The conflict between the USA and Iran in the Middle East which has now flared hot again is a conflict between two imperialisms.
They are two different sorts of imperialism. The USA is a world power, Iran, a regional power.
The sway of the Iranian state over the oppressed nations within its own borders (Kurds, Azerbaijanis, Baluchis, etc.) is directly political and military.
Its less direct sway in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, etc. is also politico-military. Being much less strong economically than US capital, Iranian capital has to rely on such politico-military methods.
The USA, for decades now, does not seek direct political rule over other countries. It regards that as expensive and unworkable.
It seeks to have countries integrated into the rules of the capitalist world market, what the Marxist writer Ellen Wood called “the empire of capital”, with the assumption that, most of much of the time, US-based capital, as the strongest and most advanced sector of world capital, can then do well.
It maintains huge military forces to police that “empire of capital”.
The states in conflict are not symmetrical. But each is predatory, domineering, imperialist in the generic sense.
The conflict is not about either centre seeking to conquer the other, but about the rival drives of both to dominate other peoples.
Obviously Iran cannot conquer the USA. Even Trump’s circle in the USA know that there is no chance of the USA conquering Iran, a state much bigger and better-armed than Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was, and where the regime’s political base of support is stronger than Saddam’s was by 2003.
The architects of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, drunk on imperial over-confidence gained since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, thought they could transform Iraq into a prosperous, compliant, more or less bourgeois-democratic state.
The US strategists feared (accurately) that the “old regimes” in the Middle East (Mubarak, Ben Ali, Gaddafi, Assad, etc.) would soon crumble. They hoped “their” Iraq would serve as a “pole of attraction” for creating cooperative new regimes, instead of Islamists dominating the succession.
The imperial arrogance — and incompetence generated by arrogance — of their actions in Iraq wrecked their strategy.
In 2008 the Bush administration tried to get a “State of Forces Agreement” which would have made the US a virtual parallel government in Iraq. It failed. The Iraqi government had become dominated by pro-Iranian politicians with links to pro-Iranian militias.
Bush had to agree to withdraw all US troops. They were all out by 2011. Small numbers, mostly as trainers, have been invited back since 2014 to help combat Daesh (at times alongside Iranian forces led by Soleimani).
The Iraqi oil and gas industry’s contracts are dominated by non-US firms. US firms hold only two out of 23 contracts. Iraqi politics are dominated by Iran.
When the Arab Spring erupted in 2011, the USA had little leverage in the outcome. Syria has ended up with an Iranian military presence to which the big counterweight is not US but Russian influence.
The USA, in uneasy alliance with Saudi Arabia and other powers, has been trying to push back Iranian influence.
Trump, in some ways, is less keen on military ventures than Bush or even Obama: he has withdrawn troops from Syria, and is seriously trying to pull out from Afghanistan.
But he also has the imperial arrogance of the Bush strategists. Thus his apparently offhand decision to kill Soleimani, and his threat to bomb cultural sites in Iraq, an echo of such brutish 19th century imperialism as the 1860 revenge destruction by British troops of the Chinese Emperor’s ancient Summer Palace during the Second Opium War.
The USA’s general strategic aim is to hem in and push back Iran. Whether Trump’s decision to kill Soleimani actually helps that aim is unclear. So far it has prompted the Iranian government to renounce most of its remaining restrictions under Obama’s nuclear deal, and the Iraqi government to call for the removal of all US troops in Iraq.
The US made an announcement suggesting it will withdraw, and then disavowed it. Experts predict some fudged deal on this between the Iraqi government (still worried about the Daesh threat) and the USA.
The Soleimani killing was part of a tit-for-tat series of slaps between the US and Iran. The tit-for-tat will now escalate. How far that will go, we don’t know. That neither side wants full-scale war, as of now, does not exclude that both sides will edge into bigger conflict than they intended.
Although Israel had no part in that tit-for-tat or in the killing of Soleimani, Israel will be a likely target for Iranian retaliations, executed through its allies Hamas or Hezbollah. The force that Soleimani commanded, the Quds Force, is so-named because its stated grand objective is to conquer Jerusalem (al-Quds).
Whatever the Iranian regime says, such Iranian action against Israel is not a blow for liberation or a help for the oppressed Palestinians.
It is imperialist aggression. It should be opposed and denounced. Israel has a right to defend itself. That general right does not imply endorsing whatever specific actions Netanyahu may order, especially if they make the Palestinians play the price for Iran’s misdeeds in a ricochet effect.
Another effect of the tit-for-tat is probably welcome both to Iran’s rulers and to the USA. Religious reactionaries both in Iran and Iraq have been able to mobilise millions on the streets to mourn Soleimani and curse the USA — and thus to push aside (for a while, anyway) the swelling social protests in Iran and in Iraq.
It is in those social protests that the “third camp” can be found which can win a way out of the tunnel of simmering war: peace, equal rights for all nations, democracy, socialism.
Iranian and Iraqi left on the crisis
Responses (abridged here) by revolutionary socialist groups from Iran and Iraq to the US’s killing of Qasem Soleimani and the new tensions between Iran and the USA
Morad Shirin, Iranian Revolutionary Marxist Tendency
Qasem Soleimani took part in the brutal suppression of Iran’s Kurds in 1979. That was the beginning of his career as a Pasdar.
His rise to the top of the Quds Force has meant that he has been responsible for the deaths of many Iranians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Syrians and so on. He is a hated figure wherever he helped set up Shia militias that have slaughtered protesters….
At no point, and in no way, should the left or the labour movement of any country defend the Iranian regime: the most reactionary form of capitalist rule in the twenty-first century. They should defend the workers, women, national (and religious) minorities, youth and students, writers, artists, intellectuals, LGBT+ people and others who are not only denied their most basic rights but are gunned down when they peacefully demand these rights.
The workers of Haft Tappeh, Vahed, HEPCO, the teachers, pensioners and so on are the ones who need solidarity – not the blood-soaked regime! The internationalist left should do whatever it can to help Iranian workers overthrow this regime and establish a revolutionary workers’ republic in Iran.
Only such a republic can really oppose US imperialism and help the workers of other countries in the Middle East to also overthrow capitalism.
Worker-communist Party of Iran Hekmatist (Official Line)
Undoubtedly, the deaths of Soleimani, commanders of Hashd al-Sha’bi and any other criminal around the world, will only be met with joy from the freedom-seeking people of Iran, Iraq and the whole region.
Just as much, the bullish and self-righteous actions of Trump, Pentagon and the US Administration, and their intervention in any country as and when they desire, cannot but be met with anything but the abhorrence of the people of Iraq and the region.
The US-Iran tension and the in-fighting among the reactionary states in the Middle East along with all their open terrorism in the recent decades, have brought nothing but misery, devastation and hundreds of thousands of deaths to this region. The workers and the suffering masses everywhere, and this region in particular, will again be the victims of such wars and these rulers.
The escalation of the tensions between the reactionary rulers in the US and Iran not only bears no benefits for the workers and the freedom-seeking people of these countries; but it makes their struggles for ridding themselves of these rulers harder.
Worker-communist Party of Iran Hekmatist
Soleimani is the symbol of Islamic terrorism and essence of the Islamic regime. He has been responsible for huge number of atrocities in the region and he has been the perpetrator of mass killings of people in Iraq, Iran and Syria.
Worker-communist Party of Iran — Hekmatist sees the terrorist tension between American government and Islamic Republic as an attempt against the revolutionary struggle of the workers and people of the region and the world. We call upon people of Iran, Iraq and the world to oppose the terrorist groups and governments.
Overcoming terrorism in Iran and Iraq and achieving freedom and liberation is only possible by revolutionary overthrow of the ruling powers and establishment of a free and equal society where safe conditions are made possible for peaceful solidarity for the people of the region.
Organisation of the Communist Alternative in Iraq
Every now and then, in a show of power, military clashes occur in Iraq between America on the one hand, and Iran through its militias in Iraq on the other hand. These clashes climaxed [on 3 January] when America assassinated Qassem Soleimani, Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, and others in an aerial bombardment at Baghdad International Airport.
The history of American imperialist practices and policies in Iraq is the history of war crimes, destruction and occupation… This latest American arrogance is another of the crimes that it has practiced inside Iraq for years and is a flagrant violation of the so-called independent sovereignty of Iraq within the contexts of the bourgeois world order.
The Islamic Republic of Iran, which represents the regime of executions, killings and slavery, the regime of counter-revolution that has been oppressing the masses for more than four decades, is the bulwark of political Islam in the Middle East region and one of its most powerful terrorist forces. The crimes of this regime and its forces, and the crimes of the “Quds Force” that was led by Qassem Soleimani against the masses in Iran, Iraq and the region are countless.
The attempts of the Iran-linked Iraqi militia forces to exploit the situation and attack US military positions, are extensions of those reactionary policies and the objectives of the Iranian regime. Similarly, these are the objectives of the Iraqi militia forces in order to stifle the uprising...
Among the main goals of this uprising [in Iraq is] the end of the interference of these two states [Iran and USA] and other regional states in the political life of Iraq…
The Organisation of the Communist Alternative in Iraq (OCAI)... fights with great determination and strength to advance the uprising and organise its forces and the forces of the masses in Iraq in the revolutionary mass councils.
The way to get rid of all the current conditions is to move towards the victory of the uprising and achieve its social and political goals of well-being, freedom, work and equality for all.