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US-Iran Conflict: Past and Present By Abdur Rahman Malik

The US-Iran conflict had become critical agter the US drone strike that assassinated Iranian top general Qassem Suleimani who the USA considered an imminent threat to the USA, but for which the Trump Administration was heavily criticized.
Foreign policy experts felt that Trump had committed an extrajudicial killing and deliberately escalated the situation with Iran to escape impeachment which has already begun.
The USA has always meddled in Iran. The seeds of the 45 years of hostility were sowed when US and UK agencies orchestrated a plan to overthrow a democratically elected secular Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadeq, when he nationalized Iran’s oil industry. The oil industry has always attracted the USA cost him his Premiership in 1953. Analysts call it a historic blunder to meddle in Iran’s affairs.
Later, the USA the dictatorial Shah of Iran despite being aware that his regime was incompetent and the autocratic governance model was weakening. The streets started flooding with protesters against the Shah’s regime and he was forcibly ousted by secular and religious forces in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. This turmoil paved the way for the return of the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini. Iran was formally proclaimed as the Islamic Republic of Iran on 1 April 1981. US backing for the Shah resulted in growing hatred of the USA. Protesters ransacked its Embassy in Tehran and took the staff hostage in 1979. The 52 hostages were released after 444 days in 1981.
US-Iran relations witnessed another setback when the USA secretly shipped arms in exchange for Iran’s help in the release of US hostages held by the Hezbollah in Lebanon. This Iran-contra scandal hit the USA hard when the benefit such as arms supply to Nicaraguan rebels caused a severe political crisis for US President Ronald Reagan. Similarly, just as Iran mistakenly downed Ukrainian passenger jetliner, a US warship had also shot down an Iranian passenger plane. Most of the 290 victims were Iranian pilgrims bound for Makkah. Unlike Iran, the USA had said that the Airbus A300 was downed by mistake for a fighter Jet. This incident had also increased hatred of the USA in Iran.
The UN and the European Union must play their role to engage both parties in negotiation so that World War-III may be averted. Negotiations will also help lift the tough economic sanctions against Iran that have crippled its fragile economy. Moreover, a US-Iran conflict may jeopardize US-Taliban talks for which Pakistan has played a key role, as Afghan peace will benefit the whole region including Pakistan. Terrorism from Afghanistan has affected Pakistan very badly
In the aftermath of the 9/11 incident, in 2001, the US carried out strikes against Taliban in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, an Iranian opposition group revealed that Iran was engaged in a nuclear programme, having set up a uranium enrichment plant. However, the Iranian Government denied the charges.
US President George W Bush during a State of the Union address denounced Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil” along with Iraq and North Korea. UN Watchdog IAEA inspected Iran’s nuclear programme. Consequently, tough sanctions were imposed on Iran by the USA, EU and UN that crippled its economy during the tenure of President Mehmood Ahmedinejad.
US-Iran relations grew closer as the moderate Hassan Rouhani took office as President and after decades of stiff relations, the ice started melting when US president Barak Obama phoned President Rouhani after three decades. Following this gesture, the diplomatic channels worked leading to Iran signing a nuclear deal in 2015 with the great power group of the USA, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany. Iran agreed to limit its nuclear programme, allowing international inspectors. In return, the crippling economic sanctions were lifted, especially on its oil exports.
The Trump Administration became a headache for Iran since Iran’s nuclear deal was abandoned by President Donald Trump who imposed economic sanctions on Iran and those who bought its oil. Such a hard attitude exacerbated the conflict. Trump re-imposed economic sanctions on Iranian Oil last May while Iran started a pressure campaign against the USA.
A series of Incidents happened thereafter, such as missiles hitting tankers in the Gulf of Oman and Iran’s shooting down a US drone hovering over the Strait of Hormuz. The US claimed the drone was over International waters whereas Iran said that it was over its territory.
Given the US sanctions and blame game, Iran started rolling back from its commitments as reflected in the nuclear deal, and started uranium enrichment. Finally, when the US drone strike assassinated top Iranian general Qassem Suleimani in Iraq, the Iranian people became united. Millions of people attended his funeral prayers and protested against the USA in Iraq and Iran. Analysts said that it was the biggest protest after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.
Iran pledged to take revenge. Under-pressure Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei approved targeting US military bases in Iraq, firing a dozen missiles, but causing no casualties. Since then, Trump has been criticized for the killing. The Middle East crisis worsened following an Iraqi Parliament resolution demanding US Troops and Allies leave Iraq. The Iranian proxies may attack US military bases.
Will there be a World War III? No, since after strikes, both countries have shown restraint Iranian Revolutionary Guards took responsibility for mistakenly downing a passenger Jet carrying 174 passengers. Iran first denied responsibility, but after international pressure accepted it.
Iran has publicly apologized for the mistake and announced compensation for the bereaved families but the Ukrainian and Canadian Governments have demanded a thorough investigation and apology.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also sought help from Pakistan for de-escalation as both countries do not want war. All the world powers have urged both the USA and Iran to de-escalate tensions and resolve the conflict through negotiations. The European Union, UK, Russia, China and other NATO members have started diplomatic efforts to prevent both countries going to all-out war which would bring misery for humanity since both nations are nuclear capable though Iran has not announced its capability.
The UN and the European Union must play their role to engage both parties in negotiation so that World War-III may be averted. Negotiations will also help lift the tough economic sanctions against Iran that have crippled its fragile economy. Moreover, a US-Iran conflict may jeopardize US-Taliban talks for which Pakistan has played a key role, as Afghan peace will benefit the whole region including Pakistan. Terrorism from Afghanistan has affected Pakistan very badly.
Source: https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/01/21/us-iran-conflict-past-and-present/

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