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Awaiting the Mahdi: Soleimani’s Martyrdom and the End of Stupidistan


Dr Can Erimtan
21st Century Wire

On Friday morning (3 January 2020), Iraq’s capital was awakened by a big blast, an aerial attack hitting a convoy of vehicles leaving Baghdad airport and killing the deputy chief of the Ḥashd ash-Shaʿbī (or Popular Mobilization Units, PMU) Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and four more PMU members, in addition to a lone Iranian dignitary. The PMU spokesman Ahmed al-Assadi subsequently released this statement: “The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani,” identifying the lone Iranian dignitary as the the head of the Quds Force, while giving less prominence to the equally dead four anonymous fighters.

Now, the United States has assassinated the Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, in another example of President Trump doing better what Obama did well, namely utilising a precision drone strike eliminating Washington’s perceived opponents, this time hitting a convoy of vehicles killing two notorious military leaders and four of their fighters – President Obama’s most notorious precision drone strike arguably was the elimination of Anwar al-Awlaki’s teenage son on 14 October 2011. Furthermore, Trump’s predecessor also supervised a whopping “total of 563 strikes” during his two terms, obliterating his own predecessor’s record. In 2017, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Jessica Purkiss and Jack Serle remarked in an off-hand manner that there “were ten times more air strikes in the covert war on terror during President Barack Obama’s presidency than under his predecessor, George W. Bush.” Whereas Trump, authorised a total of 238 drone strikes already during the first two years of his administration, particularly targeting “Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.” Last year, the columnist S.E. Cupp, rather poignantly, remarked that the “Obama administration paved the way for popularizing and normalizing drone wars.” And as a good U.S. President, Donald Trump all but continues this trendy fashion of raining death from above, while decrying Obama’s weakness and undoing his achievements (most notably in this context, the Iran nuclear deal, meaning the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA), and practising his defiant strategy which I termed “Continuity as Change,” back in 2017.

In the same fashion, Trump’s televised announcement of Soleimani’s public execution was reminiscent of his predecessors’ performance after the successful killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad (2 May 2011). Though Trump did not know who Soleimani was back in 2015, apparently even confusing the Quds Force with the Kurds, addressing the nation on television in 2019, he described the now dead Iranian as “the number-one terrorist anywhere in the world, Qasem Soleimani.” The President elaborated that his swift and decisive call to action thwarted “imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel,” that Soleimani had been “caught . . . in the act.” In fact, Trump asserted that “[f]or years, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its ruthless Quds Force — under Soleimani’s leadership — has targeted, injured, and murdered hundreds of American civilians and servicemen,” even claiming that the “recent attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq, including rocket strikes that killed an American and injured four American servicemen very badly, as well as a violent assault on our embassy in Baghdad, were carried out at the direction of Soleimani.” Donald Trump even alleged that his victim had actively contributed to “terrorist plots as far away as New Delhi and London,” in this way playing the role of a world leader, not just the Republican incumbent in the White House, but a man whose actions appear to take account of events shaping the world – even in places as far removed from the hustle and bustle of American politics as England and India. At the same time, Trump did not neglect to mention that Soleimani supposedly also “targeted, injured, and murdered hundreds of American civilians and servicemen,” as a reminder for his home audience that he is first and foremost the President of the United States, a nation that “has the best military by far, anywhere in the world. We have best intelligence in the world.” Before finishing his address, Donald J. Trump did not forget to remind his audience that “recently, American Special Operations Forces killed the terrorist leader known as al-Baghdadi,” even more than insinuating that he personally had “destroyed the ISIS territorial caliphate.” This latest public relations stunt clearly deflects the American public’s attention from many things, including the ongoing impeachment trial that seems to upset Donald Trump quite a bit in spite of his nonchallant attitude towards Nancy Pelosi’s apparently quite ineffectual and counter-productive ploy.

The Raging Twenties: Heralding the End of America

Trump has now really outdone Obama, killing two terrorist “monsters,” instead of just one. And while Obama’s announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed took the world by surprise, Soleimani’s death really came as a bolt from the blue and has equally sent ripples throughout the world – even Kashmiri Shiite Muslims have now taken to the street to protest this wanton murder, even momentarily forgetting about India’s PM Modi and his desire to build a Hindutva nation-state on the sub-continent (3 January 2020).

Though the strike came totally unexpectedly, its timing seems really rather reactive, coming on the heels of the storming of the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad’s Green Zone. Interestingly, it was the Guardian‘s Luke Harding who weighed-in, putting it like this: “Protesters in Iraq have dealt a symbolic blow to US prestige by storming the American embassy in Baghdad, trapping diplomats inside while chanting ‘Death to America’ and slogans in support of pro-Iranian militias.” Harding actually called this a “humiliating day for Washington” in Baghdad. Rather than letting this take-over escalate into a hostage crisis similar to Tehran in 1980, the Trump administration acted swiftly: “Many US embassy staff were evacuated or airlifted from the compound, and an additional detachment of 100 US Marines were called in as reinforcements, along with an additional 750 troops from fast battalion 82nd Airborne Division sent to Kuwait preparing to go into Iraq. US combat helicopters circled overhead, as well as around the entire Green Zone and over civilians neighborhoods in Baghdad. This move was not received well by the Iraqi government who forbid such US military patrols as part of their status of forces agreement for the country. The siege lasted until News Years Eve on December 31st, before the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Mukhabarat internal security eventually arrived to disperse the angry crowds,” as related by our very own 21st Century Wire‘s Patrick Henningsen.

Apparently unable to countenance this “humiliating day for Washington,” thin-skinned Trump then authorised the drone strike on Soleimani (as also hinted at in the President’s televised statement), in this way taking out the ‘2nd most powerful man in Iran,’ as the dead general is now being universally described. But, as officially the U.S. is not at war with either Iraq or Iran, this assassination really has all the hallmarks of a wanton act of terror. Iran’s UN Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi published a written statement which calls Soleimani’s murder an “obvious example of State terrorism and, as a criminal act, constitutes a gross violation of the fundamental principles of international law, including, in particular, those stipulated in the Charter of the United Nations.” In this context, the ever-colourful yet incisive and deeply insightful Pepe Escobar posted this “Raging Twenties reminder” on his Facebook page, namely that “Stupidistan has declared war on Iran AND Iraq.” And for all intents and purposes, Escobar is correct, albeit that the official narrative continues to spin alternative facts befitting the alternate reality we are now inhabiting in the Age of Trump, where the twenties that were ‘Roaring’ in the 20th century, have become Raging and the United States of America has been downgraded to being nothing but a ‘Stupidistan.’

In the U.S., where much of the real world seems far away, Democratic politicians have now come out to complain about the fact that “Congress wasn’t consulted.” The soon-to-be octogenarian House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (her birthday is on March, 26) even called the drone strike a “provocative and disproportionate action.” On the other hand, the intrepid Turkish journalist Hikmet Durgun tweets that, “4 minutes before the killing of Qassem Soleimani, the U.S. informed Iraq’s authorities” (6:36 pm. 5 Jan 2020).

Back in the U.S. then, Sleepy Joe aka Trump’s wanna-be rival former Vice President Joe Biden, has said some choice words now, hinting at the fact that his favourite opponent, the 45th U.S. President “tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox,” thereby bringing the U.S. to “the brink of a major conflict across the Middle East” and arguably the rest of the world. Though Biden seems to have ignored the current political constellations, focusing solely on the Middle East as the traditional proxy-theatre for superpower conflicts, this high-tech assassination could arguably lead to a domino effect in the newly-formed network of alliances which I have termed “New Cold War Realignments” – pitting the U.S. and its NATO allies against Russia, China, Turkey and Iran. In the last century, on 28 June 1914 to be precise, a terror act executed by the Serb Gavrilo Princip (1894-1918) led to the worldwide conflagration that became known as the Great War, and that we nowadays refer to as World War I (1914-18). Princip’s decidedly low tech assassination of the Habsburg Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863-1914) instigated the mobilisation of allies and alliances that in a short while led to the German invasion of Belgium, Luxembourg, and France (4 August 1914) and the subsequent all-out war that was to draw in the United States at the last moment (6 April 1917). And that was eventually to lead to the current jumble of nation states populating Europe and the Middle East, in the wake of the Sykes-Picot agreement (23 November 1917) and the Treaty of Versailles (28 June 1919). At the moment, it would seem rather unlikely that Qassem Soleimani’s death from above would lead to such a globe-spanning conflict . . . as most commentators like to remind everybody that it is more likely that Tehran will execute a ‘asymmetric reaction,’ hinting at the possibility that some kind of soft target within the U.S. orbit could fall victim to righteous Iranian outrage. This case was convincingly made by Representative Tulsi Gabbard, the Hawaii Democrat who is running for president: “It further escalates this tit for tat that’s going on and on and on, [and that] will elicit a very serious response from Iran, and [pushes] us deeper and deeper into this quagmire. And it really begs the question: For what?”  Gabbard spoke these pregnant words on Fox & Friends (3 January 2020), apparently one of Trump’s favourite television programmes. The Hawaii Representative has made a dedicated following among people critical of U.S. foreign policy and the good old American tradition of ‘endless wars,’ which is also a favourite trope used by then candidate Trump when he was pitching himself to the American public in 2016. On the other hand, as a practising Hindu, Gabbard’s apparent ties to India’s strongman Modi and his Hindutva ideology have drawn the ire of her opponents dubious character, as forcefully argued by the activist and journalist Pieter Friedrich.

Behind the Scenes: Bibi’s Intervention and the Return of the Mahdi

President Trump, staying true to his own idiosyncratic view of the world and its affairs, has told journalists in Miami that “[w]e took action [Thursday] night [which corresponds to Friday morning in Iraq] to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.”  Trump’s warped appreciation of reality makes him sound truly Orwellian in tone and voice.

In a apologistic fashion, the media company Bloomberg relates that the “president’s decision to target the powerful head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force came together swiftly, following the death of an American contractor in a Dec 27 rocket attack by an Iranian-backed militia against an US base in Iraq.” On 31 December 2019, however, Secretary of State Pompeo had a phone call with Israel’s Netanyahu (aka Bibi), tweeting subsequently that “[w]e discussed U.S. defensive strikes in Iraq and Syria to counter Iran’s threats.” This clearly indicates that the U.S. and Israel, or rather Trump and Bibi (and/or their proxies), appear to work hand in glove. As a matter of fact, it would stand to reason that this U.S. President’s extreme hostility towards Iran really stems from his close ties to the currently beleaguered Israeli PM. For Bibi has a bit of an obsession, an obsession called Iran: as long ago as 1997, he made the following utterly amazing statement: “Iran, unseen, unperturbed and undisturbed is building a formidable arsenal of ballistic missiles, actually ICBM’s (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles). Stage One would reach our area, Stage Two it would reach Britain and Stage Three, believe it or not, they actually plan to reach the eastern seaboard of the United States, Manhattan. This sounds fantastic but Iran wants to be a world power with a world ideology of fundamentalist domination, seeing the West as its great enemy. It seeks to have weapons to back up that ideology and that is even more dangerous than Saddam because there is a fanaticism, an ideological fanaticism attached to the acquisition of these weapons.” And ever since that time Bibi has been urging the United States to invade Iran – neither Bill Clinton, George W. Bush nor Barack Obama paid him any heed, but now his old friend Trump seems to have felt obliged. As apparently confirmed by one of Pepe Escobar’s top sources: “Israel set up the killing of General Qassem Soleimani to draw the United States into a war with Iran as with Iraq. That is what this is all about.” While on Twitter, the political scientist Professor Max Abrahms declared that the “#SoleimaniAssassination wasn’t intel-driven. It was ideology-driven. Of course, the White House can’t just come out and say that.”

And it seems, the Iranian authorities really do regard Soleimani’s murder as a crime deserving serious punishment, a punishment that might even conjure up truly eschatological dimensions involving war and violence on a grand scale, a scale that might portend the end of the world and the return of the ‘Hidden Iman’ (Muhammad Ibn al-Hasan) as the ‘Mahdi,’ which means ‘The Guided One’ who ushers in the union of Islam preceding the end of the world – an expectation that has a “major ecclesiastical importance in Shia Islam.” On Saturday, 4 January 2020, the “Red Flag of Hussein [was raised] over the Holy Dome of Jamkaran Mosque, in [the Holy City of] Qom,” and as explained by Joaquin Flores, the Editor-in-Chief of Fort Russ News, the “raising of the red flag gives a precise signal – it indicates that a major war is to come or is even now underway.” The Red Flag is redolent with the full Shia imagery of martyrdom and reminiscent of the sacrifice of Imam Hussain, whose martyrdom at Karbala is annually remembered with festive and violent processions. General Qassem Soleimani had been so revered that he was called the “Living Martyr” and now, Bibi via the good offices of his buddy Trump, has promoted the General to the lofty status of a dead martyr or Shahid – the souls of martyrs go straight to heaven where they sit down next to the Prophet Muhammad facing the countenance of Allah – for the Quran states: “And those who are killed in the cause of Allah – never will He waste their deeds. He will guide them and amend their condition And admit them to Paradise, which He has made known to them” (47:4-6). But the unfurling of the Red Flag also has a direct and tactical aim, for it “speaks of events yet to unfold in [a] short time,” as explained by Flores. On the day before the unfurling of the Red Flag in Qom, President Trump told a crowd of fervent Evangelicals in Miami the following: “I do really believe we have God on our side.” In other words, we now seem to have arrived at a situation where both opponents appear to act in accordance with their deeply held beliefs rather than their appreciation of reality on the ground. In case of Trump, the sincerity of his convictions might seem dubious, but his Vice President and a large section his base seem utterly convinced. According to some of his Christian base, the Evangelical God may very well be on Trump’s side, but an escalation would only usher in a domino effect involving allies and alliances in the current New Cold War Realignments possibly leading to a globe-spanning conflict and a ‘veritable’ return of the Mahdi.

Over the weekend (4-5 January 2020), Qassem Soleimani’s mortal remains were dutifully transported, while numerous believers paid their respects, the funeral procession “began at [Baghdad]’s Al Muthana Airport, then moved to the gate of the Green Zone. As the procession snaked though the streets, some mourners carried portraits of Soleimani while others held portraits of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Later, the procession left for the Shia Muslim holy cities of Karbala and Najaf,” reports the BBC. The remains of the martyred Soleimani thus paid its respects to Shi’a Islam’s foundational martyrs, Imam Hussein and his father Imam Ali, respectively buried in either location. From there, the dead Soleimani was transported to Iran, with the procession starting off in the city of Ahvaz on Sunday (5 January 2020), where “[t]ens of thousands of black-clad mourners have filled the streets.” From there, Iran’s leadership will have the remains take  to the holy city of Mashhad as well as Tehran and the holy city of Qom on Monday [6 January 2010] for public mourning processions, then to his hometown of Kerman for burial on Tuesday [7 January 2020].” Alas, the Supreme Leader’s people did not anticipate the population of the second city Mashhad’s turnout: massive crowds flooded the streets necessitating the cancellation of the Tehran ceremonies, in view of the “glorious, intense and million-man presence of the revolutionary people of Mashhad,” an official Iranian  statement read. Meanwhile on the ground in Iraq and in cyberspace, as reported by The Telegraph’s Josie Ensor, a “volley of missiles appeared to target the US’s embassy and one of its bases in Iraq on Saturday night,” adding that a “Katusya rocket struck inside the Green Zone close to the American mission in Baghdad, followed minutes later by a two rockets 40 miles away on al-Balad airbase, which houses US Air Force trainers.” In fact, many more attacks occurred throughout the whole of Iraq in the wake of Soleiman’s violent and untimely death . . .

Meanwhile, Trump has again taken to Twitter to issue threats in the face of an imminent Iranian reaction: “Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American, & badly wounded many others, not to mention all of the people he had killed over his lifetime, including recently . . . . hundreds of Iranian protesters. He was already attacking our Embassy, and preparing for additional hits in other locations. Iran has been nothing but problems for many years. Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have . . .  targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!” (11:52 pm. 4 Jan 2020).

Through it seems unlikely the President personally composed and tweeted this digital threat, Iran was not averse to reacting in kind, with Khamenei’s military adviser Hossein Dehghan telling CNN that the U.S. President’s tweets are “ridiculous and absurd.” While, on Twitter itself, the Islamic Republic’s Information and Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi simply stated that “Trump is a ‘terrorist in a suit’ . . . [saying that the U.S. President is] Like ISIS, like Hitler, Like Genghis!” even adding that “[t]hey all hate cultures” (9:47 am. 5 Jan 202).

Though Trump may now think that his reckless murder of the Quds Force leader shows him to be a better or stronger president that either Bush Jr. or Obama, on the ground in Iraq his apparent quiescence to Bibi’s incessant sounding of war drums has led Baghdad’s “Parliament [to] pass a resolution to end the presence of all foreign troops in the country,” as reported by TRT World.

Is this perhaps the beginning Stupidistan’s retreat from the scene or will the current  New Cold War Realignments lead to a dark and bloody future . . . The time to find out is now, or, rather sooner than later.

***
21WIRE special contributor Dr. Can Erimtan is an independent historian and geo-political analyst who used to live in Istanbul. At present, he is in self-imposed exile from Turkey. He has  a wide interest in the politics, history and culture of the Balkans, the greater Middle East, and the world beyond. He attended the VUB in Brussels and did his graduate work at the universities of Essex and Oxford. In Oxford, Erimtan was a member of Lady Margaret Hall and he obtained his doctorate in Modern History in 2002. His publications include the revisionist monograph “Ottomans Looking West?” as well as numerous scholarly articles. In Istanbul, Erimtan started publishing in Today’s Zaman and in Hürriyet Daily News. In the next instance, he became the Turkey Editor of the İstanbul Gazette. Subsequently, he commenced writing for RT Op-Edge, NEO, and finally, the 21st Century Wire. You can find him on Twitter at @theerimtanangle. Read Can’s archive here.

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