The killing of Iran’s top general in an American airstrike puts the US and allies including the UK at risk, experts have warned. The UK has been urged not to ‘get sucked in’ to the brewing conflict amid fears of a major retaliation by Iran. General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was killed in the missile strike near Baghdad’s airport on Friday. The US claims he was killed because he was ‘actively developing plans to attack American diplomats’ in Iraq and the Middle East. It also accused Soleimani of approving the attacks on the US Embassy in Baghdad earlier this week.
Iran is likely to retaliate and in the short term could attack US interests in the Middle East, namely in Iraq and harass oil tankers passing through the Strait of Hormuz. But if the US continues its military action, it may need support from allies and the UK could be called upon for support. Dr Jack Watling, research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said this could put UK citizens at risk. He added: ‘The Iranians do not draw a direct line between the UK and US, however, if the UK is perceived to be participating in US actions then they will directly target UK interests. ‘The UK is not automatically the first target. Citizens in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon would certainly potentially be at risk, dual-nationalities in Iran will certainly be at risk of arrest under espionage charges.’
Iran has long been accused of using ‘hostage diplomacy’ in its capture of a number of foreign nationals who are currently being held in jail on spurious espionage charges. The Foreign Office advises British-Iranian dual nationals against all travel to Iran and for other British nationals to seek the department’s advice before travelling to the nation. British nationals risk being arbitrarily detained or arrested by Tehran, the department warns. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been among the dual nationals being held in Iran since she was arrested in 2016 and accused of spying while visiting family. Her husband Richard Ratcliffe told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘I sit here partly worried for what that means for Nazanin, partly worried what that means for my in-laws, sat in their ordinary living room in Tehran where they’re all really worried.’
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