Fact Check: Iran’s Qassem Soleimani Responsible for Hundreds of American Deaths

Qassem Soleimani (Atta Kenare / AFP / Getty)
Atta Kenare / AFP / Getty

CLAIM: The U.S. Department of Defense claimed Thursday evening that Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani, killed in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq, “was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans.”

VERDICT: True.

On Friday morning local time, the U.S. attacked vehicles carrying Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Al-Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani. Soleimani directed Iranian military operations abroad, including terror. Most recently, he is thought to have directed rocket attacks last week that killed an American civilian contractor in Iraq. Last year, President Donald Trump designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization — an acknowledgment of reality.

As the New Yorker — hardly a pro-Trump or neoconservative publication — reported in a 2013 profile of Solemani:

Suleimani took command of the Quds Force fifteen years ago, and in that time he has sought to reshape the Middle East in Iran’s favor, working as a power broker and as a military force: assassinating rivals, arming allies, and, for most of a decade, directing a network of militant groups that killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq. The U.S. Department of the Treasury has sanctioned Suleimani for his role in supporting the Assad regime, and for abetting terrorism. And yet he has remained mostly invisible to the outside world, even as he runs agents and directs operations. “Suleimani is the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today,” John Maguire, a former C.I.A. officer in Iraq, told me, “and no one’s ever heard of him.”

In 2011, the Obama administration sanctioned Soleimani for his role in plotting a foiled terror attack in a Washington, D.C. restaurant with the aim of assassinating the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.

Despite that attempted attack, and while acknowledging Soleimani’s role in terror, Obama believed appeasing Iran was the best approach. After Soleimani defied international sanctions by traveling to Russia in 2015, Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, said:

You mentioned Mr. Soleimani.  He, in particular, is someone who has been subject to U.S. sanctions for quite some time because of the effort that he has undertaken to support terrorist organizations around the world.  And again, I can’t confirm these specific reports, but it is an indication of our ongoing concerns with Iran and their behavior and, in the mind of the President, makes it all that more important that we pursue the best available strategy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  And that’s exactly what the President believes this diplomatic agreement [the Iran nuclear deal] is.

Then-Vice President Joe Biden said in a speech shortly thereafter that despite the Iran nuclear deal, the U.S. would continue use sanctions on the IRGC and Soleimani — but stopped short of calling the IRGC a terrorist organization:

[W]e will continue to push back against the destabilizing activities of Iran; defending our interests and our allies against Iranian aggression; speaking out against anti-Semitism, Iran’s human rights abuses and demand the release of people illegally held; and continue to sanction and maintain sanctions on any entities, including the IRGC and Soleimani and others — who support and engage in destabilization.

Under Obama’s deal with Iran, international sanctions on Soleimani would have expired after eight years. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) pointed out that weakness, noting that Soleimani :has more blood of American service members on his hands than any living terrorist. Under this agreement, the sanctions [on] General Soleimani are lifted.”

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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