The Post-Suleimani View from Iran
One hopes that Iranian leaders' domestic woes and deep desire for self-preservation will lead them to embrace symbolic acts of retaliation in response to the recent assassination of the security and intelligence chief Qassem Suleimani. And one hopes that the US, too, will act prudently in responding to Iran’s next move.
STANFORD – The assassination by the United States of Qassem Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, was certainly a major escalation in the two countries’ long-running conflict. But it need not beget World War III (as some pundits are already predicting). Moreover, while the US may have achieved a short-term tactical advantage by killing Suleimani, the Iranian regime could yet benefit from recent developments.
Iran has been taking drastic steps to ameliorate the severe regional and domestic challenges it currently faces. For example, it recently confronted a sudden upsurge in Iraqi nationalist fervor over its influence in that country. Iran’s diplomatic outposts were burned, and its goods boycotted. Even the Iranian-born Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s highest Shia cleric, has spoken out against foreign (meaning Iranian) interference in Iraqi affairs.
In a clear effort to divert this anti-Iranian sentiment, Suleimani’s allies in Iran – particularly the newspaper Kayhan, a mouthpiece for Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei – suggested in October that Iraqis should occupy the US embassy in Baghdad. Iran needed to change the discourse in Iraq by redirecting nationalist fervor toward the US. And in the event, the conversation in Iraq has indeed changed following the drone strike on Suleimani: many Iraqis are now wondering not when Iran will leave, but when the US will.