Zachary Halaschak, Washington Examiner, 8 February 2020
Demonstrators rallied near the White House to raise awareness for dissidents imprisoned in Iran and to highlight the significance of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani’s death.
A few hundred people gathered in Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C., at a Saturday event that was organized by those opposed to the government of Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The demonstration came the month after the United States conducted a drone strike that killed Soleimani.
The demonstrators present showed support for the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, known as the MEK, the most prominent resistance group actively working to overthrow the Islamic Republic.
Retired Col. Wesley Martin, who was the senior anti-terrorism and force protection officer for coalition forces in Iraq, spoke at the event and hailed the importance of Soleimani’s death. He also pointed out the plight of protesters in Iran after hundreds were killed recently.
Standing on a podium adorned with the number 1,500 — representing those killed in recent protests — Martin pointed out the “extreme brutality” exercised by security forces and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in stifling demonstrations.
“For decades, Soleimani was able to move throughout the Middle East with immunity from accountability. The last thing this leader of a now-declared terrorist organization expected when he arrived in Baghdad airport was a drone strike,” he said to applause from the crowd.
In retaliation for the killing, Iran launched missiles at Iraqi bases housing American troops last month, causing brain injuries for dozens. Following the attack, Iran accidentally shot down a Ukrainian airliner, killing all 176 on board. Initially, the regime lied and said it was a mechanical failure but later admitted to the downing.
“The streets filled once again with Iranian citizens,” the colonel said of the revelation. “Proof has been given to the Iranian people that no one in the regime is invincible, and all can and will be brought to justice. This is a serious blow for an organization that rules with brutality and fear.”
Another speaker, former Republican Rep. Ted Poe of Texas, told the Washington Examiner that “the world is safer” because Soleimani, who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American troops, is dead.
“He was the No. 1 terrorist in the world. He has killed not only Iranian and Syrians, but Americans,” Poe said. “Our national security is better, and so is the freedom of the people of Iran. Their lives are safer because he is gone.”
The former congressman, who retired last year, said that in addition to verbal support, Congress should help the Iranian people by putting more sanctions on Iran and companies that do business with the regime.
Also in attendance at the demonstration was Amir Emadi, whose father Ali Asghar Emadi was a leader among the MEK and was killed in 2013 on direct orders from Soleimani.
Emadi and his parents fled Iran to Iraq to escape prosecution in 1988 when he was a 1-year-old. Despite the volatility and bloodshed of the region at the time, his family then made the decision to send him to live with another family in the U.S. Emadi told the Washington Examiner that his parents were not alone in that decision.
“A lot of parents made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.
On Sept. 1, 2013, Iranian-backed militias led by Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, who was also killed in the January drone strike against Soleimani, stormed Camp Ashraf in Iraq, which once housed supporters of the resistance group, and killed more than 50 people.
Emadi said that his father heard about the possibility of an attack and urged some of the younger members to flee, but he stayed behind with dozens of others.
“He went there to the front gates and stood there with another one of his friends,” Emadi said. “The Iraqi [militia] forces came in and just shot him up. Using assault rifles, came in, it was a shoot-to-kill order from Soleimani down to Muhandis, and my father was killed fighting for a cause he sacrificed his entire life for, he sacrificed being a father for, he sacrificed being a husband for.”
Emadi said that his father’s life set “such a high bar” for him and that he tries to maintain his legacy by working to raise awareness and fighting for the regime’s downfall.
He also pointed out the significance of Soleimani’s death.
“It was a relief,” Emadi said about learning the major general had been killed. “This guy is responsible for the death of my father. He is responsible for the imprisonment and crackdown of many of my relatives in Iran, and he’s responsible for the deaths of many Americans.”
Emadi said he is hopeful that protests will continue in Iran and believes that the days of the regime are numbered, a sentiment echoed by Martin in his speech on Saturday.
“Khamenei and his regime are going down, and we’re going to live to see it,” Martin said.