Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani was killed by the US on January 3rd 2020, in an air strike at the Baghdad airport ordered by US President Donald Trump. Soleimani, who headed external operations of the Quds Force and was behind Iran’s spreading military influence in West Asia, was in the crosshairs of America and its allies.
A statement released by the US Department of Defense said the US military claimed that the United States took the “decisive step to protect US personnel abroad by killing Soleimani, the head of Quds Force, which is the overseas operations wing of the IRGC and a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organisation”. But there has been severe outrage at this attack with the public torn as to whether this was the right decision or not.
Soleimani’s ascent to power began during the 1979 Iranian revolution that led to the establishment of an Islamic Republic. He rose through the ranks of Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force and his proximity with the supreme leader helped him. In 1998 he became the head of the Guards.
After that, he was instrumental in shaping the foreign policy of Iran, which is surrounded by hostile neighbours and is involved in several political battles across the region.
To tackle Israel in Lebanon — where Israel had occupied some territory — Soleimani supervised a sophisticated campaign of guerrilla warfare, ambushes, suicide bombings, and targeted killings of senior Israeli officers and attacks on Israeli defence posts. Eventually, Israel withdrew from Lebanon in May 2000, in a major victory for Soleimani against an enemy heavily backed by the US.
During the US-Iraq war, which began in 2003, Iran backed insurgents in the region and helped them launch clandestine attacks on US convoys and posts. The help Soleimani offered Iraqi insurgents can be linked to Shiites’ predominance in Iraq, just like in Iran.
When the Arab Spring galvanised almost every other country in West Asia, Soleimani once again became the points person for Iran. When the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) began in 2012, Soleimani oversaw a recruiting drive of militia fighters from countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. They were airlifted to Syria to aid Bashar al-Assad’s forces in key battles.
Soleimani’s work in Iraq did not stop there. The rebels are said to have continued to get help from Iran. Iraqis have on several occasions violently opposed the presence of US forces on their land. In December 2019, when a US contractor was killed in Iraq, an enraged US President Donald Trump had blamed Iran. Trump has often accused Iran of violating the nuclear deal and warned Teheran of serious consequences.
After Soleimani’s killing on January 3, the US said he had been “actively developing” plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and “throughout the region”, and that the “strike was undertaken to deter future Iranian attack plans”.
In a series of tweets, the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khameini, condoled the death of Soleimani. Warning “the criminals who bloodied their foul hands with his (Soleimani’s) blood”, he said there would be “severe revenge” and vowed, “God willing, his work and his path will not be stopped”. A three-day public mourning was declared in Iran in Soliemani’s honour.
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