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Qasem Soleimani, born 11 March 1957. Physically, he is unprepossessing. His face gently frosted with a close-cropped white beard, his dreamy eyes seeming to shine with the recollection of a fond memory, he bears more than a passing resemblance to mid-career Sean Connery, circa Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He is short in stature—a fact he has been known to highlight, dubbing himself “the smallest soldier.”
For Iranians whose icons since the Islamic Revolution have been stern-faced clergy, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani widely represented a figure of national resilience in the face of four decades of U.S. pressure. For the U.S. and Israel, he was a shadowy figure in command of Iran’s proxy forces, responsible for fighters in Syria backing President Bashar Assad and for the deaths of American troops in Iraq. Solemani survived the horror of Iran’s long war in the 1980s with Iraq to take control of the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force, responsible for the Islamic Republic’s foreign campaigns.
In secret U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, U.S. officials openly discussed Iraqi efforts to reach out to Soleimani to stop rocket attacks on the highly secured Green Zone in Baghdad in 2009. Another cable in 2007 outlines then-Iraqi President Jalal Talabani offering a U.S. official a message from Soleimani acknowledging having “hundreds” of agents in the country while pledging, “I swear on the grave of (the late Ayatollah Ruhollah) Khomeini I haven’t authorized a bullet against the U.S.”
U.S. officials at the time dismissed Soleimani’s claim as they saw Iran as both an arsonist and a fireman in Iraq, controlling some Shiite militias while simultaneously stirring dissent and launching attacks. U.S. forces would blame the Quds Force for an attack in Karbala that killed five American troops, as well as for training and supplying the bomb makers whose improvised explosive devices made IED — improvised explosive device — a dreaded acronym among soldiers. In a 2010 speech, U.S. Gen. David Petreaus recounted a message from Soleimani he said explained the scope of Iranian’s powers.
“He said, ‘Gen. Petreaus, you should know that I, Qassem Soleimani, control the policy for Iran with respect to Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan,’” Petraeus said.
The U.S. and the United Nations put Soleimani on sanctions lists in 2007, though his travels continued. In 2011, U.S. officials also named him as a defendant in an outlandish Quds Force plot to allegedly hire a purported Mexican drug cartel assassin to kill a Saudi diplomat. But his greatest notoriety would arise from the Syrian civil war and the rapid expansion of the Islamic State group. Iran, a major backer of Assad, sent Soleimani into Syria several times to lead attacks against IS and others opposing Assad’s rule. While a U.S.-led coalition focused on airstrikes, several ground victories for Iraqi forces came with photographs emerging of Soleimani leading, never wearing a flak jacket.
“Soleimani has taught us that death is the beginning of life, not the end of life,” one Iraqi militia commander said.
Who is Major General Qassem Soleimani?
Qasem Soleimani, born 11 March 1957, was an Iranian Major General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and since 1998 commander of its Quds Force, a division primarily responsible for extraterritorial military and clandestine operations. Soleimani was said in his homeland to have grown up near the mountainous and the historic Iranian town of Rabor, famous for its forests, its apricot, walnut and peach harvests and its brave soldiers. The U.S. State Department has said he was born in the Iranian religious capital of Qom.
By the time he was 13, Soleimani began working in construction, later as an employee of the Kerman Water Organization. Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution swept the shah from power and Soleimani joined the Revolutionary Guard in its wake. He deployed to Iran’s northwest with forces that put down Kurdish unrest following the revolution.
Relatively unknown in Iran until the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Soleimani’s popularity and mystique grew out American officials calling for his killing. Soon after, Iraq invaded Iran and began the two countries long, bloody eight-year war. The fighting killed more than 1 million people and saw Iran send waves of lightly armed troops into minefields and the fire of Iraqi forces, including teenage soldiers. Solemani’s unit and others came under attack by Iraqi chemical weapons as well. After the Iraq-Iran war, Soleimani largely disappeared from public view for several years, something analysts attribute to his wartime disagreements with Hashemi Rafsanjani, who would serve as Iran’s president from 1989 to 1997. But after Rafsanjani, Soleimani became head of the Quds force. He also grew so close to Khamenei that the Supreme Leader officiated the wedding of the general’s daughter.
As chief of the Quds — or Jerusalem — Force, Solemani oversaw the Guard’s foreign operations and soon would come to the attention of Americans following the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
By the time it came a decade and a half later, Soleimani had become Iran’s most recognizable battlefield commander, ignoring calls to enter politics but becoming as powerful, if not more, than its civilian leadership.
“The warfront is mankind’s lost paradise,” Soleimani recounted in a 2009 interview. “One type of paradise that is portrayed for mankind is streams, beautiful nymphs and greeneries. But there is another kind of paradise. The warfront was the lost paradise of the human beings, indeed.”
Despite its ongoing economic woes, today’s Iran has fashioned itself into one of the premier military and diplomatic powers in the Middle East—and Saudi Arabia’s principal rival for hegemony over the entire region. It has achieved this with a mix of policies—among them, deft diplomatic maneuvering; a tactical alliance with Vladimir Putin’s Russia; and the provision of arms, advice, and cash to Shi`a militias across a variety of countries. In the latter case, Iran has pioneered a seemingly unique strategy that combines insurgent and state power in a potent admixture—a strategy that is evident today in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.
One man is recognized as the principal architect of each of these policies: Major General Qassem Soleimani. He was considered one of the most infamous military operators in the Middle East by the United States and its allies. As leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force, he bore responsibility for Iran’s clandestine operations abroad, quietly extending the military reach of Iran deep into foreign conflicts such as those in Syria and Iraq. Although revered in his home country and feared on battlefields across the Middle East, Soleimani remains virtually unknown in the West.
Yet to say that today’s Iran cannot be fully understood without first understanding Qassem Soleimani would be a considerable understatement. More than anyone else, Soleimani has been responsible for the creation of an arc of influence—which Iran terms its “Axis of Resistance”—extending from the Gulf of Oman through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Today, with Assad’s impending victory in his country’s calamitous civil war, this Iranian alliance has become stable enough that Qassem Soleimani, should he be so minded, could drive his car from Tehran to Lebanon’s border with Israel without being stopped. And, as the Mossad chief Yossi Cohen has pointed out, the same route would be open to truckloads of rockets bound for Iran’s main regional proxy, Hezbollah.
To Middle Eastern Shi’ites, he is James Bond, Erwin Rommel and Lady Gaga rolled into one. To the West, he is the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards—responsible for exporting Iran’s Islamic revolution, supporting terrorists, subverting pro-Western governments and waging Iran’s foreign wars. A veteran of the Iran-Iraq war, Hajj Qasem, as he is known, took command of the Quds Force in the late 1990s. The Force is paymaster of Hizballah, Hamas and other terrorists plaguing Israel.
Soleimani’s Quds unit, tasked with conducting operations outside Iran’s borders, provided strong support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad when it appeared to be close to defeat in the 2011 civil war. They also helped armed groups defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group. Soleimani became head of the IRGC in 1998 and for years did not draw attention to himself as he strengthened Iran’s ties with Hezbollah in Lebanon, with Assad in Syria and with Shiite militant groups in Iraq.
In recent years, he has come under the spotlight when appearing alongside Iran’s top Ayatollah leader Ali Khamenei and other Shiite leaders. Under Soleimani’s leadership, the IRGC expanded its capabilities significantly, making a significant impact in the intelligence, financial and political spheres beyond Iran’s borders. Soleimani is of humble origin and was born into a poor family in the southeast of Kerman province in Iran. He began working as a 13-year-old to help his family, and spent his free time practicing weights and attending sermons held by Khamenei.
As a young man during the 1979 Iran Revolution, Soleimani began his ascension in the Iranian Army, and reportedly had only six weeks of tactical training before participating in his first fight in the Iranian province of West Azerbaijan, according to Foreign Policy magazine. Soleimani emerged from the Iran-Iraq War as a hero because of the missions he led across the Iraqi border.
Following the reestablishment of the government in Iraq in 2005, Soleimani’s influence expanded into Iraqi politics under the leadership of former prime ministers Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Nouri al-Maliki.
During this time, the Badr Organization, a Shiite political party and paramilitary forces considered to be “Iran’s oldest mediator in Iraq”, became a state branch after the interior and transport ministries came under the control of the armed group’s political wing. Following the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Soleimani ordered that some of his Iraqi militias move to Syria to defend the Assad government.
During Iraq’s fight against ISIL, Hashd al-Shaabi (People’s Mobilization Unit), a Shiite paramilitary unit backed by Iran, some of which fell under Soleimani’s control, fought alongside the Iraqi army to defeat the armed group.
Mohammad Marandi, head of American Studies at the University of Tehran, said Soleimani’s role in the effort to defeat ISIL has made him a “national hero” and a “martyr” among the Iranian people and other Middle Eastern countries.
“If it weren’t for people like him, this region would have seen black flags flutter across the region.”
Rumors have been circulated that Soleimani was killed several times, including the crash of a 2006 plane that killed other military officials in northeastern Iran and after the 2012 bombing in Damascus that killed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s aides. In November 2015, rumors circulated that Soleimani had been killed or seriously injured while translating troops loyal to Assad during the fighting over Syrian Halep.
Multiple air strikes were carried out on Syria’s IRGC bases and in August Israel accused those units of planning “deadly drone attacks” and added that the air strikes of the country showed Tehran that its units were vulnerable anywhere. Israeli Foreign Minister Katz then said that Israel was working to “destroy” Soleimani, Israeli media reported. In October, Tehran announced that it had stopped a plot by Israeli and Arab agencies to kill Soleimani.
Major General Qassem Soleimani Death
3 January 2020, the Pentagon confirmed Thursday night that the United States killed powerful Iranian military leader, Major General Qasem Soleimani, at Baghdad’s international airport in an airstrike. Soleimani’s luck ran out after being rumored dead several times in his life. Those incidents included a 2006 airplane crash that killed other military officials in northwestern Iran and a 2012 bombing in Damascus that killed top aides of Assad. More recently, rumors circulated in November 2015 that Soleimani was killed or seriously wounded leading forces loyal to Assad as they fought around Syria’s Aleppo.
Iranian officials quickly vowed to take revenge amid months of tensions between Iran and the U.S. following Trump pulling out of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. While Soleimani was the Guard’s most prominent general, many others in its ranks have experience in waging the asymmetrical, proxy attacks for which Iran has become known.
“Trump through his gamble has dragged the U.S. into the most dangerous situation in the region,” Hessameddin Ashena, an adviser to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, wrote on the social media app Telegram. “Whoever put his foot beyond the red line should be ready to face its consequences.”
The US Defense Department said it conducted the attack at President Donald Trump’s direction as a “defensive action” against Soleimani, who it said was planning further attacks on American diplomats and service members.
The strike came just a few days after supporters of the Iran-backed Iraqi militia, Kataib Hezbollah, mobbed the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
The U.S. military said the strikes were in retaliation for last week’s killing of an American contractor in a Dec. 27th rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that the U.S. blamed on the militia.
The Defense Department said Thursday that Soleimani had “orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months – including the attack on December 27th – culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel.” The Iranian general also approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy, the Pentagon said.
U.S. officials say the Guard under Soleimani taught Iraqi militants how to manufacture and use especially deadly roadside bombs against U.S. troops after the invasion of Iraq. Iran has denied that. Soleimani himself remains popular among many Iranians, who see him as a selfless hero fighting Iran’s enemies abroad.
Trump’s first tweet following the attack was a picture of the American flag. He pinned the tweet to the top of his profile. The White House soon after shared the statement by the Department of Defense. Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham retweeted both tweets by Trump and the White House’s twitter.
“He’s been in combat his entire life. His soldiers love him. He’s a quiet, charismatic guy, a strategic genius and a tactical operator. These are all the kind of things, looking at him from the enemy’s perspective, (that) is going to create a great deal of angst in this part of the world,” US Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, a national security, intelligence and terrorism analyst, told CNN.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, once called him a “living martyr of the revolution.”
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