On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was assassinated by Serbian conspirators seeking the secession of Slavs from his realm. Austria-Hungry responded by issuing an ultimatum to Serbia and, shortly thereafter, declaring war on the Slavic kingdom. An 1892 French alliance forged with Czarist Russia mandated mobilization in the event of military action by any members of the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. Consequently, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand set off a chain reaction that, in very short order, plunged Europe into the inhuman hell of the First World War. The assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike ordered by President Donald Trump on January 2, 2020, is likely to be viewed by historians, in hindsight, as a comparable catalyst – albeit one with even more catastrophic consequences.
General Soleimani (age sixty-two) was leader of Iran’s Qods Force, the elite expeditionary wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). “Haj Qassem” was from a poor peasant family in the Kerman province of Iran. He spent his youth as a construction worker paying off his father’s debts. A decorated veteran of the Iran-Iraq War who – in his rare interviews – wistfully spoke of wanting to be martyred so that he could rejoin his friends and fallen comrades, Soleimani refused to wear body armor or even a bullet proof vest when commanding the Qods Force in its numerous battles against ISIL and other Sunni Islamist fighters in Iraq and Syria. Although renowned for his humility, in December of 2017, Soleimani refused to even open a letter from the chief of the CIA that was hand delivered to him. It was around then that Time magazine named Soleimani among the top 100 most influential figures in the world, describing him as the “James Bond” and “Erwin Rommel” of “Middle Eastern Shi’ites.”1 Foreign Policy named him as among the most influential “Global Thinkers” and “the most powerful general in the Middle East today.2
In the wake of his assassination, General Soleimani has been characterized as the second most powerful man in the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, the truth is that even an American assassination of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would not have triggered the kind of retaliation that everyone ought to expect from Iran and its proxies in the coming days. Unlike the Supreme Leader, General Soleimani was widely viewed as a national hero by Iranians across the political spectrum. Even those patriots most vehemently opposed to the Islamic ideology of Iran’s current regime harbored in their hearts a sneaking admiration for “Sardar Soleimani.” His martyrdom is likely to accomplish what could barely be conceived as the consequence of the death of any other Iranian leader: the solidarity of hitherto embattled and embittered religious and nationalist factions against foreign aggression.
The reaction outside of Iran is likely to be even more vehement. After the American toppling of Saddam Hussein and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 opened a vacuum of power in the Middle East that was quickly filled by the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), it was Soleimani who led the Arab Shi’ite resistance against ISIL in Iraq and Syria. He played a key role in the unification of Iraqi Shi’ite militias into the umbrella organization Hashd al-Shaabi or the “Popular Mobilization Forces.” The group’s leader, Abu-Mahdi Al-Muhandis, was riding in the same vehicle with Soleimani near Baghdad airport when the two of them were killed by Trump’s drone strike. It was Hashd al-Shaabi who had organized the protests against the continued American occupation of Iraq outside the US Embassy in Baghdad on December 31, 2019, which President Trump has used as a casus belli for assassinating Soleimani and Muhandis.
When President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton emboldened the nascent Caliphate by destabilizing Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, Soleimani’s reach also deepened from Baghdad to Damascus. He has worked closely with the Lebanese Hezbollah, who admire him as ardently as the Arab fighters that he commanded in Iraq and Syria. Indeed, the first significant response to Soleimani’s assassination has been a declaration from the Hezbollah militia that it intends to retaliate by attacking all American bases in the region. Israel has gone into full war-preparedness in response to this threat. It is an open secret that the Israelis had more than one opportunity to assassinate Soleimani while he was operating in Syria, but were warned against doing so by US military and intelligence officials who fathomed the catastrophic escalation that would ensue from this act of war. For the same reasons, Trump’s order is already being widely criticized by geopolitical analysts and condemned by some members of the US congress.
The latter should be hardly surprised that their exclusive constitutional power to declare war has been undermined. This is exactly the kind of thing that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s April 8, 2019 designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization was intended to facilitate. Under the 2001 Authorization of the Use of Military Force in the Global War on Terrorism passed by Congress after 9/11, the President of the United States is invested with the authority to strike “terrorists” anywhere at any time. Never mind that fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were Saudis acting with the backing of elites within the regime of Saudi Arabia, America’s closest Muslim ally – and Iran’s greatest regional adversary. Never mind that, in the wake of 9/11, General Soleimani was among the Iranian officials who clandestinely volunteered to collaborate with the United States in military operations against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Never mind that Iran rescinded that good will offer only after America intended to colonize Iraq, a region that served as the capital district of Iran for over a thousand years during three successive Persian Empires. Baghdad or Bogh-Dâd is an ancient Persian name, meaning “Given by God” or “God’s Justice.” Even after the advent of Islam, most of “Iraq” was part of Shi’ite Iran until around 1750.
An Iranian flag is likely to be flying over that originally Persian city again in the very near future. The fact that the protesters at the US Embassy in Baghdad were able to make their way through numerous checkpoints and into the heart of the supposedly secure “green zone” established by American colonizers attests to the depth and breadth of Iranian influence within Iraq’s government. Hashd al-Shaabi, the militia coalition who organized the protests, consists of Iraqi Shi’ites so devout that during the Iran-Iraq war they defected to Iran’s side and fought for the Islamic Republic against Saddam Hussein. The majority of the Shi’ite dominated Iraqi government that was democratically elected after the US overthrow of Saddam in 2003 consists of Iraqi politicians who spent the 1980s and 1990s living under political asylum in Iran and forging close working relationships with Iran’s theocratic elite. Much of this Iranian theocratic elite, in turn, was born or raised in Shi’ite holy cities such as Najaf and Karbala that are situated in the artificial nation-state of “Iraq.”
Just a week before the assassination of Soleimani and Muhandis, the December 27 issue of Newsweek ran a dramatic cover story titled “If Iran Falls, ISIS May Rise Again.”3 The article rightly identifies Iran as the leading force resisting the rise of the would-be Sunni fundamentalist Caliphate. What Newsweek does not dare to admit is that ISIS – or DAESH as I prefer to call it (out of respect for the ancient Egyptian goddess) – was effectively created, armed, and funded by the United States and its chief regional ally, Saudi Arabia. This Frankenstein’s monster of the American military-industrial complex not only carried out a genocide of ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, DAESH also attempted to erase the Pre-Islamic Iranian artistic and architectural heritage by smashing, drilling, and dynamiting “pagan” monuments in Nineveh, Mosul, and Palmyra – cities that had been part of the Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sassanian Empires of Iran. Far from the grotesque caricature promulgated in American media, the Shi’ite militias effectively led by Soleimani and Muhandis in Iraq were not simply fanatical sectarian groups. Hashd al-Shaabi included Arab Christians and even Yezidi Kurds, and General Soleimani repeatedly rescued the Kurds of northern Iraq (who are ethnically Iranian) from genocidal DAESH oppression, regardless of whether they were Sunnis, Shi’ites, or even “Satanist” Yezidis.
The Newsweek article is on point when it concludes that an American-led attempt to effect regime change by toppling the Islamic Republic would not only cripple the main force of resistance to DAESH, allowing the Caliphate to rise again, but that it would also open the way for DAESH operations inside of an increasingly balkanized Iran. Sunni minorities in the Khuzestan (or as these Arabs call it “Al-Ahwaz”), Kurdistan, and Baluchistan regions on Iran’s Western and Southeastern borders would attempt secession from “Persia” and turn their territories into havens for Sunni terrorists.
The more militantly anti-Persian elements within these minorities have long been the favorites of Neocon advocates for regime change in Iran, such as former US National Security Advisor John Bolton. Despite Bolton’s dismissal, they played a significant role in fomenting the violent riots that rocked Iran in mid to late November of 2019. These insurgents hijacked protests by up to 200,000 Iranians against an increase in fuel prices (or a cut in state subsidies for gasoline), which measure was meant to save the Iranian economy in the face of Trump’s crippling sanctions. By the time the regime put out the fires, 731 banks and 140 government buildings had been destroyed by arsonists. Of the 1,500 protesters killed, many were fired on by suspiciously clad agent provocateurs or hidden snipers. The Islamist-Marxist People’s Mojahedin of Iran, for whom John Bolton was a lobbyist, admitted to its role in the riots, but armed Sunni insurgents undoubtedly also played a significant role. Government officials intercepted numerous caches of armaments being smuggled into the country in order to bring about a “Syrianization” of Iran. But Iran is not another Syria, let alone another Iraq.
“Iraq” and “Syria” are, like most of the countries in the Islamic World, totally artificial states engineered by European colonialists. Iran is a cohesive 3,000 year old nation that has dominated the Middle East and Central Asia during the course of four Persian Empires, with the first of them being founded around 500 BC by the Achaemenids and the latest of them rising in 1500 AD under the Safavids. The last of these empires, Safavid Iran, fused Iranian national identity with Shi’ite spirituality in a way that cemented Iran’s role within the region as the bastion of resistance against the Caliphate concept of Sunni Muslims – a role that Iran began to play in earnest when, in the twelfth century, the Order of Assassins fought the Caliphate while simultaneously defending their territories – including those in present-day “Iraq” and “Syria” against the Western Crusaders.
The Islamic Republic of Iran would be far more resilient in the face of an armed regime-change effort than Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Assad himself is nothing more than a client of Iran. The so-called Iranian “opposition” consists of a variety of factions afflicted with rabid infighting, lacking in legitimacy, organization, competence, and vision. Most of them are outright traitors. Those who are advocates of the balkanization of Iran are on the payroll of the CIA, the MOSSAD, or the Saudis, all of whom want to carve a neutered rump state of “Persia” out of the mutilated corpse of any Iranian nation that is capable of resisting Neoliberalism, Zionism, and Wahabism.
The Iranian drone strikes that incapacitated half of Saudi oil production on September 14, 2019, for which Iran’s Shi’ite proxy in Yemen was willing to take responsibility, is just a hint of what Iran could unleash throughout the Islamic World if it were to face an existential threat. No man embodied and epitomized the transnational and extra-territorial reach of Iran throughout the Shi’ite regions of the Islamic World more than General Qassem Soleimani. By assassinating Haj Qassem, Trump has declared war, not only on Iran, but also on Shi’ite Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. As in the case of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, this act of war is likely to catalyze an international conflict that will eventually become global in its scope of destruction. It is that crucible or fiery forge that allows the euphemistically veiled “Global War on Terrorism” to reveal its true form as the Third World War. This will prove, in both blood and treasure, to be the most costly war that Americans have ever waged in the short history of the United States. It may even prove to be for the United States what the invasion of Afghanistan was for the Soviet Union – a harbinger of doom, terminal decline, and disintegration. I wager that on the other side of this war, the proud Persian people will still be standing in defiant defense of their 3,000 year old civilization.