06:49 GMT28 January 2021
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    US-Iran Relations Hit New Low After Killing of General Soleimani in Baghdad (146)

    US officials including President Trump have formally justified the drone strike assassination of Revolutionary Guard Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in part on the basis of the “imminent threat” he allegedly posed to US interests and service members overseas. But do these claims really line up with reality?

    Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani was appointed commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force in the late 1990s, taking command of the elite, best-of-the-best special operations force charged with Iran’s military operations abroad. Since then, his forces have provided weapons, training, tactical and strategic assistance to a host of forces across the Middle East who share a common enemy with the United States – radical Sunni Islamist terrorists. This fact runs in stark contrast to recent mainstream US media attempts to portray Soleimani as an “arch terrorist” seeking nothing other than wanton destruction and the deaths of Americans.


    • In late 2001, after a group of 19 Saudi, Emirati, Lebanese and Egyptian hijackers slammed commercial airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 Americans, US officials quietly met with Iranian diplomats coordinated by Soleimani in Geneva. Iran, a long-time enemy of al-Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, agreed to provide the United States with valuable intelligence on the terrorist group, including the locations of suspected al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. Iran was also eager to assist the US in its campaign against the Taliban, since the radical fundamentalist movement was known for its harsh treatment of Afghanistan’s Shia minority, and had attacked and killed 11 Iranian diplomats at the consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998.
    • In November 2001, Quds Force special forces and US Army Rangers and Delta Force units entered the city of Herat, northwestern Afghanistan, igniting an anti-terrorist insurrection led by Northern Alliance. The unprecedented operation led to the collapse of Taliban control of Herat, and soon the group was toppled from power across the rest of Afghanistan. The Quds Force was known to have provided material support to Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the US-allied Northern Alliance, going back to at least the mid-1990s. Iranian intelligence services continued to provide the US with intelligence until January 2002, when US President George W Bush added Iran to his ‘Axis of Evil’ list of possible regime change targets during his State of the Union address.


    • In 2012, as Syria drowned in a foreign-backed civil conflict on the wave of the so-called Arab Spring protests, Soleimani and the Quds Force began providing arms and material support as well as military advisors to the Assad government. Iran’s support included assistance to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia group which sent up to 10,000 fighters to Syria to fight an array of terrorists and anti-government militants. Soleimani’s assistance to Damascus would continue throughout the decade, with Quds playing a direct role in the al-Qusayar offensive against al-Nusra, the Syrian offshoot of al-Qaeda, from April to June 2013. Iran also deployed hundreds of military specialists, and between 60-70 commanders on the ground at any one time to help gather intelligence. Quds participated in the 2015 southern Syria offensive, clearing the Damascus suburbs and much of the southern Syrian region of Quneitra of Nusra and ‘Islamic Front’ jihadists. 
    • How did Soleimani’s efforts in the Syrian conflict save American lives? For one thing, they helped to tie down tens of thousands of radicals from Daesh (ISIS),* al-Qaeda, and a host of other terrorist groups which could have otherwise scattered to Western countries to conduct Paris or Brussels-style terror attacks. Furthermore, they allowed the US to limit its anti-Daesh operations in Syria to aerial support and limited on-the-ground assistance to Kurdish militias, meaning fewer US service members’ lives put at risk.


    • In late 2014, as Daesh began to spread across Iraq, Soleimani teamed up with the Iraqi Army and the Baghdad-allied Iraqi Shia militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, in their campaign first to stop the Daesh onslaught, and then to beat them back from the territories they captured. The Iraq engagement became the Quds Force’s largest-ever foreign deployment, with units taking part in operations including: the Siege of Amirli in the summer of 2014, Operation Ashura, or the liberation of Jurf Al Sakhar, central Iraq in October 2014, the second and third battles of Baiji, and the 2nd Battle of Tikrit in 2015. The Revolutionary Guards and Quds suffered at least 13 troops killed between 2014 and 2017 in Iraq, a significant number considering that the Quds Force's overall strength is estimated to amount to just 800 and 3,500 troops.
    • The United States never formally agreed to cooperate with Iran in battle against Daesh in Iraq, which a US-led coalition also joined starting in late 2014. However, with US support for Baghdad limited mostly to airpower, it was up to the Iraqi Army and the 90,000 militiamen-strong Popular Moblization Forces (supported by Suleimani and Quds) to do the heavy lifting in clearing Daesh out of the cities and villages, including during the brutal house-to-house fighting to push the terrorists out of Mosul. Were it not for Soleimani, Quds and the PMF, the Iraqi Army and US troops would have had to do more of the fighting, inevitably meaning more casualties. In other words, with his involvement in the campaign to destroy Daesh in Iraq, Soleimani ensured that fewer men and women of the US Armed Forces came home in body bags.

    Conflicting Interests...(?)

    There is no doubt that US and Iranian interests have clashed over the years, and that General Soleimani has occasionally taken part in operations harmful to the US and its allies. In 2006, for example, during the Israel-Lebanon War, he provided assistance to Hezbollah in its guerrilla war against the Israel Defence Force, the US’s closest ally in the Middle East. In the years since, Washington has also accused Iran of covertly supporting militants fighting the US occupation in Iraq, and providing military and technical assistance to the Houthi militia fighting Saudi forces in Yemen. None of the latter claims have been substantiated, but even if true, are an indication Tehran and Washington’s divergent geopolitical strategies, not malign intent on Iran or Soleimani’s part to ‘harm Americans.’

    Whether against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, or against Daesh and other terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq, Gen. Soleimani and the Quds Force have consistently fought the same Sunni Islamist Wahhabi fundamentalist forces which have targeted US forces across the Middle East and around the world, and which have vowed to destroy the West and America through acts of terror.

    By approving Soleimani’s assassination, President Trump has not only dealt a blow to the forces fighting Daesh and al-Qaeda, but put an irreversible end to the informal, often begrudging, highly unlikely but hugely successful partnership between Iran and the US in the fight against terrorism, and that may put American lives at risk.
    US-Iran Relations Hit New Low After Killing of General Soleimani in Baghdad (146)


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