Biography of Martyr Qasem Soleimani

“The battlefield is mankind’s lost paradise- the paradise in which morality and human conduct are at their highest, one type of paradise that men imagine is about streams, beautiful maidens, and lush landscape. But there is another kind of paradise, “the battlefield.”

                                                           Martyr Qasem Soleimani.

In March, 2009, on the eve of Iranian New Year, Soleimani led a group of Iran- Iraq war veterans to the Paa-Alam Heights, a barren, rocky promontory on the Iraq border. In 1986, Paa- Alam was the scene of one of the terrible battles over the Faw Peninsula, where tens and thousands of men died while hardly advancing a step. A video recording from the visit shows Soleimani standing on a mountaintop, recounting the battle to his old comrades. In a gentle voice, he speaks over a soundtrack of music and prayers:

“This is the Dasht-e-Abbas Road,” Soleimani says, pointing into the valley below. “This area stood between us and the enemy.” Later, Soleimani and the group stand on the banks of a creek, where he reads aloud the names of fallen Iranian soldiers, his voice trembling with emotion. During a break, he speaks with an interviewer, and describes the fighting in near mystical terms. “The battlefield is mankind’s lost paradise- the paradise in which morality and human conduct are at their highest,” he says, “One type of paradise that men imagine is about streams, beautiful maidens, and lush landscape. But there is another kind of paradise- “the battlefield.” 

Little in General Soleimani’s personal background could have hinted at the power he would one day wield….

Soleimani was born in Rabord village in the year 1957, in the mountains of Kerman province, a region in Iran’s southeast, not far from the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Kerman, tribal politics traditionally have held far more sway than any edict of the central government 500 miles away in Tehran. Owing to a botched land reform introduced by the Shah as part of the “White Revolution,” Soleimani’s father, a small time farmer, wound up owing the government around 9,000 rials. This debt, which was only about hundred dollars at that time, seemed to have brought the family to the brink of ruin. In, order to help pay down the debt, Soleimani left school at 13. In a brief memoir, Soleimani wrote of leaving home with a young relative named Ahmad Soleimanii, who was in a similar situation. “At night, we couldn’t fall asleep with the sadness of thinking that the government agents were coming to arrest our fathers,” he wrote. Together, they travelled to Kerman, the nearest city, to try to clear their family’s debt. The place was unwelcoming. “We were only thirteen, and our bodies were so tiny, wherever we went, they wouldn’t hire us,” he wrote. “Until one day, when we were hired as laborers at a school construction site on Khajoo Street, which was where the city ended. They paid us two toman per day.” After eight months they had saved enough money to bring home, but the winter was too deep. They were told to seek out a local driver named Pahlavan- “Champion”- who was a strong man who could lift up a cow or a donkey with his teeth.” During the drive, whenever the car got stuck, “he would lift up the jeep and put it aside!” In Soleimani’s telling, Pahlavan is an ardent detractor of the Shah. He says to the boys, “This is the time for you to rest and play, not work as a laborer in a strange city. I spit on the life they have made for us!” They arrived home, Soleimani writes, “Just as the lights were coming on in the village homes. When the news travelled in our village, there was pandemonium.” 

By the time the Islamic Revolution was speeding up in 1978, Soleimani had become a technician with the Municipal water authority.

General Soleimani and other leaders of his generation were shaped by the brutal war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, a conflict so cruel, with trench warfare and chemical weapons, that some compared it to the devastation of World War I. Nearly a million people died on both sides, and General Soleimani spent much of that war on the front lines. “For Qasem Soleimani, the Iran- Iraq war never really ended,” Ryan C Crocker, a former American ambassador to Iraq, once said in an interview. Soleimani’s journey to supremacy in Iraq is rooted in the Islamic Revolution of 1979, which ousted the Shah and recast Iran as a fundamentalist Shia Islamic state. Prior to that point, the young Soleimani had shown little, if any, interest in politics….

As a young man, General Soleimani gave few signs of greater ambition. According to Ali Alfoneh, an Iran expert at the foundation for Defense of Democracies, Soleimani had only a high school education, and worked for Kerman’s municipal water department. But, it was a revolutionary time, and the country’s gathering unrest was making itself felt. Away from work, Soleimani spent hours lifting weights in a local gym, which, like many others in the Middle East, offered physical training and inspiration for the warrior spirit. During Ramadan, he attended sermons by a travelling preacher named Hojjat Kamyab- a protégé of Khamenei’s, and it was there that he became inspired by the possibility of an Islamic Revolution.

In 1979, when Soleimani was twenty-two, the Shah fell to a popular uprising led by Aytollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the name of Islam. Swept up in the fervor, Soleimani joined the IRGC. He had found his calling…..

 He received little training, perhaps only a forty five day course but he advanced rapidly. At any rate he must have impressed someone, for immediately after completing basic training, he became an instructor for the new recruits. That was the moment Qasem Soleimani began his remarkable upward trajectory. His frontline career began in the turmoil that followed the Islamic Revolution, when as a young guardsman, Soleimani was dispatched to northwestern Iran, where he helped crush an uprising by the ethnic Kurds- a mission regarded to this day as a badge of honor within the IRGC. When the Revolution was eighteen months old, Saddam sent the Iraqi army sweeping across the border, hoping to take advantage of the internal chaos. Instead, the invasion solidified Aytollah Khomeini’s leadership and unified the country’s resistance, starting a brutal entrenched war. Soleimani was sent to the front with a simple task, to supply water to the soldiers fighting, but it didn’t just end there. “I entered the war on a fifteen day mission, and ended up staying until the end,” he told an interviewer in 2005.

Suleimani served throughout the war in almost every part of the front, from the retaking of Boston in December 1981 to the invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan in 1987, during which Saddam’s forces attacked his unit with chemical weapons, to the climactic expedition to the Al Faw Peninsula in April 1988, whose failure helped precipitate the ceasefire that ended the war.

Soleimani developed a reputation for treating the men under his command well. He made a habit of returning from behind the lines reconnaissance missions with goats and other provisions to feed his men, earning him the admiring sobriquet, “The goat thief.” In recognition of his effectiveness, Alfoneh said, he was put in charge of a brigade from Kerman, with men from the gyms where he lifted weights. The Iranian army was badly overmatched, and its commanders resorted to crude and costly tactics. In “human wave” assaults, they sent thousands of young men directly into the Iraqi lines, often to clear the minefields, and soldiers died at precipitous rate. Soleimani seemed distressed by the loss of life. Before sending his men into the battle, he would embrace each one and bid him goodbye, in speeches; he praised martyred soldiers and begged their forgiveness for not being martyred himself. The former Revolutionary Guard officer recalled seeing Soleimani in 1985, after a battle in which his brigade had suffered many dead and wounded. “He was sitting alone in a corner of the tent, He was very silent, thinking about the people he’d lost.” The officer said.

Ahmad, the young relative who travelled with Soleimani to Kerman, was killed in 1984. On at least one occasion, Soleimani himself was wounded. Still, he was the bright –eyed guy who just couldn’t wait to get back to the front, as described by Reuel Marc Gerecht, a young C.I.A. officer posted to Istanbul, where he was recruited from the thousands of Iranian soldiers who went there to recuperate. 

The Iran- Iraq war was one of the largest and longest conventional interstate wars since the Korean War ended in 1953. At least half a million lives were lost and another million injured. The economic cost was over a trillion dollars. After eight years of warfare, much of it like the trenches of World War I, the armies ended in virtually the same positions they had started in September 1980. It was also the only war in modern times in which chemical weapons were used on a massive scale along with ballistic missiles to attack cities. It was the most extensive use of weapons of mass destruction since Japan in 1945.  

Iran’s leaders took two lessons from the Iran- Iraq war. The first was that Iran was surrounded by enemies, near and far. For the Iranians it was the “imposed war” that was the creation of the United States in order to throttle the Islamic Revolution. In 1982, after the Iranians expelled the Iraqi forces, when Khomeini ordered his men to keep going, to “liberate” Iraq and push towards Jerusalem, then did the Regan administration belatedly begin to press for a cease fire? The C.I.A. began providing Iraq highly useful intelligence that helped foil Iran’s campaigns to liberate Iraq. The intelligence sharing also directly facilitated Iraq’s use of chemical weapons. The weapons themselves were built with the help of western European firms.

The memory of these chemical attacks is an especially bitter one. In 1987, during a battle with the Iraqi army, a division under Soleimani’s command was attacked by artillery shells containing chemical weapons. More than a hundred of his men suffered the effects. 

In 1988, Washington intervened directly in the war to protect oil tankers passing through the Straits of Hormuz. An undeclared naval war followed in which the Iranian Navy was badly defeated. An Iranian commercial airline was shot down with 290 killed including 66 children on July 3, 1988. The shoot down of Iran Air 655 led Ayatollah Khomeini to finally accept a cease fire or as he said to “drink the poison”. 

The other lesson drawn from the Iran- Iraq war was the futility of fighting a head to head confrontation. Iran’s leaders did not want another bloodbath. Instead, they had to build the capacity to wage asymmetrical warfare- attacking the stronger powers indirectly, outside of Iran. The Quds Force was an ideal tool. Ayatollah Khomeini had created the prototype for the force in 1979, with the goal of protecting Iran and exporting the Islamic Revolution. The first big opportunity came in Lebanon, where Revolutionary Guard officers were dispatched in 1982 to help organize Shiite militias in the many sided Lebanese civil war. Those efforts resulted in the creation of Hezbollah, which developed under Iranian guidance. Hezbollah’s military commander, the brilliant and mysterious Imad Mughniyeh, helped from what became known as the Special Security Apparatus, a wing of Hezbollah that works closely with the Quds Force. 

Following the close of hostilities with Iraq in 1988, Soleimani was sent back home to Kerman to wage war on the drug gangs threatening order in the region. It was a bloody campaign; but within three years, forces under Soleimani’s command had pacified the province, earning him the lasting gratitude of its residents. According to Mashregh News, “the people of Kerman and Sistan va Baluchistan province still consider the era of the presence of Qasem Soleimani in the eastern and southern eastern parts of the country among the securest eras.” He was rising to the leadership of the IRGC’s crack 41st division, nick named “Tharallah” {vengeance of God}- an alias of Imam Hussein a.s, grandson of the Holy Prophet s.a.w.a and one of the key figures in Shi’a Islam. He was named the head of the Quds Force. He started attracting attention from the very top. A photograph from the period shows Soleimani seated on the floor, enjoying a meal at the right hand of then President- Ali Khamenei.

The choice of Soleimani as chief of the Quds Force of the IRGC, which coincided with the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, was no accident. Soleimani was chosen because as a native of a mountain village in Kerman, he had intimate knowledge of political mechanisms in tribal societies in general and Afghanistan in particular. He was also a suitable choice because of his experience during the civil war in the Kurdish regions of Iran, since he was expected to operate in Taliban- era Afghanistan, itself a country engaged in a civil war. On top of that, Soleimani had an exceptional record from the war with Iraq and his successful fight against drug cartels near the Iran/Afghanistan border from 1988 until his appointment as Quds Force chief. 

Understanding Soleimani’s present is not possible without knowing his past…. 

One of the more entertaining wartime stories about Soleimani explains how he earned his nickname “Toyota thief” finding himself behind the enemy lines; he dressed up in the uniform of a dead Iraqi soldier and casually helped himself to dinner at the Iraqi mess before returning to his barracks with a new Japanese made truck. Soleimani earned the respect of Guards commander Mohsen Rezaee who promoted him to lead the 41st Tharallah Division made up from Soleimani’s own Kerman province. 

Soleimani excelled at the task of establishing or strengthening contacts with Shi’a militias and political parties across the region. He also created an alliance between Iran and Syria. Hafez Assad was the only Arab leader to back Tehran. 

Taking control of an agency that had already built a lethal resume. He has built the Quds force into an organization with extraordinary reach; He divided the Quds Force into separate departments based on the countries where it operated. Each department had a commander accountable to Soleimani. He had created five branches focused on intelligence, finance, politics, sabotage, and special operations. They interacted with each other under the so called Counsil of Commander with Soleimani at its head. With a base in the former U.S Embassy compound in Tehran, the force has between ten thousand and twenty thousand members, divided between combatants and those who train and oversee foreign assets. Its members are picked for their skill and their allegiance to the doctrine of the Islamic Revolution. According to the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, fighters are recruited throughout the region, trained in Shiraz and Tehran indoctrinated at the Jerusalem Operation College, in Qom, and then sent to months long missions to Afghanistan and Iraq to gain experience in field operational work. 

After taking command, Soleimani strengthened relationships in Lebanon, with Mughnieyh and with Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s chief. By then, the Israeli military had occupied southern Lebanon for sixteen years, and Hezbollah was eager to take control of the country, so Soleimani sent in Quds Force operatives to help. “They had a huge presence- training, advising, planning,” Crocker said. In 2000, the Israelis withdrew, exhausted by relentless Hezbollah attacks. The IRGC’s success established the reputation of the Guards as experts in asymmetrical warfare. It was seen as a victory for the Shiites, Crocker said, “Another example of how countries like Syria and Iran can play a long game, knowing that we can’t.” Since then, the regime has given aid to a variety of militant Islamist groups opposed to America’s allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The help has gone not only to Shiites but also to Sunni groups like Hamas- helping to form an archipelago of alliances that stretches from Baghdad to Beirut. “No one in Tehran started out with a master plan to build the Axis of Resistance, but opportunities presented themselves,” A western diplomat in Baghdad said. “In each case, Soleimani was smarter, faster and better resourced than anyone else in the region. By grasping at opportunities as they came, he built the thing, slowly but surely.” 

Soleimani went on to build his career supporting Hezbollah and Hafez’s son Bashar al Assad in Syrian civil war.

While managing Iran’s burgeoning confrontation with the upstart Taliban movement in the neighboring Afghanistan. Taliban forces had swept into the Northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, home to substantial community of ethnic Hazaras, “Farsi speaking Shi’a Muslims.” The Taliban initiated a brutal pogrom against members of the minority, trashing homes, raping women and girls, and massacring hundreds of Shi’a men and boys. Among the dead was a group of nine Iranians, eight diplomats and a journalist. At this naked provocation, factions on both sides turned white hot for war. The IRGC’s overall commander at the time, Yahya Rahim Safavi, requested Supreme Leader Khamenei’s permission ‘for the punishment of the Taliban’, to advance to Herat {a city in western Afghanistan} to annihilate, punish and eliminate them . Iran began massing an invasion force of almost a quarter million soldiers along the Afghan border. Reportedly, it was Soleimani who stepped in and defused the situation without resorting to further violence. Instead of confronting the Taliban directly, Soleimani opted to throw increased Iranian support behind the opposition Northern alliance, personally helping to direct the group’s operations from a base across Afghanistan’s northern border in Tajikistan. It was model proxy warfare to which he would return again and again.

In the chaotic days after the attacks of 9/11, Ryan Crocker, then a senior state department official, flew discreetly to Geneva to meet a group of Iranian Diplomats. It seemed clear to Crocker that the Iranians were answering to Soleimani, whom they referred to as “Haji Qassem” Soleimani saw an opportunity to defeat the mutual enemy- Taliban once and for all by unconventional means- namely, cooperation with the United States. Early in the war, he directed Iranian diplomats to share intelligence on Taliban military positions with their U.S counterparts. The Americans, in return, told the Iranians what they knew about an Al- Qa’ida faciliator hiding in the eastern city of Mashhad. The Iranians detained him and brought him to Afghanistan’s new leaders, who Crocker believes, turned him over to the U.S. The negotiator told Crocker, “Haji Qasem is very pleased with our cooperation.”Sometimes Soleimani passed messages to Crocker, but he avoided putting anything in writing. “Haji Qasem’s way too smart for that,” Crocker said. “He’s not going to leave paper trails for the Americans.”

The Bush administration was taking too long to attack the Taliban, the Iranians were growing impatient. At a meeting in early October, 2001, the lead Iranian negotiator stood up and slammed a sheaf of papers on the table. “If you guys don’t stop building these fairytale governments in the sky, and actually start doing some shooting on the ground, none of this is ever going to happen!” he shouted. “When you’re ready to talk about serious fighting, you know where to find me.” He stomped out of the room. “It was a great moment,” Crocker said.

For the initial phase of war, it seemed as if this cooperation might lead to more general thawing of relations between Iran and America. But, the good will didn’t last- This cooperation came to an abrupt halt in January 2002, after President George W Bush used his state of union address to throw the book at Iran, branding it nuclear proliferators, an exporter of terrorism, a repressive state, and part of an “Axis of Evil.” Soleimani was apoplectic, and cancelled future meetings with the Americans- a huge setback. Recalling that time, Crocker said, “We were just that close, one word in one speech changed history.” And the American relationship with Soleimani seemingly only went downhill from there.

Operation to halt the advance of the Islamic state (IS) could have been an opportunity for collaboration between the U.S. and Iran, which have been unable to come to a diplomatic agreement in 35 years, if it weren’t for Iran’s fierce loyalty to Assad and its tense standoff with the west over its nuclear program. At a U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, British Prime Minister, David Cameron had said “Iran had the potential to help defeat (IS), and the west should welcome their engagement”

The Guards also got their chance to turn Iraq from enemy to ally after the reckless Anglo- American invasion in 2003; there should be no doubt that the 2003 Iraq war was among the first major resource wars of the 21st century. A very few media reflections on the conflict accurately explore the extent to which opening up Persian Gulf energy resources to the world economy was a prime driver behind the Anglo- American invasion. Maximizing Persian Gulf oil flows to avert a potential global energy crisis motivated Iraq War planners and not the “Weapons of Mass Destruction.”

In the 2003, U.S. led invasion of Iraq, initially the Iranian Regime was ridden with anxiety. It caused a national security crisis for Iran. Soleimani was faced with problems.

The first was the occupation. Iran feared that the U.S would establish a client state in Iraq that could serve as a base to challenge Iran along the 900 mile long border. This wasn’t just paranoia. In Bush’s first term, the refrain among hawkish neocons was “Boys go to Baghdad, but real men go to Tehran.” But as America got bogged down, the threat ebbed away.

His second problem was Saddam’s ousted Baathists, many of whom had joined the Sunni insurgency against both the U.S and Iraq’s newly ascendant Shia majority. 

In those anxious days, General Soleimani- the powerful commander of the Quds Force performed an act of unsettling geopolitical genius that still echoes today. If the U.S. led Iraq war was intended, in part to pressurize Iran by establishing a strong U.S. military presence in Iraq and to create a flourishing Shiite democracy to undermine the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic next door, Iran would do everything it could to ensure that America’s experiment turned into a smoldering failure.

Before the war began in March 2003, Soleimani’s Quds Force freed many of the Sunni jihadists that Iran had been holding captive, unleashing them against U.S. That August Zarqawi {al qaida future leader} and his forces conducted three deadly bombings in Iraq, these blows devastated the U.S. led war from the beginning. Just months after the U.S. invasion, the debate in Washington had shifted sharply: Instead of asking how a triumphant U.S. could help Iraq to shape Iran, the question became how an embattled U.S. could stop Iran from shaping Iraq.

During this same period, Soleimani was also focusing on Lebanon, Tehran was helping the Shi’a militant group Hezbollah to build a military capability to deter Israel both from invading Lebanon (after its withdrawal in 2000), and from acting on its threat to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities. Soleimani had close relationship with Imad Mughniyah, Hezbollah’s international spy chief, and also reportedly established classes in Tehran’s embassy in Beirut to teach Hebrew to Hezbollah personnel.

In the 2006 war, following tensions over prisoners of war in both countries- Soleimani is said to have been involved with an ambush of Israel Defense Forces soldiers- Israel invaded southern Lebanon and bombed the country for 34 days. But it faced fierce resistance from Hezbollah, and the stalemate was viewed by Arabs as victory for the Shi’a group.

Under Soleimani’s command, Iran became the only country in the region capable of harnessing both Shiite extremism and, at times, Sunni radicalism too. His genius in bridging sectarian divides has given Iran an enormous asymmetric advantage over its great Sunni Arab rival in the Gulf and in Saudi Arabia. All Shi’a are willing to fight for Iran, while most Sunni extremist- including Al Qaeda and Islamic State want to overthrow Saudi Arabia, which they see corrupt , impious agent of the west.

Perhaps no American military commander knew Soleimani better than former General Petraeus, the most senior U.S. commander in Iraq early in 2008, at the height of the War’s fury, much of which was inflicted by Soleimani. General Petraeus considered Soleimani “a combination of C.I.A. director, JSOC [Joint Special Operations Command] Commander and regional envoy.” In early 2008, Soleimani sent General David Petraeus, an imperious message; “Dear General Petraeus, you should be aware that I, Qasem Soleimani control Iran’s policy for Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan. And indeed, the ambassador in Baghdad is a Quds Force member. The individual who’s going to replace him is a Quds Force member.”

This was conveyed to General Petraeus via a text message to Talibani’s personal cellphone- effectively relegating Talibani to the role of Soleimani’s mailman. The symbolism was not lost on anyone. “He’s the most powerful man in Iraq, without question.” A former senior Iraqi Official said.

General Soleimani was instrumental in 2010 in making sure that the Americans left no troops behind in Iraq. In Baghdad, no other name invokes the same sort of reaction among the nation’s power base- discomfort, uncertainty and fear. “He’s the most powerful man in Iraq without question,” Iraq’s former national security minister, Mowaffak al Rubaie, told the newspaper Al Sharq al Awsat. “Nothing gets done without him.” 

The Quds Force has no equal in Iran. Its primary task is to protect the revolution. However, its mandate has been interpreted as exporting the revolutions goals to other parts of the Islamic world. Shia communities throughout the region have proved fertile grounds for revolutionary messages and have formed deep and abiding partnerships with Quds Force. So have several Sunni groups who are opposed to Israel, first among them Hamas in Gaza. But, Iraq has been Soleimani’s key arena. The proxy war between Soleimani’s Quds Force and the U.S military, which made the U.S .leave Iraq – a full departure from Iraq- clear victory for Iran.

A second MP- a senior member of Prime Minister Nour al Maliki’s inner circle who regularly meets Soleimani in Iran, said the general has only travelled once to Iraq in the past eight years. He describes him as “softly spoken and reasonable, and very polite.” He is simple when you talk to him. You wouldn’t know how powerful he is without knowing his background. His power is absolute and no one can challenge this.” 

Silver haired, slight perennial serene smile, Soleimani comes across as the most unlikely of warlords. Those who met him during the one time he travelled to Baghdad at the height of 2006 sectarian conflict say he walked around the compounds of his two key hosts without bodyguards. The Americans did not know he had been in the capital until he was back in Iran and were deeply unhappy to learn that their arch enemy had been among them.

“He is indeed like Keyser Soze,” said a senior U.S. official- in reference to the legendary villain in the “The Usual Suspects,” whose ruthlessness and influence terrified everyone. “Nobody knew who he was and this guy’s the same. He is everywhere but nowhere.”

The senior Shia MP said, “He has managed to form links with every single Shia group, on every level.

The work of Al Quds Force continues in Iraq:

 The Asaib Ahl al Haq, The Badr Brigade formed in the 1980’s, and the younger and more secretive Kataib Hezbollah, all backed by Iran, which together have become the most powerful military force in Iraq and have been instrumental in battling (IS), Coordinating these three big Iraqi militias is the Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani. He knows the heads of the three big Iraqi militias personally. After the collapse of the Iraqi military, Soleimani visited Iraq several times to help organize a counter –offensive. He brought weapons, electronic interception devices and drones, according to a senior Iraqi politician. “Soleimani is an operational leader. He’s not a man working in an office. He goes to the front to inspect the troops and see the fighting,” said one current senior Iraqi official. “His chain of command is only the Supreme Leader.”  

In an interview with Iranian state television, a senior Revolutionary Guard commander, General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, said that Soleimani, with a force of only 70 men, had prevented Islamic state [IS] from overrunning Arbil. “If Iran hadn’t helped,[ IS] would have taken over Kurdistan,” The way Iran and Soleimani work is completely the opposite of Saudi intelligence that just gives money but are not on the ground,” said the current senior Iraqi official. “Soleimani sees the target and he has powers to go after it.”

Iran’s oldest proxy in Iraq is the Badr Brigades, which is headed by Hadi al Amri, a veteran of both combat and politics. The group renamed itself The Badr Organisation once it entered politics. Amri fought alongside Iran’s Revolutionary Guard against Saddam’s army during the Iran-Iraq war in 1980’s. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, he won a seat in parliament and served as a minister of Transportation during Maliki’s second term.

The head of Iran’s second proxy, Kataib Hezbollah, goes by the nom de guerre Abu Mahdi Al Mohandes. Many Iraqi officials simply call him al Mohandes, or “the Engineer.” He is Iran’s most powerful military representative in Iraq. Kataib Hezbollah is the most secretive of Iraq’s militias, and the only one U.S. Treasury labels a terrorist organization. When Aytollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s most powerful cleric, called on Shi’ites to rise up and fight I.S, Mohandes took charge of the tens of thousands of new volunteers. “He was involved in everything; administration, funding, logistics and planning,” said a senior Iraqi security official.

The third big Iraqi militia, Asaib Ahl al Haq, started as a splinter group of the Mehdi army, a paramilitary force formed by anti American Shi’ite leader Moqtada al Sadr during the U.S occupation.

Fighters from all three militias have sharpened their combat skills in Syria in recent years. In late 2011, as the Syrian conflict grew, Iran stepped to defend Syrian President Bashar al Asad. Assad is a follower of the Alawite faith, an offshoot of Shi’ism. Some Iraqi Shi’ite militia commanders concede that defending Assad has been unsavory. But they argue that fighting in Syria was necessary for broader regional reasons, namely the struggle that Iran and its allies are waging against Israel. The Quds Force’s extensive involvement in the effort to prop up besieged Syrian President Bashar al Assad, to preserve the line of resistance, brought the name of the force and its commander, Soleimani, out of the shadows. A former Iraqi leader, said, “Soleimani told us the Iranians would do whatever was necessary for Assad, we’re not like the Americans. We don’t abandon our friends.” Soleimani believed that if Syria fell to U.S. backed rebels, Iran would be next, “If we lose Syria, we cannot keep Tehran,” warned an influential Iranian cleric.

Soleimani flew to Syria and established the National Defense Forces (NDF), local paramilitary militias, whose leaders received training from Hezbollah in Lebanon and his own Quds Force in Iran. In Soleimani’s view, the Syrian army, which had suffered mass defections, was “useless” The NDF’s immediate job was to fight the insurgency, but it was also a back up military network in case Assad fell. The rise of [IS], both in Iraq and Syria. Soleimani made himself even more indispensable to the regimes in both Damascus and Baghdad.

In the summer of 2014, Islamic State [IS] forces captured Mosul, a city of nearly two million in northern Iraq. In the face of the jihadi advance, tens of thousands of Iraqi troops and Federal police doffed their uniforms and melted away. By October 2014, the Islamic State had reached the outskirts of Baghdad and was lobbing mortar rounds at the city’s main international airport. In the absence of a credible Iraqi army, someone had to save the capital, and Soleimani’s Shi’a proxies- alongside other militias drawn from other communities- were only happy to oblige. Soleimani now ordered some of the Iraqi militias tasked with defending Assad to cross back over the border to rescue the Iraqi state. The militants participating in the defense organized themselves into the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella organization for coordination with the government in Baghdad. Most of the PMF’s constituent groups are Shia’ and most of those are aligned in some way with Iran, although not all fall under Soleimani’s direct control. But Soleimani’s forces are among the biggest, and have seen much of the most intense fighting. During which Soleimani himself was frequently pictured on the frontlines. Iran’s early intervention, led by Soleimani was the only thing keeping Iraq together. 

Speaking later that year at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi thanked Iran for its “prompt” deliveries of arms and ammunition, “without even asking for immediate payments.” He reserved particular praise for Qasem Soleimani, calling him out by name as one of Iraq’s most important allies in the fight against the Islamic State.

By mid- 2015, things were not going exactly to plan for Soleimani back in Syria. Assad’s forces were plagued by defections; leaving Iranian- backed militias from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan among other countries, almost single handedly fighting Sunni rebels for control of Syria’s largest city, Aleppo. They needed the backing of a larger outside power, one with formidable air capabilities, and the natural broker for the deal was the top general on the scene- Qasem Soleimani. In June 2015, despite peremptory U.N sanctions prohibiting him from travel outside Iran, Soleimani flew to Moscow (reportedly on a commercial flight) for talks with the Russian defense minister and reportedly, President Putin himself. A few weeks later, Soleimani was back in Syria, spearheading a coordinated offensive against rebel and jihadi groups, under cover of a massively stepped up Russian air campaign. Putin’s intervention turned the tide decisively in Assad’s favor. By December 2016, Soleimani was pictured touring the remains of Aleppo’s historic heart, a few days after his militias, fighting alongside Syrian regulars, retook the city.   

Throughout Soleimani’s two decades at the top, he has had to navigate the forces unleashed by the U.S. and the British invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the associated rise of jihadist insurgents and later, the democratic protests of the Arab spring. Although his success has a lot to do with him capitalizing on his enemies failures, he was a remarkable tactician. More than that, his life story is that of the generation of revolutionaries who guide Iran today. “The Islamic Republic of Iran has a specific strategy in the region,” said Soleimani’s adviser Sadollah Zarei in one of his speeches. “We have definite principles, friends and capabilities. And we have a coherent understanding of our enemy and we know where we should stand in the next 20 years,” And, despite the sanctions and isolation, Soleimani’s single- minded approach is working. Even the U.S. admits that its strategy is blowing in the wind when it comes to countering Iranian influence in the region. Soleimani’s accomplishments are, in large part, due to his country’s long term approach toward foreign policy,” wrote Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. “While the U.S. tends to be spasmodic in its responses to international affairs, Iran is stunningly consistent in its objectives and actions.” Iran is just another nation seeking to preserve its territorial integrity and pursue its own economic and national security interests. Soleimani understood this better than anyone. 

Even beyond Iran’s intelligence apparatus, the IRGC under Soleimani’s command has grown into arguably the most powerful institution in Iranian politics today, and its intelligence activities are a key means of maintaining power and influence within the country. 

For Iranians Major General Qasem Soleimani widely represented a figure of national resilience in the face of four decades of U.S. pressure. He had become Iran’s most recognizable battlefield commander, ignoring calls to enter politics. For decades, working his way through Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Qasem Soleimani had crafted a reputation as a brilliant tactician and a devout believer in the Islamic Revolution. Known for inspiring fighters and brokering deals, he was the man who became one of the region’s most influential powerbrokers. He was a powerful, unparalleled enemy of Kurdish separatists, The Taliban, The Islamic State (IS), and ultimately, the United States and Israel. 

“When American forces left Iraq in 2011, that was seen as Soleimani’s victory as much as it was Iran’s victory,” said Afshon Ostovar, An Iran expert and Assistant professor at the Naval Postgraduate School.

When nation-states engage in the bloody calculus of killing, the boundary between whom they can target and whom they cannot become porous. On January 3rd 2020, the U.S launched a drone strike that executed the 62 year old Major General Soleimani, near Baghdad’s airport. The attack also killed Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, who was the Deputy Commander of Popular Mobilization Front, an Iran militia based Iraqi group founded to fight (IS). Their death’s stunned the international community, and raised fears of retaliation against the U.S. Since The Hague Convention of 1907, killing of a foreign government official outside wartime has generally been barred by the Law of Armed Conflict. When the Trump Administration first announced the killing of Soleimani, officials declared that he had posed an “imminent” threat to the Americans. Then, under questioning and criticism, the Administration changed its explanation, citing Soleimani’s role in an ongoing “series of attacks.” Eventually, President Trump abandoned the attempt at justification, tweeting that it didn’t “really matter,” because of Soleimani’s “horrible past.” The President’s dismissal of the question of legality betrayed a grim truth: a state’s decision to kill hinges less on definitive matters of law than on a set of highly malleable political, moral and visceral considerations. In the case of Qasem Soleimani , Trump’s order was the culmination of a grand strategic gamble to change the Middle East, and the opening of a potentially harrowing new front in the use of assassination. 

In the months before his assassination, Soleimani had publicly embraced the image of a wanted man. In October, Iran’s state media conducted a rare, and reverential, interview with him, in which he described a moment, in 2006, when he and Hassan Nasrallah were in Beirut and saw Israeli drones circling in the sky overhead, preparing for an airstrike. They escaped by hiding under a tree and fleeing, with Mughniyeh’s help, through a series of underground bunkers, allowing them to, as he put it, “deceive and outwit the enemy.” A few days after that interview, Iran’s government announced the arrest of three suspects in a supposed plot to kill Soleimani, which had involved digging a tunnel to the site of an upcoming memorial service for his late father and then detonating a bomb during the ceremony. After years of working in secret, Soleimani had all but abandoned efforts to disguise his whereabouts. The U.S defense official observed, “I think Soleimani was not even thinking we would take such an action.

The death of Qasem Soleimani is a sobering blow for the Iranian regime. Soleimani embodied everything the regime wanted to project about itself- influence, ruthlessness, agility, confidence. He kept Iran’s enemies awake at night, and his countrymen sleeping soundly in a world of real and imagined threats at home and abroad. For years the Tehran’s leadership talked fatalistically about Soleimani as a “living martyr,” but it surely did not anticipate President Donald Trump’s audacious targeted killing.

No one really knows what comes next, not even the protagonists themselves. But as the dust settles, the collateral damage from the strike on Soleimani will likely be greater than the Trump administration bargained for. Indeed, the strike is already producing a more unified regime with a tighter grip at home; an even more precarious American military position in Iran and Syria, with the Iraqi parliament now calling for U.S withdrawal; and the death of Iranian Nuclear deal and the whole notion of diplomacy with the great Satan.

“His work and path will not cease, and severe revenge awaits those criminals who have tainted their filthy hands with his blood and the blood of other martyrs,” Aytollah Ali Khamenei said, while the defense minister, Amir Hatami, promised a “crushing response”. The only question is the timing, with many anticipating that there will be careful deliberations among Iran’s leaders before any response. 

 All this will cost the United States far more than Soleimani’s killing cost Iran. In his death, Soleimani may exact his own final act of revenge against the United Stated. 

Martyr Qasem Soleimani may cost the United States far more than it gained by his killing.

“We are near you, where you can’t even imagine…. COME. We are ready. If you begin the war, we will end the war.” Martyr Qasem Soleimani.



CTCSENTINEL: Feature article: Iran’s power player: Qassim Suleimani’s unique regional strategy. By Ali Soufan.

American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research: No. 1. January 2011

Brigadier General Qassim Suleimani: A Biography. By Ali Alfoneh.

Journal of Strategic Security: Revolutionary Intelligence: The Expanding Intelligence Role of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Udit Banerjea.

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