President Trump has put international leaders on tenterhooks after he ordered a deadly drone strike on the top military leader in Iran, Qassem Soleimani, last week. Soleimani was widely regarded as one of the most dangerous men in the world with control over the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Quds Forces, and significant influence across the Middle East.
After his death, Iran promised to deliver “severe revenge” upon the “criminals” who ordered the drone strike. Three rockets have already landed near the US embassy in Baghdad since the assassination and a US agency website was hacked with a pro-Iranian message over the weekend.
Over in the US, President Trump claimed his intention was to “stop a war” rather than to start one, although he has also revealed that the US is ready to “target” 52 Iranian sites and will strike “very fast and very hard” if Tehran retaliates.
The President has sent in 3,000 backup troops into the Middle East in the aftermath Soleimani’s assassination but, according to the Washington Post last week, other US already has a significant number of troops spread across Arab land.
There are 6,000 US soldiers in Iraq and 14,000 in Afghanistan, two countries which share extensive borders with Iran, and 13,000 troops located in Kuwait, just south of the Iraqi border.
Further west, President Trump has 3,000 soldiers at the ready in Jordan and 3,000 in Saudi Arabia. There are 800 in Syria too, although they are believed to be in the process of withdrawing.
The US has a collection of forces in nations to the south of Iran as well, with 7,000 in Bahrain, 13,000 in Qatar, 606 in Oman, and 5,000 in the UAE.
With an additional 2,500 troops based in Turkey, the US has a significant force surrounding Iran, not including President Trump’s most recent deployments.
In a public address to discuss the attack last Friday, President Trump said the Iranian general had been caught “in the act” of planning “imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel”.
He added: “What the United States did yesterday should have been done long ago. A lot of lives would’ve been saved.”
However, international leaders have been reluctant to openly support the US.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was not warned of the attack in advance, despite the UK being a close ally and there being 400 UK troops positioned in Baghdad where the attack took place.
The unexpected drone strike shocked several senior politicians in Westminster, such as Tom Tugendhat. The former chair of the foreign affairs committee told the BBC last week: “I’ve long believed that the purpose of being allies is that we can surprise our enemies and not each other.”
He added that it was a “bit of a shame” and a “matter of concern” the US administration had not shared their intentions.
Mr Johnson has called for de-escalation from both sides in this dispute, and has warned Iranians against “retaliation or reprisals” against the US.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman also discouraged further action from the US today, particularly in regards to the intended 52 “targets” announced by the President.
He explained: “There are international conventions in place that prevent the destruction of cultural heritage.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab echoed a similar sentiment on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday. He said that while the US “had a right to exercise self-defence” the UK wanted to avoid “a major war”.
Back in the Middle East, thousands of Soleimani’s supporters took to the streets alongside the commanders funeral procession over the last few days, with many chanting “Death to America”.