In the wake of Washington’s assassination of former Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Arab Shi’a desires and interests across the Middle East are under a microscope. Have they shifted their protest slogans from opposing Iran to denouncing the United States?
Americans should not assume that wide-angle television images of Shi’a protests in Iran calling for the downfall of the Great Satan reflect Shi’a sentiment across Arab societies. In Yemen, Suleiman’s death has sparked euphoria in the South, even though Houthi militia leaders reportedly arrested detractors who were challenging Tehran’s party line of Suleimani’s sainthood. In Lebanon, the Shi’a in the southern suburbs of Beirut are in mourning while other Shi’a are celebrating. In Syria’s Idlib province, the site of the killing fields orchestrated by Suleimani, people distributed sweets to celebrate his demise.
Even in Iraq, the site of the United States’ assassination and its glaring breach of Iraqi sovereignty, Shi’a leaders are exercising caution in their responses to mixed expressions on the Arab street. Videos were posted online of Iraqi celebrations after the assassination. And Shi’a-led protestors returned to Baghdad’s Tahrir Square in opposition to the Shi’a-led Iraqi government. Suleiman’s death has not caused a change of heart among those Shi’a protestors who have been on the streets since October—even though they are often confused with those who are Iranian-backed and who stormed the U.S. embassy grounds inside the Green Zone. Their desire is focused on Iraqi nationalism and a determination to get all foreign forces out of their country.