On Jan. 3 a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad International Airport killed Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani in retaliation to an earlier attack on a U.S. Embassy. Unless you live under a rock, you probably already know this. But what you may not know is, how pleased our enemies are at his death.
Soleimani was the leader of the Quds Force in charge of training Iraq’s Shia militia, which comprises of several different forces. Yes, during the onslaught of the Iraq War many U.S. coalition troops died at the hands of those militia. But it was those very militia that also played an instrumental role in expelling and defeating ISIS from their own strongholds such as Raqqa, Mosul, etc. It’s more than likely that his death might cause a resurgence in Sunni extremism under the banner of ISIS and others.
The killing of Soleimani might have upset the delicate balance that holds the “peace” in Iraq. This leads me to share another not so obvious fact about the country. Just like Iran, Iraq is a Shia majority country. Two major sects make up the Muslim world; Sunni (90%) and Shia (less than 10%). Apart from Iraq and Iran, all Muslim countries have a Sunni majority. The expulsion of ISIS, the Sunni extremist organization, at the hands of their Shia brethren was a welcome change for most Iraqis. Do you think those people will take kindly to the killing of the leader and trainer of their saviors?
Now, Soleimani is neither saint nor tyrant. But the sad truth about political life in the Middle East is its sectarian nature. Often members of a sect would much rather have a tyrant from their own side rule, rather than a benevolent ruler from a different sect. So, despite “Shia” Iran being a foreign nation, their interventions in Iraqi affairs are often welcomed by the Iraqi people, much to the ire of the U.S., because the last thing America wants is Iran’s sphere of influence expanding.
The U.S. has a pro-Saudi and pro-Israel foreign policy doctrine in the Middle East. Both nations are sworn enemies of Iran; Israel for nuclear reasons and “Sunni” Saudi for more obvious sectarian reasons. So, by default the U.S. has an anti-Iran policy. Furthermore, by ‘ripping up’ the Iran Nuclear Deal, the Trump administration has made the U.S. stance on the Iranian regime more hostile.
What the U.S. and the Trump administration in particular has done is show us that they view the rise of Iran as a much greater threat than the resurgence of Sunni extremism in Iraq and the Middle East in general. It’s a risky gamble, whose outcome nobody really knows. He could have simply gone after the individual militia force responsible for the embassy attack, but he decided to go for the head of the snake. With the death of their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS was on the backfoot. Will Soleimani’s death cause them to step forth from the shadows? Only time will tell.