The White House said Soleimani was planning to apply the Syrian template in Iraq when President Trump ordered a Jan. 3 missile strike on his car near Baghdad International Airport. The direct hit killed the Quds Force commander and a traveling companion, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, leader of the Iraqi militia Kata’ib Hezbollah. He was a U.S.-designated terrorist and sent fighters to Syria. On Dec. 27, Iranian-backed militia fighters launched missiles at a U.S.occupied compound in Kirkuk, killing an American translator. Militias had launched at least 10 rockets at U.S. forces in the previous two months. The U.S. then conducted airstrikes on militia arms depots. On Dec. 31, Soleimani’s Iraqi supporters, including Kata’ib Hezbollah, besieged the U.S. Embassy. Soleimani paid and armed about 100,000 Iran-loyal Shiite Iraqi militiamen. At his death, he was organizing a wave of missile strikes on U.S. troops, according to the Trump administration and some press reports.
Democrats accuse Mr. Trump of overreaching. They say the briefed intelligence does not show an imminent Soleimani-orchestrated attack. Iran has not just lost a ground commander and strategist; it has lost a diplomat. Soleimani first took control of Iranian operations in Syria after the 2011 uprising. As the civil war dragged on, he traveled to Moscow in the summer of 2015 and persuaded the Kremlin to enter the war. Two months later, Russia sent troops and warplanes to Syria and began airstrikes. Soleimani returned to Moscow two months after that for a war council with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “He had a major diplomatic impact when he traveled to Moscow in 2015 to meet with Putin to encourage and coordinate with the Russian intervention later that year,” said Jim Phillips, a Middle East analyst at The Heritage Foundation.
In late December 2016, the Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a report on Soleimani in Syria, titled “Iran’s Pivotal Role in Aleppo Massacres.” Soleimani was an enemy of Israel. He capitalized on his expanded adventure in Syria by placing militia fighters in bases closer to Israel, which Iran has vowed to destroy. Iran also funds another potent Israeli foe: Lebanese Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border. It too joined the Syrian war.
“Iranian-led troops have been responsible for mass executions, attacks on civilians, including on women and children, and for blocking civilian evacuation from the bombarded city,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said. “Iran’s largest proxy, Hezbollah, which receives hundreds of millions of dollars in financial assistance from Iran, is deeply entrenched in the Syrian civil war, and was a key leader in the most recent ground assault in Aleppo.”
The People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK), the main Iranian dissident group, also issued a report in December 2016. “The fact is that Aleppo has been occupied by the IRGC and its mercenaries,” the MEK said. “Mass executions, preventing the transfer of the civilians, including women and children, [and] attacking the civilians has all been done by the forces of the mullahs’ regime.” Soleimani, in effect, operated as a U.N. outlaw. The United Nations imposed a travel ban against him in 2007, which he routinely ignored, for trafficking illicit arms, including nuclear components. Mr. Phillips said Soleimani’s death may produce what he sought. In a nonbinding vote, the majority Shiite members of the Iraqi parliament voted to expel U.S. forces.
“He may yet win a posthumous victory in Iraq if the political backlash against his death leads the Iraqi government to demand the withdrawal of U.S. troops, a long-term Iranian goal,” Mr. Phillips said.
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