by Kim Ghattas
There is fear because he was so central to almost every regional event in the last two decades that even people who hate him can’t believe he could die.
Middle East woke up to incredible news of Qassem Suleimani’s killing in US strike in Iraq, at Baghdad airport on Friday. He had reportedly just flown back from Beirut. He was like a Middle East viceroy, trotting around region, giving orders, masterminding small and large operations.
A combination of elation, relief and fear here in the region among people who suffered tremendously from Suleimani’s policies, from Lebanon to Syria and Iraq.
Elation and relief because he was seen as the evil mastermind of policies of death and destruction propping up bloodthirsty oppressive militias, overseeing a devastating war in Syria, feeding/playing on sectarian hatred, helping crack down on protestors in Iran (2009/2017/2019), Iraq now, and likely more recently helping Hezbollah to navigate protests in Lebanon.
Note that he had just flown back from Beirut and it’s definitely not his first visit. There were reports of him being in Lebanon in 2006 to help Hezbollah strategise in the war against Israel, and so there’s celebration and relief from Iran, to Iraq to Lebanon and Syria, among those, Sunnis and Shias who suffered from his evil mind.
I write about him in my forthcoming book Black Wave and the deadly dynamics of revenge that he pursued after Iran-Iraq war.
There is fear because he was so central to almost every regional event in the last two decades that even people who hate him can’t believe he could die, a bit like people couldn’t believe Saddam was really gone. He seemed invincible, omnipotent. What happens in his absence?
Some of his aura or reputation was probably overblown, but he really was indispensable to Iran, he was not on a mission, he was the mission, the architect of Iran’s expansionist regional policy, the indispensable upholder of the Islamic Revolution, keeping it alive for Khamenei
So what comes next: war? chaos? limited retaliation? nothing? no one really knows, not in the region, and not in DC, because this is unprecedented.
There is anger too of course, among his supporters, allies, proxy militias, who were devoted to him and lionized him and will be lost without him.
There is no replacement that I know of or can see. They will be mulling their next step for a bit. First, huge displays of mourning.
Lots more to say about region, US policy, Saudi Arabia reaction, Iran domestic reaction, local dynamics and more later, but for now then read Dexter Filkins’ piece from 2013 on Suleimaini, the best profile out there.
Kim Ghattas is a non-resident scholar and author of upcoming book Black Wave. Article complied from series of her Tweets.