EDMOND, Okla. — The U.S. killing of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, is sending shockwaves through the Middle East and abroad, said Rasta Rastakhiz, adjunct professor at the University of Central Oklahoma with expertise in U.S. relations with Iran.
Soleimani and an Iraqi Militia leader were in a motorcade Friday morning when a U.S. air strike in Iraq ended their lives.
Soleimani was the second most powerful man in Iran following Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Rastakhiz, who teaches international government at UCO and Oklahoma City Community College. His admirers considered him as a unifying and beloved figure in Iran. His martyrdom is also unifying a nation frayed by weeks of government protests against the regime.
A 25-mile procession of his supporters paid homage to Soleimani at his funeral in Iran. Khamenei wept as Soleimani’s casket was displayed. He was considered a great hope for Iran during the 1980’s Iran and Iraq war. Iran has vowed to revenge Soleimani’s death.
“They might do something in the region to say, ‘hey, we’re not going to get bullied by the United States,’” Rastakhiz said. “Iran has proven they can wait. Iran has proven they can calculate what they are going to do, which is more difficult for us to calculate their reactions.”
Tensions fomented on New Year’s Eve when protestors failed to seize the U.S. embassy in Iraq. President Trump said the action was taken after U.S. intelligence reports found Soleimani had planned to attack American assets. Democratic leaders have questioned the timing of the attack as political, suggesting the president is trying to bolster his re-election effort.
Since Soleimani’s death, the Iranian regime on Sunday announced intentions to cast aside its remaining ties to the 2015 nuclear deal with the West. Trump abandoned the Iran nuclear treaty in May 2018. Inspectors will be expelled. Iran’s plans to enrich uranium are finalized.
“Sadly in the scholarly community and the international community, everybody was hoping for peace, bringing the United States and Iran to the table for negotiations,” Rastakhiz said.
Iraqi parliament has called for a U.S. troop withdrawal. Soleimani’s death is being used as a call for a united Iran. About a month ago the gas price in Iran tripled overnight. Protestors died by the thousands in the streets and the Internet was cut-off for two days, Rastakhiz continued.
“But now with this killing of Soleimani, people forgot that,” Rastakhiz said. “Now if you look at social media of younger generations it is shocking. Everybody has posted something about Soleimani — in support of Soleimani.”
Trump said if any retaliation happens against the U.S., he would target 52 Iranian sites, some of which are cultural sites. Rastakhiz pointed out that Iranians have great pride in their cultural artifacts and sites. The taking of any such action against cultural sites is against the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the 1954 Hague Convention, and a 2017 United Nations Security Council resolution, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has taken the opportunity to tell young Iranians that the United States is against them, he explained.
“That actually backfired of the Iranian younger generation,” Rastakhiz said. “They said he (Trump) is against our culture and history. They basically got united behind the Iranian regime.”
Rastakhiz said the U.S. has never had a proven exit plan in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, and also that Trump has pointed out the U.S. expenditure of $6.4 trillion at war against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
Iran is better established militarily than either Iraq or Afghanistan with proxies in the Middle East, Rastakhiz said, and they have spent 40 years preparing for conflict with the U.S.
“I’m not going to say they are strong enough to defeat the United States. At least I’m going to say they are confident enough to drag the U.S. into a very long war,” he said, and exhaust the United States’ economy. The U.S. is currently $22 trillion in debt.
Rastakhiz added that exhausting the U.S. economy was the ambition of Osama bin Laden before a U.S. military strike ordered by President Barak Obama ended his life as the founder of al Qaeda.
“Nobody talks about this. In his interview in 2002, he said the only way to stop the United States was to break the United States’ economy,” Rastakhiz said.
U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Edmond said everyone wants to avoid a war, but he supports Trump’s order to kill Soleimani. Lankford said Soleimani acted as the head of a terrorist organization. The strike follows the U.S. doctrine set-up after 9-11, he said.
“Just like any terrorist organization we know of — when we know there is an imminent threat on Americans — we push back first,” Lankford said.
Congresswoman Kendra Horn, D-Oklahoma City, said Soleimani was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans, but she added that the U.S. must ensure it does not recklessly engage with Iran.
“Both Congress and the American people deserve to see that this Administration has a plan to ensure that we are safer now than before Soleimani’s death,” Horn said.