(CNSNews.com) – Stung by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s sharp criticism of one of Iran’s most powerful men, the head of the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) hit back Tuesday, characterizing Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani as a heroic leader in the campaign against ISIS.
IRGC commander Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari said Pompeo’s comments were “ridiculous” and born out of desperation and weakness.
“Mr. Pompeo, if you are not worried about your reputation, at least think about your country,” Jafari said. “Why do you make these ridiculous statements, which come from a position of weakness?”
Soleimani is head of the IRGC’s Qods Force – the division responsible for terror and military operations abroad. U.S. military commanders hold him and Qods Force responsible for the deaths of some 500 U.S. personnel in Iraq, many attributed to “explosively formed penetrators,” especially deadly IEDs provided by Tehran to Iraqi Shi’ite militia allies.
Pompeo told reporters in Washington on Monday that Soleimani “is a man who has American blood on his hands. He’s killed American soldiers, and that’s not funny.”
The secretary of state was responding to a question about the appropriateness of President Trump having tweeted on Friday a warning to Iran about impending sanctions, using the style employed in publicity material for the popular series Game of Thrones.
“Sanctions are coming,” ran the tagline under a photo of himself.
Soleimani, whose supporters like to depict as a swashbuckling Shi’ite warrior, responded in kind, posting on his Instagram feed a photo of himself, with the tag, “I will stand against you.”
“The president invoked Game of Thrones when he was discussing sanctions. Do you think that was appropriate?” a reporter asked Pompeo.
“Much has been made about this Game of Thrones [meme],” he replied. “Qassem Soleimani responded, and I haven’t seen any of you comment on that.”
“This is a man who has American blood on his hands. He’s killed American soldiers, and that’s not funny,” Pompeo continued. “And the actions that the Islamic Republic of Iran are taking are not about little silly things that people get wrapped up here in Washington, D.C., but about very serious matters that impact all of Europe, all the Middle East and the world, and our young men and women who are in harm’s way today.”
In his remarks on Tuesday, Jafari alluded to the regime’s portrayal of Soleimani as a heroic figure who has placed a crucial role in propping up Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and overseen a campaign in Iraq by Shi’ite militia against the Sunni jihadists of ISIS.
He also pointed to U.S. support for Saudi Arabia, Iran’s principal regional rival, especially in the kingdom’s air campaign against Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen. And Jafari brought into his comments the regime’s repeated allegation that the U.S. covertly supports ISIS.
“It is you who have the blood of the oppressed people of the region on your hands, not General Soleimani who has dedicated his life to fighting terrorism and your trained ISIS terrorists,” Jafari said.
Soleimani, he added, was the role model for “resistance forces” which have cleared Islamic countries in the region of terrorists.
The main sponsors of terrorism in the Middle East, Jafari said, were the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Alongside the image he posted on his Instagram account, Soleimani repeated parts of a blustery speech he made last July, when he warned that “we are a nation of martyrs” and told Trump, “You should know that there is not even a single night that we don’t think of destroying you.”
In an editorial Monday the Wall Street Journal said the likely Iranian regime response to the restoration of U.S. sanctions would come from Soleimani.
“He’ll decide how and when to retaliate against U.S. interests, perhaps violently, and the Trump Administration will have to be ready to respond,” it said.
According to the U.S. Treasury Department, Soleimani’s Qods Force has provided assistance and weapons to the Taliban, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Palestinian terrorist groups Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.
The U.S. government has designated the Qods Force for terrorism since 2007, accusing it of links to international acts of terrorism including the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israel Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people, and a foiled 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. by bombing a Washington restaurant.
The Treasury Department has designated Soleimani individually as well – in 2007 for supporting terrorism, in May 2011 for supporting the Assad regime’s repression in Syria, and again later that year, for his role in the Saudi ambassador assassination plot.