By now everyone has heard the news of the death of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. The general, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, was killed in a drone strike near Baghdad International Airport on January 3. And his death, the US’ first targeted assassination of a country’s military leader since Admiral Yamamoto during World War II, could very well plunge the world into World War III.
Iran’s Quds Force is a subset of the country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. It’s responsible for overseas military action and secret operations, often working in conjunction with militant groups. It’s broadly similar in function to the US Army Special Forces, or Green Berets, who similarly operate abroad and train foreign militaries and rebel groups in the conduct of guerrilla warfare.
Soleimani has been credited with masterminding the attack on the US consulate at Benghazi, Libya in 2012 that resulted in the death of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens. He has also been blamed for the deaths of hundreds of US soldiers across the Middle East over the past several years. But Soleimani was also crucial in cooperating with US forces looking to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan in the first days after 9/11, and his strategy for defeating ISIS in Iraq is widely credited with ending ISIS’ reign of terror in that country.
The drone attack that killed Soleimani also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy chief of the Popular Mobilization Committee and head of the Kataib Hezbollah militia. Al-Muhandis was alleged to have been responsible for the attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad in late December.
Initial reports after the drone strike indicated that al-Muhandis was the actual target of the attack, and that US forces were only able to locate him after he used his cell phone to call someone. Once his location was identified, drones were sent to kill him. That would mean that Soleimani was merely collateral damage, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
If that’s the case, then that would be a massive “oopsie” that the US has subsequently had to try to justify. Assassinating the military leader of a foreign nation with which you’re at war is already pretty extreme and uncommon. But assassinating the military leader of a foreign nation with which you’re not at war, on the territory of a third country, is arguably a war crime. And given the likelihood that such a targeted assassination would lead to all-out war, it’s at least plausible that Soleimani was not actually the target of the attack.
That would explain why Iran has thus far not reacted against the US, as they too realize that this may just have been bad luck. And it would explain why we’ve been getting so many different stories out of Washington over the past several days, as the spin machine goes from “Oh crap, we killed a guy we shouldn’t have” to “Yeah, we meant to do that because the guy was evil.” No one in Washington seems to have been prepared to own Soleimani’s killing, hence the furious finger-pointing going on between Congress and the administration.
But regardless of whether Soleimani’s killing was targeted or not, the man is now dead. He’s been replaced as head of the Quds Force, which will undoubtedly continue its actions. The only question now is whether Soleimani’s killing ends up becoming like the killing of Osama bin Laden or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, or whether it becomes like the assassination of Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand. Let’s hope for the sake of world peace that cool heads prevail and that World War III doesn’t result from Soleimani’s death.
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