iraqi lawmakers have unanimously approved a bill, demanding the withdrawal of all foreign military forces led by the United States from the country following the assassination of Iran’s top military commander, Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and the second-in-command of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

…The lawmakers, citing Articles 59 and 109 of the Constitution and in line with their national and regulatory responsibilities as representatives to safeguard the security and sovereignty of Iraq, had earlier singed a five-point bill as follows:

Firstly, the central government in Baghdad is obliged to cancel its request to the US-led military coalition, which was purportedly fighting the Daesh Takfiri terrorist on the grounds, now that military operations have ended in the country, and victory over Daesh has been achieved. The Iraqi government should therefore put an end to the presence of any foreign troops and prevent the use of the Iraqi airspace.

Secondly, the government and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces must announce the number of foreign trainers they need, along with their locations, responsibilities, and duration of their contracts.

Thirdly, the Iraqi foreign minister, on behalf of the government, must turn to the United Nations and the Security Council to file a complaint against the United States for violations of the Iraqi sovereignty and security.

Fourthly, the Iraqi government has been required to conduct a thorough investigation into the recent US airstrike in Baghdad and inform the parliament of its results within seven days from the date of the approval of this bill.

Finally, the plan comes into force once it obtains the parliamentary approval.

Moqtada Al-Sadr complained that the bill did not go far enough, saying that the U.S. exit should be humiliating, that the U.S. embassy should be closed, and communication with the U.S. criminalized. The parliamentary vote is non-binding and it is up to the executive part of the government to approve its terms.

NPR reported that acting P.M. Abdul-Mahdi, who is set to leave the position amidst recent domestic protests, has recommended that U.S. troops leave:

Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi told parliament that Iraq was grateful for the assistance the U.S. has provided in fighting ISIS, but he is now recommending that the 5,200 U.S. troops stationed there permanently leave the country.

NPR further reported that the acting Iraq PM said that Trump had called him for assistance in mediating with Iran prior to Thursday’s deadly strike in Baghdad. Jane Arrar, co-author of the NPR report stated on her Twitter account that, according to Abdul-Mahdi,’s comments to the Iraqi parliament, Trump appears to have set up the hit on Soleimani with a diplomatic push:

This is stunning – #Iraq prime minister tells parliament US troops should leave. Says @realDonaldTrump called him to ask him to mediate with #Iran and then ordered drone strike on Soleimani. Says Soleimani carrying response to Saudi initiative to defuse tension when he was hit.

Iran expert Trita Parsi reported a translation of Abdul-Mahdi’s words:

“I was supposed to meet Soleimani at the morning the day he was killed, he came to deliver me a message from Iran responding to the message we delivered from Saudi to Iran” Iraqi PM said.”

Joshua Landis, a fellow at the non-interventionist Quincy Institute, commented:

“Iraqi Prime Minister AbdulMahdi accuses Trump of deceiving him in order to assassinate Suleimani. Trump, according to P.M. lied about wanting a diplomatic solution in order to get Suleimani on a plane to Baghdad in the open, where he was summarily executed.

The NYT is reporting that U.S. forces will be halting their anti-ISIS mission in Iraq, at least for the time being:

WASHINGTON — The American-led coalition in Iraq and Syria halted its yearslong campaign against the Islamic State on Sunday as United States forces braced for retaliation from Iran over a strike that killed a powerful Iranian commander, military officials said.

In a statement, the American command said that after repeated attacks on Iraqi and American bases in recent weeks, one of which killed an American contractor on Dec. 27, “we have therefore paused these activities, subject to continuous review.”

The article points out how the turn of events over the past few days is a potential lifeline to ISIS:

The cessation of those missions, to instead focus on security, is likely to allow what remains of the terrorist group to reconstitute itself in the ungoverned spaces where it flourishes, much as it did when Turkey invaded northern Syria in October. Worsening the situation, Iran-backed militias that were also fighting the Islamic State have turned their attention toward the United States.

In terms of possible retaliation, representatives and proxies of Iran have publicly stressed that civilians will not be targeted, only military assets with an aim of getting the U.S. military presence out of the Middle East:

Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan, Iran’s former defense minister and current military adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei, says Iran is not seeking war with the United States and will only target military sites. There are also military targets in the region that could be attacked by Iranian allies including those of the US and its allies such as Israel.  General Gholamali Abuhamzeh, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said: “Some 35 US targets in the region, as well as Tel Aviv, are within our reach.” 

Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah said during a speech that American civilians will not be targeted as that would only play into Washington’s hands:

As further background on the Trump administration’s aggression toward Iran, award-winning journalist, Jeremy Scahill, wrote an article for the Intercept outlining how a “cabal” of interests that wanted war with Iran embedded themselves in Trump’s campaign.

On August 3, 2016 — just three months before Donald Trump would win the Electoral College vote and ascend to power — Blackwater founder Erik Prince arranged a meeting at Trump Tower. For decades, Prince had been agitating for a war with Iran and, as early as 2010, had developed a fantastical proposal for using mercenaries to wage it.

At this meeting was George Nader, an American citizen who had a long history of being a quiet emissary for the United States in the Middle East. Nader, who had also worked for Blackwater and Prince, was a convicted pedophile in the Czech Republic and is facing similar allegations in the United States. Nader worked as an adviser for the Emirati royals and has close ties to Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince.

There was also an Israeli at the Trump Tower meeting: Joel Zamel. He was there supposedly pitching a multimillion-dollar social media manipulation campaign to the Trump team. Zamel’s company, Psy-Group, boasts of employing former Israeli intelligence operatives. Nader and Zamel were joined by Donald Trump Jr. According to the New York Times, the purpose of the meeting was “primarily to offer help to the Trump team, and it forged relationships between the men and Trump insiders that would develop over the coming months, past the election and well into President Trump’s first year in office.”

One major common goal ran through the agendas of all the participants in this Trump Tower meeting: regime change in Iran. Trump campaigned on belligerence toward Iran and trashing the Obama-led Iran nuclear deal, and he has followed through on those threats, filling his administration with the most vile, hawkish figures in the U.S. national security establishment. After appointing notorious warmonger John Bolton as national security adviser, Trump fired him last September. But despite reports that Trump had soured on Bolton because of his interventionist posture toward Iran, Bolton’s firing merely opened the door for the equally belligerent Mike Pompeo to take over the administration’s Iran policy at the State Department. Now Pompeo is the public face of the Suleimani assassination…

Read the full article here.

From the archive:

Report from Antiwar Protest in Portland, Oregon

Antiwar rally in Portland, Oregon. January 4, 2020.

In a day of coordinated actions across the country protesting the assassination of Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad this past week, dozens of people showed up in the cold drizzle to express their opposition to this act of war. Most of the crowd was white, but it was an otherwise diverse group, from young millenials who are relative newcomers to protesting to seasoned older people who’d been doing it for decades.

The first people I encountered were three young men and a young woman who were with the local chapter of a socialist worker’s organization. I introduced myself and chatted briefly with them as they waited for the rest of their group. They handed me a leaflet that said “Defeat U.S. Imperialism – Defend Iran.” The leaflet described the bipartisan imperial project of the U.S. government and decried the corporate media’s characterization of the assassination as an “impulsive” move by Trump. “Nonsense. It was a brazen provocation to force Iran to escalate…The Pentagon brass who carried out this act of state terrorism knew full well that they were starting a war. They figure that the U.S. overwhelming military might will prevail.”

I then walked down the block to where more people were congregating. As I made my way closer, I could see signs bobbing up and down. Slogans were being chanted as the first wave of cars passing through the intersection honked their horns in support.

I introduced myself to the two women in front who were enthusiastically waving their signs on the corner. One woman, waving a “Lock Him Up” sign said she had been in the military for 25 years and she was mortified by Trump as president. “I had visions of him starting WWIII if he became president,” she told me. The other woman spoke of her experience opposing the Iraq invasion in 2003.

A young couple was standing nearby with their signs to “end endless wars.” They were Bernie supporters and were new to protesting against war, having attended other protests against immigration policy earlier in the Trump presidency. They told me they liked Bernie’s unequivocal denunciation of the assassination. When I asked them what they thought of Tulsi’s antiwar stance they said they didn’t really know much about her.

At one point I spotted a couple who appeared to be Muslims as the woman had the traditional scarf on. I wondered if maybe they had family from the Middle East and wanted to get their perspective. When I tried to ask them about what brought them out to the protest, however, they were reticent to open up, so I moved along.

Another young couple was talking to a young woman they’d met at the protest when I approached. They also were Bernie supporters but said that Tulsi was their second choice, citing concerns about Tulsi only seeming to oppose wars that would involve regime change but not necessarily opposing the bombing of perceived terrorists. They weren’t happy with most of the other Democratic candidates’ responses to the assassination and said they didn’t really pay attention to the corporate media anymore, relying instead on alternative outlets like the Empire Files and the Gray Zone. They had recently participated in protests involving climate change and racism.

The young lady they were talking to said she had majored in Middle East studies in college and said, “I’m sick of wars based on lies.” She considered herself an anti-imperialist.

Another couple, probably in their 30’s, was out with their toddler in a stroller and a friend. The woman told me that this seemed like “the time to get up off the couch and act.” The man, originally from New York, had past experience as an organizer and spoke to me at length about how we didn’t have a real antiwar movement right now in this country but how it was badly needed. He described the U.S. as an imperial power that had not respected other nations’ sovereignty for years, with the political class assuming that they’d never have to bear the costs of their reckless decisions.

He also considered the mainstream media to be jingoistic and consistently remiss in doing their job when it comes to war and peace issues. While he lamented the lack of an antiwar movement, he did express some hope that one could emerge due to the technological capability of the internet and social media, which had enabled major scale-ups very quickly on other issues like the climate. However, he also emphasized that major work would have to be done to build up the movement locally in various places in order to actually effect change – such as sustained direct actions – as opposed to just mobilizing rallies.

I spoke to an older couple who said they’d been involved in antiwar protesting since the 1980’s. They also were Bernie supporters, stating that he’d been consistent in his opposition to war and the defense budgets that enable the war machine. The woman said she appreciated Tulsi speaking out against war but that she had other concerns about her as a candidate. They expressed distrust of the corporate media and said they followed some alternative media like Truthdig. The man was a fan of Chris Hedges’ writing, stating that the provocation this past week was another escalation in a long line of militarist policies by the U.S. in which many “corporations and the military-industrial-complex profit from war.”

LIttle girl leads the crowd in a chant of “What are we fighting for? Peace! When do we want it? Now!”

Mass rally in Times Square, New York:

Mass rally in Los Angeles, CA:

Hundreds of Thousands of Iranians Take to Streets in Protest/Mourning of Soleimani’s Death; More U.S. Strikes Kill Iraqi Militia Commanders; Iraqi Gov’t to Hold Emergency Session on U.S. Presence While Al-Sadr Announces Reactivation of His Army

In the wake of the U.S. drone assassination of the head of the Iran’s IRGC, Qassem Soleimani, hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets in protest of Soleimani’s death amid the official 3 days of mourning, uniting a sometimes fractured country. Common Dreams reported yesterday:

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians flooded the streets of Tehran and other cities across the country Friday to condemn the U.S. assassination of military leader Qassem Soleimani, discrediting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s prediction that the people of Iran would “view the American action last night as giving them freedom.”

Images and videos of massive rallies circulated on social media as Iranians gathered following Friday prayers to denounce Soleimani’s killing, which was ordered by U.S. President Donald Trump and carried out via drone strike Thursday night.

Soleimani’s assassination, according to Al-Jazeera, “triggered a wave of emotions and garnered a response of solidarity and retribution across the otherwise divided Iranian political spectrum.”

Iranians rally in the capital Tehran on January 3, 2020 following the assassination of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Major General Qasem Soleimani in a U.S. strike on his convoy at Baghdad international airport. (Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images)

The Iraqi parliament is set to hold an emergency meeting today to consider the expulsion of U.S. troops from the country. The two largest political blocs in parliament, which don’t always agree, will likely unite behind giving U.S. forces – which had a specific mandate of fighting ISIS to justify their presence – the boot.

Meanwhile, the leader of one of those blocs. Moqtada Al-Sadr, has announced reactivation of his once formidable army. According to Antiwar.com:

Influential Shi’ite cleric and leader of the top political bloc in Iraq Moqtada al-Sadr has announced Friday that he is reactivating his paramilitary group, the Mahdi Army, issuing a statement on Twitter telling them to “be ready.”

The Mahdi Army was a major faction from the US occupation of Iraq in 2003 until 2007, when they made a deal with the Iraqi government to disband. Sadr has at times suggested he would reform the militia to ensure the US complied with pullout dates.

Sadr has long opposed the Iraqi government’s reliance on both Iran and the US, and the reconstitution of the Mahdi Army is a response to recent US attacks against other Shi’ite militias.

Washington has not been content to rest since it’s deadly attack on Soleimani’s convoy on Thursday. It followed up with another drone attack on a convoy of Iraqi militia leaders in northern Baghdad yesterday. Zerohedge reports:

Less than 24 hours after a US drone shockingly killed the top Iranian military leader, Qasem Soleimani, resulting in equity markets groaning around the globe in fear over Iranian reprisals (and potentially, World War III), the US has gone for round two with Reuters and various other social media sources reporting that US air strikes targeting Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units umbrella grouping of Iran-backed Shi’ite militias near camp Taji north of Baghdad, have killed six people and critically wounded three, an Iraqi army source said late on Friday.

Iraqi official media has also confirm that two vehicles were targeted north of Baghdad, carrying commanders of the pro-Iran militias in the PMUs.

The Pentagon also announced yesterday that it’s sending 3.500 more troops to the Middle East, most likely Kuwait.

Some of you may have heard Soleimani referred to as someone with “blood on his hands” and responsible for the deaths of Americans. Award-winning journalist and expert on Iran, Gareth Porter, has debunked those claims. Linking to an article he wrote recently for Truthout, Porter announced on Twitter:

Big media are all repeating the Trump-Pompeo justification that #Soleimani was responsible for killing 600 American boys in Iraq. But as I’ve documented in great detail, that was a completely fabricated story Cheney was using to justify an attack on Iran.

In the article from July of 2019, Porter explains how this claim made by Trump administration officials this past summer was a repackaging of claims made by vice president Dick Cheney during the Bush II administration:

The history of the myth begins with Vice President Dick Cheney’s determination to attack Iran sometime before the end of the George W. Bush administration. Cheney had contemplated a campaign of U.S. airstrikes on Iran, to be justified by charging that Iran was trying to produce a nuclear weapon. But that rationale for a U.S. military strike on Iran was unanimously rejected by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a December 13, 2006, meeting with Cheney and President George W. Bush, according to a report by political columnist Joe Klein in TIME magazine.

After that rebuff, Cheney began to focus on another rationale for war on Iran: the alleged Iranian role in killing U.S. troops in Iraq. On January 10, 2007, President George W. Bush gave a speech that included language accusing Iran of “providing material support for attacks on American troops.” Although Bush did not threaten in that speech to retaliate against Iran, his words established a legal and political basis for a possible future attack, according to Hillary Mann Leverett, former National Security Council staff director for the Persian Gulf, in an interview with me in 2008.

After Gen. David Petraeus took over as commander of coalition forces in Iraq in January 2007, the command went all out to support Cheney’s strategy. Its main argument was that Iran was providing Shiite militias with the powerful roadside bombs called Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs) that were causing increasing number of U.S. casualties in Iraq.

But the evidence proved otherwise. Hezbollah — not Iran — had been well known as the world’s most knowledgeable designer and user of EFPs. Michael Knights, who had been following the role of EFPs in Iraq for nearly three years for a private security company in London, told me in an exclusive interview in January 2007 that it was Hezbollah that had transferred EFPs and components for manufacture to Palestinian militants after the second intifada began in 2000. He also observed in a detailed account in Jane’s Intelligence Review in 2006 that the first EFPs to appear in Iraq in 2004 were believed to have come from Hezbollah.

Newsday had reported on August 12, 2005, moreover, that Shiite militiamen had begun copying Hezbollah techniques for building as well as using EFPs, based on Lebanese and Iraqi official sources.

The U.S. military intelligence chief in Iraq had claimed in September 2006 that the C-4 explosive used in EFPs in Iraq bore the same batch number as the C-4 found on a Hezbollah ship said by Israeli officials to be bound for Palestinian fighters in 2003. But Knights observed this statement showed that Iran wasn’t shipping the materials for EFPs to Shiites in Iraq. If Iran had been shipping the C-4 to Iraq the previous year, he pointed out, the batch number would have been different from the one given to Hezbollah at least four years earlier.

Read the full article here.

Initial Reactions from Russian Government to Assassination of Iranian Military Commander

This compilation is courtesy of Russia Matters, a project of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School at Harvard:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron have expressed concern over the killing of Soleimani by U.S. forces during a phone call on Jan. 3. “Both sides have expressed concern over the death of Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force Q. Soleimani in a U.S. missile strike at the Baghdad airport,” according to the Kremlin press service. (TASS, 01.03.20)
  • “We regard the killing of Soleimani as a result of an American missile strike on the outskirts of Baghdad as a reckless step which could lead to a growth of tensions across the region,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said. (RFE/RL, 01.03.20)
  • “We have encountered a new reality—the murder of a representative of the government of a sovereign state, an official in the absence of any legal grounds for these actions,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said. (Interfax, 01.03.20)
  • The killing of Soleimani will lead to an escalation of military-political tensions in the Middle East, negatively affecting the global security system, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement Jan. 3. The ministry has highlighted the contribution of Soleimani to combating the Islamic State in Syria. (TASS, 01.03.20)
  • By killing Soleimani, the U.S. ruined any hope for resolving the problem around the Iranian nuclear program, chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev has said. “The last hopes for resolving the problem of the Iranian nuclear program have been bombed. Iran can now accelerate production if of nuclear weapons, even if it has not been planning to do so,” Kosavhev wrote on his Facebook page.  Kosachev has called the killing “the worst-case scenario.” (The Moscow Times, 01.03.20, Interfax, 01.03.20, Kosachev’s Facebook page, 01.03.20)
  • “The Americans have crossed the ‘red line,’ and this time the consequences can be most serious,” chairman of the Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Leonid Slutsky said. (TASS, 01.03.20)

Breaking: U.S. Airstrike Reportedly Kills Iran’s Top Military Commander

Details are still coming in but it is being reported by Iraqi media and others that Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, has been killed in a U.S. airstrike. Almasdar News is reporting:

The head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, has reportedly been killed in a strike near the Baghdad International Airport, along with senior leaders of the Iraqi Shia militia the US blamed for the attack on its embassy.

“The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani,” said Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces, as cited by Reuters…

…Reuters reported that the Pentagon has claimed responsibility for the strike, citing an unnamed US official.

According to the military analyst The Saker, Russian media is reporting the following:

The Telegram channel of RIA News reports that the US has claimed that it was responsible for that attack.

So far, PressTV [Iranian state news outlet] has NOT confirmed the death of Soleimani but other media outlets have.

Middle East analyst Danny Makki explained on Twitter the significance of the killing of Soleimani:

Qassem Suleimani was more than just a General or a military leader, he was Iran’s ultimate symbol of power, strength & influence in the Middle East, rushing between Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, his assassination is not just an escalation, its effectively a declaration of war.

Two questions come to mind. First, how can Iran not treat this as an overt act of war? Secondly, how was this act by the U.S. government in the interest of Americans?

Update #1: It is now being reported that Trump personally ordered the assassination of Suleimani.

Iran expert Trita Parsi has publicly said the following:

Spoke to a very knowledgeable person about what Iran’s response to Soleimani’s assassination might be. This would be the equivalent of Iran assassinating Petreus or Mattis, I argued. No, he responded, this is much bigger than that…

Update #2: Here are a couple of videos from The Hill’s Rising morning show in which Iran expert Trita Parsi is interviewed, along with journalist Aaron Mate.