TORONTO -- The U.S. assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani will create a martyr and unify Iran's fractious political establishment, with major repercussions on Americans in the region, according to an expert on Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
Narges Bajoghli spent a decade studying the Revolutionary Guard, a branch of Iran's armed forces, and wrote the book, "Iran Reframed: Anxieties of Power in the Islamic Republic."
"What the United States has achieved with this is creating -- internally within Iran and among Shia groups in Iraq and Lebanon -- a martyr out of Soleimani. He's going to become an even larger figure in death than he was in life," said Bajoghli, an assistant professor of Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
"There is a reason why Soleimani was not assassinated in the past by U.S. administration when they had the ability to do so ... Part of that is the repercussions that would come with such an assassination on U.S. forces and troops and personnel within the region."
She said Soleimani was seen as a national hero to Iranians because he was largely seen as the person responsible for keeping ISIS at bay.
Bajoghli questioned the strategic purpose of the U.S. attack and said the death of Soleimani, who was close to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will not disrupt the network and relationships the group has established within the region.
"The Revolutionary Guard functions in an ad hoc way," Bajoghli told CTV's News Channel.
While the general was extremely important and his death significant, there are many leaders within the Revolutionary Guard who have had the ability for years to make strategic decisions and have their own relationships with Shia counterparts in Iraq and Lebanon, she said. That network was built on decades of relationships across the borders and is not reliant on Soleimani, she added.
Bojoghli said Iran will likely take its time to figure out how to best respond to the attack, but with another deadly airstrike in Iraq less than 24 hours later, things could change quickly.
"This situation can escalate very, very quickly. Forces, especially within Iraq, will want to retaliate -- and retaliate fairly fast," she said.
"At this point, any and all Americans in the Middle East can be potential targets."