Jan. 4 (UPI) -- The elimination in Baghdad by the Americans of senior Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his ally the Iraqi Chief of Staff of Operations Abu Mahdi Muhandis, has dealt a fatal blow to the Iranian regime.
The U.S. State Department listed Soleimani as an international terrorist. As the de facto second in command in Iran's military hierarchy after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he was responsible for thousands of deaths among Iraqi, Syrian and Lebanese people as well as among U.S. military personnel.
He controlled the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force, its vicious unit responsible for extraterritorial operations. Soleimani was answerable only to Khamenei and as such was described by many as the second most powerful person in the Islamic Republic. As Quds Force commander, he oversaw the theocratic regime's proxy wars in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq, where he commanded all the Iraqi militias. His death will have come as an irreparable blow to the clerical regime.
Following the 1979 revolution that brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power, the Iranian constitution was altered to introduce the system of velayat-e-faqih, or guardianship of the Islamic jurist, effectively providing the supreme leader with power he claimed came directly from God. Khomeini moved rapidly to eliminate opposition to his clerical dictatorship, ruthlessly murdering tens of thousands of political opponents whom he said were guilty of "moharebeh" or "waging war against God."
The secret massacre of over 30,000 supporters of the People's Mojahedin of Iran/Mojahedin e-Khalq (PMOI/MEK) in the latter half of 1988, stands out as one of the worst crimes against humanity of the late 20th century. Startling as these figures are, they are only a fraction of the estimated 120,000 political prisoners executed so far during the clerical dictatorship in Iran, often with the direct involvement of Soleimani.
Khomeini created the IRGC as his own version of the Gestapo, to spread their revolutionary policy of violence and terror beyond Iran's borders. The IRGC and its Quds Force offshoot not only brutally enforces the clerical regime's oppressive domination of Iran's population, it also controls most of the Iranian economy, paying no taxes and funneling resources into the pockets of the ruling elite, while sponsoring terrorism and aggressive military expansionism abroad.
Soleimani played a pivotal role in this process. His poster still features on walls and hoardings across the Middle East. Following the siege on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on New Year's Eve, graffiti sprayed onto the embassy walls in Farsi, rather than Arabic, stated "Qassem Soleimani is our leader," giving the lie to Iran's insistence that this was purely an Iraqi protest. Indeed, the Americans claim that Soleimani was actively plotting an attack on U.S. military personnel in Iraq when they targeted him for a drone strike at Baghdad Airport.
Iran, a country with the world's second-largest gas reserves and fourth-largest crude oil reserves is facing economic meltdown and nationwide protests, following U.S. President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear deal and the re-imposition of tough sanctions. Millions of Iranians have taken to the streets over the past month protesting the venal corruption of the ruling mullahs and their wanton spending on conflict and terror.
In a blind panic, Khamenei instructed Soleimani to mobilize his IRGC thugs to launch a murderous crackdown on the peaceful protesters, during which an estimated 1,500 were murdered, more than 4,000 were wounded and over 12,000 were arrested. Soleimani ordered a systematic shoot-to-kill policy that has seen masked snipers on the roofs of government buildings, indiscriminately shooting unarmed, young protesters in the head and chest. IRGC goons and security agents then scoured the country's hospitals, dragging the wounded from their beds.
The uprising was triggered by the regime's decision to triple the price of gasoline. This was the last straw for a nation whose citizens have been impoverished by the venally corrupt regime that for 40 years has stolen Iran's wealth for the benefit of its rulers and to finance proxy wars across the Middle East, where Soleimani oversaw Iranian support for Bashar al-Assad's bloody civil war in Syria, the brutal Houthi rebels in Yemen, the terrorist Hezbollah in Lebanon and the vicious Shi'ia militias in Iraq.
Similar nationwide protests have raged across Iraq in recent weeks, where young Iraqis demanded an end to Iranian interference in their country and the expulsion of Soleimani and his cohorts. In a chilling interview Soleimani claimed, "We know how to deal with protesters in Iran," as once again he deployed masked gunmen to murder hundreds of peaceful Iraqi demonstrators. It is no surprise that tens of thousands of young Iraqis took to the streets to celebrate Soleimani's and Muhandis' assassination.
Soleimani was one of the most vicious criminals in Iran's history. Pretending to aid the West in its war against the Islamic State, Soleimani oversaw the genocidal massacre of hundreds of thousands of Sunnis in the ancient Iraqi cities of Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul, leaving smoking ruins in his wake. With his elimination, the process of overthrowing the mullahs and restoring peace, justice and democracy in Iran will be greatly expedited. The international community cannot continue to treat the theocratic regime in Iran as a normal nation state. The belligerent, repressive and vicious behavior of the regime proves that attempts at negotiation or appeasement are pointless.
The ayatollahs, with the direct involvement of their most powerful general, Soleimani, have committed appalling crimes against humanity that require an immediate response from the international community, involving, at the very least, a U.N. fact-finding mission to establish the truth about the numbers killed and injured in the recent nationwide uprising and to ascertain the treatment of those imprisoned. The U.N. must hold those responsible for these crimes accountable in the international courts of justice. As Soleimani and Muhandis discovered to their ultimate cost, there can be no impunity for those guilty of such chilling atrocities.
The Americans have eliminated a monster and the world should be thankful.
Struan Stevenson is the coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change. He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association.