Qasem Soleimani, also spelled as Qassim Soleimani and Qassem Suleimani, was an important Iranian general. Analysts and journalists dubbed him as the most powerful military commander in Iran, as well as the second most powerful and influential figure in the country after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Role and Contributions of Qasem Soleimani in the Iranian Military and Government, and Middle East Geopolitics
He came from an impoverished family and worked as a construction worker to help repay the debt his father owed. During the 1979 Iranian Revolution, he joined the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or IRCG. He once again joined the battlefronts during the Iran-Iraq War that spanned from 1980 to 1988 in which he headed a military company composed of men he personally picked and trained.
Soleimani quickly gained recognition and rose to ranks. After all, while still in his 20s, he played a crucial role in retaking lands once occupied by Iraq and became the commander of the 41st Sarallah Division. Aside from participating in major operations against Iraqi forces, he also organized and spearheaded irregular warfare missions within Iraq itself.
He was appointed as the commander of the Quds Force of IRCG somewhere between September 1997 and March 1998. The Quds Force is a unit specializing in unconventional warfare, extraterritorial military, clandestine operations, and military intelligence. The unit supported non-state actors in several countries such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Yemeni Houthis, as well as Shia militias in Iraq, Shia, and Afghanistan.
Note that one of the reasons why Qasem Soleimani was regarded as a powerful military commander centered on his role as a diplomat with valuable connections and influence outside Iran. For example, after the September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001, he sent out Iranian representatives to meet Ryan Crocker, a senior U.S. State Department official, to develop a plan to neutralize the Taliban. The collaboration was deemed instrumental in defining bombing targets in Afghanistan and capturing key operatives of Al-Qaeda.
The American-Iranian relations went sour when then U.S. President George W. Bush declared Iran as part of the Axis of Evil during his 2002 State of the Union Address. Nonetheless, Soleimani played a role in expanding and maintaining the Iranian influence in the Middle East.
As another example, he helped in materializing a ceasefire agreement between the Iraqi Army and Mahdi Army in March 2008. As a supporter of the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, he personally oversaw the Iranian intervention in the Syrian Civil War beginning in the latter half of 2012. He further played a central role in the Iraqi Civil War of 2014-2017 that involved a war against the Islamic State or ISIS.
Nonetheless, Soleimani has been credited for the military strategy that enabled Bashar al-Assad to neutralize rebel forces and recapture several towns and cities. In addition, he was also revered for the victory of Iraq against ISIS because of how he provided critical counsel, strategies, and essential military assistance to the Iraqi forces. Note that some groups and communities in Syria and Iraq revered him as a hero.
Explaining the Reason Why the United States Under the Trump Administration Assassinated Soleimani
On 3 January 2020, a targeted U.S. drone strike in Baghdad, Iraq authorized by President Donald J. Trump killed Qasem Soleimani. The attack also killed members of the Popular Mobilization Forces and its deputy head, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. The incident worsened further the escalating longstanding tension between Iran and the U.S.
The U.S. Department of Defense released a statement explaining that the strike was carried out “at the direction of the President” and that the top Iranian general had been planning further attacks on American diplomats and military personnel. It also added that he was responsible for the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad that the protesters pressed as a response to the U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria on 29 December 2019.
President Trump appeared before the international press assembled in the Whitehouse and described Soleimani as a “sick monster” and “the number one terrorist anywhere in the world.” He added further that the U.S. took action to stop a war and not to start one. He said, “Soleimani made the death of innocent people his sick passion, contributing to terror plots as far away as New Delhi and London. His reign of terror is over.”
Note that the Soleimani had received condemnations and criticisms from different fronts. Resolution 1747 of the United Nations Security Council released in March 2007 included him on the list of Iranians targeted with economic sanctions. The U.S. sanctioned him along with Bashar al-Assad and other senior Syrian officials on 18 May 2011 due to the outcomes of the Syrian Civil War.
The Official Journal of the European Union and the Swiss government also issued separate sanctions on June and September 2011 respectively on the grounds of providing equipment and support to help the Syrian government suppress protests in Syria. The U.S. has labeled him as a known terrorist in the same year.
A report by The Atlantic noted that the death of Qasem Soleimani sparked elation among several groups in the Middle East. It said that the man was hated by Sunni Muslims who suffered under the Syrian and Iraqi militias he supported. Anti-government protesters in Lebanon and Iraq condemned him for enabling repressive governments by supporting their proxy militias. Note that The Atlantic article when as far as to mention in its headline that the slain commander of the Quds Force haunted the Arab world.
Despite the disapprovals, the top Iranian military general remains as a revered persona and hero to the supporters of the Iranian Supreme Leader, as well as the various factions across the Middle East that benefitted from his military strategies, assistance, and interventions. Photo credit: Ali Khamenei/Adapted/CC International 4.0
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Ali, A. 2011. “Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani: A Biography.” Middle Eastern Outlooks. 1:2. Available via PDF
- Filkins, Dexter. 2013, September 23. “The Shadow Commander.” The New Yorker. Available online
- Ghattas, Kim. 2020, January 3. “Qassem Soleimani Haunted the Arab World.” The Atlantic. Available online
- Graham, C., Ensor, J., Sabur, R., and Allen, N. 2020, January 3. “Donald Trump Says Killing of Qassim Soleimani was to “Stop the War” with Iran.” The Telegraph. Available online
- United States Department of Defense. 2020, January 2. “Statement by the Department of Defense.” S. Department of Defense Newsroom. Available online