(Bloomberg Opinion) – Qassem Soleimani would never die peacefully in his bed. As the leader of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and puppet master of militias and terrorist groups in the Middle East, he had the blood of hundreds of thousands in his hands: Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis, Lebanese, Palestinians, Israelis, Americans and fellow Iranians, among others. His death was hoped for and requested by the families of his victims and planned by their governments. It is a measure of Soleimani's audacity that he strolled through Baghdad accompanied by other wanted mass murderers whose faces appeared in another era. would be on "Wanted" posters on the walls of local post offices. It was careless until he committed suicide that he should have done so in the days after his brazen stunt: the attack by his Iraqi proxy on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on New Years Eve from his escalating ruthlessness over the years. It is reasonable that his top local lackey, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, should have died with him. Iraq had been the instrument of Soleimani's decision to intensify missile strikes at U.S. bases, leading to the triggering event of this week's turmoil: the killing of an American contractor at a base near the northern city of Kirkuk Chief, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who incited President Donald Trump in such a way that he is guaranteed to get his goat: by mocking him on Twitter. "There is nothing you can do," Khamenei tweeted after Trump blamed Iran for the embassy attack. Khamenei and Soleimani appeared to have calculated that Trump would react to their provocations just like the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were gradually boldly attacking their shipping and oil facilities. Maybe they thought he couldn't risk war or a crisis that would drive up oil prices in an election year. Or maybe they thought he just didn't have the stomach for a confrontation. Whatever their arguments for playing chicken with the American president was a terrible mistake. Contrary to Khamenei's ridicule, Trump could do many things, from tightening economic sanctions that have already made Iran expensive to striking Iranian deputies, such as the bombing of Muhandis & # 39; Kataieb-Hezbollah last Sunday , This may have been an acceptable result for Khamenei: after all, it is unlikely that a man who ordered weeks ago to kill hundreds of Iranians can cause more pain to his own people or his representatives. But Khamenei did not count on Trump's own skills for carelessness. Instead of just imposing sanctions, the president decided to order a drone attack that would put a fiery end to the life and career of one of Iran's most fearsome and important military commanders. What now? The cycle of ruthlessness that the top leader started gives him only the opportunity to further increase the stake. Now, however, he has to do without his most effective terrorist instrument, a commander that is characterized by undisputed obedience and an apparently inexhaustible appetite for violence. These are qualities that Khamenei is sure to miss in the chaos he has unleashed.
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Bobby Ghosh is a columnist and member of the Bloomberg Opinion editorial team. He writes on foreign affairs with a special focus on the Middle East and the wider Islamic world.
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