General Qasem Soleimani was the commander of the Quds Force. This is the branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) which specializes in unconventional warfare and oversees the military operations outside the Khomeinist Republic’s territory. Soleimani was taken out by some Trump drone almost 3 years ago, on January 3, 2020.
Earlier on this year, his death anniversary witnessed both criticisms of him and also tributes to him.
Among those who paid homage to him was Karim Sadjapour, an Iranian geopolitical analyst. He described him as having been a sort of “Shiite Che Guevara figure,” and it is generally the case that those who laud praises upon him see him as this great symbol of “anti-American imperialism.”
But was he always fighting against American imperialism?
And is American imperialism the only form of imperialism that is a threat to Muslims?
Well, let’s take a look and find out.
Fighting the U.S. and Oppressing Sunnis
Soleimani was known for having actively participated in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). He was fighting the U.S. in Iraq from 2003 onwards, but he did so though various sectarian Shi’ah organizations and militias that are very openly Shi’ah supremacists. Thus he did it all at the cost of the local Sunnis.
Bill Roggio, from The Long War Journal, wrote in 2015 while discussing a Human Rights Watch report examining the collective punishment meted out against Sunnis due to their perceived support towards the Islamic State:
“The widespread burning of civilian homes by the militia groups in areas under their control appeared to have had no clear military objective and to represent collective punishment against residents of local Sunni villages,” HRW stated.
The militias that were involved in the fighting in Amerli included Kata’ib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades), Asiab al Haq (League of the Righteous), Saraya Khorasani (Khorasan Brigades), and the Badr Organization. Each of these militias, which operate under the aegis of the Popular Mobilization Committee, or Hashid Shaabi, are closely tied to Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Qods Force, the external operations wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Shiite militia commanders have threatened to retaliate against Sunnis, who are seen as supporting the Sunni Islamic State, immediately after the liberation of Amerli.
“There is no way back for them [the Sunnis]: we will raze their homes to the ground,” a Hezbollah Brigades commander in Amerli who is known as Abu Abdullah told Reuters in mid-September 2014. In that same report, Kurdish fighters were quoted as calling Hezbollah Brigades the “Shiite Islamic State” and said that hostilities between Kurdish forces and the Shiite group is likely.
The first leader of the above-mentioned Badr Organization, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, actually died along with Soleimani during the very same Trump drone attack.
It must also be noted that while Soleimani had not placated the anti-Sunni sentiments among his irregular Shi’ah forces, he did aid in brokering a peace-deal between a Shi’ah militant organization and the American-backed Iraqi government.
Oppressing Sunnis in Syria with Russian Imperialism
We’ve seen how he oppressed Sunnis in Iraq while combating “American imperialism,” but he oppressed Sunnis in Syria as well. This time it was with the help of another flavor of imperialism; a Russian-flavored one.
During the summer of 2015, the Ba’athist dictator Bashar al-Assad was really feeling the heat. His army was lacking both the human capital and the material resources required in order to perpetuate the systematic oppression of Sunnis.
And guess who went crawling on all fours to Russia, begging for aid?
The following is from a November 2021 report by Nicole Grajewski which was compiled for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS):
With the IS advance into Palmyra in May 2015, the threat that the regime in Damascus might fall and the country might break up became increasingly plausible. The regime’s tenuous hold on power compelled Assad to publicly announce that the Syrian army lacked the necessary resources to contain the rebel advance and would thus focus on defending the most important areas. From July 24 to July 26, Soleimani covertly met with Putin and Shoigu in Moscow to coordinate the military operation in Syria. Shortly after Soleimani’s trip to Moscow, Russia and Syria signed a secret basing agreement for Khmeimim airfield in northern Syria. Around this time, a series of media reports indicated a growing presence of Russian military hardware and personnel on the ground in Syria, which the Russian Foreign Ministry described as “supplying military equipment to official Syrian authorities to fight terrorists.”
The BBC, in a 2015 profile of Soleimani, also writes:
In neighbouring Syria he is widely credited with delivering the strategy that has helped President Bashar al-Assad turn the tide against rebel forces and recapture key cities and towns.
So the Khomeinist Republic, which prides itself in supposedly being an “Islamist theocracy,” is actually helping Bashar al-Assad to retain power.
As mentioned in passing earlier on, Bashar al-Assad is of course a Ba’athist, and the Ba’athist ideology is one that espouses Arab nationalism and secularism.
Then there’s also Assad’s Nusayri-‘Alawi religious background, which even Twelver Shi’ism deems to be inherently heretical.
And you have all of this joining in partnership with Russian imperialism (and yes, it most certainly is a form of imperialism), with Putin of course being a long-standing oppressor of Muslims in his own right.
You can’t really be more hypocritical in your geopolitics than this.
Aiding U.S. Imperialism in Afghanistan!
In 2013, famed journalist and war reporter Dexter Filkins wrote a profile of Soleimani for The New Yorker, in which he reports:
“In the chaotic days after the attacks of September 11th, Ryan Crocker, then a senior State Department official, flew discreetly to Geneva to meet a group of Iranian diplomats. “I’d fly out on a Friday and then back on Sunday, so nobody in the office knew where I’d been,” Crocker told me. “We’d stay up all night in those meetings.” It seemed clear to Crocker that the Iranians were answering to Suleimani, whom they referred to as “Haji Qassem,” and that they were eager to help the United States destroy their mutual enemy, the Taliban.
And the U.S. was definitely aided by Soleimani. Barnett Rubin, one of the foremost American analysts of Afghanistan, wrote for War on the Rocks:
The start of U.S.-Iranian détente during the reformist presidency of Khatami (elected 1997 and 2001) facilitated a reorientation of Iran’s policy in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, though from the Iranian point of view it was the United States, rather than Iran, that changed (…) the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani personally helped the CIA to establish bases in Panjshir and Bagram.
Is Iran Really “Anti-Imperialist”?
We’ve seen Soleimani fighting “American imperialism” while attacking Sunnis in Iraq.
We’ve seen Soleimani aiding Russian imperialism in order to allow Assad to continue oppressing Sunnis.
And we’ve even seen Soleimani aiding “American imperialism” in Afghanistan.
What kind of “anti-imperialist” figure is this?
Of course, Soleimani was just the face of the Khomeinist Republic’s foreign affairs. So I guess the real underlying question is:
How “anti-imperialist” is Iran really?
Well, Trita Parsi (an Iranian-Zoroastrian academic who is known to have a soft spot for the regime) authored an entire book about it with a very telling title; Treacherous Alliance. It discusses Iran’s positive relations with the U.S. and also Israel, under both the secular Shah and the Khomeinist Republic.
We won’t be doing an extensive book-review here, but we will be sharing a few strong words from Parsi.
Iran’s venomous rhetoric against Israel was just that—words. In a victory of realism over ideology, Tehran was careful not to translate this rhetoric into concrete actions, because Iran could ill afford a confrontation with the Jewish State in the midst of its war with Iraq.
To add some context to the above quote, it is in reference to when Iran received covert military aid from Israel during its war against Saddam Hussein.
There’s also the fact that Soleimani had fought against Saddam Hussein and had aided Bashar al-Assad, with both of these individuals being Ba’athists.
I guess we can make the same conclusions about the “anti-imperialism” of both Soleimani and Iran. It’s nothing but empty words. And when it is put into action, it ends up being against Sunnis.
 Trita Parsi, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States, Yale University Press, 2007, p. 102.