Qassem Soleimani was one of Iran’s most powerful political figures. The general was killed in an airstrike on Thursday carried out by U.S forces. The air raids took place near Baghdad International Airport in which Iranian Quds Force commander Soleimani was among the people killed.
Soleimani was considered ‘a rock star general’ in his home country owing to his influential leadership in the region. Abroad, he was famous for leading the foreign arm of the Revolutionary Guards as well as his significant role in fighting in Syria and Iraq.
He was highly influential in the spread of Iranian influence in the Middle East which the United States and regional foes Saudi Arabia and Israel have struggled to restrain for a long time.
Over the past decade, Soleimani had also been instrumental in carrying out much of Iran’s military and diplomatic efforts, ranging from his support for the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad to his fight against ISIS. The general organized Shia militias that fought alongside the Assad regime in Syria. Soleimani was the most significant figure in composing the military campaign that saved the Assad regime during the Syrian uprising. He was regarded as the mastermind behind Iran’s military strategy.
Former FBI officer and security analyst, Ali Soufan, remarked the previous year:
“More than anyone else, Soleimani has been responsible for the creation of an arc of influence – which Iran terms its ‘Axis of Resistance’ – extending from the Gulf of Oman through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea.”
His death is likely to escalate further tension in the already crippling relationship between Iran and the United States. What will happen next, is the question.
Vali Nasr, a professor at John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, very interestingly said in The New Yorker, “if he (Soleimani) had described himself, it would probably have been as the commander of Iran’s equivalent of CENTCOM, the regional commander of all of Iran’s operations – security, intelligence, military – outside of the Iranian border.” He would have a bigger role than a CENTCOM’s commander in the US, added the author of the article.
Why did Iranians consider him a revered figure?
Soleimani stood as a symbol of patriotism and piousness in Iran. Rumours spread around the country anticipating that he might become the next president. Nasr also notes that the likely reason his assassination will cause a retaliation in Iran and Iraq is because they see him as hero defeating ISIS and protecting Iranian national interests.
Nasr notes that world leaders who dealt with the general all had this in common to say – that he was a pragmatic leader. His pragmatism led to his success both in and out of the country.
What happened and why was he killed?
The Pentagon earlier said in a statement, “General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” “General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.”
December 27 marked the killing during an assault on K-1 Air Base in Kirkuk, Iraq. More than 30 rockets at the air base were fired with additional casualties from four service members and two Iraqi security forces.
The U.S. blamed Kata’ib Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militia, for the attack. The U.S. launched a series of air strikes on the headquarters of the group on December 29, killing 25.
Two days later, at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, protesters gathered and left anti-American graffiti and posters. Trump accused Iran of stirring unrest, but the foreign ministry of the country rejected the allegations and said, “If Iran wants a country to fight, it will strike directly.”
Soleimani was killed on January 2 in an airstrike led by Donald Trump. The attack stemmed from years of conflict and a withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
The assassination was “tantamount to an act of war,” author Robin Wright states.
How did the world react to it?
The world was shocked at the killing invoking serious concerns of a possible World War III in the region and elsewhere.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei condemned the attack and declared three days of mourning. He vowed to “take revenge” on the U.S due to the killing. President Hassan Rouhani also condemned the murder.
Republicans praised the attack, although Democrats labelled the attack as extremely risky. Bernie Sanders referred the killing as “a dangerous escalation that brings us closer to another disastrous Middle East war that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars.”
With Soleimani’s death, the lingering possibility of a war has not vanished. The consequences are yet to unfold.