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, says an expert 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 killed them. Soleimani was regarded as the second most powerful man in Iran behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Rasta Rastakhiz, an adjunct professor who teaches international government at the University of Central Oklahoma and Oklahoma City Community College.
Rastakhiz said Soleimani's martyrdom is unifying a nation frayed by weeks of government protests against the regime.
“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 proved they can wait. Iran has proved they can calculate what they are going to do, which is more difficult for us to calculate their reactions.”
Tensions simmered 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.
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.
“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.
Soleimani’s death is being used as a call for a united Iran. About a month ago, gasoline prices in Iran tripled overnight. Protestors died by the thousands in the streets and the internet was cut off for two days, Rastakhiz added.
“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 initially 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 such action would violate the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the 1954 Hague Convention, and a 2017 U.N. Security Council resolution.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is telling young Iranians the United States is against them, Rastakhiz explained.
“That actually backfired for the Iranian younger generation,” Rastakhiz said. “They said [Trump] is against our culture and history. They basically got united behind the Iranian regime.”
Rastakhiz said the U.S. has never had a clear exit plan in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. Iran is better established militarily than either Iraq or Afghanistan, he said, with proxies in the Middle East, and it has 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, and exhaust the United States economy," he said.
Rastakhiz pointed out 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.
U.S. Sen. James Lankford, an Edmond, Oklahoma Republican, said everyone wants to avoid a war, but he supported Trump’s order to kill Soleimani, since Soleimani acted as the head of a terrorist organization.
“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.