The death of arrogance

A critical and shameful chapter in Iraq’s modern history has ended and the forces of good in embattled Iraq are breathing a sigh of relief.
Sunday 05/01/2020
An Iranian holds a picture of slain General Qassem Soleimani in Tehran, January 4. (WANA via Reuters)
An Iranian holds a picture of slain General Qassem Soleimani in Tehran, January 4. (WANA via Reuters)

Suppose I told you that what killed Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was the assassination of 600 Iraqis protesting in the 2019 Iraqi demonstrations and the amazing continuation of those demonstrations.

How?

Well, the protests in Iraq were among reasons Soleimani moved with the Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades to attack the US base in Iraq, prompting the Americans to strike back and kill the leaders of those brigades.

It was also why Soleimani directly and personally ordered the attack against the US Embassy in Baghdad. Naturally, reporting of those events has been blocked the past two days.

Soleimani played in Iraq the same role Abu Musab al-Zarqawi played when the Islamic State (ISIS) was alive and well — but with some differences.

Zarqawi had nothing to do with the Iraqi government, with which he disagreed ideologically. He deliberately made a public display of the brutality of his fighters, a brutality that became the foundation of the rule of ISIS in Mosul.

Soleimani had done something vaguely similar. He publicly and defiantly roamed unchallenged all over Iraq and his figure and name sent shivers down the spines of Iraqis.

However, those who first broke the shackles of that terror were the Karbala demonstrators when they burned pictures of Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Soleimani and threw shoes at the pictures.

We should not think that such acts of defiance and disgust would be easy for Tehran to swallow. Iran has been using terror and fear to plant its roots in Iraq but, when those feelings were challenged, the price was the pure and simple assassination of the demonstrators.

Soleimani made and unmade governments in Iraq and imposed ministers and presidents. No minister could be appointed unless approved by Soleimani. He was the new British high commissioner of yore during the era of the British Empire or the appointed “Vali” of Iraq under the Ottoman and Safavid empires.

Within the inner circles of Iranian power, Soleimani was a sacred figure because he was the right hand of the deputy of all-powerful Khamenei.

It was generally assumed that Iran had a strong presence in Iraq because of the fear-inspiring presence of Soleimani and Muhandis, his local deputy who had become a key deciding figure in Iraq.

With their disappearance, that image of a tough Iran was shaken to the core. Iran, with its claws planted in the flesh of more than one country, appears puny and is paying dearly for the stones it threw at the US Embassy.

With Soleimani’s myth gone, Iran will need decades to create another of the same kind.

Soleimani was part of the Islamic Revolution since its birth and was one of the military figures who had believed they could occupy Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war. With Khamenei, he represented the opposing current to Hashemi Rafsanjani and kept the war going until 1993 in the hope of seizing the holy Shia city of Karbala. He was behind countless assassinations, to the point that some political analysts called him “minister of the Iranian colonies,” the militias-dominated enclaves in Afghanistan, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.

At first, Soleimani’s name was shrouded in mystery, surrounded by prestige and terror. When news agencies reported his presence in Iraq or Syria, Iran and its proxies would usually deny the reports. Then, the Iraqi government had to reveal his function in Iraq. He was an adviser on terrorism for the Iraqi government. Wow! A leading terrorist who becomes an adviser on terrorism.

It is hard to believe that none of the Iraqi officials could exercise their prerogatives before their political blocs had pledged allegiance to Iran in Soleimani’s court.

When popular sentiment in the Shia community in Iraq turned against Iran, Soleimani started arranging Iranian affairs within the Iraqi Sunni community; Iraqi clerics started speaking of Hajji Soleimani as a saviour.

Soleimani even created admirers in the Christian community, let alone being sanctified by the Popular Mobilisation Forces. On the wall of the US Embassy in Baghdad, the militias wrote: “Qassem Soleimani is my leader.”

If Nuri al-Maliki and Falih Alfayyadh were able to become real bullies, it was because they had Soleimani’s backing. Maliki was crass enough to publicly declare “We won’t let go,” meaning that he and his pro-Iran cohorts would never hand over power.

In short, in Iraq, Soleimani was the master of the house, not the guest. During elections, he would not leave the Green Zone until he made sure the results were to his liking. It was public knowledge that he had a home and an office inside the Green Zone, from which he issued orders and decisions

Even though quite different from the Zarqawi character, it had still become urgent for Iraqis to get rid of the sinister character that Soleimani had become. His demise was a necessary consequence of his vanity and evil practices. If there is a terrifying number of rogue militias in Iraq, it is because of him.

No wonder Iraqis have started witnessing celebrations of the memories of terrorists such as Imad Mughniyeh and that no Iraqi official dared respond to the multiple insults heaped on Iraq by Iranian leaders.

Nobody dared respond to Iranian President Hassan Rohani when he said: “Our influence is in Iraq.” No Iraqi official dared ask “What influence are you talking about when there is an independent state in Iraq?”

No one dared respond to that Iranian general who declared that “Baghdad is the capital of our empire.” Everybody was terrified of Soleimani.

This dubious character had to go one day or the other. He had occupied Iraq with dozens of rogue militias and his latest action was to put into action plans to eliminate the popular demonstrations in the centre and south of the country, those that broke Iran’s back because they represented a Shia rebellion against Iran.

A critical and shameful chapter in Iraq’s modern history has ended and the forces of good in embattled Iraq are breathing a sigh of relief.

The tables of terror have been turned on the rogue militias, for it would be difficult to imagine that their leaders Hadi al-Amiri, Falih Alfayyadh and Qais al-Khazali are not overwhelmed with the fear of meeting the same fate as their leaders and buddies, Soleimani and Muhandis. It was high time for arrogance to end.

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