The American assassination of General Qasem Soleimani not only takes attention off of the impeachment processes of President Donald Trump who is soon to contest in the elections but also poses a threat of a wide-scale destabilisation in the Middle East. Does Islamic Iran really pose a threat to the greater Middle East with a vast majority of its Sunni population? Or is it the petrodollar arrangement that Iran poses a threat to the Gulf Cooperation Council and the west currently benefit from? Also, will this assassination aggravate the instability of the region?
Major General Qasem Soleimani was one of the most influential military and political figures in the Islamic Republic of Iran. He has been politically active since the Iranian Revolution and a revered veteran in the Iran-Iraq war. Soleimani was the chief of the Iranian Quds Force a unit within the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Quds Force is a branch that is similar to the Légion étrangère or the French Foreign Legion that primarily focuses on foreign recruits in strategic locations or states. The Quds Force similarly has been active in South Lebanon through Hezbollah, in Yemen with the Houthis, in Iraq with various pro-Iranian Shia militias. The Quds Force has played a significant role in the defeat of ISIS (Daesh) in the Syrian Civil War.
Furthermore, the Quds Force has had an influence in fighting pro-Salafi/Wahhabi militancy primarily in Syria and Iraq which transformed into Daesh, Al Nusra-Front, Al-Qaeda and others. Also, it must be noted that the actions of the Quds Force have enabled the polarisation of the Middle East and unified the Salafi bodies through their inherent anti-Shia views and the subsequent rise of Iran in the region.
Primarily after the fall of the Baathist government of Saddam Hussein through American adventurism caused the Shia majority country of Iraq to fall under the influence of its neighbour Iran the Shia behemoth. This further polarised the sectarian harmony within multi-sectarian Iraq which was instilled by the Baathist government. Since the fall of Baghdad to the invasion of the west, the Shia-Sunni divide has further aggravated and Iraq became one of the main battlefields of the ideological war between pro-American, Saudis and Zionists against the Iranians.
One must not forget the difficulties of the Iran-Iraq war, as the Islamic revolution happened in 1979, a Baathist secular Iraq was wary of the influence of the Revolution. Although Saddam’s government has its own issues regarding fair treatment and rule of law. However, during the Iran-Iraq conflict, the greater Middle East and the two superpowers, the USSR and the USA, united behind Saddam’s preemptive war on Iran. This war resulted in millions of casualties, losses in billions of dollars. However, with technological and financial backing from a multitude of parties did not manage to defeat the Islamic Revolution of Iran. The Iranians founded the IRGC and the Quds Force primarily to ‘export’ the Islamic Revolution.
Eventually, the Baathist government of Iraq were lured into the First Gulf War, later sanctions crippled Iraq and after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the US fully invaded and the government was toppled. This severely destabilised the region and gave rise to proxies across Iraq and its neighbouring countries.
After the vacuum in Baghdad was created, the Shia-Sunni proxy wars commenced and the Quds Force under the leadership of Soleimani became more active. Eventually, the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon saw the thwarting of the Zionist forces by the Quds Force backed Hezbollah.
It must be noted, the Quds Force has an eschatological connotation to it as the Islamic eschatology suggests the importance of the Holy Land of Palestine, in Arabic and Persian, simply referred to as “Al Quds”. The Shia doctrine heavily prioritises the ‘Al Mahdi’ figure which is also part of the Sunni eschatology. Moreover, the Shia understanding of the Mahdi pays great importance to the prophesied events in the Quds. This therefore theologically drives the Islamic Revolutionaries of Iran.
The end of the Baathist government in Iraq brought on the era of hybrid wars in the Middle East. Proxies from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), including Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar grew in the region. The GCC helped fund and provided logistical support for the Salafi-Sunni militias to grow under the advice of the US to combat the Iranian influence.
Now the question of the Iranian influence and the real threat it poses must be addressed. For the gulf states, they enjoy a comfortable Petro-Dollar arrangement with the US. This benefits the gulf elites and monarchs while providing cheap oil and gas for the US and Europe. However, due to the nature of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, it is possibly the single biggest threat to the Petro-Dollar arrangement. As Israel has relatively calmed its relations with the Sunni Arabs, and this leaves the Shia Arabs and Iranians still against Zionist projections. The vast amounts of oil reserves in Iran allow it to stand firm against western dominance and demands.
Iran further due to its eschatological beliefs has become a primary and possibly the only opposition to Israel as the Sunni states have failed to stop Israel from totally demolishing the Palestinian project and Zionist expansionism. As Israel is one of the primary allies of the US and plays a crafty role for the ‘Empire’ in the region, Iran does not shy away from directly threatening Israel.
Now the Shia influence is feared by the GCC, however, if one looks at the demographics the Shia in the Middle East constitute a very small percentage of its population and in realistic terms do not pose any significant threat to the population of the Middle East. However, what the Islamic Revolution of Iran does, is to pose an immense threat to the GCC establishment and the Petro-Dollar arrangement. Therefore, the GCC states and their brand of Sunni Islam the Salafi/Wahhabi are entrenched in the Shia vs Sunni Islamic civil war.
The role of Soleimani was very influential in post-Saddam Iraq and the greater Middle East. Saddam himself was against the Petro-Dollar arrangement and opposed the Zionist aggression in the region. However, as Saddam was forcefully removed by the Americans, Iran remains the only true opposing power to the ‘US Empire’ and it’s Petro-Dollar arrangement. The Shia vs Sunni narrative projected by the GCC and the Americans are nothing but a narrative to justify the comfortable stance that they enjoy by exporting oil cheaply to the west with insurance of their power in their respective states as monarchs.
The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and subsequently the IRGC has already appointed the successor of Soleimani, the man replacing him is his right-hand man General Ismail Qa’ani. The Iranians also vowed to avenge the assassination of their general and from what it seems neither sides are likely to escalate this further and the strikes from Iran would be more targeted towards whom they hold responsible for this loss. The likelihood of a major confrontation remains very slim.[Originally published with the title Who is Gen. Soleimani and what did he stand for? in Qutnyti]
MSc in International Management, University of Exeter (2019). Specialised focus on Political Economy, Development in the Global South, and the Gulf region. BA in International Business and International Relations (Dual Honours at Keele University, 2018) with Interests in International affairs, history and economics. Editor and founder of qutnyti.wordpress.com