U.S strike at Bagdad
Revolutionary Guards commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed on 3 January 2020 in a U.S. strike, was one of the most popular figures in Iran and seen as a deadly adversary by America and its allies. General Soleimani, who headed the external operations Quds Force for the Guards, had wielded his regional clout publicly since 2018 when it was revealed that he had direct involvement in top-level talks over the formation of Iraq's government. It was no surprise at the time for a man who has been at the centre of power-broking in the region for two decades.
- To Middle Eastern Shiites, he is James Bond, Erwin Rommel and Lady Gaga rolled into one. To the West, he is... responsible for exporting Iran's Islamic revolution, supporting terrorists, subverting pro-Western governments and waging Iran's foreign wars.
- With Iran roiled by protests and economic problems at home, and the U.S. once again mounting pressure from the outside, some Iranians had even called for Soleimani to enter domestic politics.
- While he has dismissed rumours he might one day run for president, the general has played a decisive role in the politics of Iran's neighbour, Iraq.
- As well as talks on forming a government, he was pivotal in pressuring Iraq's Kurds to abandon their plans for independence after an ill-judged referendum last September.
- His influence has deep roots, since Soleimani was already leading the Quds Force when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001.
- A survey published in 2018 by IranPoll and the University of Maryland — one of the few considered reliable by analysts — found Soleimani had a popularity rating of 83%, beating President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
- US President Donald Trump's decision to take precipitate action in directing the assassination of a top Iranian general complicates India's delicate ties with Tehran, already under strain because of Washington's relentless sanctions against a country that has had civilisational ties with New Delhi going back millennia.
- The US strike took place barely a week after India's external affairs minister S Jaishankar visited Tehran to review ties, with the two sides agreeing to accelerate development of the India-backed Chabahar project after Washington gave New Delhi what it termed a "narrow exemption" to allow access to land-locked Afghanistan subject to Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) not participating in the project.
- Chabhahar, which means "four springs" on account of its clement weather, was called Tis when Alexander the Great marched through the region.
- It is barely 100 kilometres from Gwadar, a Pakistani port developed with Chinese assistance, on which the Islamabad-Beijing axis has pinned its strategic and economic hopes.
- Long before Pakistan came into existence, the legendary 10th century Persian scholar-explorer-historian -- chronicler Al-Biruni wrote that the sea coast of India began at the port of Chabahar.
- But following Washington's frayed ties with Iran -- a country that was a US ally before the Islamic Revolution in 1979 - India has had to re-adjust its own relations with Tehran even as it seeks to maintain strategic ties with the US and Israel, whose strong partnership is in part responsible putting Iran in the doghouse.
- The primarily Shia Iran is also at odds with other mostly Sunni monarchies in the Gulf, including its regional rival Saudi Arabia, making India's task of navigating the divide even more precarious.
- In fact, India has had to fight hard to convince the US of its equities in Chabahar, whose access into land-locked Afghanistan also helps Washington which like New Delhi has enormous stakes in the stability of the landlocked country.
- All that could come under threat if the region collapses into a broader war. There is also the small matter of more than 5 million Indian expatriates working in the Gulf.
- It will be 20 years this August since India had to evacuate 170,000 Indian nationals from Kuwait and Iraq - in what is regarded as the largest civilian airlift in history - following a regional war.