If you study the military record of the late General Qasem Soleimani, you’ll see why US military and political leaders feared his prowess – yet did not wish him dead.
The current US president chose to do what Israel’s Mossad had considered and rejected on multiple occasions, concluding that killing Soleimani would not enhance Israel’s security in the region.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi told the Iraqi parliament on Sunday that Soleimani came to Iraq the week he was killed to respond to a diplomatic note from Saudi Arabia.
While bitter enemies, the Saudi monarchy and the Islamic Republic were privately negotiating steps to pacify the region, which has been roiled by anti-Iranian and anti-American demonstrations.
“I was supposed to meet Soleimani in the morning the day he was killed,” Abdul-Mahdi said, according to news reports. “He came to deliver me a message from Iran responding to the message we delivered from Saudi to Iran.”
The Iraqi parliament proceeded to disinvite the 5,000 US troops stationed in the country. The parliament did not set a deadline for their departure, and scores of non-Shia parliamentarians did not vote.
Soleimani was not feared by USA (and Israeli and Saudi) policymakers because he was a terrorist (though he used terror tactics). He was feared because he was, against the odds, successful on the battlefield.
According to journalist Yossi Melman, Israeli intelligence assessed him as “a daring and talented commander, there’s no disputing that he helped the Islamic Republic achieve three significant goals.
First, Soleimani played a key role in driving US occupation forces out of Iraq. As Quds Force commander, he presided over the creation of anti-American militias in 2003 that mounted deadly attacks on US occupation forces.
Soleimani’s attacks, along with the manifest failure of US goals to reduce terrorism and spread democracy, contributed to then-US president Barack Obama’s politically popular decision to withdraw most of the US troops in 2011.
That was a priority for the government in Tehran, and Soleimani helped achieve it.
Second, Soleimani played a key role in driving Islamic State (ISIS) out of Iraq – a victory in which the United States ironically helped boost his reputation. In this battle, Soleimani took advantage of US vulnerability, not hubris.
When ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed an Islamic State in western Iraq six years ago, the Sunni fundamentalists of ISIS regard the Shia Muslims of Iran and Iraq as infidels, almost as contemptible as Americans and Israeli’s.
After the regular Iraqi armed forces collapsed, Iraqi Ayatollah Ali Sistani blessed the creation of Shiite militias to save the country. Sistani’s fatwa empowered Iran to mobilize and expand Soleimani’s militia network.
ISIS was expelled from Iraq into Syria by 2017. In Iran, Soleimani emerged as a hero in the fight against the deadliest religious fanatics on the planet, especially after ISIS had carried out a terror attack in Tehran on June 2017 that killed 12 people.
Third, Soleimani helped defeat ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria’s civil war. In 2015, President Bashar al-Assad’s armed forces were losing ground to Sunni fundamentalist forces funded by the US Central Intelligence Agency and the Persian Gulf oil monarchies.
The CIA hoped to overthrow Assad. Iran feared losing its ally in Damascus to a hostile anti-Shia regime controlled by al-Qaeda. Obama feared another Iraq and refused to commit to regime change in Syria.
Soleimani brought in Iranian advisers and fighters from Hezbollah, the Shiite militia of Lebanon that Iran has supported since the 1980’s.
With help from merciless Russian bombing attacks, the Iranian-trained ground forces helped Syria turn the tide on the jihadists.
The CIA, under directors Leon Panetta, John Brennan and Mike Pompeo, spent US$1 billion to overthrow Assad. They had less influence on the outcome than Soleimani.
The net effect of Soleimani’s three victories – abetted by US crimes and blunders – was, for better or worse, to bolster Iranian influence across the region.
From Afghanistan in the east to the Mediterranean in the west, Iran gained political ground, thanks to Soleimani. In death, as in life, Soleimani has diminished US influence in the Middle East.
He perfected the art of asymmetric warfare, using local proxies, political alliances, deniable attacks, and selective terrorism to achieve the government’s political goals.
Iran’s cumulative successes provoked dismay in Washington (and Tel Aviv and Riyadh). In the course of the 21st century, Iran overcame international isolation actually to gain, not lose, an advantage to its regional rivals.
Asia Times / ABC Flash Point News 2020.