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What Qassem Soleimani's Death Means For Iraq


It is hard to overstate the influence of Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian military commander killed by U.S. drone strike in Iraq. In Iran, he was one of the most powerful people in the country. The airstrike, though, took place in Iraq, a country that wants to have good ties with both Iran and the U.S. and could be the setting for more violence between the two countries. We turn now to Iraqi journalist Hiwa Osman, who's joining us from Erbil.


HIWA OSMAN: Thank you.

CHANG: So what do you think the death of Qassem Soleimani means for Iraq?

OSMAN: Well, it's a major turning point. I think Iraq is starting a decade on a completely new page, with part of the Iraqi people are quite happy with what happened, especially after the recent killing and the demonstrations since October 1. Many Iraqis point fingers to Qassem Soleimani for masterminding the oppressing of the uprising that took place.

CHANG: You say many blame him for pressuring the Iranian-backed militia to kill Iraqis.

OSMAN: Absolutely, yes. You know, Qassem Soleimani has been part of the political scene in Iraq since the early days of 2003. He was involved in almost everything, starting from government formation, naming prime ministers in the country, fighting ISIS. There was a point in time where he was on the ground and American fighter jets were in the sky. At one point, he had to work with the Americans through the Iraqi forces and through his proxies from the militias. So it's hard to see Iraq without Qassem Soleimani, in a negative way, of course.

CHANG: Well, what about the political leadership in Iraq? How are leaders there reacting to the news of Soleimani's death?

OSMAN: Almost every leader in Iraq, from president to prime ministers to foreign ministers to leaders of political parties, condemned the attack, issued statements saying that this was unacceptable; this was an act of aggression against Iraqi sovereignty. But I think some of them, deep down, are quite satisfied.

CHANG: Do you think that they are condemning, then, this assassination out of some fear of Iran?

OSMAN: Absolutely. This is the key motive, I think, for most of them. Some of them were loyal believers of Iran and its regime, and they want to push the Parliament to pass legislation to kick out U.S. forces out of Iraq. But this is politically impossible, or practically impossible, because the current government is a caretaker government, and the act of inviting foreign troops or disinviting them is the work of a fully fledged government and not a caretaking one.

CHANG: As we have mentioned, there had been extensive anti-government protests in Iraq over the past several months. Many of these protesters have been critical of Iranian influence in Iraq. Can you just describe for us how people have been reacting in the streets of Iraq to this airstrike? Has it been a unified response or has it been more splintered?

OSMAN: Look - initial response to the news, people weren't quite euphoric. But then they soon realized that this could mean that Iraq could become the battleground between Iran and the U.S.A. And this will be at the expense of the Iraqis, and it could diminish any hopes for reform, for better governance in the country and more stability. And many protesters today saying that we have nothing to do with this, and we hope that we do not become part of it.

CHANG: That is Iraqi journalist Hiwa Osman.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

OSMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.