Thus always to tyrants

Actually — assassinating Soleimani was the right thing to do

Shortly after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, I was in Baghdad. I vividly remember briefing our leaders on the late Qassem Soleimani, the Quds Force, the Badr Corps, and what was only beginning to become clear to those of us on the ground: Western powers were being played to perfection by Tehran. Tragically our decision-makers were distracted by other elements: former Ba’athist regime elements (which made up an insignificant minority of the growing insurgency), foreign Sunni Salafi elements (which were also a minority), and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Jaysh al-Mahdi (a sacrificial lamb and insignificant portion of the over-arching Iranian strategy).

‘To someone who has been familiar with Soleimani’s exploits for some time, the question is not why the United States chose to kill him, but why it took so long’

Soleimani was no innocent man. He was no military leader, either. For decades, he led a criminal enterprise that flouted international law and left a trail of murder and destruction in its wake. To someone who has been familiar with Soleimani’s exploits for some time, the question is not why the United States chose to kill him, but why it took so long.

Saddam Hussein had been too strong an enemy for Iran to remove unilaterally, and the US-led coalition, driven as it was by poor policy and faulty intelligence on weapons of mass destruction, proved more than willing to play the role of useful idiot. From Basra to Baghdad, we witnessed how vast networks of Iranian power were wielded in support of the overthrow of Saddam and subsequent Coalition efforts to build a representative democracy. Al-Sadr’s black-pyjamaed and drugged-up militia, like their mirror images on the Sunni side, were simply a distraction as this effort proceeded apace.

By 2007, outsiders were putting the pieces together. Iranian-backed elements had infiltrated every part of the Western-supported and funded government, including its army and police forces. The Badr Corps, an anti-Ba’athist militia trained by (you guessed it) Soleimani’s Quds Force, now wore the uniforms of the Iraqi army and interior ministry and dominated its ranks.

We witnessed the violence they wrought upon Iraq’s Sunni population firsthand, as we pulled countless corpses from the canals in and around Baghdad. The Shi’a “death squads”—also from the Badr Corps and Jaysh al-Mahdi and, yes, also trained by Soleimani’s troops—would take drill bits to their Sunni victims’ kneecaps during interrogation and torture before turning to their skulls to finish the job. 

Of all the terrible mistakes committed by Coalition forces in Iraq—from “collateral damage” in airstrikes to war crimes that were openly and consistently prosecuted, to the other end of the spectrum, Sunni insurgent violence and even Salafi beheadings—I never saw the kind of barbarism as that wrought by Soleimani’s Quds Force and their Shi’a proxies in Iraq.

Soleimani also brokered expertise and supplies to Shi’a insurgents from another of his clients, Lebanese Hezbollah, to spill American blood directly. Hezbollah pioneered the use of copper explosively formed projectiles as improvised explosive devices in the 1990s, and their transition to Iraq a decade later proved to be the most effective means to attack Coalition forces in their armoured vehicles. There is nothing quite like seeing young soldiers who should be at university eviscerated and dismembered by a single projectile.

But the Quds Force’s actions within Iraq were only one part of their regional operations. As General David Petraeus recalled recently, Soleimani boasted he was the sole arbiter of Iranian policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. Lest we forget, “Quds” in Arabic and Farsi means the same thing—Jerusalem. I remain shocked at how few Western media outlets have made this clear to their viewers; if the US military had a “Tehran Force,” it would not only be politically disgraceful, but the purpose of such an organisation would be wholly unambiguous.

If readers are unswayed by Soleimani’s operations in the Middle East, then they should remember Quds Force actions right here in Europe. In 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini ordered the murder of a British citizen, Salman Rushdie, for writing a book. Along with Iranian intelligence services, it was the Quds Force, responsible for all Revolutionary Guards’ foreign operations, that attempted to carry out this death warrant. Soleimani was already senior in the Guards during the “fatwa years,” and the Guards have consistently reaffirmed their support for Rushdie’s death sentence long after the Iranian political leadership stopped doing so. In 2016, the Guards were one of the main contributors to upping the bounty for Rushdie’s murder.

Remember also the bombing of London bookstores, the murder of Rushdie’s translator in Japan, the attempted murder of his translator in Italy and his publisher in Norway, and the multitude killed in violent protests agitated by Tehran’s proxies. Today, the bounty offered by Iran for the murder of Rushdie is more than £3 million.

Anti-war protestors in the US and elsewhere have taken to the streets, many of them holding up ridiculous depictions of the slain general as if he were a victim. Hatred of President Trump allows them to lionise the chief architect of a regime that—leaving aside its crimes abroad—only two months ago slaughtered hundreds of its own citizens attempting to exercise their right to protest. I am no admirer of the current US administration. This makes agreeing with significant policy decisions such as the killing of Qassem Soleimani difficult to swallow, but moments like this should be welcome episodes for primates bestowed with logic and reason.

The maxim sic semper tyrannis has been in disrepute since its supposed usage by John Wilkes Booth in the wake of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It is time to reclaim it.

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