Politics

Iraqis react to news of IRGC top commander's death

By Faris al-Omran and AFP

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Iraqi anti-government protestors flash the victory sign outside their protest tents in Baghdad's Tahrir Square following news of the killing of IRGC top commander Qassem Soleimani. [Stringer/AFP]

Iraqis who have demonstrated for months against a government they see as beholden to Iran broke into song and dance Friday (January 3rd) after a US strike killed a top Iranian commander.

"Oh Qassem Soleimani, this is a divine victory," they cheered in Baghdad's iconic Tahrir Square, the epicentre of their movement.

"This is God's revenge for the blood of those killed," one added, after nearly 460 people were killed in violence that many demonstrators have blamed on Iran-backed security forces.

The US strike on Baghdad international airport targeted a convoy carrying Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF) commander Qassem Soleimani and the Deputy head of Iraq's Popular Mobilisation Forces, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

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US strikes on two vehicles near Baghdad International Airport on January 3rd killed IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and PMF deputy head Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. [Photo courtesy of Iraq's Security Media Cell]

With the two dead, the Quds Force -- the IRGC's foreign operations arm -- has been left decapitated and the PMF lost its de facto chief, too.

President Donald Trump ordered the killing of Soleimani "in a decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad", the Pentagon said.

"Gen. Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region," the US Department of Defence said in a statement.

'War criminal'

The killing of Soleimani in a US strike marks "the end of a war criminal responsible for taking the lives of thousands of innocent people", analysts and Iraqi citizens said.

The strike was decisive and accurate, "reflecting the US's superiority and full ability to punish Iran for its hostile activities in Iraq and the region", strategic and military analyst Rabie al-Jawary told Diyaruna.

"We were expecting a harsh response from the [US] to the repeated Iranian provocations and hostilities," he said, particularly following the recent attack on the US embassy in Baghdad.

The Iranian regime may seek to retaliate through its proxies and spark a war in the region, without any consideration for the consequences of such action, he said.

"Dragging the region into war will have grave repercussions, which Iran would be responsible for," said al-Jawary.

The nature of the US strike is unprecedented because of the seniority of those targeted -- making its repercussions hard to picture, said Ramzy Mardini, a researcher at the US Institute of Peace.

Friday's strike had shown that Iran can no longer use its allies in Iraq to carry out attacks against US interests "without risking an American conventional retaliation on Iran", he said.

Iraqis celebrate

Meanwhile, the announcement of Soleimani's killing was met with elation among the thousands of protestors that have taken to the street since October 25th.

Soleimani, as the leader of the IRGC's foreign operations arm, "is one of the biggest reasons for destruction in their country", al-Jawari said.

In the latest demonstrations, Iraqis have harshly denounced Iran's influence in their country and its destructive policies that threaten Iraq's stability.

"As soon as we heard about Soleimani's death, an atmosphere of joy prevailed [in the protest encampments] and the demonstrators raised a large Iraqi flag in celebration," a demonstrator in Tahrir Square told Diyaruna, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We expressed in the square two months ago our happiness at the killing of ['Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' chief Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi," he said. "And today we are happy with the killing of another war criminal, Soleimani."

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