“Severe retaliation awaits murderers who have the blood of Soleimani and that of other martyrs on their wicked hands from last night’s incident”, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Friday, in a menacing statement following the brazen assassination of the man who singlehandedly reshaped the Middle East and, by many accounts, wielded more power than anyone in the region with the possible exceptions of Mohammed Bin Salman and Recep Erdoğan.
Soleimani was killed in an airstrike on Thursday on direct orders from Donald Trump.
The Kremlin called the move “reckless” and warned it will lead to increased tensions. Russia expresses “sincere condolences to the Iranian people”, RIA Novosti said, citing the foreign ministry.
Maria Zakharova – Russia’s fiery spokeswoman for the ministry – said Friday that the UN Security Council will discuss Soleimani’s death, although the format is still being decided.
“[This is] the worst-case scenario”, Russian Senator Konstantin Kosachev remarked. “Iranian retribution will not take long”. He continued: “This is very difficult news, a harbinger of new clashes between the Americans and radical Shiites in Iraq”.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (Iraq’s top cleric) lamented a “flagrant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and international charters”, calling Soleimani “a hero of the victorious battles against Daesh”. He called on all sides to show restraint, and fretted that Iraq now faces a “very difficult” situation.
Germany’s CDU/CSU warned that the General’s death risks setting off a “wave of violence”.
For its part, China said everyone – and “especially” the US – should remain “calm and restrained”. Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reiterated that Beijing opposes the use of military force in international relations and called for the respect of Iraq’s sovereignty and independence.
Mike Pompeo spoke with the Politburo after the strike.
Meanwhile, US lawmakers are aghast – and certainly not because anyone is fond of Soleimani.
“Soleimani was a murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans, but this reckless move escalates the situation with Iran and increases the likelihood of more deaths and new Middle East conflict”, Elizabeth Warren said. “Our priority must be to avoid another costly war”.
“Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. That’s not a question”, Senator Chris Murphy said, before delivering the following remarks in a series of tweets:
The question is this – as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war? The justification for the assassination is to “deter future Iranian attacks”. One reason we don’t generally assassinate foreign political officials is the belief that such action will get more, not less, Americans killed. That should be our real, pressing and grave worry tonight. No one can claim to know with certainty what happens next. But the neocons thumping their chest tonight should recall that the worst mistakes global powers make are when they strike militarily in complicated places with few friends, with no consideration of the consequences.
It’s worth reminding readers that Soleimani, for all the press on Friday, was not an “enemy” of the United States in every situation. Yes, he painted targets on the backs of US servicemen and women in Iraq and was responsible for the death and maiming of thousands of American personnel.
But, like so many figures who are trotted out to the public as unequivocal “bad guys”, the US worked with Soleimani to combat Sunni extremism and back-channeled with the General when necessary, although it’s probably safe to say that such clandestine contact ceased (or all but ceased) some years ago.
“At times, adversary looked more like ally, however tenuous the relationship”, The New York Times said Thursday evening, in one of a half-dozen articles dedicated to the General’s death. Here’s a bit more:
American officials also cooperated with the Iranian general in Iraq to reverse gains made by the Islamic State — a mutual enemy.
At the height of the Iraq War, as the Quds Force under General Suleimani armed and trained Shiite militias in Iraq, former American officials have said the general was stoking violence and then mediating the conflict, so he could make himself indispensable and keep the Iraqis off balance.
According to a June 2008 cable written by Ryan C. Crocker, then the American ambassador to Baghdad, General Suleimani played a role in brokering a cease-fire that enabled the battered Shiite militias in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad, which Iran was supporting, to withdraw.
In 2015, General Suleimani was in the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit, commanding Iraqi Shiite militias that were trying to recapture it from ISIS fighters. American warplanes belatedly joined that campaign.
Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama long rejected the idea of assassinating Soleimani, fearing the consequences for US interests in the region.
“This particular scenario is one that I’ve thought about for many years and it is one that could very well lead to the type of violence and chaos that we’ve been so desperately trying to keep ourselves out of”, Representative Andy Kim, Democrat of New Jersey and the former director for Iraq on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council warned. “The coming hours and days will be very important”.
“American leaders’ highest priority is to protect American lives and interests”, Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “But we cannot put the lives of American service members, diplomats and others further at risk by engaging in provocative and disproportionate actions. [Thursday’s] airstrike risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence”.
Republicans generally support the decision, although you can sense some wariness. “His death presents an opportunity for Iraq to determine its own future free from Iranian control”, Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said.
“[The Quds] are entirely to blame for bringing about the dangerous moment now before us”, Marco Rubio declared.
The US Embassy urged all citizens to leave Iraq immediately.
Khamenei’s statement contained a pledge, of sorts. “His departure to God does not end his path or his mission”, the Ayatollah said.
State television in Iran was interrupted in the minutes after Soleimani was killed. The anchor recited the Islamic prayer for the dead. “From God we came and to God we return”.