“I understand that he was a person of great integrity and high principles. His role in fighting terrorism was vital: He was a key figure in the anti-Daesh leadership,” Patrick Lawrence, based in Norfolk, Connecticut, told Tasnim.

Lawrence is a writer and columnist. He has published five books and is now at work on his sixth. He served as a correspondent abroad for many years and is also an essayist, editor, and critic. Lawrence has taught at universities in the US and abroad and lectures widely. He currently produces two commentaries (weekly and bi-weekly), primarily on foreign affairs and the media.

Apart from his staff work, Lawrence’s reportage, commentary, essays, criticism, and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, Business Week, TIME, The Washington Quarterly, World Policy Journal, The Globalist, The Nation, Asian Art News, and numerous other publications. He is now foreign affairs columnist at The Nation. He makes frequent television and radio appearances.

Following is the full text of the interview:

Asa Khabar: As you know, the US assassinated Lieutenant General Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy head of Iraq’s Hashd al-Sha’abi, and their companions by targeting their vehicles outside Baghdad International Airport on January 3, 2020. The act of terror was carried out under the direction of Trump, with the Pentagon taking responsibility for the strike. How do you see the role of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and certain Arab states in the region in killing?

Lawrence: To begin, the criminal assassination of Qassem Soleimani a year ago this week was not President Trump’s decision. As we have seen many times over the past four years, those around Trump imposed foreign policy decisions upon him. Soleimani’s murder was the doing of Secretary of State Pompeo and Defense Secretary Esper, who presented the plan to Trump as a fait accompli a matter of hours before the drone strike occurred.

The role of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE is not entirely clear at this point. However, coordination among the US and these nations is now a well-established reality. The assassination of (Iranian scientist) Dr. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh a month ago is a clear demonstration of this coordination.

Now, in the weeks before the first anniversary of Soleimani’s death, the Pentagon has been energetically reinforcing the US military’s presence in the Persian Gulf region, with B-52 sorties near Iranian airspace, an additional squadron of fighter jets in Saudi Arabia, and the carrier Nimitz cruising the gulf itself. It is impossible to imagine this does not involve a degree of coordination with the regional allies you mentioned. I should add that I don’t think there is any real threat of an attack on Iran. The Pentagon generals know any such thing would be foolhardy, and (Iranian) Foreign Minister (Mohammad Javad) Zarif has been clear about the Islamic Republic’s willingness to respond as necessary for its self-defense. In my judgment, this is a final bit of theater authorized by Pompeo in his final days in office.

Asa Khabar: General Soleimani is viewed by the world’s freedom-seeking people as the key figure in defeating Daesh, the world’s most notorious terrorist group, in the Middle East battles. What are your thoughts on Gen. Soleimani’s role in fighting terrorism?

Lawrence: I understand that he was a person of great integrity and high principles. His role in fighting terrorism was vital: He was a key figure in the anti-Daesh leadership. My understanding of his intent the day he died was that he was en route to Saudi Arabia to advance efforts toward a rapprochement between Riyadh and Tehran, having stopped in Baghdad to confer with the Iraqi prime minister. I can’t think of a worthier and more important contribution to the cause of regional peace and security.

Asa Khabar: How do you see the future of the region after the assassination of Gen. Soleimani? Do you think that foreign troops including the US forces will be forced out of the region and Iraq at people’s will?

Lawrence: Over time, yes, the Soleimani murder was a turning point in the effort to get US troops out of the Middle East. It turned Iraqis decisively against the US presence on Iraqi soil, and one is sure the rest of the region was watching. I would like to see that tragic event as a key moment in Iran’s effort to forge a regional security pact and the mechanisms to make it work.

On specific questions, I think it is a matter of time—how much time one cannot say—until the US must leave Iraq.

It is not clear what the US will do in Syria. The new administration has said nothing about whether it will withdraw or maintain its illegal presence there. There is talk here, I should mention of the Biden administration restarting the war to depose President (Bashar) Assad, but this is not confirmed as the intent.

As to the immense US presence in the Saudi kingdom and the (Persian) Gulf, I see little chance of this changing any time soon. But the Middle East is in a very kinetic phase, and events move quickly, so let us see what may evolve.