The editor-in-chief of one of Turkey’s largest pro-Islamist newspapers disparaged former Iranian terrorism chief Qasem Soleimani in a column this weekend for “ruthlessly implementing every type of terrorism” against Muslim people throughout the Middle East.
Ibrahim Karagül, the editor-in-chief of Yeni Safak and a close media ally of Islamist Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, branded Soleimani a “war criminal murderer” contributing to tensions that could trigger an “Islamic civil war” in the Middle East — one Karagül surmises is part of a nefarious plot by the United States and Israel. He went on to generally accuse Iran of using anti-American sentiment as a smokescreen for attacks on Sunni Muslim countries and never acting to contain America or Israel.
An American airstrike on Soleimani’s convoy eliminated him and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the founder of the Hezbollah Brigades, in Iraq last week. Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, was responsible for Iran’s international military adventurism, spearheading efforts to bolster proxies in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Latin America, among other regions. He spent most of his last days helping Iraq violently crush protests against Iranian colonialism in the country.
The Iranian regime has branded the airstrike — a direct response to a pro-Iran mob attempting to storm the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and scribbling “Soleimani is our commander” on the side of the building — a war crime and vowed revenge, proclaiming Soleimani a hero.
While Erdogan himself and the Turkish government have merely called Tehran and Washington to avoid escalation, Karagül appeared to agree with the U.S. government’s assessment of Soleimani as a terrorist. Karagül also appeared to accuse Soleimani of somehow helping the U.S. government through his terrorist activity.
“He was a man that left blood and grief in his wake at every place he went, stopped by or passed through. He was triggering an Islamic civil war, ruthlessly implementing every type of terrorism,” Karagül wrote of Soleimani. “He was the front man [sic] to implement sectarian ‘Islamic civil war’ plans, Persian-Arab wars. Even though he said it was resistance in the name of Iran, he was a man who used every format of ‘terrorism’ and was made a legend by the Shiite world.”
“He was a hero according to the Shiite world, yet according to the overwhelming majority of the Muslim world, he was a war criminal murderer,” Karagül declared in the article, titled, “Qassem Soleimani: Legend or murderer? US assassinated Iran’s mastermind. How will Tehran retaliate? Not Iran but its deputies that will respond. Saudi Arabia will be struck, not the US. A ‘Houthi missile’ will either fall over Dubai or a Saudi oil facility. Turkey must act fast in Libya.”
“The U.S. having killed Soleimani, his elimination by the U.S. and Israel, which have turned our region into a bloodbath, will not absolve him,” he continued. “This is not possible for hundreds of millions of Muslims.”
Karagül’s most specific objection to Soleimani’s terrorism listed was his participation in the Syrian Civil War. Dictator Bashar al-Assad is a close ally of the Iranian regime’s and received Soleimani’s help in organizing strategies to kill civilians and crush domestic opposition. Erdogan has aggressively opposed Assad remaining in power and supported Sunni Muslim Syrian rebel movements, including some with jihadist elements. He has repeatedly referred to Assad himself as a terrorist and said in 2016 that the only reason Turkish troops would ever enter Syria was to “end the rule of the tyrant Assad, who terrorizes with state terror.”
Soleimani was rumored to have been injured in battle in Syria in 2015 and made a public appearance in Aleppo in 2016. Human Rights Watch compiled evidence accusing the Assad regime of using chemical weapons in Aleppo eight times between November and December of that year.
“He was behind incredible human rights violations and war crimes in Syria. He was involved in mass slaughters. The Aleppo massacres in particular are impossible to forget,” Karagül noted. “Back then he had posed for a photograph in Aleppo. He seemed like a victorious commander. But in fact, he was walking over the corpses of the oppressed people of Aleppo.”
According to Karagül, Soleimani was “openly fighting against Turkey through Syria” on behalf of “Persian imperialism.”
“Soleimani was directly fighting Muslims — not the U.S. — and using all his might against them in all the countries and regions under his influence, without out any limits or room for anything sacred in his attacks,” the editor asserted. “Soleimani also appeared to be fighting against the U.S. and Israel when in fact he was fighting against Muslims. He was completely sectarian-motivated.”
Turkish officials have not openly insulted Soleimani to the extent that Karagül has. Instead, Erdogan’s administration appears to be trying to find a place for itself at the negotiating table. On Monday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called the airstrike on Soleimani a “serious risk to peace in the region” and vowed that Turkey would help “reduce tensions.”
Erdogan himself made a similar statement on Sunday, but adopted a more negative tone towards the United States.
“Turkey always stands against foreign intervention and regards the recent U.S. attack in Baghdad with this same understanding,” Erdogan said. “We had a conversation with [U.S. President Donald] Trump that evening, and 4-5 hours later, this broke out. So the matter was planned. We were shocked to hear the news. I specifically advised him [Trump] not to increase tensions with Iran.”