The flag-draped coffin of General Qassem Suleimani was thronged by wailing mobs in Tehran on Monday, as the fallout from his death, in a U.S. air strike, accelerated with breathtaking speed. Iran has not seen such an outpouring of emotion on the streets since the death of the revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in 1989. His successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wept openly—as did other political leaders and military officers—as he prayed over the casket. Esmail Gha’ani, Suleimani’s successor as head of the Quds Force, the élite wing of the Revolutionary Guards, vowed to confront the United States. “We promise to continue down martyr Soleimani’s path as firmly as before, with the help of God, and, in return for his martyrdom, we aim to get rid of America from the region,” Gha’ani said at the funeral.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went on five Sunday talk shows—curiously, wearing a red tie on two shows and a blue tie on three others—to brag about the U.S. operation. “We took a bad guy off the battlefield,” he said, on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “There is less risk today to American forces in the region as a result of that attack.” Yet nothing seems further from the truth. Some form of conflict between the United States and the Islamic Republic, overt or covert, seems more possible now than it has at any time since the 1979 Revolution. The U.S. investment in neighboring Iraq—thousands of American lives, hundreds of billions of dollars in American treasure, decades of American diplomacy—appears to be unravelling, with rippling effects across the Middle East. Diplomatic missions in other Middle Eastern and South Asian countries are on virtual lockdown, with American citizens urged to evacuate Iraq and Iran and lie low elsewhere in the region.
Instead of being a dead bad guy, Suleimani appears almost as potent in his “martyrdom” as he was in life. His death has already spurred anti-American sentiment across the Middle East. It has unified Iran’s divided society. And it has also precipitated the first action to wind down or end the American military presence in the region—Suleimani’s primary mission since he took over the Quds Force, in 1998. [Continue reading…]