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Opinion: Iranian decade dies in a charred SUV

Peter Meijer

Three days into 2020, on the road leading out of Baghdad International Airport, American Hellfire missiles killed Qassem Soleimani. In that charred and mangled SUV, Iran’s 15 year project to reshape the Middle East died as well.

A vehicle burns at the Baghdad International Airport following an airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq, early Friday, Jan. 3, 2020.

Word of the strike trickled out, followed by rumors of Soleimani’s death, then confirmation. You could hear the collective jaws drop of thousands of Iraq veterans and Middle East observers. I was stunned. I’m still stunned. 

Many Americans will be forgiven for not knowing who Qassem Soleimani was on Jan. 1, but those of us who fought in Iraq knew him too well. Soleimani, leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was a legendary ghost, the supplier of rockets that pummeled our bases and roadside bombs that cut through armored trucks like a scalpel. The militants he armed and led killed hundreds of Americans, and left thousands more permanently injured.

I knew his work intimately. In western Iraq, my Army counter-intelligence team fought back against his rocket cells that killed dozens of soldiers. One day we’d head out on a patrol, and the next his sophisticated roadside bombs would kill troops on those same roads. At night, Iranian-made 122mm rockets would rain down on our bases, unleashing terror as we dove for cover. The violence Soleimani wrought was all around us, as the man himself stayed in the shadows.

While Soleimani played a large role in the insurgency that mired us in Iraq, his influence spread throughout the Middle East. He was instrumental in helping the Russians and Bashar al-Assad kill over half a million civilians, perfecting the starvation and siege warfare that laid waste to Syria. Soleimani also trained Lebanese terrorists, and personally oversaw the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah. 

Soleimani’s goal was not just to attack America, Israel, and our Arab allies — he dreamed of total Iranian control of the Middle East from Tehran to the Mediterranean. Our disastrous war in Iraq made this possible after we removed Saddam Hussein, Iran’s arch-rival. In the chaos that followed in Iraq, Soleimani was able to move allies into power while strengthening the Syrian government against a rebel uprising.

On the last day of 2019, the project seemed to be nearly complete. The Iraqi government was so powerless in the face of Iran that government troops let Soleimani’s militants nearly ransack the US Embassy in Baghdad in a wanton act of aggression. Bashar al-Assad had regained control of much of Syria, and political chaos in Lebanon had strengthened Hezbollah’s hand.

Then Soleimani miscalculated. After Iranian forces attacked merchant ships and shot down an American surveillance drone this summer, he mistook President Donald Trump’s admirable restraint and desire to de-escalate for weakness. On Jan. 3, Soleimani arrived in Baghdad for a victory lap while Marines rushed to secure our embassy. It was a fatal error to underestimate Trump’s resolve. Soleimani overplayed his hand, and paid with his life.

Posters of slain Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani are placed on chairs as supporters of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah gather for his televised speech in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020 following the U.S. airstrike in Iraq that killed Soleimani.

Make no mistake, I am not a fan of war. I have spent three years in warzones, on both sides of the blast wall in Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, I am running for Congress to help Trump end our forever wars once and for all, and I pray that peace prevails. But we are in uncharted waters, and no one knows what will happen next. We could very well see Iran retaliate, but this is not a war we started.

Peter Meijer

Whatever the following days and weeks may bring, it’s critical to remember that more than anything, Qassem Soleimani was an enemy of peace. Everywhere he went, hell followed with him. Only too fitting for his last trip to end with raining hellfires.

Peter Meijer is a Republican running for Congress in West Michigan. He served with the Army in Iraq from 2010-2011 and worked in Afghanistan as a conflict analyst from 2013-2015.