In early January, Iran marked the third anniversary of the U.S. assassination of General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Qods Force, with official speeches, commemorative rallies, major media coverage, and inflammatory threats. Soleimani, who was considered a military hero for directing Iranian military operations across the Middle East, was killed in a U.S. drone strike shortly after he arrived in Baghdad to meet Iraqi allies on Jan. 3, 2020. U.S. officials alleged that Soleimani was planning attacks on U.S. diplomats and servicemembers in the Middle East.
At one commemoration in Tehran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei lauded Soleimani for his role in fighting the “plague” of ISIS. The general’s most important accomplishment was strengthening the so-called “Resistance Front,” Iran’s network of proxy militias across the Middle East opposed to the United States, Israel and Western powers. “Martyr Soleimani breathed new life into the Resistance Front,” Khamenei said in a meeting with Soleimani's family and top military commanders on January 1. The Palestinians were “fighting [Israel] using stones” before Soleimani coordinated support to militias, he recounted.
Under Soleimani’s command, the Qods Force reportedly provided arms, training and financial support to militias and political movements in at least six countries: Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Syria and Yemen. Soleimani was able to “link the forces of the Resistance Front, strengthen them and provide them with material and intellectual support through meetings and direct presence on the front lines,” Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hezbollah, a Lebanese political party and militia, said in a speech on January 3. With Iranian support, Hezbollah became the world's most heavily armed non-state actor, with at least 130,000 rockets and missiles, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
President Ebrahim Raisi said that Soleimani’s “greatest work was to defeat American hegemony in the world.” Honoring Soleimani and other martyrs is a “message to all the oppressors and the arrogant of the world to know that that they are facing decline and destruction,” Raisi told thousands of people at Tehran’s Grand Mosallah mosque on January 3. He warned the general’s “murderers” that “revenge for the blood of martyr Soleimani is certain and they will not sleep easily.”
Iranian officials have repeatedly pledged revenge for the death of Soleimani. In 2021, Iran sanctioned several senior U.S. officials in connection with the assassination and for “their role in terrorist and anti-human rights activities against Iran and its citizens.”
In August 2022, the United States announced charges against an Iranian national for plotting to murder John Bolton, who served as national security advisor to President Donald Trump from 2018 to 2019. Shahram Poursafi, 45, planned the operation, “likely in retaliation” for killing of Soleimani, according to the Justice Department.
Newspapers from across the political spectrum memorialized Soleimani on their front pages. Qods, a conservative daily, published a large illustration of Iranians carrying portraits of Soleimani with the headline “Heart of the Homeland.” Iran, another conservative newspaper, called Soleimani the “Scion of Iran.” Shahrvand, a reformist daily, published a full-width photo of Soleimani praying with the headline “Sacrifice.”
Not all Iranians, however, saw Soleimani as a hero. In videos posted to social media, people in several cities -- including Tehran, northwestern Ardabil, central Rafsanjan, central Qom, and western Tuyserkan -- set fire to or defaced statues, billboards and posters of Soleimani. For them, Soleimani was a symbol of repression at home and interference abroad by the Revolutionary Guards.
Putting fire on Qasem Soleimani’s banners and billboards on the 3rd anniversary of his killing; a new front of resistance & protests in Iran. The Revolutionary Guards forces are seen as the arms of repression.#MahsaAmini #مهسا_امینی #IranRevolution pic.twitter.com/nsp8Kucacp— Omid Memarian (@Omid_M) December 31, 2022
The United States sanctioned Soleimani in 2007 ties to Iran’s proliferation programs. In 2011, he was twice sanctioned—once for ties to human rights abuses in Syria and again for ties to assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador to the United States. The following are excerpts of remarks by Iranian and pro-Iran leaders on the anniversary of Soleimani’s death.
Supreme Leader Khamenei
In a speech on January 1, 2023: “I see that Martyr Soleimani’s efforts have mainly been highlighted in his battle against Daesh [ISIS] in Iraq and Syria. Well yes, of course, this was a very important task. Daesh truly was and is a plague. Martyr Soleimani entered this field in an exemplary manner … and he uprooted and put an end to this great evil which was growing day by day.”
“However, this was not Martyr Soleimani’s most important accomplishment. It was one of the tasks that he carried out. A more important job of his, which he had pursued from the beginning of his work, was to strengthen the Resistance Front in the region. This is the thing that the arrogant powers are sensitive about, that the U.S. is sensitive about. They continuously argue with us about it on different occasions. They quarrel about it, saying, ‘Why are you present in the region? Why are you supporting a certain government, a certain group, or a certain person?’ It is about the issue of resistance.”
“There is a phenomenon in our region today, which we call the resistance. This resistance is not just confronting the Zionist regime. It is standing up to the influence of the arrogant powers. Of course, the U.S. is the head of the arrogant powers and is the Great Satan. However, this is not just limited to the US. The other Arrogant organizations are also a part of Arrogance. This resistance means standing up to these. In my view, based on my experience and what I have sensed, Martyr Soleimani breathed new life into the Resistance Front, and he opened up a new path before it. He fortified it both spiritually and physically.”
“The testimony of our dear, beloved Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, who is truly a unique human being, his testimony about Mr. Soleimani is a great chapter in this field. He testifies that Martyr Soleimani revived the resistance. I could see it myself from up close as well. His activities for this matter were truly outstanding and important. This was in fact Martyr Soleimani’s main task – to protect, strengthen, and fortify the resistance, and he revived it both physically and spiritually. He would boost their spirits and their spirituality. He would lead them and show them the way. Sometimes, he would take their hands and guide them in the direction they needed to go, both spiritually and emotionally. This is how he was.”
“I used to say this in my speeches years ago that the Palestinians were fighting using stones. The Palestinians were truly fighting back using stones back then. They did not have anything else to use. Now, compare that with the situation in Palestine today, in both Gaza and the West Bank. Is it even comparable? So, he revived the resistance by relying on the internal capacities and using the experience that he had attained during the period of the Holy Defense [1980-1988 war with Iraq] as well as the good advice of his comrades. He did a great job in this field. This kind of thing needs to be continued.”
In a speech on January 3, 2023: “Honoring the martyrs of the resistance and especially our dear martyr Hajj Qassem Soleimani is a message to all the oppressors and the arrogant of the world to know that they are facing decline and destruction and what remains in this field are the people who want change and love of God, right-seeking and justice-seeking.”
“Contrary to what some people said that Martyr Soleimani sought to make the region Shiite, he sought to remove the root of oppression, corruption and evil from the region.”
“He defeated the United States and the supporters of the terrorist movement and ISIS in the region, but his greatest work was to defeat the American hegemony in the world.”
“We tell you, just as General Soleimani stood against your extravagances, atrocities and unjustified arrogance yesterday and created resistance in the region, even today Martyr Soleimani will stand against you with that high spirit and love and affection of his young people until the end.”
“Allow me to announce today through you and all the resistant and warrior forces in the world that we have not forgotten and will avenge the blood of Martyr Soleimani and let them know that the promise of revenge is certain and that we will not let the murderers and perpetrators of this crime sleep easy.”
“You have repeatedly miscalculated when facing this nation. Again, we declare that you should know the great nation of Iran correctly and do not compare it with the people of some other countries and also the system of the Islamic Republic of Iran with the normal systems of the world.”
“After the failure in the military war, you launched a cyber, media, political and economic war against the Iranian nation… you brought all your power to the field, and you used all your strength and capacity, but you saw how the great nation of Iran defeated you with the example of the martyr of resistance Hajj Qassem Soleimani and by listening to the guidance of our wise leader.”
“In the cyber war, you tried to shut down all gas stations in the country in one day in order to bring the Iranian nation along with you, in the media war, you lined up all your media for psychological operations against the Iranian nation, in the political war, you used all your capacities in international organizations against the Iranian nation and in the economic war you tried to influence the gold and currency market by creating numbers in social networks in the cyberspace, but today the message of this huge population and similar populations across the country is that you have lost all these wars and you will lose in other ones as well.”
In a statement on January 2, 2023: “General Martyr Soleimani’s pivotal role in implementing the strategic policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran to establish regional and international peace and stability and his effective measures in combatting international terrorism and terrorist outfits in the region earned this undying martyr such titles of approbation and honor as ‘the Altruist’, ‘the International Hero of the Fight Against Terrorism’, and ‘the General of Peace.’”
“With false claims and pretexts, including under the guise of counter-terrorism, and in what constitutes a crime and naked violation of the tenets and principles of international law, the U.S. government planned and carried out a terrorist attack on one of our highest-ranking officials on the soil of a third country while he was on official assignment Iraq. Indubitable as it is, the criminal act of assassinating General Soleimani designed and executed by the United States constitutes yet another glaring example of an ‘organized terrorist act.’”
“Based on legal and international standards, the American regime bears ‘definite international responsibility’ for this crime. In this context, all the agents and principals, instigators, perpetrators and aiders and abettors of this terrorist crime bear responsibility. In this regard, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in conjunction with the Judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran and other agencies, have adopted, from the very outset, a number of measures premised upon the legal principle of ‘combatting impunity of crimes’ in order to hold the abovementioned to account and bring them to justice.”
“In this regard, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in co-operation with other relevant institutions, set up the Special Committee on Legal and International Follow-up of the Assassination Case of General Soleimani and His Companions. Ever since its establishment, the Committee has been investigating and pursuing the legal aspects of the case and has thus far taken several measures to press the issue at all domestic, bilateral, regional and international levels. The Committee is determined to proceed in all seriousness until its objectives are fully met and the international responsibility of the American government is invoked. Meanwhile, the Joint Judicial Committee Between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Iraq continues its work to follow up on this American act of terrorism.”
Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian
In an Instagram post on January 3, 2023: “Three years ago on this day, the desperate U.S. president and his team decided to make a heinous move in breach of international regulations, to which they falsely lay the largest claims of adherence.”
“They turned the Baghdad airport into a place from where a great man ascended to Heaven, a move that had no result except for the freedom of the man and his comrades from their worldly bodies, and for them to become even more powerful.”
“The regime occupying al-Quds [Jerusalem] is struggling to survive.”
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Judiciary are keeping up serious efforts to bring to justice those who gave the definitive orders for the terrorist crime at the Baghdad airport and the perpetrators.”
“I ask my martyred brother — whose heavenly position cannot be understood by worldly minds as stated by the Leader — to pray for us to become stronger and more resilient than before on the path of the Islamic Revolution.”
“We make him a promise that we will spare no effort on the path of building an Iran that stands stronger than before.”
Hezbollah Secretary General Nasrallah
In a speech on January 3, 2022: “Hajj Qassem was able, through his brainpower, planning, constant presence, and sincerity, to link the forces of the resistance axis, strengthen them and provide them with material and intellectual support through meetings and direct presence on the front lines.”
“Hajj Qassem faced, throughout two decades, two versions of the American scheme in the region. The first version of the American scheme in the region, which was confronted by martyr Soleimani and other leaders, is the new Middle East project in Lebanon and Palestine.”
“9/11 served as an impetus to the American plan to enter Afghanistan and Iraq and get closer to Iran and Syria. Attempts began to strike the resistance in Palestine and Lebanon in 2006, and the objective was to invade and impose multinational forces at the airport, ports, and borders.”
“At that time, Hajj Qassem Soleimani set foot in frontlines as a leader; Iran stood firm, and Syria, too, leaving the enemy with dilemma in July war. Had the Zionists won the war on Lebanon, it would have expanded towards Syria, but that did not happen, and here comes the role of martyr Soleimani.”
“Shiite and Sunni resistance factions in Iraq fought the occupation forces with utmost sincerity, where exceptional operations targeting the American occupation forces took place, imposing on occupation forces to set a timetable for withdrawal.”
“If we add what the Iraqi resistance has done to the steadfastness of Iran, Syria, and the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine, we will conclude that the first version of the American scheme has ended and failed.”
“The result of the first version of the American scheme is that [former President Donald] Trump was forced to go secretly to Iraq despite spending $7 trillion dollars on this scheme.”
“The second version began with [former President Barack] Obama, when they discovered that large-scale wars are doomed to failure, and that relying on ‘Israel’ in wars is a fiasco.”
“In the second version of the American scheme, wars took on an internal turn; with the eruption of inner and sectarian strife after the emergence of Takfiris. This version was the version of destroying countries and peoples, so that America will come out as the ‘savior.’”
“Before these two major and historic failures, Trump decided to deal a decisive blow to the resistance axis by assassinating both commanders [Soleimani and his Iraqi deputy Abu Mahdi al Muhandis].”
“With a two million-man funeral for martyr Soleimani - the largest in history - and his emergence as an inspiration and symbol for Iranians, the scheme had an adverse effect on America.”