Gen. Soleimani assassination flagrant violation of int'l law

Iran's Embassy to Denmark in a statement on Wednesday marking first martyrdom anniversary of Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani said that assassination of the commander is a flagrant violation of international law.

When the US government assassination of General Qasem Soleimani was first announced, US President Donald Trump, boasted the attack had taken place on his order and took credit for the extra-judicial killing of a top official of a sovereign state in the capital of another sovereign state, the statement said.

It also said that "In the early hours of Friday morning, January 3, 2020, a US drone attack against two vehicles near Baghdad International Airport resulted in the martyrdom of top Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, and nine others, each with decisive and crucial roles in the fight against terrorist groups in the region.

The operation, carried out by the army of one country against a military commander of another, (Iran), officially in a non-combative state, has set a new precedence and constitutes a challenge for international relations and international law.

Major General Qasem Soleimani had travelled to Baghdad on a diplomatic mission to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, in order to exchange a political message, and engage in dialogue with Iraqi officials in efforts to de-escalate and ease tension in the region.

When the US government assassination of General Qasem Soleimani was first announced, US President Donald Trump, boasted the attack had taken place on his order and took credit for the extra-judicial killing of a top official of a sovereign state in the capital of another sovereign state.

As part of efforts to justify this clear manifestation of state terrorism, US officials in a flurry of statements and interviews from the Pentagon up to Trump himself, claimed the strike was meant to head off an imminent attack on Americans, and that the US had acted “in self-defense under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter”. However, in the weeks and days that passed, the Admin officials, pressed to give facts for their ‘imminent’ and “self-defense” case, failed to provide evidence to establish the “imminent threat” rationale, and instead, resorted to vague and often conflicting statements and bogus claims, without giving specifics about what, where, when and how.

Regardless of the fallacy and erroneousness of the given justification for assassination of General Qassem Soleimani, the claim of “anticipatory” self-defense fails to meet the standard requirement for such action under international law. Article 51 of the United Nations (UN) Charter provides for the right of self-defense only in response to an imminent threat or an armed attack. General Soleimani and his companions had arrived on a civilian flight and were neither planning, nor were they in any position to initiate an armed attack on anyone, let alone US troops or interests.

Further to the lack of credibility for the claim of “acting in self-defense” the extrajudicial killing contravenes the law of proportionality in the right to use forces. Self-defense in international law forbids states from using force, and more importantly, disproportionate force, based on mere speculation about perceived future threats. The US’s inability to provide any credible evidence of any attacks--real or perceived--rendered its argument invalid.

Furthermore, the Administration’s often self-contradictory statements not only failed to gain traction among the public but even its classified briefing at the House of Representatives and Senate did not convince the inner-circles in the Washington establishment, with one senator calling it “the worst briefing he had seen in nine years of service in the Senate” and another, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stating that “The officials just didn’t have the requisite evidence of an imminent threat. This was a lot of bluster."

Having failed to present a legal argument for its case, the US embarked on a campaign of misinformation, deceit and deliberate distortion of facts to portray Soleimani as a de-stabilizing actor in the region. In view of Soleimani’s record in fighting terror, notably against ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, this claim could not be further from the truth.

Soleimani’s role in the fight against terrorism and terrorist groups in the region is indisputable. In Afghanistan he was instrumental in the overthrow of the Taliban Regime and the subsequent formation of the first post-Taliban government in that country in 2001.  

Iraqi government officials, in statements, whilst negating US claims, have reaffirmed Qassem Soleimani’s crucial role in the formation of resistance groups and coordination of their operations in the fight to root ISIS out of their country after Iraqi regular armed forces had crumbled in the face of advancing ISIS thugs.

Soleimani got involved in Iraq in 2014 when ISIS was only 90 km from Baghdad and a stone’s throw from Erbil. When Iraq was left at the mercy of the ISIS thugs and criminals who openly swept across the country in their brand-new white Toyotas – courtesy of their creators, mentors and backers, Soleimani rushed to check their advance.    

In yet another contradiction, US officials claimed the presence of General Soleimani in Iraq had caused insecurity. They further attributed the fall 2019 riots and unrest in Iraq to him.

This was just more of the same baseless accusations. Qassem Soleimani had played a constructive role in the establishment of security and stability in Iraq, and on this ill-fated occasion he was in Baghdad to persuade various factions in Iraq to refrain from any violence in order to allow peace to return to Iraq after the defeat of ISIS.  Iraqi Prime Minister said that Soleimani was to deliver a message from Iran in response to regional initiatives to de-escalate tension in Iraq.

The assassination of Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi officials was also a breach of Iraqi sovereignty. Based on the principle of respect for the national sovereignty of states and the prohibition of interference, states have pledged to refrain from interfering in each other's internal affairs, and respect each other's national sovereignty.

An examination of the UN Security Council's conduct also demonstrates the importance attached to the principle of respect for the territorial sovereignty of states. Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi of Iraq characterized the assassination of high-ranking Iraqi officials or that of officials from a friendly country as a clear violation of Iraqi sovereignty and said: “Iraq as an independent state with an independent government and a member of the United Nations, like any other country, has the right to sovereignty, and therefore the US air operations and entry into Iraqi airspace to carry out these assassinations violated Iraqi sovereignty."

The assassination of General Soleimani, a commander and champion of the fight against ISIS and other terrorist groups tainted with unspeakable crimes, not only transgresses the bounds of the well-known principles of international law, but conveys an incongruous message that state terror awaits those who selflessly devote their life to fighting terror.

The illegal and criminal act by the US Administration could have potentially further jeopardized regional and world peace had it not been for the restraint exercised by the Iranian officials. Politicians, scholars, commentators and the media should offer a more direct rebuttal to such flagrant violation of international law. It is imperative that in the interest of the world community international laws be upheld and defended, and any breaches, including extrajudicial killings, be condemned in the strongest possible terms.