STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
What makes the U.S. killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani so significant? He wasn't widely famous in the United States, but national security officials knew his name very well. And in Iran, he was a kind of celebrity, the commander of Quds Force running military operations throughout the Middle East. NPR's Deborah Amos is in Beirut, one of many places where his influence was felt. And she's on the line. Hi there, Deb.
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: What kind of impact is this killing in Baghdad having inside Iran?
AMOS: Oh, it is remarkable as people are absorbing the loss. You know, some have called Soleimani Iran's indispensable man. He was a military man his whole life, a strategic thinker. And most recently, he's been balancing military campaigns in Syria and Iraq. He was head of the Quds Force for decades, and that's a combination of, like, the CIA and Special Forces. And his death has been a shock as we hear from a political science professor, Hamed Mousavi. We reached him this morning at the University of Tehran. Soleimani, he says, was a cult figure, and he cites a poll that was done by a U.S. university.
HAMED MOUSAVI: Just last summer, there was a poll by the University of Maryland, the American university, and actually Qassem Soleimani had the highest approval rating of any Iranian politician or public figure, much higher than the Iranian president.
AMOS: Yeah. There's going to be three days of a funeral in Iran. And I'm can assure you that this will be huge across the country. He was one of the most important figures there.
INSKEEP: And let's just underline for those just joining us that everything that made Soleimani a celebrity figure or hero inside Iran, of course, those are the very same things that made him a very dark figure to the United States, the very reason the United States says it had him killed. The U.S. alleges that he was going to Baghdad because he was, in some way, planning further operations against U.S. interests where U.S. troops had already been facing mortar attack from Iranian allies. And, of course, there was the attack on the United States Embassy that unfolded in the last few days. That is the reason the United States says it targeted this individual. And now perhaps the next move belongs to Iran. What are they saying they're going to do?
AMOS: Well, there have been these general calls for revenge, and Iran has tended to be strategic when it comes to escalation. And so I think it will be a while before we see where Iran wants to go with this. Now, it's important to point out that there has been some cooperation between Soleimani and the U.S. when it comes to fighting ISIS.
INSKEEP: Oh, yeah.
AMOS: But this escalation has been going on between the U.S. and the Iranians now for months.
INSKEEP: Deb, thanks for the update.
AMOS: Thank you.
INSKEEP: And thanks for your reporting on that region over many years. NPR's Deborah Amos is today in Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.