The Making of the Soleimani Mythos
3 years after the US killing of Qassem Soleimani, Iran is still going to great lengths to make him into a near-mythological figure.
Drive out from Baghdad Airport today and you will be in no position to forget what occurred a little over three years ago today on those roads. Murals and memorials dot the vicinity outside Baghdad International. You’ll see two major faces on the majority of them: Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the late Iraqi-Iranian Secretary-General of Kata’ib Hezbollah, a Shia Iraqi militia, and Major General Qassem Soleimani of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Soleimani was the longtime leader of the Corps’ Quds Force, specializing in military endeavors taken outside of Iran’s borders. Both died in an American drone strike as they left Baghdad’s airport on January 3, 2020.
Qassem Soleimani had been one of the most prominent faces of Iran’s propaganda strategy. The Islamic Republic pushed him, especially so after the Syrian Civil War became an inter-rebel conflict in the early-to-mid-2010s, as the exemplification of the shadowy military commander archetype, promoting the narratives of how his military victories in places like Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State helped protect Iranian security at home and also acted as a capable bulwark against American interventionism. While the IRGC’s power was not predicated solely on his shoulders, as a personality cult dictatorship might on its leader which then crumbles after their death, his importance to Iran’s military strategy, and arguably more importantly, the Islamic Republic’s public image, was still significant.
His assassination was an unprecedented direct attack on Iran’s military forces, an escalation of a proxy war that had been playing out between Iran and America for years earlier. The strike brought Iran and the United States closer to war than ever before, with Iran retaliating with a barrage of ballistic missiles on an American military base in Iraq. The outbreak of outright conflict was only stopped by the man who brought things to the precipice in the first place, President Donald Trump, who de-escalated the situation and did not authorize any further strikes, though he would return the idea of striking Iran many times again over the course of his presidency.
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