Happy New Year, Everyone.
It is difficult to determine an appropriate subject for this first post of 2020. The obvious choice would be to opine on the demise of “the second most powerful person in Iran”. But devoting an entire post to this man would be to accord him a level of attention that, in America, the media has determined is unwarranted for mass murderers and alleged whistleblowers.
Rather, I would like to direct this post to my friends in America and not in Israel because I fear that some of what I will attempt to convey is all too familiar to them, but regrettably unknown in my country. This is a matter that is perhaps untouchable in the United States because it violates our political correctness norms which seem to have permeated every facet of our conversations, and I have never seen this issued addressed by our mainstream media.
With the death of the leader of Iran’s Quds Force in Baghdad, it is timely to try to explain the inextricable links which interconnect Iran with Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and, ultimately Israel and the US. Start, of course, with the name of this powerful military and political entity which Suleimani commanded: the Quds – “Jerusalem” – Force, directed by Ayatollah Khameini himself.
The Quds Force, then, literally has as its primary mission, the eventual destruction of the Jewish State, the liberation of Jerusalem, and the restoration into Muslim hands of the Dome of the Rock. The Quds Force seeks to achieve these objectives by empowering Shi’a surrogates with financial and military might otherwise unavailable to them in lands which neighbor Israel. They also seek to undermine the Saudi monarchy since the Persians see themselves as the more legitimate custodians of the Islamic holy sites in Mecca and Medina.
The borders which form many of the countries to which we refer cavalierly are artificial and were imposed by imperial powers, notably the British, at or about the turn of the 20th century. But the cultural and social commonalties and differences among the people in the region are borderless and span millenia.
Its roots, of course, lie in Islam which, since the death of Muhammed, has been divided between Shi’a and Sunni disciplines. The ancestral home of the Shi’a is in Iran as the Sunni line is in Saudi Arabia, although the holy sites of Mecca and Medina are revered by both. The same is true for the Al-Aqsa Mosque atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where Mohammed is believed to have left this mortal world.
It is also critical to understand the role that the Twelve Imams occupy for the Iranian Shi’a because an overwhelming number of adherents consider themselves “Twelvers” or those who believe that the Prophet has had a hand in the selection of these penultimate leaders of the faith and politics. By definition they are free from error or sin.
The First Imam, Ali ibn Abi Talib, was Muhammed’s son-in-law and was believed to have been born in the Ka’bah, the holiest spot in Islam in Mecca. Hasan ibn Ali, Muhammed’s grandson, succeeded him, and the Third Imam, Hasan’s son, Husayn ibn Ali, became a pivotal figure for Shi’a. He opposed the ruling authority of a rival Caliph, Yazid I, and in the Battle of Karbala, Husayn was killed and beheaded, his family and followers either slaughtered or taken as prisoners. His death is marked by the Day of Ashura, a holy day of mourning and pilgrimmage, which commemorates the battle.
I mention all these names and events to tie them to the politics of today. The First Imam is buried in Najaf, Iraq. The Second in Medina, Saudia Arabia. And Husayn’s tomb is in Karbala, Iraq. So, of course, it goes without saying that Iran has very serious religious and political interests in the affairs of Iraq, confirmed in recent months by reporting in The New York Times and The Intercept that many government ministers and the current caretaker Prime Minister – all Shi’a – are actively involved with Iranian Intelligence organs. And, certainly, both the Iraqis and Iranians would view the presence of American troops on Iraqi soil as an abomination: for their apostate nature, for the CIA’s role in the coup which overthrew Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953, and, of course, for protecting and insuring the survival of Israel.
Ultimately, Twelver Shi’a is predicated on an apocalyptic vision. The Twelfth Imam was named Hujjat-Allah al-Mahdi and became so named when he was five years old, following the murder of his father, in 884 CE. He is said to have disappeared, otherwise known as The Occultation, in 948 CE to be concealed from mankind by Allah until such time as he reappears to rule the earth with justice and righteousness under Islamic law. It is at the Al-Aksari Mosque in Samarra, Iraq, where the Tenth and Eleventh Imams are buried and where the Mahdi went into Occultation. The mosque was bombed on two separate occasions during the Iraq War, suffering serious damage, presumably by Sunni saboteurs. The Sunni believe that the “mahdi” is yet to be born.
My point is that the forces at play today in the region today cannot be viewed through a lens focused solely on events which occurred in the 20th and 21st centuries. The three holiest shrines in Shi’a, to which large numbers of Iranians make annual pilgrimage, are in Iraq, not Iran, and it impossible to imagine, irrespective of borders imposed by “crusader” imperial powers, that a hegemonic regime awash in religious fervor would not expect to control a neighboring land with little sense of its own nationhood.
It is against this background that Qassem Suleimani was embarked upon a most holy mission, and was enjoying much battlefield success in places like Lebanon and Syria, but particularly in Iraq. He seemed almost invincible as he moved about the region with impunity, despite travel bans and sanctions against him. His power and influence brought great pride to the Iranian Nation.
But his supervision of the Popular Mobilization Forces (a confederation of Shi’a militias which had been incorporated into the Iraqi military), their attack on the K1 Air Base, the subsequent attack on the American Embassy, the killing of two Americans, all that came before and that which might be looming proved to be more than enough to risk eliminating him.