Photo: Protesters in Iran carry pictures of the recently assassinated military leader Qasem Soleimani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei
By Mike Talavera
Qasem Soleimani, a general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was leaving the Baghdad International Airport on Thursday when the car he was in exploded, killing him and two others. The Pentagon claimed responsibility for the airstrike soon after in the latest escalation in tensions between the US and Iran.
The shocking development is the result of US imperialism’s desperate efforts to maintain dominance in the Middle East. While more brazen than other recent US actions, Soleimani’s assassination is still in line with US President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran which he began as soon as he took office, starting off by ending the nuclear deal brokered by President Barack Obama.
As the leader of the Quds Force, the contingent of the IRGC that carries out operations abroad, Soleimani had overseen Iran’s operations in Iraq, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East for years. Trump had designated the IRGC a “terrorist” organization last April, the first time the designation (and corresponding sanctions) had been applied to a branch of a foreign state government.
Trump had ordered the drone strike himself from his Florida resort, and just hours after news of Soleimani’s death on Thursday, he tweeted a picture of the US Flag without comment.
The US was the focus of a massive protest which stormed the compound containing the US embassy in Iraq, less than 15 miles away from the airport where Soleimani was killed. Days earlier, another US airstrike had killed 25 fighters of the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia, which US intelligence insists led the demonstration at the Embassy and was orchestrated by Soleimani himself.
“General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the Pentagon said in a press release, in which Soleimani is also blamed for coordinating the December 27 rocket attack on an Iraqi military base which killed a US contractor and injured four other US citizens.
Hundreds marched in the streets of Tehran today, chanting “Death to America!”, following Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei’s call for three days of mourning in response to Soleimani’s death. In his own statement, Khamenei praised the general for his leadership in the resistance to US aggression.
“Severe revenge awaits the criminals whose hands are stained with [Soleimani’s] blood and the blood of the other martyrs from last night’s incident,” stated Khamenei.
Earlier this morning the US Embassy in Iraq issued a security alert, urging US citizens to “depart via airline while possible, and failing that, to other countries via land.” Reports indicate that US contractors working for foreign oil companies have already began to flee. Incidentally, Brent crude oil prices spiked up as much as 4.6% in the wake of Soleimani’s death.
Republicans have praised Trump for the military action, painting it as a great victory, while Democrats, including his potential opponents in the 2020 election, have chided him for the reckless maneuver, implying that it will lead to open war. “President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox,” said former Vice President Joe Biden.
Both inflated reactions serve the electoral ambitions of either party, and both distort the reality on the ground. While Soleimani’s demise is certainly a blow to Iranian forces in the region, it is unlikely to spark an all-out war or stop Iran’s campaign to drive US imperialism out of the region.
Recently leaked cables revealed the extent to which Iran has infiltrated the Iraqi government, including converting informants who had worked with US intelligence into their own agents. These documents provide further evidence of the connections between Iran and the Iraqi politicians that came to power after the US ousted Saddam Hussein in the 2003 imperialist invasion. The crowd of this week’s protest was able to enter the outer gates of the US embassy compound because Iraqi personnel had turned a blind eye, according to US Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
Many of these plans and coordination efforts were allegedly the work of Soleimani, and Iran’s presence in Iraq and its targeting of US assets will continue to escalate despite his death.
While opinions of Soleimani vary across the Middle East, he was exceptionally popular in Iran, with many seeing him as a hero of resistance to US imperialism. The people of Iran long to get out from under the extreme sanctions imposed by the US, which have prevented it from integrating fully with world markets and impoverished the masses of the country.
Contrary to their intended effect, the sanctions and this attack only strengthen the political standing of the reactionary government of Iran as one of the primary forces resisting US imperialism in the region. While the Iranian state faces protest from its own people for restrictive social policies and depressed economic conditions, Soleimani gained prestige for appearing to be above the fray of the country’s domestic politics and taking on the universally despised Yankee imperialism.
Thursday’s air strike demonstrated US imperialism’s current strength, its unparalleled ability to assassinate a top military commander of another state with little immediate retribution, but the mass response of anger to Soleimani’s death shows the growing weakness of the US’s position.
The puppet Iraqi government, despite being allied with the US, has condemned the strike as a violation of its national sovereignty, and in nearby Afghanistan the US has slowly been losing ground to the Taliban over the past year. Iran’s military may be no match for the world’s sole hegemonic superpower, but its campaign of resistance in the region benefits from the trouble that US imperialism makes wherever it goes. As a symbol of that resistance, Soleimani’s death only fuels the rebellion of the masses in the Middle East against their oppression.
Obama’s more diplomatic approach to Iran may have differed strategically from Trump’s “maximum pressure” agenda, but both served the interests of US imperialism, meaning the enforcement of global dominance to facilitate the continuing exports of finance capital and the consolidation of US monopolies. To name only one aspect, the Obama administration and the Democrats, more closely aligned with Europe, wanted to open Iran up to European and US investment. The Trump administration, which has taken strides to weaken the European Union through its support of Brexit and its negotiations with Ukraine, has sought to cut off Iranian markets and oil from Europe and China.
As the news of Soleimani’s assassination reverberated, in the afternoon, US defense officials announced that 3,500 more soldiers are being deployed to Kuwait to bolster existing forces.
In response to this strike and US imperialism’s continuing aggression, the revolutionary response is to echo calls for the Yankees to go home, cried out by the masses of the Middle East, and to make revolution at home in the heart of the imperialist beast. As Trump and the reactionary US military prepare their next move, the masses in the US can display their solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the world by taking to the streets to denounce US imperialist aggression, plunder, and war.