US Assassination of Qassem Soleimani: Why Him & Why Now?

The Trump admin picks up its second big scalp in three months – but Soleimani is completely different from Baghdadi.

Updated04 Jan 2020, 05:10 AM IST
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The late Major General Qassem Soleimani of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

That’s the big-ticket scalp US President Donald Trump’s administration has claimed in the first week of 2020, after claiming ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s scarcely three months earlier (October 2019).

But despite the US’ designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC – of which Quds Force is a part) as a ‘Foreign Terrorist Organisation’ for economic sanctions, the killing of Soleimani is nothing like the killing of Baghdadi.

Soleimani was a high-ranking commander in Iran’s (approximate) equivalent of the US Special Forces, and a popular figure within a sovereign nation... not an extralegal terrorist like Baghdadi. Which means that this assassination by the US military could easily be interpreted as an act of war – one that sought no Congressional approval, and the justification for which has been kept opaque so far, beyond this statement released by the Pentagon:

Statement by the Pentagon. 
Statement by the Pentagon. 
(Photo Courtesy: Screengrab/US Department of Defense press release)

The use of ‘imminent threat’ to frame the attack as a pre-emptive strike brings back unpleasant memories of the US’ claim that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” to justify its botched invasion of Iran’s neighbour – and no evidence of such plans by Soleimani has been offered.

But the assassination of Soleimani can be seen in the immediate context of two developments:

1. US Embassy Besieged

Right on the cusp of the new year and into it, Iran-backed militias laid siege to the US embassy in Baghdad for about 48 hours, breaching its gates and wreaking havoc in its grounds. Photos of burnt-out rooms and plumes of smoke painted a picture of devastation, but nobody was killed, and the embassy wasn’t evacuated.

The violent protests at the embassy were part of an ongoing tit-for-tat exchange – the Iran-backed militias were reacting to the killing of 25 of their members in US air strikes a few days prior. That, in turn, was a reprisal for the killing of a US contractor at an Iraqi military base a few days prior to that.

But the assassination of a Major General of the Quds Force marks a massive escalation and a disproportionate use of force. Already, opposition Senators and Congressmen and women have condemned the attack, some even saying it amounts to provoking yet another illegal American war – an irony, considering one of Trump’s main election planks was an end to costly, foreign wars.

2. 2020 Elections

November 2020 is the next US general election, in which Trump – a particularly embattled president – will be looking to win a second term. He has already been impeached by the House of Representatives where Democrats are in the majority, and a Senate trial to look into the charges of ‘abuse of power’ and ‘obstruction of Congress’ is in the works.

Trump’s only hope to revive his legacy will be to secure re-election – a result that a war or near-war with Iran makes that much more likely.

Of course, Trump is well-versed with that old trick used by unscrupulous rulers – whipping up nationalistic sentiment against a foreign adversary to unite the country behind its leader.

In a video from 2011, in which he is attacking then-president Obama, Trump can be seen explaining the logic quite clearly.

To see that clip, watch the video!

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Published: 03 Jan 2020, 06:19 PM IST
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