During former President Barack Obama’s administration, the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) asked on Twitter whether Iranian elite Quds Force Gen. Qassem Soleimani would ever “pay a price” for killing many Americans and balking at U.S. sanctions against him and Iran.
Now, thanks to President Donald Trump, Soleimani has actually paid the ultimate price: he has been killed in an airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq — a massive victory for President Trump but also a move that could send the region barreling towards even more escalations between the United States and Iran.
In August 2015, Fox News reported that Soleimani violated U.S. sanctions to leave Iran to travel to Moscow and meet with Russian officials. On Aug. 6, 2015, during Obama’s administration, Fox News’s Jennifer Griffin and Lucas Tomlinson wrote:
The shadowy Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani recently visited Moscow to meet with senior Russian leaders, according to two Western intelligence sources, despite a travel ban and U.N. Security Council resolutions barring him from leaving Iran.
On July 24, one week before Secretary of State John Kerry testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee and faced questions about the newly struck nuclear deal, Soleimani arrived in Moscow for meetings with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and President Vladimir Putin. It was not immediately clear what the Iranian leader discussed, but the revelation comes as the United Nations and European Union arms embargo against Iran is slated to be lifted in five years as part of the comprehensive nuclear agreement announced July 14 from Vienna.
Soleimani was first designated a terrorist and sanctioned by the U.S. in 2005 for his role as a supporter of terrorism. In October 2011, the U.S. Treasury Department tied Soleimani to the failed Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States at a popular restaurant in Washington, D.C. The Quds Force is the special forces external wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, responsible for supporting terrorist proxies across the Middle East. It reports directly to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Soleimani is increasingly being recognized as a key player and point person as Iranian influence in the region grows, despite assurances from Kerry and others that Soleimani and the Quds Force will continue to face sanctions from the U.S. Treasury after U.N. sanctions are lifted against Soleimani as part of the nuclear deal.
Soleimani arrived in Moscow on Air Iran flight #5130, a commercial flight from Tehran, at 6:50 a.m. on July 24, a Friday. He left Moscow the following Sunday, July 26, at 10:25 p.m. on flight #5120, according to Western intelligence sources.
U.N. sanctions have not yet been lifted against Iran, and Soleimani, as head of the Iranian Quds Force is sanctioned as part of Security Council Resolution 1747. He is prohibited to travel, and any country that lets him transit or travel is defying the sanctions. (Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council and would have been aware of this restriction when meeting with him.)
The report also quoted then-outgoing U.S. Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno as saying that Soleimani killed many, many Americans during his time in power.
“Qassem Soleimani is the one who has been exporting malign activities throughout the Middle East for some time now,” Odierno said. “He’s absolutely responsible for killing many Americans, in fact I would say the last two years I was there the majority of our casualties came from his surrogates, not Sunni or Al Qaeda.”
The report also quotes now retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford — who served in the position from after the publication of this August 2015 Fox News report until the end of September 2019 — as saying Soleimani has killed as many as 500 Americans.
“The number has been recently quoted as about 500. We weren’t always able to attribute the casualties we had to Iranian activity, although many times we suspected it was Iranian activity even though we didn’t necessarily have the forensics to support that,” Dunford said under questioning from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) during his U.S. Senate confirmation hearing that year when asked about how many Americans were killed by Soleimani.
In response to the Fox News report, Sen. McCain tweeted about whether Soleimani would ever “pay a price” for what he has done and for violating U.S. sanctions.
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) August 7, 2015
While McCain has since passed away — so it is impossible to know what he would think of the airstrike President Trump ordered that led to Soleimani’s killing on Thursday in Baghdad — McCain’s old friend Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), now the chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, released a statement on Thursday evening praising President Trump for proving there is a price for killing Americans.
“Wow – the price of killing and injuring Americans has just gone up drastically,” Graham said. “Major blow to Iranian regime that has American blood on its hands. Soleimani was one of the most ruthless and vicious members of the Ayatollah’s regime. He had American blood on his hands. I appreciate President Trump’s bold action against Iranian aggression. To the Iranian government: if you want more, you will get more. If Iranian aggression continues and I worked at an Iranian oil refinery, I would think about a new career. Thank you, Mr. President, for standing up for America. This action by President Trump and our military was in direct response to Iranian aggression orchestrated by General Soleimani and his proxies. If Iran continues to attack America and our allies, they should pay the heaviest of prices, which includes the destruction of their oil refineries. To the Iranian government: if you want to stay in the oil business, leave America and our allies alone and stop being the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world.”