MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking from the Senate floor after the US-Qataris airstrike in Baghdad, described top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani as a “terrorist mastermind who operated without constraint”.
“Soleimani made it his life’s work to take the Iranian revolutionary call for death to America and death to Israel and turned them into action. But this terrorist mastermind was not just a threat to the United States and Israel. For more than a decade, he masterminded Iran’s malevolent and destabilizing work throughout the entire Middle East,” the Kentucky Republican said. Any imbalance in the security of the Middle East will also negatively affect the global economy, in particular for U.S., Europe, Russia, and China all having security interests in the region, and their respective levels of influence will change over time. The relationship between Qasem Soleimani and Iranian militias such as “Hezbollah” and the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) as terrorist forces in which Iran threatens the countries in the region are well known.
Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) is an Iranian-sponsored, anti-American Shiite militia operating in Iraq with ancillary operations throughout Syria. During the U.S.-led war in Iraq that began in 2003, KH earned a reputation for planting deadly roadside bombs and using improvised rocket-assisted mortars (IRAMs) to attack U.S. and coalition forces. According to U.S. diplomat Ali Khedery, KH is responsible for “some of the most lethal attacks against U.S. and coalition forces throughout the U.S.-led war in Iraq. The group’s deceased leader, Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi—also known by his alias Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes—was the alleged mastermind behind the U.S. and French embassy bombings in Kuwait in 1983 and the assassination attempt on Kuwait’s emir in 1985. The group is also suspected of involvement in extrajudicial killings and abductions in Iraq’s Anbar province, including the May 27, 2016, abduction of more than 70 Sunni boys and men from al-Sijir, and the murder of 49 men from Saqlawiyah.”
According to Counter Terrorism Program, the group has gained exclusive control over the Jurf as-Sakr area west of Baghdad where it prevents displaced Sunni residents from returning and operates private prisons. In August 2019, Washington Institute for Near East Policy fellow Michael Knights assessed that KH posed the greatest threat to U.S. interests in the country.
The Daily Mail published the last photos of the head of the elite Quds Force meeting Hezbollah‘s secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut. Iranian media released the images, which are understood to have been taken last week, showing the friendship between the two as Soleimani prayed behind Nasrallah. According to the U.S. Department of State, KH is “a radical Shia Islamist group with an anti-Western establishment and jihadist ideology.” The group is virulently anti-American and ideologically loyal to the Iranian regime and supported by other terroristic organizations like Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. The Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his deepest condolences for the killing of Soleimani, who was behind the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Syrians, and Americans.
The funeral of the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani was also attended by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, his deputy Salah al-Aruri and the leader of Islamic Jihad Ziad Nakhale. To confirm the aid provided by Iran to the Palestinian militias, Haniyeh said: “The resistance project in the land of Palestine and in the Region will not be weakened or receded. The raid has the only result of infusing us with new strength for the liberation of Jerusalem. Qasem Soleimani has dedicated his life to resistance and is a martyr to al-Quds”, the Arabic name for Jerusalem. “The resistance has emerged victorious in Lebanon and Gaza and will be right about the Zionist project”. It’s also reported by Gaza’s media that Haniyeh will be received by Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei.
According to the U.S. government, Hezbollah is primarily funded by the government of Iran and, specifically, Iran’s IRGC-Quds Force. In November 2014, wounded U.S. military veterans and family members of deceased U.S. soldiers filed a lawsuit against European banks for processing money from Tehran that bankrolled terrorist attacks in Iraq. According to the lawsuit, KH allegedly received money from Iran to finance terrorist attacks against U.S. soldiers. Syrians who fight in KH’s Syrian branch also receive their salaries directly from Iran.
The group has also reportedly secured funding through kidnap-and-ransom operations, reportedly taking hostage more than two dozen people in December 2015, including Qatari royals, and releasing the hostages more than a year later in exchange for a large pay-out. In April 2017, Qatari officials arrived in Baghdad carrying a bag with “millions of dollars” in ransom money, destined to Hezbollah and other Islamist groups, including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an umbrella group that includes the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. Documents released in April 2018 revealed that the Qatari officials had paid $25 million of a $150 million ransom to Soleimani and Hezbollah in 2017. Regarding the Iran-Qatar relations, it is important to emphasize that Doha is revealing confidential information from al-Udeid’s U.S. military base, endangering the lives of hundreds of American citizens, who may become targets for an expected Iranian revenge.