Many governments and analysts have warned of rising tensions in the Middle East. Prior to Iran's missile attack on the Ein al-Assad military base, it seemed that the escalation of the tensions between Iran and the US would lead to an all-out war. A war that could be a major defeat for Trump's policy in the Middle East and, of course, costly for both sides. These days, the war is no longer so close, and the US seems to have been able to control the consequences of this crisis. However, the assassination of Major General Suleimani, in the long run, would not work for the benefit of US, and could be regarded as a strategic mistake.
The mourning and funeral ceremony of Qassem Suleimani in Iraq, Iran, the countries of the region, and the Muslim world can be a sign of this strategic mistake. On January 4th, the mourning and funeral ceremony of General Suleimani, Al-Muhandis and their companions began in several Iraqi cities. The funeral procession was held with the participation of tens of thousands of people and the presence of Iraqi officials in Baghdad, Karbala and Najaf. Then Soleimani's body was brought to Iran from Khuzestan province. The funeral ceremony continued magnificently in Iran. The funeral of the Iranian and Iraqi commander in Tehran marked one of the largest funerals in contemporary history. In other countries, such as Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and India, large crowds attended General Suleiman's funeral. These reactions indicate that a significant population in the region recognizes Suleimani as a hero and shares his ideals.
But mean while the United States continues to insist that he is a dangerous terrorist and has been killed in order to keep US troops safe in Iraq. They also compare the operation to the killing of al-Baghdadi and bin Laden. There are similarities between Qassem Suleimani and other US opposition leaders in the region; however, he differs from most other leaders, indicating that the US decision was wrong to kill him.
Common Background; Suleimani, Al-Baghdadi, and Bin Laden
Political Islam is a shared discourse from which many of US greatest enemies emerged. It covers a variety of tendencies including Shi'ite/Sunni, moderate/extremist, and more. At the macro level, by emphasizing Islamic principles and establishing Islamic rule, this discourse works to activate and mobilize Muslims in front of Western civilization dominance. Denoeux (2002) argues that by inventing and reconstructing Islamic concepts, this discourse offers political answers to the challenges of today's Islamic societies; challenges such as backwardness and weakness of these societies against the western colonial governments reached their peak with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Colonial history and the failure of nationalism in Islamic and Arab countries have led to the accumulation of political and social demands; political Islam is a popular response in the region to these demands. This is the answer that seeks to fulfill the oppressed aspirations of the people of the Middle East; aspirations such as the attainment of freedom, the right to self-determination and prosperity, and in particular the achievement of an active and honorable identity in the international arena.
The character and position of Qassem Suleimani within this discourse, and more precisely the discourse of Shiite Islamism - or the discourse of the Islamic Revolution - as one of the subsets of political Islam can be analyzed.
A branch of Islamism that came to power in Iran with the 1979 Islamic Revolution and succeeded in forming a government. Moshirzadeh (2018) has shown that independence, resistance, and justice are the three main signs of the discourse of the Islamic Revolution.
The revolution's hatred of the pre-revolutionary regime's dependence on great powers, especially the United States, has shaped the central sign of independence, and relies on the historical background of imperialism in Iran and the world. In this context, the practice of Islam and its rules is introduced as a way of liberation from the oppressions of imperialism. The Islamic Revolution's emphasis on Shia religious myths, in particular Hossein ibn Ali and the Ashura incident, are the most prominent signs of resistance in the slogans of Islamic revolution. Elimination of the tyranny requires justice, which is manifested in the cause of justice. The transnationalism emphasized in political Islam has given to these signs a transnational and international dimensions. The myth of Qassem Suleimani was born from such a context. To many in the Middle East, especially to a significant Shiite population, he has been martyred for achieving common aspirations such as independence and justice.
Role of Suleimani in the Middle East
Islamism is a widespread thought among Muslims and Arabs. Not only al-Baghdadi and bin Laden, but even leaders such as Erdogan have emerged from within the same discourse under the sub-discourse of Sunni Islamism. Nevertheless, the sectarian divide is not the most important factor to differentiate Suleimani from other jihadist leaders and commanders. Soleimani's main difference is in the role he played in the region. Al-Baghdadi and bin Laden had an extremely destabilizing role in the region. Their strategy has been the violent change of the current situation in the Middle East. Bin Laden ran an international network whose strategy was to launch an international war with the presence of great powers to ultimately defeat the Crusaders. Al-Baghdadi did not recognize any international borders and had established its Islamic State on the territory of both Syria and Iraq. Activist jihadist groups and leaders in the region are encouraging their forces to carry out suicide operations in their official propaganda. In contrast, Qassem Suleimani and the Quds Force have played a stabilizing role in West Asia, which is assessed to maintain the status quo.
With the start of the civil war in Syria, the Quds Force came to the aid of Bashar al-Assad's government, which was about to collapse. The Quds Force was one of the most important forces that was able to change the balance of power in the country to the detriment of the Takfiri militias and other opposition groups. In Iraq, Soleimani has pursued a policy of maintaining Baghdad's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and has even tried, at some points, to reduce tensions between Shiite groups and US forces. In extremely difficult conditions in Iraq, the Quds Force rushed to the aid of various Iraqi people, including Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis. It prevented ISIS from progressing into Kurdistan, southern Iraq, and its capital. During the 2017 Iraqi Kurdistan referendum crisis, the Quds Force used all its means to prevent the breakup of Iraq.
The Quds Force has so far not formally claimed responsibility for any terrorist operations. Such accusations only apply to groups affiliated with the force.
For at least the past decade, Soleimani has been working to maintain regional stability and security, international borders, and counter terrorist groups, which are largely in line with US interests.
United States, Suleimani and Stability in the Region
The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was seen as a turning point in US foreign policy in the Middle East, during which Washington adjusted its traditional policy of maintaining stability in the Middle East. After that, the United States seemed to support widespread developments in the region. Even during the Arab Spring of 2011, some analysis reflected such evolutions in line with US democracy and human rights development policy. Nevertheless, the intensification of extremist currents, notably ISIS and al-Qaeda, provided a clearer picture of the region and its developments.
The course of events and the advance of ISIS in Iraq threatened the security of energy in the world, weakened Israeli security and created serious problems such as terrorist operations and the refugee crisis to the most important US allies in the European Union. These events once again reminded US policymakers of the importance of stability in the Middle East.
Long-term policies, such as maintaining the security of oil transportation from the Persian Gulf, give priority to stability and security in the region in many cases. The US attitude towards Assad's re-empowerment in Syria and its implicit acceptance is a clear example of the stability policy preferred in Syria; stability in an area that has the potential to spread fundamentalism and terrorism.
The contemporary Middle East is the cemetery of the failed aspirations of oppressed and humiliated nations; aspirations like real independence from the great powers, freedom from tyranny, social justice, the united Arab state, Palestine, and so on that have been accumulated in the minds of the people of this region during the twentieth century. Consequently, Islamist discourse has become the dominant discourse in many Middle Eastern societies and has led to the significant growth of Islamic groups and movements, especially in the post-Cold War era.
The political and social context of the Middle East is prone to the rise of charismatic leaders and independence-seeking and Islamist myth that inspire the people of the region. Many of these leaders do not recognize the contemporary international system relations and call for radical change in the region.
The shortcomings and bottlenecks of the contemporary international system in the post-Cold War era have been protested more than any other region in the Middle East and led to mobilization. Qassem Suleimani's stabilizing role and importance to US long-term interests in the Middle East can be explained in this context that White House officials have not taken it into consideration when deciding to remove him. Even the accusation of supporting and feeding the Iraqi terrorist groups with the emphasis on roadside bombs by the Quds Force is relevant to the past decade. Considering past years, Quds Force has spent all its effort to face ISIS as a shared enemy of Iran and USA in Iraq. The Quds Force is part of the Iranian military and its dependence on a UN member state is very effective in stabilizing the region. Some analysts also attribute this role to the characteristics of Shiite Islamism and its greater flexibility in the face of modern times such as nation-state. This macro orientation has played a major role in maintaining international security and peace, especially in recent years, and Suleimani's assassination has eliminated a pro-stability jihadist commander in a troubled and tensioned region and eventually threatens US interests in the long run.