General Qassem Soleimani: Head of Quds Force killed by US was instrumental in spreading Iranian influence in Middle East
The general, who was quite a powerful and popular military leader, lost his life in an airstrike outside Baghdad airport in the early hours of Friday. His death is a blow to Iran's military and intelligence establishments.
General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, was killed in an airstrike in the early hours of Friday, January 3, and the Pentagon confirmed that he was killed “at the direction” of President Donald Trump. Soleimani was being driven in a car from Baghdad airport along with local Iran-backed militias from the Popular Mobilisation Units when the fatal attack took place. The deputy head of the PMU and one of Suleimani’s close associates, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandes, was also killed.
Who was Soleimani?
The 57-year-old Soleimani had been leading the Quds Force, that handles the secret operations overseas, since 1998. Iran acknowledged the role of the Quds in the conflicts in Syria where it has advised forces of President Bashar al-Assad and the Shia Muslim militiamen fighting alonside them. In Iraq, the Quds supported the Shia-dominated paramilitary force that helped dealing with the Islamic State.
It was because of these conflicts that Gen Soleimani, once a reclusive figure, became a celebrity in Iran. Many considered the man to be the second most powerful person in Iran behind Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and even ahead of President Hassan Rouhani.
The Trump administration believed the Quds Force is “Iran’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting” US-designated terror groups across the Middle East, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, by providing funding, training and equipment. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even designated the Revolutionary Guards and the Quds Force as a foreign terrorist organization last April.
Survived several assassination attempts
Soleimani, who had survived several assassination attempts by western, Israeli and Arab agencies over two decades, played a key role in spreading Iranian influence in the Middle East that even the US and Tehran’s No.1 enemy in the region, Saudi Arabia, found difficult to tackle.
Soleimani kept a low profile even after becoming the head of the Quds Force in the late 1990s and strengthened Tehran’s ties with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Assad and Shia militia groups in Iraq.
Coming from a humble background (his family lived in Kerman Province in southeast Iran), Soleimani rose through the ranks and made the Quds Force more capable and made it an influential force beyond Iran’s border politically, financially and in terms of intelligence.
Having started to work to support his family when just 13 and a young man during the Iranian revolution in the late 1970s, Soleimani received just six weeks of tactical training before attending his first combat in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province, according to Foreign Policy magazine.
He emerged as a national hero from the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s for the missions he led in Iraq.