Hours after the United States killed Iran’s top military commander Major General Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike Thursday evening, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that the people of Iraq were celebrating Soleimani’s demise by publicly “dancing” in the streets.
“Iraqis — Iraqis — dancing in the street for freedom; thankful that General Soleimani is no more,” Pompeo tweeted, along with a 22-second video purporting to show the aforementioned celebration in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. Soleimani, who had American blood on his hands, was the commander Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, which the Trump administration designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization in April.
Iraqis — Iraqis — dancing in the street for freedom; thankful that General Soleimani is no more. pic.twitter.com/huFcae3ap4
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 3, 2020
The tweet received a great deal of attention on the social media platform, garnering more than 175,000 likes and nearly 60,000 re-tweets, including the State Department’s Farsi Twitter account.
— USA darFarsi (@USAdarFarsi) January 3, 2020
President Donald Trump even sent the post out to his 68.7 million followers.
But witnesses to the celebration depicted in Pompeo’s video told the New York Times that while the clip is authentic, his characterization of what happened was, at best, extremely hyperbolic and very misleading:
Witnesses in Iraq said that only a handful of men carrying Iraqi flags had run — not danced — along a road while the voice of a man speaking near the camera was heard praising the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Soleimani of Iran in a targeted United States airstrike on Friday at Baghdad International Airport.
The man whose voice is heard in the video exclaims that General Suleimani’s death has avenged the deaths of Iraqis protesting Iran’s presence in their country.
The witnesses said the men carrying the flags were celebrating General Soleimani’s death but that the group was very small — about 30 to 40 people in a crowd of thousands — that no one else joined in and that the minor demonstration was over in less than two minutes.
Syracuse University assistant professor of communications Jennifer Grygiel said that government officials can easily spread “propaganda in wartime” due to social media and the breakdown of traditional news media “gatekeeping.”
“When we think about government communication, it’s public diplomacy in peacetime, propaganda in wartime,” Grygiel told the Times. “Official sources can propagate a narrative they seek without context.”
Iran is already using Pompeo’s tweet to promote a narrative of its own on social media. Javad Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister, responded to Pompeo’s tweet on Saturday, calling the Secretary of State an “arrogant clown – masquerading as a diplomat.”
24 hrs ago, an arrogant clown— masquerading as a diplomat— claimed people were dancing in the cities of Iraq.
Today, hundreds of thousands of our proud Iraqi brothers and sisters offered him their response across their soil.
End of US malign presence in West Asia has begun. pic.twitter.com/eTDRyLN11c
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 4, 2020
[image via Fox News screengrab]