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Soleimani and the weight of history

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19.01.2020

A plethora of articles has been published in recent days on the US air strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Many authors claim that it "is inexcusable to ignore the crimes of Soleimani". Others contend that his killing "may harm the symphony of Iranian power that he projected like a conductor", and that the general is seen by the "great majority of Arabs" as "responsible for ethnic cleansing of Arabs".

No less common is the opinion that Trump's decision to kill Soleimani was "a reckless gamble".

What is missing in these and many other opinions or analyses published so far is context; that is, what Czech essayist Milan Kundera would call "the weight of history".

To understand the present, we have to go back to the roots of the Iranian revolution of 1979, the role of Western countries in the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war, the outcomes of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, the circumstances that enabled the rise of Soleimani, and the consequences of the Trump administration's escalation against Iran.

The modern history of Iran is deeply intertwined with that of Western countries, which have repeatedly intervened in Iranian internal affairs and shaped contemporary Iranian politics.

In 1890, Shah Nasir al-Din granted English Major Gerald F Talbot a 50-year monopoly over the production, sales and exports of tobacco - a widely consumed product in Iran. This triggered the Tobacco Revolt of 1891-1892: the first form of organised resistance against Western expansionism in Persia, which paved the way for the "emergence of Shi'ism as an insurrectionary movement against colonialism".

In 1921, the British backed a coup against the Iranian government under the weak Shah Ahmad of the Qajar dynasty. The coup was led by army officer Reza Khan and was meant to install a stronger ruler in Iran, sympathetic to London and able to resist the attacks of Soviet-backed forces.

The origins of the Pahlavi dynasty, which ruled Iran until the "Islamic revolution" of 1979, can be traced to the 1921 coup d'etat backed by the British authorities. After suppressing all forms of opposition and consolidating power, in 1925 Khan was crowned Shah of Iran, thus founding the Pahlavi dynasty.

In 1953, the CIA and MI6 put together a plot to overthrow the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mosaddegh, who had pushed for the........

© Al Jazeera