Mideast update: Crisis imperils US gains against Islamic State, and more fallout from Iran general’s killing
U.S. troops sent to Iraq to fight the Islamic State refocused on their own defense.U.S. embassies in a growing number of countries outside the Middle East issued security alerts to U.S. citizens.Russia’s Vladimir Putin visited Syria’s President Bashar Assad, a key Iran ally.Trump backed away from his threats to target Iranian cultural sites if Iran retaliates against the U.S.Oil prices stabilized and stock market jitters appeared to calm.A stampede broke out early Tuesday at the funeral for a top Iranian general: At least 56 people were killed and more than 200 injured.
President Donald Trump’s national security team knew that killing Iran’s most powerful general could hurt efforts to mop up and head off any revival of the Islamic State militant group — and that is just what has happened.
Two days after Gen. Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad, the U.S. troops in Iraq to fight the Islamic State are now focused on their own defense, guarding American bases and the U.S. Embassy from an expected Iranian response. The fight against the militants is now on hold, and a Trump foreign policy achievement is in doubt.
The Islamic State evolved in Syria after U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq in 2011; its fighters swept back across the border in 2014, captured wide swaths of western and northern Iraq and imposed brutal rule over a self-declared “caliphate.” A U.S.-led coalition finally ousted the group, but thousands of fighters scattered throughout the region and continue to pose a threat.
Meanwhile Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin showed up in Damascus for a meeting with President Bashar Assad. Official statements during the previously unannounced visit made no mention Soleimani, but the timing was conspicuous.
Iran’s longtime goal has been to force the U.S. out of Iraq, giving it a freer hand there. The U.S. had about 5,200 troops in Iraq before the Soleimani killing. The Iraqi Parliament on Sunday passed a nonbinding resolution calling for the expulsion of all foreign forces. Trump, however, told reporters in the Oval Office that he has no intention of withdrawing yet.