SALT LAKE CITY — News broke Thursday night that American forces, with the authorization of President Donald Trump, had killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and several others in a drone strike in Baghdad.
The Pentagon said the strike was a defensive measure designed to thwart future Soleimani-directed attacks, and politicians like Utah Rep. Ben McAdams called Soleimani a “terrorist who actively worked to kill Americans.” Others, like former Vice President Joe Biden, pointed out the potential dangers of such a move, saying the assassination was like tossing “a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox.”
Few groups, perhaps, felt the attack quite so viscerally as the thousands of Iranian Americans who have watched tensions between their ancestral homeland and new home grow and grow over the past several years, even with decades of animosity preceding them.
Alborz Ghandehari’s family is originally from Iran, but he was born and raised here in Utah. Now an assistant professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Utah, as well as the civil rights committee director for the Iranian American Society of Utah, Ghandehari emphasized that he was speaking only for himself, but views the drone strike as an inflammatory move.
"I think the administration's action yesterday was a very major and unprecedented escalation,” Ghandehari said. “And it has drastically increased the chance of war, putting millions of lives in danger."
Ghandehari pointed out that many Iranians are already suffering in the sluggish economy American sanctions have contributed to. Going to war would only compound those problems for the Iranian populace, he said.
“In the last several years, millions of Iranians have found it difficult to afford medicine, food and other basic necessities because of sanctions the United States has imposed,” he said.
But Ghandehari said he is “heartened” by the Americans who “are standing firmly against a war on Iran.”
He said Americans have other priorities — things like health care, jobs, education, housing — than another Middle Eastern war.
Ghandehari pointed out that pro-democracy protests have erupted in Iran and throughout the region in recent months, and said a military conflict would derail these burgeoning movements.
In Iraq, civilians have protested the outsize influence of both the United States and Iran; Ghandehari said citizens everywhere should support such movements. “We must stand together against the influence of any country, including the U.S. and Iran, in the affairs of other countries in the region.”
Kaveh Narimani, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily believe that the assassination will lead to an all-out war — after all, he said, Iran and America have been at odds for decades now. But he did find Thursday’s news “shocking,” he said, because Soleimani had become such a “big figure” for the regime.
“For a while there we were all thinking, ‘Wow, this can’t be true,’” Narimani said.
Narimani was born in Iran and moved to the United States as a teenager; he now lives in Park City. From that perspective, he said, he views the Iranian regime as hugely repressive and blames Soleimani for the deaths of not only foreign fighters, but many Iranian citizens as well.
“You have to give credit where credit is due,” Narimani said. “Soleimani fought ISIS and other terrorist groups like them. That doesn’t cover up the fact that he was killing his own people.”
Indeed, groups like Amnesty International estimate that hundreds may have been killed in pro-democracy protests just months ago.
Soleimani fought ISIS and other terrorist groups like them. That doesn’t cover up the fact that he was killing his own people.
An October 2019 survey of the Iranian people, from the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland, found that Soleimani had the highest approval ratings of any Iranian public figure, with 82% viewing him favorably.
But Narimani said one can’t rely too much on surveys in a country where the government controls the media, and therefore the narrative. Among his own friends and family, Narimani found a variety of opinions on the strike. Some considered Soleimani a fallen hero, but others were happy about anything that weakens the Iranian regime.
“In Iran,” he said, “if you don’t support the regime, you have no voice.”
Only time will tell what the scope and nature of Iran’s promised revenge may be. But for Iranian Americans like Ghandehari and Narimani, conflict between the U.S. and Iran is a lose-lose situation.
Correction: This article previously identified Ghandehari as a member of the Iranian American Association of Utah; it is the Iranian American Society of Utah.