The Killing of Qassem Soleimani and the End of the War on Terror
4 min readJan 3, 2020
Qassem Soleimani (pictured centre in Iraq in 2015), leader of Iran’s Quds force (

Yesterday the president gave the order to conduct a drone missile attack on Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite military unit the Quds Force. The unit is the international arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and is the country’s primary mechanism for organizing extremist and terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East. As the head of the unit Soleimani has long been held directly responsible for the use of IED’s against American forces during the occupation of Iraq from 2003 to 2011. There is no doubting that Soleimani played a pivotal role in the death of US soldiers, Iran’s support of terrorist activity, and broader attacks against American interests for the last 20 years.

But there also must be no doubt that the specific way he was killed marks the end of the American war on terrorism. It was an assassination of a recognized state representative within the territory of a third state using tactics that to this point were reserved ONLY for nonstate actors (i.e. terrorists). The blurring of the line between traditional military tactics, counterterrorism, and terrorism has been a central topic throughout the nearly two decades of the War on Terror. Legally, debates have centered on the question of whether terrorists are ‘combatants’ due the same basic protections normally afforded prisoners of war or enemy soldiers. For the United States issues like rendition, waterboarding, and targeted killings through drone strikes have all been resolved by arguing that the enemy are not traditional combatants (i.e. involved in a state-state war) and thus do not qualify for protections under international law, domestic US law, or the just war tradition. By incorporating a state representative into this equation America has now eliminated the distinction between the terrorist and traditional understandings of ‘the enemy’.

Iranians burn a US flag during a demonstration in Tehran following the killing of General Qasem Soleimani (AFP via Getty Images )

We now must admit that we are at war (full stop). It is no longer a focused attack on individuals and organizations that carry out attacks against US interests in the name of extremist ideologies. We are now acknowledging that our focus is attacking the state believed to be responsible for…