Hero’s journey to paradise
The US’s killing of Qasem Soleimani weakens Iran. The commander of the al-Quds brigades had failed due to the protests in Iraq.
It was a bit like it used to be: burning flags, “Death to the USA” chants, masses of people with beards or veils, threats of a coming war, terror and the apocalypse. The Iranian parliamentarians bravely put together a group picture with clenched fists. After the killing of Qasem Soleimani, the head of the overseas department of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the propaganda machine of the Islamic Republic of Iran was in top form when the state cult was staged. One could almost get the impression that nothing has changed in the Middle East in the four decades since the US Embassy was occupied in 1979. Correspondingly, US President Donald Trump posted his threat on Twitter, 52 targets in Iran have already been set, with the note that
Soleimani’s death is initially not a real game changer. The US government doesn’t seem to have a plan for the Middle East.
The killing of Soleimani and his main Iraqi confidante, the militia leader and chief of staff of the People’s Mobilization Units (al-Hashd al-Shaabi), Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, by an American drone at Baghdad Airport on January 3 was completely unexpected. The news has upset most observers in the region. Until then, such an attack seemed unthinkable – the supposedly second most powerful man in the Islamic Republic after revolutionary leader Ali Khamenei was actually far too important to simply be eliminated. Andrew Exum, under President Barack Obama at times responsible for Middle East policy in the Department of Defense, wrote in Atlantic magazine: “I don’t know a single Iranian who was more important to his government’s ambitions in the Middle East.”
Soleimani was the architect of the Iranian triumph in recent years, the strategist who had succeeded in establishing an Iranian area of influence and rule in the ruins of the old Middle East since 2003, practically turning decades-old power structures in the region upside down , Following the example of Lebanese Hezbollah, Soleimani built similar militias in Syria, Yemen, and especially in Iraq; in cooperation with Russia, he saved the rule of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Soleimani traveled from the fronts in Syria to Iraq and back again, depending on the current situation and always under the eyes of the USA, as Exum remembers. If there was a really central power figure in a region where a lot depends on personal relationships and loyalties, it was Soleimani. What he must have known was priceless; he had held his post since 1997. For many years he was something of a gray eminence until he became a permanent figure in the media in the course of the fighting in Syria. Soleimani eventually became the face of the Iranian offensive in the Middle East. After his death, he is likely to become the poster boy of the Islamic Republic’s imperialism.
He is succeeded by his deputy Esmail Ghaani, who took over in 1997 with Soleimani. This guarantees continuity for the networks, but Ghaani does not have the charisma of his former superior, he is said to have primarily dealt with finance and administration. Ghaani’s leadership may be a temporary solution, but there is a serious problem for the strategists of the Islamic Republic: Soleimani’s death hits her at the wrong time. With regard to its means of power, the militias under its control, the governments in its hands and its possibilities – for example, it was able to humiliate arch-rival Saudi Arabia with the rocket attack on its most important oil processing plants last year – the Islamic Republic stands 40 years after it Founded at the zenith of their power. But the problems are piling up. The imperial entity that Soleimani built tirelessly – he had just arrived in Baghdad from Damascus when he was killed – has proven extremely fragile in recent months. The threat to Iran suddenly came from within its sphere of influence from the protests in Iraq . Soleimani had no other answer than violence. It was his Shiite militias that shot at the demonstrators in Iraq. Lebanon is also on the brink of collapse and Assad is increasingly becoming the ward of Russian President Vladimir Putin in devastated Syria. Both are about raising money and ensuring Assad’s international rehabilitation. So Soleimani could no longer serve.
Finally, there were major protests in Iran itself, but Soleimani was not directly involved in its brutal suppression; he was responsible for the war abroad. He can thus serve as a nationalist hero figure, after all he has looked after Iran in terms of power politics. The first pretty commemorative pictures already show him when he moves to paradise, where Khomeini and the Shiite imams receive him. He may look at his crumbling empire from up there.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has a fundamental problem: no matter what its leaders say or do, they are granted, especially in Europe, like an insane child. The escalation that has always been conjured up never happens, even after the various military provocations last summer. Iran will not get rid of the sanctions, however. The Iranian population revolts because the system cannot offer a social and economic perspective. The Iranian regime faces the same problem in its protectorates. Even Soleimani couldn’t change that. He staged the recent crisis in Iraq with the bombardment of US bases and the siege of the US embassy as a diversion to stop the protests against the Iraqi government and Iranian influence.
The people at whom Soleimani’s fighters shoot celebrated his death – whether in Idlib, Syria, or spontaneously in Baghdad, on the night the news came out. There people danced through the streets under a long Iraqi flag. Even in Iran, people report their joy at his death, reports on the Internet testify. In Nasiriyah, Iraq, demonstrators who turned against the “occupiers” – meaning both Iran and the United States – set fire to the local headquarters of a militia under Iranian influence. “Mourning” militia officers shot another demonstrator in Baghdad. The staging of Soleimani’s funeral will no longer be able to cover the division of society. Civil war is raging in the Iranian empire.
Rites that have been practiced for decades have no longer functioned in the Middle East since 2011, when the “Arab Spring” broke out, even if the Islamic Republic once again offers its entire repertoire after the death of Soleimani. In Europe, on the other hand, there is still a reflex warning against a kind of natural “spiral of violence” and talk of dialogue, as has been the case for decades. It is hoped that the Islamic rulers will not be attracted attention.
Soleimani’s death is not a real game changer at first. The US government does not appear to have made a plan for the Middle East and spontaneously decided to kill Soleimani due to the siege of the US embassy. Soleimani probably misjudged this with his pretty staging: The memories of 1979 prompted Trump, who does not want to be considered weak, to act. He wants to withdraw US troops from the Middle East, but the more vehemently he emphasizes this intention, the more the United States will be drawn into it. Trump shares this experience with his predecessor.