January 17, 2020

Five Things to Know about Qassem Soleimani 

Only in the President Donald Trump era of politicized everything can the United States target and kill an Iranian mass murderer and elicit as much outrage as celebration.

Before I’m accused of being a short-sighted warmonger, let me state that the Jan. 3 killing of Iranian Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani was a bold risk. But as someone who escaped Iran, I processed the news differently than most Americans: I treated myself to a piece of cake and then proceeded to worry about the future.

Soleimani was the Iranian angel of death. A 2008 message he sent to then-U.S. Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq defined his power with terrifying clarity: “Dear General Petraeus: You should be aware that I, Qassem Soleimani, control Iran’s policy for Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan. And indeed, the ambassador in Baghdad is a Quds Force member.”

Trump designated the Quds Force a foreign terrorist organization in April 2019, the first time the United States assigned that label to a foreign government entity.

This crucial moment in U.S.-Iran relations requires context, which the following facts aim to offer:

Did Soleimani pose a danger to Americans?

Soleimani had American blood on his hands; since 2003, 608 American service personnel were killed by Iranian proxies in Iraq, some at close range. He loved the fight, and his commitment was rivaled only by his savagery. A senior Kurdish official told The New Yorker in 2013, “When we say no [to Soleimani], he makes trouble for us. Bombings. Shootings.”

Some have alleged that Soleimani’s death was the equivalent of a sovereign state assassinating the U.S. secretary of defense, but such parallels are misleading. The secretary of defense is a civilian; authorities said Soleimani was traveling throughout the region planning “to make a significant strike against Americans” when he was killed at Baghdad International Airport in a precision airstrike from an American drone. Five other Iranians reportedly were killed in the strike. Abu Mahdi Muhandis, an Iraqi who commanded the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah group, also was killed.

Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama reportedly declined the option to kill Soleimani during their terms, deeming it too risky. 

Was Soleimani a revered general?

To the regime and the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Soleimani was an esteemed military leader, but in reality he was the world’s highest ranking leader of a terrorist army. In his final malicious undertaking before his death, Soleimani orchestrated an attempted takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The mob scrawled “Soleimani is our leader” on an embassy wall. You can bet that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei won’t be pressing anyone to write his name on American property anytime soon.

Soleimani helped direct Bashar Assad’s hideous war in Syria, in which half a million people have died. And he visited terrorists abroad whom Iran bankrolls — including a visit to Beirut to oversee Hezbollah’s war against Israel in the summer of 2006.

Armed with a sixth-grade education and a violent hegemonic ideology, Soleimani planned, executed and financed murder in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Gaza.

Following Soleimani’s assasination, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that Soleimani belonged to a group of “self-promoting military frauds who conquer failed states and make them fail even more.”

Are Iranians in deep mourning over Soleimani’s assassination?

Many Iranians loathed Soleimani,  primarily because he spent their hard-earned money funding terrorists abroad. The regime ordered dozens of bakeries to close their doors temporarily because too many Iranians were rushing to buy sweets with messages celebrating Soleimani’s death. When I asked a Tehran resident (via social media) how average Iranians were responding to the news, he said, “So many people are happy, because maybe this means that someday soon, we will actually be free of these leaders.” How incredible that Soleimani’s death symbolizes a step toward freedom, not war.

Naturally, the regime is grieving, and Soleimani’s remains were paraded in a coffin around Iranian cities as a powerful propaganda symbol. But as Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad recently tweeted, “Soleimani was a warmonger. He was no hero to average Iranians who chanted against the country’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas.” In fact, “No money, no gas, screw Palestine!” was a favorite slogan of protesters during the 2019 uprising in Iran, in which more than 1,500 people were butchered.

Was Soleimani responsible for the killing of Jews?

Many Jews were butchered by Hamas or Hezbollah, including Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who were abducted (and murdered) by Hezbollah in 2006. That incident incited the Hezbollah war, which resulted in the deaths of nearly 200 Israelis. After Soleimani returned from overseeing the Hezbollah attacks, he sent a message to U.S. commanders in Iraq: “I hope you have been enjoying the peace and quiet in Baghdad. I’ve been busy in Beirut.” 

The IRGC is violently obsessed with Israel. In Persian, even the name of the force, “Quds,” means “Jerusalem,” which the fighters have vowed to “liberate.”

Will Iran and the U.S. go to war?

I don’t believe the U.S. will go to war with Iran but I’m certain that Iran will increase violence in Iraq, and that likely will endanger American service personnel, diplomats and innocent Iraqis. Perhaps Iran will weigh closing the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important choke point, which will force the U.S. to send more naval vessels to the Persian Gulf and drag an impotent Europe, which often capitulates to Iran, into the conflict. Maybe Soleimani will be more dangerous as a martyr than a general. But just ask anyone whose loved one was maimed or killed on Soleimani’s orders, whether in Syria; Iraq; Yemen; Israel; Nairobi, Kenya; Lagos, Nigeria; or New Delhi, and he or she will tell you that the region is better off for not having Qassem Soleimani calling the shots anymore.


Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer and speaker.