- The assassination of Qasem Soleimani takes the US-Iran dispute to another level.
- General Soleimani was credited with defending the Iraqi and Syrian regimes and the Shia communities in both these countries and beyond.
- He deployed not only IRGC units to fight against IS but also armed, trained and financed tens of thousands of Shia militia against IS.
- Iran has begun the retaliation by launching missiles targeting US bases in Iraq.
- In addition to Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah and Shia militia groups, and Sunni threat groups sponsored by Iran are likely to retaliate against Western, especially US, interests.
Iran has begun avenging the killing of General Qasem Soleimani by launching missiles targeting the US bases in Iraq. Pressure is also being mounted on the US by Iraq government to withdraw their presence from the Iraqi soil.
The assassination of Qasem Soleimani, commander of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force – the military entity's overseas wing, takes the US-Iran dispute to another level. In addition to Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah and Shia militia groups, and Sunni threat groups sponsored by Iran are likely to retaliate against Western, especially US, interests.
US President Trump authorized the strike based on intelligence that IRGC planned to conduct operations against US targets in the Middle East.
General Suleimani was the mastermind of Iran’s policy of fighting the US and Western presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, the two countries bordering Iran.
He was not only considered a threat by United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, but by the Islamic State (IS). He deployed not only IRGC units to fight against IS but also armed, trained and financed tens of thousands of Shia militia against IS. He is also responsible for providing both Iraqi and Afghan threat groups with advanced bomb-making equipment and training that made the US presence untenable in Iraq and Afghanistan.
How Soleimani Consolidated Militia in Middle East
With the rise of the IS on June 29, 2014, the threat landscape in the Middle East transformed significantly. In the lead up to the formation of IS, when it’s predecessor groups were incessantly targeting Shia in Iraq, many questioned why Iran was not supporting the Iraqi Shia adequately. faced an unprecedented threat.
Rather than deploy its regular forces, Iran deployed Lebanese Hezbollah, Qods Corps, Fatimion and Zeynabion Brigades. While Brigade of Fatemiyon was created in 2011 and Zeynabiyon in 2014, they were from the Shia of Parachenar in Pakistan and some Pakistanis who want to defend the Zeynab Holy Shrine.
After IS moved from Iraq to Syria, the Assad regime was about to fall. General Soleimani implemented a strategy of deploying over 100,000 forces in Syria. In addition to deploying the well established Shia militia, General Soleimani raised some forces made by the local Shia.
The Shia militia groups raised in Syria were:
- Qowat Al Reza, the youths from Homs and Allepo formed the core of Hezbollah in Syria.
- The brigade of Hazrat Roqayas were the Iraqi youth who want to defend Zeynab Holy Shrine with their headquarters in Damascus.
- The brigade of Imam Zeyn Al Abidin(A), the Shia from Hamah.
- The brigade of Imam Mahdi(AJ), the Alavies and Shia from Hamah and Homs with their headquarters in Masyaf in west of Hamah.
- The brigade of Imam Baqir(A), the tribes of the great Albakarah tribe of Aleppo, both Sunni And Shia.
- Al Qalibun Battalion, the youths from Foua and Kafarya.
- Jonud Al Mahdi, the youth from Nobol Alzahra who were trained by the Lebanese Hezbollah forces in 2012.
- Fouj Al Imam Alhoja created of youth for Nobol Alzahra liberation operation.
- Kashafa Al Imam Mahdi, consisting of Shia teens Fouj Shohada Nobol Alzahra from the family of the martyrs of Nobol Alzahra
- Fouj Altadkhol Alkhas, the elite fighters trained for difficult and complex operations.
- Brigade of Assadollah Alqalib is the core of Asaeb Ahl al-Haq
- Brigade of Aboulfazl Al Abbas consisted of those who want to defend the Zeynab Holy Shrine
Shias Across the World Will Not Forget Soleimani
With the onset of the Syrian crisis, General Suleimani organized these forces in Syria and then strengthened their presence in Iraq. He is credited with defending the Iraqi and Syrian regimes and the Shia communities in both these countries and beyond.
To thwart the IS threat, he created the ground forces to fight IS and defend both communities and regimes. While the western, Israeli and Arab security and Intelligence services feared him, he earned the admiration of the regimes of Iran, Iraq and Syria and their Shia communities worldwide.
The Pentagon, the US department of defence reflected the need for a preemptive strike by stating that “General Suleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region”. They further added “General Suleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.”
In addition to Gen Suleimani, several Iraqi officials and militias backed by Tehran were killed when the US struck the convoy that was leaving the Baghdad airport. Their supporters won’t be in a hurry to let this pass.
World Should Brace Itself for ‘Endless Wars’
The US considered assassinating General Suleimani earlier but President Obama presidency decided against it as it could lead to an escalation, including war. However, President Trump authorized the assassination of General Suleimani after American contractor was killed during a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base in Kirkuk by an Iranian-backed militia on 27 December 2019. A U.S. retaliatory attack killed about two-dozen members of an Iranian supported Kataeb Hezbollah.
In response, pro-Iranian demonstrators swarmed the fortified U.S. Embassy compound in the Iraqi capital. Ironically, Trump has repeatedly vowed that he wants to halt America’s “endless wars,” particularly in the Middle East. However, he may have done exactly the opposite.
(Rohan Gunaratna is Professor of Security Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He is a counter terrorism trainer for military forces, law enforcement authorities and national security agencies. He is co-author of Three Pillars of Radicalization: Needs, Networks and Narratives (Oxford University Press, 2019. He tweets @RohanGunaratna. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)