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Westlake Legal Group > terrorism

Mark Francois: Johnson must keep his promises on Northern Ireland veterans – not sacrifice them to satisfy Sinn Fein

Mark Francois is a former Defence Minister, and is MP for Rayleigh and Wickford.  He is Deputy Chairman of the European Research Group.

After three years of a power vacuum in Northern Ireland, it is extremely welcome that the DUP and Sinn Fein have finally managed to agree a deal to re-establish the Northern Ireland Executive. Julian Smith, the Northern Ireland Secretary, deserves great credit for exercising the patience of Job in order to bring both sides back around the table to achieve a successful conclusion.

However, one remaining difficulty is how to address so-called ‘legacy issues’ arising from the aftermath of the Troubles, while feelings still run deep in both communities and indeed among Armed Forces Veterans as well. The recent Conservative manifesto was very clear when it stated, on page 52:

‘A Conservative Government understands the sacrifices made by Armed Forces personnel, veterans and their families. That is why we will introduce new legislation to tackle the vexatious legal claims that undermine our Armed Forces and further incorporate the Armed Forces Covenant into law’

On page 45, regarding the future of Northern Ireland, the manifesto also states:

‘We will continue to seek better ways of dealing with legacy issues that provide better outcomes for victims and survivors and do more to give veterans the protections they deserve.’

The recently agreed deal in Northern Ireland, entitled New Decade, New Approach, contained the following statement on page 14:

‘In moving to a better, more prosperous and shared future the parties recognise the need to address the legacy of the past. To that end, the parties are committed to working together and to doing everything possible to heal wounds and eliminate the issues that divide us.’

When Boris Johnson was campaigning for the leadership of the Conservative Party last summer, he nailed his colours unequivocally to the mast in support of veterans. On 12th July, The Sun carried a splash headline entitled ‘V for Victory’, and inside contained a three point ‘Veterans Pledge’ signed by the now-Prime Minister. This offered to set up an Office of Veterans’ Affairs within the Cabinet Office (now headed up by the excellent Johnny Mercer, himself an Afghanistan veteran); secondly, to enshrine the Military Covenant into law; and thirdly – crucially in this context – to introduce:

‘New legislation to end repeated and vexatious investigations into historical allegations against our servicemen and women – including in Northern Ireland – to be passed before the next General Election’.

That could not possibly be any clearer. So that’s it then? Well, not quite.

The difficulty is that in the previous Stormont House Agreement of 2014, Unionists and Nationalists agreed to address so-called ‘legacy issues’ arising from the Troubles via a Historic Investigations Unit (HIU). However, the playing field was completely tilted against Armed Forces veterans by Tony Blair’s previous decision to grant ‘Letters of Comfort’ to around 300 alleged IRA terrorists, which meant, in effect, that they could never be prosecuted for alleged crimes resulting from terrorism. Whilst the Government continues to argue that these letters have no legal validity, on the one occasion they attempted to bring one of its holders to trial, John Downey, the alleged Hyde Park bomber, he produced a letter in court, whereupon the trial collapsed (although he is now, ironically being prosecuted in the Republic).

British Army veterans possess no such ‘Letters of Comfort’,  and many are extremely anxious about the NIO’s proposals to reopen investigations into every single fatality that took place during the Troubles (which total around 3,500). These stretch back over 50 years to 1969, when British troops were first deployed to Northern Ireland under Operation Banner. The NIO regard the Stormont House Agreement as akin to Holy Writ, and appear adamant that this process must continue – as are Sinn Fein.

Around 300,000 British Army Personnel served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, over 700 of whom were killed. Many of the survivors are now quite elderly today. It is worth remembering that without the sacrifice and courage of the British Army – aided by the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Ulster Constabulary GC – there would never have been a Good Friday Agreement in the first place. It is only because these people had the courage to put on a uniform and fight terrorists – both Republican and Loyalist – that we have any chance of peace in Northern Ireland at all today. Many commentators in the media repeatedly overlook this vital point.

Because of fears that any investigations would be hopelessly one-sided, back in October 2018 I and several other former Army officers who are now MPs organised a letter to the then Prime Minister. Signed by over 100 Tory colleagues and 50 peers (including four previous Chiefs of the Defence Staff), it was headed ‘Defending those who defended us’, and argued that an endless process of investigation and re-investigation was completely unacceptable.

Moreover, the All-Party House of Commons Defence Committee (HCDC) investigated this issue in great depth in both 2016 and again in 2019 (I served on the second report) and recommended an alternative way forward, involving a Qualified Statute of Limitations (QSOL) which would set a deadline beyond which cases could not be re-opened unless there was compelling new evidence. For the avoidance of doubt this is not an amnesty but a recommendation to draw a line under the events of the past, unless overwhelming new evidence is forthcoming.

This matters greatly to a large number of British Army veterans, some of whom, such as Corporal Major Dennis Hutchins, are literally dying, with reinvestigation still hanging over them like the sword of Damocles. I also raised at Prime Minister’s Questions last May the case of Sergeant David Griffin, a former Royal Marine who in 1972 killed an IRA gunman as he was about to murder one of his colleagues at a guard post.

He was fully investigated at the time and cleared for firing the fatal shot – he took a life to save a life – but he has since been reinvestigated. The PSNI Investigators knew exactly where to find him, as he is now a pensioner at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. There is surely no other country on earth that would deal with its veterans in this way – all of which, ultimately, is designed to satisfy Sinn Fein/IRA.

There is also the powerful political point that many of those 300,000 veterans came from northern regiments. Many people living in the so-called Red Wall seats which we captured from Labour at the General Election will have an elderly relative who served in Northern Ireland. For instance, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (who recruit many of their soldiers from the North East of England) undertook eight tours of Northern Ireland between 1970 and 1980 alone. There are many other northern regiments whose antecedent units served bravely on Operation Banner and their families, many of whom lent us their vote, will fully expect us to protect them.

In summary, the HIU route threatens unacceptable uncertainty for thousands of veterans for years. The Prime Minister has pledged in a national newspaper to end this abuse and I believe him. The Northern Ireland Secretary is a decent man, as indeed is Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, and it should not be beyond the wit of man for these powerful and reasonable politicians to get together in a room and broker some solution which in no way undermines the peace process, but which ensures that those who had the moral and physical courage to serve their country in uniform are not disadvantaged as a result. We owe them no less.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Julian Brazier: Volunteers can help protect us from terror

Sir Julian Brazier is a former Defence Minister, and was MP for Canterbury from 1987-2017. He is Chairman of a security company.

All eyes are on the foreign policy implications of the Soleimani assassination, but the incident also demands a look from the other end of the telescope – at how Britain should address homeland security.

Salisbury has seen a chemical attack by the Russians. In Manchester, London and elsewhere Sunni Islamists have struck. A neo-fascist has assassinated an MP and the assassination reminds us of the threat from Tehran’s Shiite fundamentalists.

The government is due to conduct a Defence and Security Review and has a strong cast of professional advisers to assist it. But any examination of homeland security – a key strand of that review – should start by accepting a premise which is deeply unpalatable to most such advisers; the conventional arms of the state can do very little more to protect against some of the worst threats the public faces.

To take some examples. A lone, and so far unnoticed, individual who has acquired the skill to make an effective bomb (or even is able to steal a lorry) is unlikely to be spotted by our intelligence services, excellent as they are. Yet a lone bomber killed 23 and injured far more at Manchester Arena in 2017.

At a time when desperate – and poorly resourced – migrants can cross the Channel undetected in inflatable boats, a terrorist unit, with an arsenal of weapons could slip into any of our hundreds of marinas, in a yacht, with little risk of detection, by the Royal Navy, Coastguard or Border force.

Misha Glenny outlines in his book MacMafia how ex-spetsnaz Russian hitmen regularly fly to Britain, kill the targets of Russia’s state and crime bosses, and leave before the body has been found.  The Skripal case was arguably only unusual because the means (chemical warfare) and the choice of target (a prominent defector) led Mrs May’s government to take international action.

What can we do about this? Extra full-time manpower and assets for existing government agencies cannot provide a solution. If all the extra police officers the government plans to recruit were to be directed into protecting public events and places, from football matches to music festivals to crowded shopping centres – abandoning cherished plans to crack down on conventional crime – the effect would be marginal. 10,000 extra bodies – on shifts and with holidays – would not go far.

The reality is that most of those elements of security are, and will continue to be, provided by the private sector. But, if the private security industry is to be effective in countering terrorists, it needs a closer relationship with government on everything from training qualifications (which are not fit for this purpose) through to planning and legal issues.

At sea, we used to have various volunteer forces including an afloat section of the Coastguard – today their only volunteers are the excellent Rescue Service (which focuses on coastal work like cliff rescue and countering beach pollution). If we restored the afloat branch, drawn from yachtsmen, fishermen, ferry staff and others who spend their work or leisure time in our territorial waters, they could be used to watch out for suspicious behaviour. Introducing drone patrols could capture every small boat movement, but the Border Force cannot possibly patrol every marina and tiny port. Having a large pool of trained volunteers who watch out for suspicious arrivals in yachts and small cargo vessels greatly increases the chances of detecting those who wish us ill.

One cheap and highly efficient facility is the National Maritime Information Centre which integrates information from the armed forces, intelligence services, coastguard etc near Portsmouth. This would be so much more effective if it could harness a large pool of volunteers who spend time around our coastline and – crucially – have some training and direction in looking for the bad guys. A similar organisation based on flying clubs could help with the vulnerability of our small airstrips to incursion by terrorists and organised crime.

Ruth Edwards’ imaginative proposals for boosting cyber security in the commercial world would fit well with such a strategy, but we also need to expand the cyber reserves – so that the critical elements of the state can rely on an affordable and top quality surge capability when a large-scale threat emerges.

More widely, if a serious incident takes place, the default position is to use armed police and, if they are unable to cope, call in Special Forces. This is fine provided incidents come in ones or twos and are well-defined – for example bombing or shooting or stabbing incidents. Salisbury showed how much more resource is rapidly absorbed by a more sophisticated attack.  To cope with some kinds of incident, hundreds or even thousands of soldiers may be required to cordon and search or lock down a large area – and the perpetrators of the Salisbury incident were just one very small team.

A capable and well-resourced enemy might well start a number of diversions in cities before making his main attack – or attacks – hundreds of miles away, perhaps with chemical weapons or just an imaginative use of explosives across a range of locations. A cyber dimension could make a bad situation much worse and quickly.

So, there needs to be a backup on the ground. At present that is provided by the Regular Army but, excellent though our army is, it is now largely concentrated on a few giant sites, like Tidworth and Catterick, a long way from our major cities. Yet there is no substitute for local knowledge in an anti-terror operation, as the Ulster Defence regiment showed in the Northern Irish troubles.

The Americans rightly call out their National Guard for this kind of work and the Houghton Report, Future Reserves 2020, in 2011, recommended that our Reserve forces, with 350 centres up and down the country, be used in this way.

At the macro level, there is a serious danger that the next Defence and Security Review will try to address some of these issues by shifting resource away from our depleted deployable forces to provide more paid professional people working in homeland security. I hope I have shown that this would achieve little. A few extra patrol boats would enhance coastal security – and perhaps help police the post-Brexit fishing regime – but go nowhere near filling the gaps in our coastline. Further expanding our excellent intelligence services would only marginally increase the small proportion of suspects who can be kept under observation at any one time.

And squeezing still further the budget for deployable forces to pay for such items hardly seems wise. Does anybody believe that we need less warships to cope with the kind of situation which is emerging in the Straits of Hormuz or for that matter the South China Sea? Our tiny air force, with just eight remaining combat squadrons and small army with its aging equipment are hardly sensible targets for cuts in a dangerous world either.

Ben Wallace was right to point out on Sunday that we may not be able to depend on the United States indefinitely. If that is the case, we shall have to expand all these forces.

Instead we should return to a critical theme of the 2010 review – the Whole Force Concept: regulars and civil servants (the state professionals) alongside reserves and contractors. This theme almost disappeared from its 2015 successor.

What is needed to make us safer is to harness a much larger part of the population, beyond government full-time professionals, bringing in the reserve forces, new – and existing – volunteer groups and private sector security.

Security needs to become a responsibility of the nation, not just government’s professional forces. At the Fishmongers Hall a small group of gallant people and the volunteer organisations who responded – before and after the Police – showed us that some at least, in this great nation, are up for it.

 

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Daniel Hannan: Revolutionary Iran is a threat to our national security – not just regional stability. It must be confronted and defeated.

Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author, and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.

In 2015, MI5 uncovered an Iranian-sponsored bomb factory in Hillingdon. Police found three metric tonnes of ammonium nitrate – the explosive material used in, among other terrorist abominations, the Oklahoma bombing.

The date is important. A few months earlier, Britain, as one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, had struck a deal with Iran that was meant to provide for that country’s reintegration into the world community as a non-nuclear state. 2015 was arguably the high point of the international community’s policy of constructive engagement with the ayatollahs. The bomb-making operation, in other words, was not a response to British or American provocation. It was simply an example of Iran being Iran – the world’s pre-eminent exporter of violence.

There is a tendency in Britain to think of Iran simply as a regional nuisance – a threat, no doubt, to Israel, and to some of Britain’s Arab allies, but hardly a global menace. This is fundamentally to misunderstand the way the mullahs think.

Consider the following list of countries: Albania, Argentina, Bahrain, Denmark, France, India, Kenya, Thailand. What do they have in common? Only this: they have all been on the receiving end of Iranian-sponsored terrorism, most of it masterminded by the late and unlamented Qasem Soleimani.

A strange list, no? I mean, what possible interest could the Iranian state have in, say, Argentina? In 1994, a Jewish cultural centre in Buenos Aires was bombed, with 85 fatalities and hundreds of injuries. The trail led back to Teheran. What were the mullahs trying to achieve? Could it have been precisely Argentina’s distance from Iran that made it attractive? That Iran’s leaders wanted to show that they could strike anywhere? That state sovereignty, territorial jurisdiction and geographical remoteness meant nothing to them?

When we think of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, we tend to overemphasise the first word and underemphasise the second. Yes, Iran’s leaders are theocrats; but, far more immediately, they are revolutionaries, committed to spreading their revolt across the world.

Like the French revolutionaries after 1789, or the Russian revolutionaries after 1917, they immediately spilled out from behind their borders, sponsoring militias and terrorist cells on every continent.

In retrospect, their intentions were clear from their first act, namely the attack on the US embassy in Teheran. It is hard, forty years on, to emphasise quite how shocking it was to make hostages of diplomatic personnel. The sanctity of legation buildings is the cornerstone of the international order. When, for example, Gen Galtieri invaded the Falkland Islands, British diplomats in Buenos Aires never seriously feared for their safety. Even during the Second World War, when barbaric dictatorships fought to destroy one another, diplomatic personnel were peacefully evacuated through neutral countries.

In refusing to recognise that norm, the ayatollahs were sending out the clearest possible signal: “Your rules don’t apply to us. We don’t recognise your notions of international law”. And so they have continued for four decades.

Their apologists in the West want to make all this about us. If only we stopped meddling in the region, they argue, there would be no blowback. If only we hadn’t backed the coup against Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953, all would have been well. If we carry on intervening, we can hardly complain when we get attacked in return. This line is taken especially strenuously by Jeremy Corbyn, a former employee of an Iranian state TV station.

But it misses the nature of the regime in Teheran. Revolutionaries are precisely that – revolutionary. Their regimes depend on a degree of overseas conflict. Again like the French and Russian revolutionaries, the Iranian revolutionaries win support at home by picking fights abroad. In Leninist terms, they export their internal contradictions. Or, to borrow a metaphor from chaos theory, they drink order from their surroundings.

During the years when the West, led by the EU, sought to draw Iran back into the comity of nations, the ayatollahs continued to sponsor militias from the Balkans to the old Silk Road Khanates. They backed terrorist bombs, cyberattacks and drone shootings. The event that immediately triggered the retaliation against Soleimani was another Iranian attack on an American embassy – this time in Iraq. Those who warn us sonorously against about “the cost of escalation” should at least acknowledge the cost of non-escalation.

During the Cold War, Western leaders were careful to stress that their quarrel was with revolutionary communism, not with the peoples of Russia, East Germany or Cuba. They were clear that the problem was communism itself: that its internal logic made it expansionist and destabilising.

Precisely the same applies today. Few nations can match Persia in the depth of their civilization. But that country’s present leaders are a menace to their people, their neighbours and everyone else. They need to be confronted and defeated.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Pressed for Details on Suleimani Strike, Trump Administration Gives Few

Westlake Legal Group 07dc-intel-4-sub-facebookJumbo-v2 Pressed for Details on Suleimani Strike, Trump Administration Gives Few United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J Terrorism Targeted Killings Suleimani, Qassim Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Iraq Iran Haspel, Gina Espionage and Intelligence Services Esper, Mark T Diplomatic Service, Embassies and Consulates Defense Department Classified Information and State Secrets central intelligence agency

WASHINGTON — Under increasing pressure to defend the killing of a top Iranian general in Iraq, senior Trump administration officials offered new justifications but little detail on Tuesday, citing threats to the American Embassy in Baghdad and intelligence suggesting other imminent attacks that helped prompt the strike.

Democrats stepped up their criticism of intelligence that the administration provided immediately after the drone strike last week that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The administration’s formal notification to Congress, which remains classified, provided no information on future threats or the imminent attack, officials who have read it said.

Several said it was improperly classified, and Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, called it “vague and unacceptably unspecific.” Lawmakers pressed for more answers on Tuesday at an intelligence briefing by administration officials.

Iranian forces or their proxies were days from attacking American personnel when President Trump decided to strike General Suleimani, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper told reporters at the Pentagon. Mr. Esper added that General Suleimani had traveled to Baghdad to coordinate attacks following up on a two-day siege of the United States Embassy there last week by pro-Iranian demonstrators. He declined to elaborate but called the intelligence “exquisite.”

Mr. Trump was more forceful but no more specific. General Suleimani “was planning a very big attack and a very bad attack for us and other people,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “And we stopped him.”

Their defense of the killing came as Tehran launched its initial response, firing a dozen ballistic missiles early Wednesday from Iranian territory targeting American forces in Iraq’s Anbar Province and Kurdish region. A Pentagon official confirmed that the missiles were launched at bases hosting American forces, but provided no initial damage assessment.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered a direct and proportional response to the Suleimani killing, not the kind of covert action through proxy forces that Tehran has traditionally employed. American officials in recent weeks warned about the threat from short-range ballistic missiles that Iran had smuggled into Iraq.

As the threats from Tehran increased, several NATO allies conducting training for Iraqi troops — including Canada, Germany and Croatia — decided at least temporarily to remove some troops from Iraq. Canada, which leads the NATO training mission, announced it was withdrawing its 500 troops and sending them to Kuwait.

Fueled by what they have called weak and inadequate briefings from the administration, Democrats grew increasingly vocal in their skepticism, arguing the administration has a high burden to meet to show that the strike was justified.

Some drew comparisons to the flawed intelligence on weapons of mass destruction used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the recent revelations about the failures of the war in Afghanistan.

“Between no weapons of mass destruction, no clear and present danger, the Afghanistan papers — there’s plenty to be skeptical about,” Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a brief interview. “The burden is on the administration to prove the truthfulness and veracity of how they made their decision.”

The C.I.A. director, Gina Haspel, has spoken with multiple lawmakers in recent days, some of whom have urged her to be more forthcoming about the intelligence behind the killing. Ms. Haspel, in turn, has emphasized that she had serious concerns about the threat posed by General Suleimani if the administration held off on targeting him.

Before the drone strike that killed the general, the pro-Iranian protesters had attacked barricades outside the American Embassy in Baghdad, and American officials feared the attacks could resume and the situation could easily grow more dangerous, threatening the diplomats and military personnel who work at the compound.

General Suleimani had arrived in Baghdad to pressure the Iraqi government to kick out American forces after attacks by the United States on Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi militia group with ties to Iran, according to American officials.

One official noted that General Suleimani was traveling with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Iraqi who helps lead the Iranian-backed militias and who was coordinating the attacks on the American Embassy. Mr. al-Muhandis was also killed in the strike.

Additionally, the classified document sent to Capitol Hill only recounts the attacks that Iran and its proxies have carried out in recent months and weeks rather than outlining new threats, according to three American officials.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. demanded that Mr. Trump give a “sober-minded explanation” of the strike, its consequences and the intelligence that prompted it.

“All we’ve heard from this administration are shifting explanations, evasive answers, repeated assertions of an imminent threat without the necessary evidence to support that conclusion,” Mr. Biden, a front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, said in remarks from Pier 59 in New York. If there was a threat, he added, “we’re owed an explanation and the facts to back it up.”

Iranian-supported militias have increasingly directed attacks at Iraqi bases with American forces over the past two months, officials have said. Since May, intelligence and military officials have warned that Iran has been preparing for attacks against Americans in the Middle East.

The reports have prompted the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. to relocate officers out of the American Embassy in Baghdad in recent days and weeks, though some C.I.A. officers were relocated earlier, according to officials briefed on the matter. Some went to other parts of Iraq, and officials emphasized that the moves had not diminished intelligence collection on Iranian activity in the country.

Administration officials, including Ms. Haspel, were set to brief the entire House and Senate on Wednesday, though it was not clear how detailed they would be. But expectations “are high,” said Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut.

“We’re all going to want to hear why they thought targeting Suleimani was the best option, what were the other targets on the table, did they know about the collateral damage?” he said.

Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who has long vocally opposed the lengthy deployments of American forces overseas, has emerged as one of the few Republicans willing to criticize the decision. He questioned the administration’s claim of an imminent attack, citing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s repeated criticism of General Suleimani.

“I’ve always been surprised at how presidents in general, including President Obama, stretch the idea of what imminence is,” Mr. Paul said. “I can tell you the secretary of state’s been talking about for over a year all the things Suleimani has done. I think they found this as an opportune time to take him out.”

Mr. Pompeo has led the administration’s defense of the strike and said on Tuesday that the intelligence was presented to Mr. Trump in broad detail before he ordered the strike.

“It was the right decision,” Mr. Pompeo said.

And Robert C. O’Brien, the national security adviser, said that General Suleimani was plotting attacks on “diplomats, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines” at multiple facilities.

Mr. O’Brien said the intelligence would most likely remain classified to avoid putting sources of intelligence and collection methods at risk. But, he added, “I can tell you that the evidence was strong.”

With the exception of Mr. Paul, most Republicans on Capitol Hill have coalesced around the administration.

“We had very clear, very solid information from the intelligence community that indeed there were going to be imminent attacks that could involve hundreds of people, could involve even thousands of people,” Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters late last week, calling the intelligence “rock solid.”

The House was set this week to consider measures to curtail the president’s war-making powers on Iran by invoking the War Powers Resolution. A similar measure could come to a vote on the Senate floor as early as next week. And the Democratic-led House Foreign Affairs Committee announced a hearing set for next Tuesday on the Trump administration’s Iran policy.

Adam Goldman contributed reporting from Washington, and Katie Glueck from New York.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Democrats Press for Details on Suleimani Strike, but Trump Administration Gives Few

Westlake Legal Group 07dc-intel-4-sub-facebookJumbo-v2 Democrats Press for Details on Suleimani Strike, but Trump Administration Gives Few United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J Terrorism Targeted Killings Suleimani, Qassim Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Iraq Iran Haspel, Gina Espionage and Intelligence Services Esper, Mark T Diplomatic Service, Embassies and Consulates Defense Department Classified Information and State Secrets central intelligence agency

WASHINGTON — Under increasing pressure to defend the killing of a top Iranian general in Iraq, senior Trump administration officials offered new justifications but little detail on Tuesday, citing threats to the American Embassy in Baghdad and intelligence suggesting other imminent attacks that helped prompt the strike.

Democrats stepped up their criticism of intelligence that the administration provided immediately after the drone strike last week that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The administration’s formal notification to Congress, which remains classified, provided no information on future threats or the imminent attack, officials who have read it said.

Several said it was improperly classified, and Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, called it “vague and unacceptably unspecific.” Lawmakers pressed for more answers on Tuesday at an intelligence briefing by administration officials.

Iranian forces or their proxies were days from attacking American personnel when President Trump decided to strike General Suleimani, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper told reporters at the Pentagon. Mr. Esper added that General Suleimani had traveled to Baghdad to coordinate attacks following up on a two-day siege of the United States Embassy there last week by pro-Iranian demonstrators. He declined to elaborate but called the intelligence “exquisite.”

Mr. Trump was more forceful but no more specific. General Suleimani “was planning a very big attack and a very bad attack for us and other people,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “And we stopped him.”

Their defense of the killing came as Tehran launched its initial response, firing a dozen ballistic missiles early Wednesday from Iranian territory targeting American forces in Iraq’s Anbar Province and Kurdish region. A Pentagon official confirmed that the missiles were launched at bases hosting American forces, but provided no initial damage assessment.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered a direct and proportional response to the Suleimani killing, not the kind of covert action through proxy forces that Tehran has traditionally employed. American officials in recent weeks warned about the threat from short-range ballistic missiles that Iran had smuggled into Iraq.

As the threats from Tehran increased, several NATO allies conducting training for Iraqi troops — including Canada, Germany and Croatia — decided at least temporarily to remove some troops from Iraq. Canada, which leads the NATO training mission, announced it was withdrawing its 500 troops and sending them to Kuwait.

Fueled by what they have called weak and inadequate briefings from the administration, Democrats grew increasingly vocal in their skepticism, arguing the administration has a high burden to meet to show that the strike was justified.

Some drew comparisons to the flawed intelligence on weapons of mass destruction used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the recent revelations about the failures of the war in Afghanistan.

“Between no weapons of mass destruction, no clear and present danger, the Afghanistan papers — there’s plenty to be skeptical about,” Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a brief interview. “The burden is on the administration to prove the truthfulness and veracity of how they made their decision.”

The C.I.A. director, Gina Haspel, has spoken with multiple lawmakers in recent days, some of whom have urged her to be more forthcoming about the intelligence behind the killing. Ms. Haspel, in turn, has emphasized that she had serious concerns about the threat posed by General Suleimani if the administration held off on targeting him.

Before the drone strike that killed the general, the pro-Iranian protesters had attacked barricades outside the American Embassy in Baghdad, and American officials feared the attacks could resume and the situation could easily grow more dangerous, threatening the diplomats and military personnel who work at the compound.

General Suleimani had arrived in Baghdad to pressure the Iraqi government to kick out American forces after attacks by the United States on Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi militia group with ties to Iran, according to American officials.

One official noted that General Suleimani was traveling with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Iraqi who helps lead the Iranian-backed militias and who was coordinating the attacks on the American Embassy. Mr. al-Muhandis was also killed in the strike.

Additionally, the classified document sent to Capitol Hill only recounts the attacks that Iran and its proxies have carried out in recent months and weeks rather than outlining new threats, according to three American officials.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. demanded that Mr. Trump give a “sober-minded explanation” of the strike, its consequences and the intelligence that prompted it.

“All we’ve heard from this administration are shifting explanations, evasive answers, repeated assertions of an imminent threat without the necessary evidence to support that conclusion,” Mr. Biden, a front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, said in remarks from Pier 59 in New York. If there was a threat, he added, “we’re owed an explanation and the facts to back it up.”

Iranian-supported militias have increasingly directed attacks at Iraqi bases with American forces over the past two months, officials have said. Since May, intelligence and military officials have warned that Iran has been preparing for attacks against Americans in the Middle East.

The reports have prompted the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. to relocate officers out of the American Embassy in Baghdad in recent days and weeks, though some C.I.A. officers were relocated earlier, according to officials briefed on the matter. Some went to other parts of Iraq, and officials emphasized that the moves had not diminished intelligence collection on Iranian activity in the country.

Administration officials, including Ms. Haspel, were set to brief the entire House and Senate on Wednesday, though it was not clear how detailed they would be. But expectations “are high,” said Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut.

“We’re all going to want to hear why they thought targeting Suleimani was the best option, what were the other targets on the table, did they know about the collateral damage?” he said.

Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who has long vocally opposed the lengthy deployments of American forces overseas, has emerged as one of the few Republicans willing to criticize the decision. He questioned the administration’s claim of an imminent attack, citing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s repeated criticism of General Suleimani.

“I’ve always been surprised at how presidents in general, including President Obama, stretch the idea of what imminence is,” Mr. Paul said. “I can tell you the secretary of state’s been talking about for over a year all the things Suleimani has done. I think they found this as an opportune time to take him out.”

Mr. Pompeo has led the administration’s defense of the strike and said on Tuesday that the intelligence was presented to Mr. Trump in broad detail before he ordered the strike.

“It was the right decision,” Mr. Pompeo said.

And Robert C. O’Brien, the national security adviser, said that General Suleimani was plotting attacks on “diplomats, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines” at multiple facilities.

Mr. O’Brien said the intelligence would most likely remain classified to avoid putting sources of intelligence and collection methods at risk. But, he added, “I can tell you that the evidence was strong.”

With the exception of Mr. Paul, most Republicans on Capitol Hill have coalesced around the administration.

“We had very clear, very solid information from the intelligence community that indeed there were going to be imminent attacks that could involve hundreds of people, could involve even thousands of people,” Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters late last week, calling the intelligence “rock solid.”

The House was set this week to consider measures to curtail the president’s war-making powers on Iran by invoking the War Powers Resolution. A similar measure could come to a vote on the Senate floor as early as next week. And the Democratic-led House Foreign Affairs Committee announced a hearing set for next Tuesday on the Trump administration’s Iran policy.

Adam Goldman contributed reporting from Washington, and Katie Glueck from New York.

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A One-Word Accusation Swirls Around Trump’s Deadly Strike: Assassination

Westlake Legal Group merlin_166699986_cf748faf-2eff-45fd-a3e4-ee86428ad47c-facebookJumbo A One-Word Accusation Swirls Around Trump’s Deadly Strike: Assassination United States Trump, Donald J Terrorism Targeted Killings Suleimani, Qassim Obama, Barack Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Iran Hezbollah

A single word has become a focal point of concerns about President Trump’s decision to kill Iran’s top general: assassination.

There is no fixed, formal definition of assassination. But, as with many politically charged labels, the word has taken on significance broader than any one meaning, shorthand for concerns that Mr. Trump’s decision to kill Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani was unethical, illegitimate or dangerous.

The Trump administration says that its strike on General Suleimani was not an assassination, calling it a lawful and justifiable use of force.

Assassination is colloquially defined as a killing, or sometimes murder, for political purposes, particularly but not necessarily of a senior political leader.

Mr. Suleimani’s killing seems to fit that description. He was one of the senior-most figures in the government of Iran, a country that is not formally at war with the United States. While the Trump administration’s justifications have focused on halting what it says was an “imminent” attack, they have also included political aims, such as changing Iran’s behavior.

But there is also a second definition.

The United States banned assassination in 1976 but did not define it. Ever since, decades of legal interpretation and precedent-setting have evolved into a legal understanding of assassination that is intricate, disputed and narrower with each administration.

Government powers to target people abroad are becoming broader as well as “more contested and more complex,” said Susan Hennessey, executive editor of Lawfare, a legal affairs site. “The term ‘assassination’ is kind of the converse of that, an identification of where the government has exceeded its authority and violated its own ban.”

Past administrations have widened that authority so substantially that, “if you surveyed every legal scholar, you’re probably going to see a fairly strong agreement that this is probably lawful,” she said, referring to Mr. Suleimani’s killing.

But that would not make his killing just, moral or wise, Ms. Hennessey stressed, only that it would fall within legal precedents set by past administrations. And any rationale remains hypothetical. The administration has presented no legal justification, raising concerns that it may have acted without first establishing the order’s legality.

The gap between colloquial and legal definitions may reveal more than a linguistic issue. It parallels a growing divide between attitudes toward the appropriate use of deadly force and the American presidency’s self-assigned powers to kill abroad.

Mr. Suleimani’s killing, by taking those powers to new extremes, draws new attention to how they became so broad, and so cloaked in executive branch secrecy, that an act that meets virtually any colloquial definition of assassination could be considered legally permissible.

It helps to look at the intent of the original ban on assassination.

In the 1970s, Congressional investigations revealed a series of American plans or attempts to kill foreign leaders, provoking outrage at home and abroad. The plots were seen as violations of international norms and American values, as well as putting American leaders at risk.

President Ford issued an order banning the government from undertaking “political assassination,” but did not explicitly define the term. Beyond the clear intention of barring more plots against foreign leaders, the order’s implications were unclear.

Lawyers in the Reagan administration argued that a killing had to be unlawful in order to qualify as assassination — an interpretation that has held.

Kenneth Anderson, an American University law professor who advised the Obama administration on its program to target suspected terrorists abroad, said that, as a result, assassination came to generally mean an unlawful killing by the government.

But executive branch lawyers typically determine when the government has the power to kill someone abroad.

“There’s a little bit of a circular logic to that,” Ms. Hennessey said. “Anything the executive branch does, they’re going to say is lawful, so they’re going to say it’s never an assassination.”

Beginning with Mr. Reagan, each administration has broadened those powers, in turn narrowing what the government might consider an assassination.

Those expansions often focused on terrorist threats, such as a 1984 finding by Central Intelligence Agency lawyers that the administration could target members of Hezbollah, a Lebanese group. Hezbollah’s past attacks made it an ongoing threat, they reasoned; therefore, killing its members would constitute self-defense.

The attacks of September 11, 2001 — and subsequent public demands that presidents stop terrorists before they strike — led to ever-greater expansions, leaving Mr. Trump with a spectrum of legal interpretations and precedents to draw upon.

The Trump administration has hinted at, but not explicitly made, two legal rationales: that the general was a legitimate wartime target and that killing him was a justifiable act of self-defense.

The administration has cited, as legal authority, the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution, which approved the invasion of Iraq. The resolution is still in place, granting legal powers as if the war had never ended.

If the administration can demonstrate that Mr. Suleimani’s activities in Iraq made him an adversary in that conflict, it can call on broad wartime authority to target him, Mr. Anderson said.

The administration has mostly emphasized claims that Mr. Suleimani posed an “imminent threat” to American lives, hinting at legal precedents set by past presidents.

The Bush and Obama administrations concluded that they could, under certain conditions, lawfully kill someone who posed an imminent threat — or whose past actions suggested they could pose a future threat. Their findings, which drew on interpretations of domestic and international law as permitting attacks to halt imminent threats, formed the basis of much of their targeted killing programs. However, there is evidence that the U.S. government uses an expansive definition of “imminent,” and many dispute whether it actually meets international legal standards.

Mr. Anderson said that killing Mr. Suleimani would almost certainly have met legal standards used by the Obama administration, calling him “targetable” for his role in overseeing past proxy attacks against American forces.

The Trump administration, however, initially said its strike was to deter future attacks, not to stop one. It has provided little evidence for its claims of an imminent threat, and some officials privately say that the case is thin and may not represent Mr. Trump’s actual motivation.

Though some argue that the United States designation of Mr. Suleimani’s military group as a foreign terrorist organization bolsters the case for killing him, some legal scholars say that this is not relevant for determining whether he posed an imminent threat.

Killing Mr. Suleimani solely for political reasons, or in the absence of a sufficient legal rationale like an imminent threat, would open Mr. Trump to charges that the killing was unlawful and therefore an assassination.

Still, past administrations, citing secrecy, have at times presented little more legal justification than a promise that it had secured one, underscoring how far executive authority had expanded before Mr. Trump took office.

While the Trump administration has not presented a rationale under international law, Mary Ellen O’Connell, a University of Notre Dame law professor, argued on EJIL Talk, a site on international law, that details released so far “do not meet” the conditions of “lawful self-defense” that would be necessary to make the killing legal under international law.

Killing Mr. Suleimani, though, would mark a major escalation in the application of presidential authority, even if it might draw upon familiar legal justifications.

Those powers were established, Mr. Anderson said, at a time when “the circumstances were not really the same geopolitically.”

Precedents set in the era of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State are being carried over into a new world of regional power struggles and state-sponsored proxy conflict. But foreign militaries can retaliate in ways that ragtag terrorist groups cannot. And, as Mr. Trump is learning, violating the norm against killing foreign leaders can bring international isolation.

In a twist of historical irony, those expanding powers have led the United States back to the very action that the 1976 ban on assassination seemingly intended to ban: killing a senior leader in a country with which it is not at war.

Much like the Cold War plots that inspired that ban, Mr. Trump’s strike is focusing attention on the perils of unconstrained executive authority.

“Certainly this vindicates some of the concerns that opponents of the government’s assertions of executive power in this area had,” Ms. Hennessey said, arguing that also it showed Congress’s unwillingness to check presidential power.

Critics called Bush- and Obama-era targeted killing programs legally and ethically dubious, and argued that they set dangerous precedents. Many called the practice assassination, implying that legal rationales were baseless.

Even if legal scholars believe that past precedent could potentially clear the way for Mr. Trump’s strike, some express discomfort with both the underlying law and the real-world results.

“Many of the legal issues here are contested,” Ashley Meeks, a University of Virginia law professor, said on Lawfare’s podcast. “Which legal framework even applies to the killing? What does it mean for a threat to be imminent? Is that even the proper test for today?”

Samuel Moyn, a Yale Law School professor also on the podcast, questioned whether, on a topic like assassination, legal definitional matters really could or should be taken in isolation.

“The reality is that law is always politicized, in this area especially,” he said, adding that concerns about the legality of, say, a drone strike “are really not about the law. They’re about legitimation or delegitimation of this president, or of American war, in this case or in general.”

If a controversy like the legality of killing of Mr. Suleimani is treated as solely a matter of legal definitions, he added, “then we miss the point of talking about it.”

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A One-Word Accusation Swirls Around Trump’s Deadly Strike: Assassination

Westlake Legal Group merlin_166699986_cf748faf-2eff-45fd-a3e4-ee86428ad47c-facebookJumbo A One-Word Accusation Swirls Around Trump’s Deadly Strike: Assassination United States Trump, Donald J Terrorism Targeted Killings Suleimani, Qassim Obama, Barack Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Iran Hezbollah

A single word has become a focal point of concerns about President Trump’s decision to kill Iran’s top general: assassination.

There is no fixed, formal definition of assassination. But, as with many politically charged labels, the word has taken on significance broader than any one meaning, shorthand for concerns that Mr. Trump’s decision to kill Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani was unethical, illegitimate or dangerous.

The Trump administration says that its strike on General Suleimani was not an assassination, calling it a lawful and justifiable use of force.

Assassination is colloquially defined as a killing, or sometimes murder, for political purposes, particularly but not necessarily of a senior political leader.

Mr. Suleimani’s killing seems to fit that description. He is one of the senior-most figures in the government of Iran, a country that is not formally at war with the United States. While the Trump administration’s justifications have focused on halting what it says was an “imminent” attack it has also included political aims, such as changing Iran’s behavior.

But there is also a second definition.

The United States banned assassination in 1976 but did not define it. Ever since, decades of legal interpretation and precedent-setting have evolved into a legal understanding of assassination that is intricate, disputed and narrower with each administration.

Government powers to target people abroad are becoming broader as well as “more contested and more complex,” said Susan Hennessey, executive editor of Lawfare, a legal affairs site. “The term ‘assassination’ is kind of the converse of that, an identification of where the government has exceeded its authority and violated its own ban.”

Past administrations have widened that authority so substantially that, “if you surveyed every legal scholar, you’re probably going to see a fairly strong agreement that this is probably lawful,” she said, referring to Mr. Suleimani’s killing.

But that would not make his killing just, moral or wise, Ms. Hennessey stressed, only that it would fall within legal precedents set by past administrations. And any rationale remains hypothetical. The administration has presented no legal justification, raising concerns that it may have acted without first establishing the order’s legality.

The gap between colloquial and legal definitions may reveal more than a linguistic issue. It parallels a growing divide between attitudes toward the appropriate use of deadly force and the American presidency’s self-assigned powers to kill abroad.

Mr. Suleimani’s killing, by taking those powers to new extremes, draws new attention to how they became so broad, and so cloaked in executive branch secrecy, that an act that meets virtually any colloquial definition of assassination could be considered legally permissible.

It helps to look at the intent of the original ban on assassination.

In the 1970s, Congressional investigations revealed a series of American plans or attempts to kill foreign leaders, provoking outrage at home and abroad. The plots were seen as violations of international norms and American values, as well as putting American leaders at risk.

President Ford issued an order banning the government from undertaking “political assassination,” but did not explicitly define the term. Beyond the clear intention of barring more plots against foreign leaders, the order’s implications were unclear.

Lawyers in the Reagan administration argued that a killing had to be unlawful in order to qualify as assassination — an interpretation that has held.

Kenneth Anderson, an American University law professor who advised the Obama administration on its program to target suspected terrorists abroad, said that, as a result, assassination came to generally mean an unlawful killing by the government.

But executive branch lawyers typically determine when the government has the power to kill someone abroad.

“There’s a little bit of a circular logic to that,” Ms. Hennessey said. “Anything the executive branch does, they’re going to say is lawful, so they’re going to say it’s never an assassination.”

Beginning with Mr. Reagan, each administration has broadened those powers, in turn narrowing what the government might consider an assassination.

Those expansions often focused on terrorist threats, such as a 1984 finding by Central Intelligence Agency lawyers that the administration could target members of Hezbollah, a Lebanese group. Hezbollah’s past attacks made it an ongoing threat, they reasoned; therefore, killing its members would constitute self-defense.

The attacks of September 11, 2001 — and subsequent public demands that presidents stop terrorists before they strike — led to ever-greater expansions, leaving Mr. Trump with a spectrum of legal interpretations and precedents to draw upon.

The Trump administration has hinted at, but not explicitly made, two legal rationales: that the general was a legitimate wartime target and that killing him was a justifiable act of self-defense.

The administration has cited, as legal authority, the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution, which approved the invasion of Iraq. The resolution is still in place, granting legal powers as if the war had never ended.

If the administration can demonstrate that Mr. Suleimani’s activities in Iraq made him an adversary in that conflict, it can call on broad wartime authority to target him, Mr. Anderson said.

The administration has mostly emphasized claims that Mr. Suleimani posed an “imminent threat” to American lives, hinting at legal precedents set by past presidents.

The Bush and Obama administrations concluded that they could, under certain conditions, lawfully kill someone who posed an imminent threat — or whose past actions suggested they could pose a future threat. Their findings, which drew on interpretations of domestic and international law as permitting attacks to halt imminent threats, formed the basis of much of their targeted killing programs. However, there is evidence that the U.S. government uses an expansive definition of “imminent,” and many dispute whether it actually meets international legal standards.

Mr. Anderson said that killing Mr. Suleimani would almost certainly have met legal standards used by the Obama administration, calling him “targetable” for his role in overseeing past proxy attacks against American forces.

The Trump administration, however, initially said its strike was to deter future attacks, not to stop one. It has provided little evidence for its claims of an imminent threat, and some officials privately say that the case is thin and may not represent Mr. Trump’s actual motivation.

Though some argue that the United States designation of Mr. Suleimani’s military group as a foreign terrorist organization bolsters the case for killing him, some legal scholars say that this is not relevant for determining whether he posed an imminent threat.

Killing Mr. Suleimani solely for political reasons, or in the absence of a sufficient legal rationale like an imminent threat, would open Mr. Trump to charges that the killing was unlawful and therefore an assassination.

Still, past administrations, citing secrecy, have at times presented little more legal justification than a promise that it had secured one, underscoring how far executive authority had expanded before Mr. Trump took office.

While the Trump administration has not presented a rationale under international law, Mary Ellen O’Connell, a University of Notre Dame law professor, argued on EJIL Talk, a site on international law, that details released so far “do not meet” the conditions of “lawful self-defense” that would be necessary to make the killing legal under international law.

Killing Mr. Suleimani, though, would mark a major escalation in the application of presidential authority, even if it might draw upon familiar legal justifications.

Those powers were established, Mr. Anderson said, at a time when “the circumstances were not really the same geopolitically.”

Precedents set in the era of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State are being carried over into a new world of regional power struggles and state-sponsored proxy conflict. But foreign militaries can retaliate in ways that ragtag terrorist groups cannot. And, as Mr. Trump is learning, violating the norm against killing foreign leaders can bring international isolation.

In a twist of historical irony, those expanding powers have led the United States back to the very action that the 1976 ban on assassination seemingly intended to ban: killing a senior leader in a country with which it is not at war.

Much like the Cold War plots that inspired that ban, Mr. Trump’s strike is focusing attention on the perils of unconstrained executive authority.

“Certainly this vindicates some of the concerns that opponents of the government’s assertions of executive power in this area had,” Ms. Hennessey said, arguing that also it showed Congress’s unwillingness to check presidential power.

Critics called Bush- and Obama-era targeted killing programs legally and ethically dubious, and argued that they set dangerous precedents. Many called the practice assassination, implying that legal rationales were baseless.

Even if legal scholars believe that past precedent could potentially clear the way for Mr. Trump’s strike, some express discomfort with both the underlying law and the real-world results.

“Many of the legal issues here are contested,” Ashley Meeks, a University of Virginia law professor, said on Lawfare’s podcast. “Which legal framework even applies to the killing? What does it mean for a threat to be imminent? Is that even the proper test for today?”

Samuel Moyn, a Yale Law School professor also on the podcast, questioned whether, on a topic like assassination, legal definitional matters really could or should be taken in isolation.

“The reality is that law is always politicized, in this area especially,” he said, adding that concerns about the legality of, say, a drone strike “are really not about the law. They’re about legitimation or delegitimation of this president, or of American war, in this case or in general.”

If a controversy like the legality of killing of Mr. Suleimani is treated as solely a matter of legal definitions, he added, “then we miss the point of talking about it.”

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U.S.-Led Coalition Halts ISIS Fight as It Steels for Iranian Attacks

Westlake Legal Group 05dc-isis-facebookJumbo U.S.-Led Coalition Halts ISIS Fight as It Steels for Iranian Attacks United States Defense and Military Forces Terrorism Syria Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Iraq Iran Defense and Military Forces

WASHINGTON — The American-led coalition in Iraq and Syria halted its yearslong mission of attacking the Islamic State and training local forces in both countries Sunday as United States troops braced for retaliation from Iran after 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 past weeks, one of which killed an American contractor on Dec. 27, “we have therefore paused these activities, subject to continuous review.”

The move comes after the death last week of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, an Iranian security and intelligence commander responsible deaths of hundreds of troops over the years. About 5,200 troops in Iraq and several hundred in Syria are now focused on fortifying their outposts instead of pursuing remnants of the Islamic State.

The cessation of American operations against the Islamic State is likely to allow what remains of the terrorist group to reconstitute itself in the ungoverned spaces it flourishes in, much as it did when Turkey invaded northern Syria in October.

Helene Cooper and Rukmini Callimachi contributed reporting.

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Conflict With Iran Threatens Fight Against ISIS

Westlake Legal Group 05isis-fight-facebookJumbo Conflict With Iran Threatens Fight Against ISIS United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Terrorism Targeted Killings Suleimani, Qassim Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Iraq Iran Defense and Military Forces

For the militants of the Islamic State, the American drone strike that killed the Iranian commander Qassim Suleimani was a two-for-one victory.

First, the killing of General Suleimani removed the leader of one of the Islamic State’s most effective opponents, responsible for building up the alliance of Iran-backed militias that did much of the ground fighting to drive the militants out of their strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

The assassination has also redirected the wrath of those militias and their many political allies inside Iraq squarely against the American presence there, raising doubts about the continued viability of the American-led campaign to eradicate what is left of the Islamic State and to prevent its revival in both Iraq and neighboring Syria.

“This is precisely the sort of deus ex machina the organization needed, to give it room to operate and to allow it to break out of its current marginality,” said Sam Heller, an analyst at the International Crisis Group who studies the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

“Even if the American forces are not withdrawn immediately, it is very difficult for me to imagine that they can meaningfully continue the counter ISIS fight.”

Former defense and intelligence officials said that the escalating American confrontation with the Iran-backed Iraqi militias directed by General Suleimani will now mean that the American forces in both Syria and Iraq must worry as much about protecting themselves from attack as they do about fighting the Islamic State, a distraction that could seriously hamper the campaign.

“They are going to be too focused on protecting the mission instead of on fighting ISIS,” said Dana Stroul, a former senior Pentagon official and the co-chair of a congressionally sponsored bipartisan Syria Study Group.

But a more sweeping and immediate first test will come on Sunday, when the Iraqi Parliament is expected to vote on a proposal to expel the American forces from Iraq.

The nearly 5,000 American troops stationed in Iraq provide essential support to the Iraqi forces trying to hunt down the thousands of ISIS insurgents still plotting attacks from hide-outs in remote rural areas, deserts and mountains.

Without American surveillance, intelligence, transportation and air support, analysts say, the Islamic State fighters would detect the sweeps by Iraqi forces in plenty of time to escape and evade — allowing the ISIS fighters impunity to rebuild their organization.

What’s more, the intelligence and logistical support provided by the American military is equally necessary to the European and other military partners in the American-led international coalition against ISIS.

Even the smaller contingent of fewer than 1,000 American service members still deployed to fight the Islamic State in Syria would be impossible to sustain without support from the Americans inside Iraq. And some analysts argued that President Trump’s drawdown in Syria had already left the American forces there vulnerable to attack while alleviating the pressure against ISIS.

As a result, a parliamentary vote to expel the American forces from Iraq would effectively end the military effort to defeat ISIS and thwart a comeback.

“That is the end of the D ISIS mission as we know it,” Ms. Stroul, now a scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote in a text message, using initials for the coalition to defeat the Islamic State.

The Iraqi government established after the United States invasion in 2003 has long struggled to balance its dependence on Washington and the West against its close ties to its neighbor Iran. The Iraqi government in Baghdad relied heavily on those Iranian-backed militias in the fight against ISIS.

And many Iraqi politicians have their own close ties to Iran. Among them are many leaders or representatives of those Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite militias who now have now been elected to Parliament.

What’s more, American officials have repeatedly reassured nervous Iraqis that the United States forces who returned in 2014 had come only to support the Iraqi fight against ISIS. The American diplomats and military officers have always emphasized that the American forces were present only at the formal invitation of the Iraqi government and only to help increase the capacity of the Iraqi forces to combat ISIS themselves.

But in the last week, the United States forces in Iraq have not only assassinated General Suleimani. The same drone strike killed a senior Iraqi militia leader who was also a top government security official and a former member of parliament. His Iraqi public relations chief was killed, too.

And in the preceding days, the United States had already killed more than 25 Iraqi fighters from a major Iran-backed militia. They were killed in a missile strike carried out in retaliation for a rocket attack that killed an American civilian contractor and wounded several other people at an Iraqi military base.

“Action of this type is an obvious grave breach of those agreed-upon terms” of the American military’s return to Iraq, said Mr. Heller of the International Crisis Group. Even if the Parliament does not immediately expel the American forces, he said, “I don’t see how, in the wake of these killings, the U.S. presence continues.”

American officials have long considered General Suleimani a fearsome enemy. After the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003, he helped form and direct Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq blamed for killing hundreds of Americans.

But in the fight against the Islamic State after 2014, the United States had tacitly accepted General Suleimani as an awkward ally. Iran’s Shiite Muslim clerical rulers found common cause with Washington against the Sunni militants of ISIS, and the Iranian-backed militias sponsored by General Suleimani did much of the fighting on the ground while American jets, helicopters and drones provided air power.

The militias also stopped attacking the American forces who returned to Iraq. And those forces settled into positions inside Iraqi military bases, where they depend for their safety and protection on Iraqi security forces — despite their hosts’ many ties to Tehran.

Now President Trump has embarked on an escalating confrontation with Iran, seeking to use sweeping economic sanctions to force Tehran to submit to new restrictions on its military activities and nuclear programs.

The Iran-backed Iraqi militias in recent months have once again begun to threaten or attack Americans. And when a mob instigated by one of the militias last week besieged the American Embassy compound in Baghdad’s heavily protected Green Zone, the failure of the Iraqi security forces to prevent the attack and the belated response after it started were both stark reminders of their limitations, in part because of their divided allegiance.

If the escalation leads to a larger battle in Iraq between the United States and Iran, the chaos would create the same conditions that have allowed ISIS to thrive in the past, said Ilan Goldenberg, a former Iran team chief in the Pentagon under President Obama and director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

“That is a perfect situation for ISIS to regenerate,” he said.

Douglas London, a professor at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown and a recently former C.I.A. official with experience in the region, warned that the backlash against the United States also increased the potential for so-called green-on-blue attacks by members of Iraqi forces against their American guests.

“We have not really had the green-on-blue attacks in Iraq that we have in Afghanistan, but the risk of that would certainly rise,” he said.

The leaders of ISIS must now be delighted to see their foes in Iraq attacking each other, argued Barbara Slavin, a scholar of Iran at the Atlantic Council. “It serves us right if ISIS comes crouching back,” she added.

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Conflict With Iran Threatens Fight Against ISIS

Westlake Legal Group 05isis-fight-facebookJumbo Conflict With Iran Threatens Fight Against ISIS United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Terrorism Targeted Killings Suleimani, Qassim Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Iraq Iran Defense and Military Forces

For the militants of the Islamic State, the American drone strike that killed the Iranian commander Qassim Suleimani was a two-for-one victory.

First, the killing of General Suleimani removed the leader of one of the Islamic State’s most effective opponents, responsible for building up the alliance of Iran-backed militias that did much of the ground fighting to drive the militants out of their strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

The assassination has also redirected the wrath of those militias and their many political allies inside Iraq squarely against the American presence there, raising doubts about the continued viability of the American-led campaign to eradicate what is left of the Islamic State and to prevent its revival in both Iraq and neighboring Syria.

“This is precisely the sort of deus ex machina the organization needed, to give it room to operate and to allow it to break out of its current marginality,” said Sam Heller, an analyst at the International Crisis Group who studies the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

“Even if the American forces are not withdrawn immediately, it is very difficult for me to imagine that they can meaningfully continue the counter ISIS fight.”

Former defense and intelligence officials said that the escalating American confrontation with the Iran-backed Iraqi militias directed by General Suleimani will now mean that the American forces in both Syria and Iraq must worry as much about protecting themselves from attack as they do about fighting the Islamic State, a distraction that could seriously hamper the campaign.

“They are going to be too focused on protecting the mission instead of on fighting ISIS,” said Dana Stroul, a former senior Pentagon official and the co-chair of a congressionally sponsored bipartisan Syria Study Group.

But a more sweeping and immediate first test will come on Sunday, when the Iraqi Parliament is expected to vote on a proposal to expel the American forces from Iraq.

The nearly 5,000 American troops stationed in Iraq provide essential support to the Iraqi forces trying to hunt down the thousands of ISIS insurgents still plotting attacks from hide-outs in remote rural areas, deserts and mountains.

Without American surveillance, intelligence, transportation and air support, analysts say, the Islamic State fighters would detect the sweeps by Iraqi forces in plenty of time to escape and evade — allowing the ISIS fighters impunity to rebuild their organization.

What’s more, the intelligence and logistical support provided by the American military is equally necessary to the European and other military partners in the American-led international coalition against ISIS.

Even the smaller contingent of fewer than 1,000 American service members still deployed to fight the Islamic State in Syria would be impossible to sustain without support from the Americans inside Iraq. And some analysts argued that President Trump’s drawdown in Syria had already left the American forces there vulnerable to attack while alleviating the pressure against ISIS.

As a result, a parliamentary vote to expel the American forces from Iraq would effectively end the military effort to defeat ISIS and thwart a comeback.

“That is the end of the D ISIS mission as we know it,” Ms. Stroul, now a scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote in a text message, using initials for the coalition to defeat the Islamic State.

The Iraqi government established after the United States invasion in 2003 has long struggled to balance its dependence on Washington and the West against its close ties to its neighbor Iran. The Iraqi government in Baghdad relied heavily on those Iranian-backed militias in the fight against ISIS.

And many Iraqi politicians have their own close ties to Iran. Among them are many leaders or representatives of those Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite militias who now have now been elected to Parliament.

What’s more, American officials have repeatedly reassured nervous Iraqis that the United States forces who returned in 2014 had come only to support the Iraqi fight against ISIS. The American diplomats and military officers have always emphasized that the American forces were present only at the formal invitation of the Iraqi government and only to help increase the capacity of the Iraqi forces to combat ISIS themselves.

But in the last week, the United States forces in Iraq have not only assassinated General Suleimani. The same drone strike killed a senior Iraqi militia leader who was also a top government security official and a former member of parliament. His Iraqi public relations chief was killed, too.

And in the preceding days, the United States had already killed more than 25 Iraqi fighters from a major Iran-backed militia. They were killed in a missile strike carried out in retaliation for a rocket attack that killed an American civilian contractor and wounded several other people at an Iraqi military base.

“Action of this type is an obvious grave breach of those agreed-upon terms” of the American military’s return to Iraq, said Mr. Heller of the International Crisis Group. Even if the Parliament does not immediately expel the American forces, he said, “I don’t see how, in the wake of these killings, the U.S. presence continues.”

American officials have long considered General Suleimani a fearsome enemy. After the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003, he helped form and direct Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq blamed for killing hundreds of Americans.

But in the fight against the Islamic State after 2014, the United States had tacitly accepted General Suleimani as an awkward ally. Iran’s Shiite Muslim clerical rulers found common cause with Washington against the Sunni militants of ISIS, and the Iranian-backed militias sponsored by General Suleimani did much of the fighting on the ground while American jets, helicopters and drones provided air power.

The militias also stopped attacking the American forces who returned to Iraq. And those forces settled into positions inside Iraqi military bases, where they depend for their safety and protection on Iraqi security forces — despite their hosts’ many ties to Tehran.

Now President Trump has embarked on an escalating confrontation with Iran, seeking to use sweeping economic sanctions to force Tehran to submit to new restrictions on its military activities and nuclear programs.

The Iran-backed Iraqi militias in recent months have once again begun to threaten or attack Americans. And when a mob instigated by one of the militias last week besieged the American Embassy compound in Baghdad’s heavily protected Green Zone, the failure of the Iraqi security forces to prevent the attack and the belated response after it started were both stark reminders of their limitations, in part because of their divided allegiance.

If the escalation leads to a larger battle in Iraq between the United States and Iran, the chaos would create the same conditions that have allowed ISIS to thrive in the past, said Ilan Goldenberg, a former Iran team chief in the Pentagon under President Obama and director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

“That is a perfect situation for ISIS to regenerate,” he said.

Douglas London, a professor at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown and a recently former C.I.A. official with experience in the region, warned that the backlash against the United States also increased the potential for so-called green-on-blue attacks by members of Iraqi forces against their American guests.

“We have not really had the green-on-blue attacks in Iraq that we have in Afghanistan, but the risk of that would certainly rise,” he said.

The leaders of ISIS must now be delighted to see their foes in Iraq attacking each other, argued Barbara Slavin, a scholar of Iran at the Atlantic Council. “It serves us right if ISIS comes crouching back,” she added.

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