The assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani on January 3, 2020 via a targeted drone strike in Baghdad is but one addition to a long, long history of US imperialist attempts at controlling Iran and the entire region designated as the Middle East by western societies. Since the 1950s, the United States has been a defining figure in the shaping of not only Iran’s foreign policy, but also Iran as a nation itself.
Let’s go back to January of 2020, to address something that is already largely forgotten in the American consciousness. By examining the impact Soleimani’s death had at home and in Iran, we can assess how little Americans seem to understand how much US imperialism shaped the world and the current affairs we globally deal with.
By Luis Miranda, contributor
Nov. 29th, 2020
(Depicted: U.S. military bases surrounding Iran; demonstration of 1980 Iranian revolution; U.S. drones.)
A Distinguished Burial Among a Legacy of Death
On the 6th of January, 2020, a funeral for Soleimani was held in his hometown of Kerman. Attendance was so large for the small town that at least 56 people were trampled to death during the service.
In Iran’s capital, Tehran, over a million people gathered to pay respects to the venerated general, whom the public still saw as their war hero from the Iran-Iraq war. The response to the death of Soleimani in Iran and Iraq displays the complex history of the relationship between the two nations and the U.S., and how little the Trump administration seems to understand this history.
To make it clear and simple, the United States created the conditions in which Iranian influence thrived in Iraq, then reversed their policy and now call the international community to stem the power of Iran.
Americans need to recognize that U.S. citizens will not bear the brunt of our reckless imperialist attitudes; it will be Iraqi and Iranian people who will primarily face the fallout of the controversial drone strike. The ill-advised assassination of Soleimani has been a fresh chapter in the proxy war the U.S. and Iran have been playing in Iraq for more than a decade. It marks another event in the long history of interventionist policies the U.S. has practiced in Iran since the CIA became involved in the region during the 1950s, when they overthrew a democratically elected government for daring to nationalize their oil industry. Backed by western imperialism, the Shah ran the country for 25 years. However, the cruelty of the regime is what created the conditions for the Islamic Revolution.
The United States also periodically applied a barrage of sanctions on Iran, starting with the Islamic Revolution. Interestingly enough, in 2001 when Bush’s “war on terror” reached its full momentum, Iran had begun to seriously spread their influence in the region through their support of U.S. military action against the Taliban.
This is yet another highlight of how U.S. foreign policy tends to backfire due to a lack of foresight and long-term goals. When the U.S. military turned this endless war on Iraq, Iran quietly welcomed American military interventionism against their old foe: Saddam Hussein’s regime. Iran was not the only nation to support the action, and it is evidence of the shrewd, pragmatic style Soleimani has used to define Iranian foreign policy.
Israel was a much more vocal supporter of the invasion of Iraq. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proclaimed to the U.S. congress that taking out Saddam’s regime “will have enormous positive reverberations on the region.” Considering Israel’s role as an aggressor towards Iran, it is interesting that these reverberations Netanyahu mentioned are what enabled Tehran’s allies within Iraq to obtain power within the country. It also set up Iran to support and exert influence throughout Iraq and Lebanon through militias they backed. Terrorist acts also skyrocketed right after the invasion. Israel and the U.S. supported policies that led to the rise of Iran as a major military power, and now these same players want to stem the power they enabled.
The U.S. occupations of both Afghanistan and Iraq have turned indefinite, and any political benefits of invading the region seem to become more amorphous beyond the context of resource control and influence. But for Iran, the fall of Saddam meant they could finally help Shi’ite Iraqis gain more political power, and establish strong allyships against U.S.-backed Israeli aggression.
Soleimani himself oversaw and directed the Iranian diplomats that collaborated with the U.S. State Department senior official Ryan Crocker. Just a few days after the 9/11 attacks, Crocker had a top secret meeting with the Iranian diplomats under Soleimani’s instructions in Geneva.
For the first time since the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1980, there was a line of communication between the two nations, in large part thanks to the shrewd and politically savvy Iranian general. This, like the rest of Iran’s foreign policy decisions reveal the true relationship between the U.S. and Iran: The U.S. constantly oppresses and pressures Iran to acquiesce to the needs of the global power.
The negotiations and cooperation between Iran and the U.S. to fight the Taliban went well through the initial phase of the invasion of Iraq. But in January of 2002, George W. Bush gave a speech which undoubtedly changed global relations for the worse and continues to affect global relationships to this day, in which he described Iran as an “Axis of Evil.”
Crocker, along with many senior diplomats, was completely taken by surprise by the content of the speech. The Iranian negotiators he was working with were absolutely furious at the betrayal of the president. “Soleimani is in a tearing rage. He feels compromised,” an Iranian negotiator told Crocker. Soleimani had been put in a compromising position, suddenly having to defend his position of reevaluating the United States as an ally. Needless to say, the negotiations fell apart in the aftermath of Bush’s speech.
After the fall of Saddam, Crocker was assigned to set up a new Iraqi government, where he learned of Iraqi officials’ relations with Soleimani. Their cooperation was so successful, Soleimani himself vetted Shi’ite candidates for the Iraqi Governing Council, the government the U.S. was establishing in Iraq. Crocker went on to be the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009, where he continued to communicate with Soleimani indirectly. Soleimani had an extensive network of allies globally, and in Baghdad, many Iraqi leaders who visited Tehran would serve as the communication tool between the two estranged nations.
“You don’t live through eight years of brutal war without being pretty pragmatic,” Crocker said of Soleimani. Crocker was referring to the Iran-Iraq war, where as a member of the Revolutionary Guard, Soleimani quickly gained a distinguished reputation not only amongst his peers but among his enemies as well.
During that war, the Iraqis would call him “the goat thief” when discussing him over radio communications - a sign of admiration for his success in reconnaissance missions. Soleimani would always bring a goat back from behind enemy lines to eat with his comrades.
Soleimani eventually became a division commander during the war, and would come out the other end of the conflict a decorated war hero with massive charisma and influence among the public as well as in political circles.
One of the most important lessons Iranian leadership learned from the conflict was that the use of indirect, asymmetrical warfare was much more favorable and effective than a bloodbath through direct combat. His indirect tactics again proved true when Saddam’s regime fell, opening up the opportunity to reshape their old enemy’s emerging government.
The Revolutionary Guard that Ayatollah Khomeini had established in 1979, and which Soleimani joined when he first became involved in the Islamic Revolution, served as a prototype for the Quds Force. Khomeini developed the Quds Force as a unit designed to protect Iran and export the Islamic Revolution.
By 1989, the desire to expand the revolution had subsided. Khomeini instead began to focus on the preservation of the sphere of influence Iran had carved out throughout the decade. During this time Soleimani worked in the eastern frontier of Iran aiding Afghan rebels who were fighting the Taliban.
It is important to note the Taliban received millions of dollars and weapons from the CIA throughout the 80’s via Operation Cyclone to keep out Soviet influence from the region, yet again proving the complete disregard America has continually had for the lives of the peoples in the region. U.S. policy treats the different groups as pawns in a chess game, and U.S. politicians have little concern for the harm they cause.
The intense enmity between the Taliban and Iran was a result of the Taliban’s persecution of Afghanistan’s minority Shi’ite population. Soleimani made a name for himself yet again, this time for battling opium smugglers along the border. By prosecuting Iranian smugglers, he distinguished himself among the corruption permeating the area.
In 1998, Soleimani became the head of the Quds Forces, immediately getting to work on developing it into the far-reaching organization it is today. Under Soleimani’s control, the Quds Forces developed multiple branches focused on intelligence, finance, politics, sabotage, and special operations.
The expert leadership of Soleimani gave Iran a huge network of allies throughout the region, funding not only Shi’ite groups but also Sunni groups like Hamas, creating a pragmatic movement of resistance against U.S. influence. “In each case, Soleimani was smarter, faster, and better resourced than anyone else in the region,” a western diplomat in Baghdad said of Soleimani’s alliances of resistance.
This brings us to Syria’s civil war, which Soleimani essentially took over in the light of the incompetence of Assad’s regime. One of his successes was the recapturing of the small Syrian town Qusayer with the help of Hezbollah, a military and political group with major power in Lebanon. The party originated with Iranian funding and are instrumental allies in the fight against Israel-U.S. hegemony.
This is part of a series in which we cover U.S. policies in Iran and further examine U.S. attitudes towards Iranian issues and how they are perceived in Iran itself.