WHO REALLY WAS MAJOR GENERAL QASSEM SOLEIMANI?
By Vincent Lyn
Qassem Soleimani (11 March 1957–3 January 2020), was an Iranian Major General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and, from 1998 until his recent death earlier in 2020, commander of its Quds Forces, a division primarily responsible for extraterritorial and clandestine operations.
Soleimani began his military career at the start of the Iran-Iraq War during the 1980s. He was later involved in extraterritorial operations, providing military assistance to Hezbollah in Lebanon In 2012, Soleimani helped bolster the government of Bashar al-ASssad, a key Iranian ally, during Iran’s operations during the Syrian Crisis. and helped to plan the Russian military intervention in Syria. Soleimani oversaw the Kurdish and Shia militia forces in Iraq, and assisted the Iraqi forces that advanced against ISIL in 2014–2015. Soleimani was one of the first to support Kurdish Forces, providing them with arms. He maintained a low profile during most of his career.
Soleimani was widely popular among Iranians, where his supporters viewed him as a “selfless hero fighting Iran’s enemies.” Solemaini was personally sanctioned by the United Nations and the European Union, and was designated as a terrorist by the United States.
Soleimani joined the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) in 1979 following the Iranian Revolution which saw the Shah fall and Ayatollah Khomeini take power. Reportedly, his training was minimal, but he advanced rapidly. Early in his career as a guardsman, he was stationed in northwestern Iran, and participated in the suppression of a Kurdish separatist uprising in West Azerbijan Province.
On 22 September 1980, when Saddam Hussein launched an invasion of Iran, setting off the Iran-Iraq war (1980–1988), Soleimani joined the battlefield serving as the leader of a military company. He quickly earned a reputation for bravery, and rose through the ranks because of his role in successful operations to retake the lands Iraq had occupied, and eventually became the commander of the 41st Tharallah Division while still in his 20s.
In a 1990 interview, he mentioned Operation Faith ol-Mobin as “the best” operation he participated in and “very memorable”, due to its difficulties yet positive outcome. He was also engaged in leading and organizing missions deep inside Iraq by the Ramadan Headquarters. It was at this point that Soleimani established relations with Kurdish Iraqi leaders and the Shia Badr Organization both opposed to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. After the war, during the 1990s, he was an IRGC commander in Kerman Province. In this region, which is relatively close to Afghanistan, Afghan-grown opium travels to Turkey and on to Europe. Soleimani’s military experience helped him earn a reputation as a successful fighter against drug trafficking.
During the 1999 student revolt in Tehran, Soleimani was one of the IRGC officers who signed a letter to President Mohammad Khatami. The letter stated that if Khatami did not crush the student rebellion, the military would and it might also launch a coup against Khatami.
Following the September 11 attacks in 2001, senior U.S. State Department official Ryan Crocker flew to Geneva to meet with Iranian diplomats who were under the direction of Soleimani with the purpose of collaborating to destroy the Taliban. This collaboration was instrumental in defining the targets of bombing operations in Afghanistan and in capturing key Al Qaeda Operatives , but abruptly ended in January 2002, when President George W. Bush named Iran as part of the “Axis if Evil” in his State of the Union address.
Soleimani strengthened the relationship between Quds Force and Hezbollah upon his appointment, and supported the latter by sending in operatives to retake southern Lebanon In an interview aired in October 2019, he said he was in Lebanon during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War to oversee the conflict.
On 24 January 2011, Soleimani was promoted to Major General by Supreme Ali Khamenei. Leader Khamenei was described as having a close relationship with him, calling Soleimani a “living martyr” and helping him financially.
Soleimani was described by an ex-CIA operative as “the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today” and the principal military strategist and tactician in Iran’s effort to combat Western influence and promote the expansion of Shite and Iranian influence throughout the Middle East. In Iraq as the commander of the Quds Force, he was believed to have strongly influenced the organization of the Iraqi government, notably supporting the election of previous Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki.
Soleimani was much credited in Syria for the strategy that assisted President Bashar al-Assad in finally repulsing rebel forces and recapturing key cities and towns He was involved in the training of government-allied militias and the coordination of decisive military offensives.In 2015, Soleimani began gathering support from various sources to combat the newly resurgent ISIL and rebel groups which had both successfully taken large swaths of territory from Assad’s forces. He was reportedly the main architect of the joint intervention involving Russia as a new partner with Assad and Hezbollah.
According to Reuters, at a meeting in Moscow in July, Soleimani unfurled a map of Syria to explain to his Russian hosts how a series of defeats for President Bashar al-Assad could be turned into victory — with Russia’s help. Qassem Soleimani’s visit to Moscow was the first step in planning for a Russian military intervention that has reshaped the Syrian war and forged a new Iran-Russia Allinace in support of the Syrian (and Iraqi) governments. Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei also sent a senior envoy to Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin. “Putin reportedly told [a senior Iranian envoy] ‘Okay we will intervene. Send Qassem Soleimani.’” General Soleimani went to explain the map of the theatre and coordinate the strategic escalation of military forces in Syria.
Soleimani had a decisive impact on the theater of operations, which led to a strong advance in southern Aleppo with the government and allied forces re-capturing two military bases and dozens of towns and villages in a matter of weeks. The Syrian army and its allies had gained ground in southern areas of Aleppo Governorate, capturing numerous rebel strongholds. Soleimani was reported to have personally led the drive deep into the southern Aleppo countryside where many towns and villages fell into government hands. He reportedly commanded the Syrian Arab Army’s 4th Mechanized Division, Hezbollah, Harakat Al-Nujaba (Iraqi), Kata’ib Hezbollah (Iraqi), Liwaa Abu Fadl Al-Abbas (Iraqi), and Firqa Fatayyemoun (Afghan/Iranian volunteers).
In late March 2017, Soleimani was seen in the northern Hama Governorate countryside in Syria, reportedly aiding Major General Suheil al-Hassan to repel a major rebel offensive.Soleimani played a key role in Iran’s fight against ISIL in Iraq. He is described as the “linchpin” bringing together Kurdish and Shia forces to fight ISIS, overseeing joint operations conducted by the two groups.
In 2014, Qasem Soleimani was in the Iraqi city of Amirli to work with Iraqi forces to push back ISIL militants. A senior Iraqi official told the BBC that when the city of Mosul fell, the rapid reaction of Iran, rather than American bombing, was what prevented a more widespread collapse Qassem Soleimani also seems to have been instrumental in planning the operation to relieve Amirli in Saladin Governorate, where ISIL had laid siege to an important city. In fact, the Quds force operatives under Soleimani’s command seem to have been deeply involved with not only the Iraqi army and Shi’ite militias but also the Kurdish in the Battle of Amirli not only providing liaisons for intelligence-sharing but also the supply of arms and munitions in addition to “providing expertise.
He was present on the battlefield in many battles. Some Shia militia commanders described Soleimani as “fearless” — one pointing out that the Iranian general never wears a flak jacket, even on the front lines
In November 2014, Shi’ite and Kurdish forces under Soleimani’s command pushed ISIL out of Iraqi villages of Jalawla and Saadia in the Diyala Governorate. Soleimani played an integral role in the organisation and planning of the crucial operation to retake the city of Tokrit in Iraq from ISIL. The city of Tikrit rests on the left bank of the Tigris river and is the largest and most important city between Baghdad and Mosul, giving it a high strategic value. The city fell to ISIL during 2014 when ISIL made immense gains in northern and central Iraq. After its capture, ISIL’s massacre of Camp Speicher led to 1,700 deaths of Iraqi Army cadets and soldiers. After months of careful preparation and intelligence gathering an offensive to encircle and capture Tikrit was launched in early March 2015.
In 2016, photos published by a Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) source showed Soleimani attending a meeting of PMF commanders in Iraq to discuss the Battle of Fallujah. CIA chief Mike Pompeo said that he sent Soleimani and other Iranian leaders a letter holding them responsible for any attacks on U.S. interests by forces under their control. According to a senior aide for Iran’s supreme leader, Soleimani ignored the letter when it was handed over to him during the Abu Kamal offensive against ISIL, saying “I will not take your letter nor read it and I have nothing to say to these people.”
In 1999, Soleimani, along with other senior IRGC commanders, signed a letter to then-President Mohammad Khatami regarding the student protests in july. They wrote “Dear Mr. Khatami, how long do we have to shed tears, sorrow over the events, practice democracy by chaos and insults, and have revolutionary patience at the expense of sabotaging the system? Dear president, if you don’t make a revolutionary decision and act according to your Islamic and national missions, tomorrow will be so late and irrecoverable that cannot be even imagined.
Iranian media reported in 2012 that he might be replaced as the commander of Quds Force in order to allow him to run in the 2013 presidential election. He reportedly refused to be nominated for the election. in 2015 a campaign started among conservative bloggers for Soleimani to stand for 2017 presidential election. In 2016, he was speculated as a possible candidate, however in a statement published on 15 September 2016, he called speculations about his candidacy as “divisive reports by the enemies” and said he will “always remain a simple soldier serving Iran and the Islamic Revolution”. In the summer of 2018, Soleimani and Tehran exchanged public remarks related to Red Sea shipping with American President Donald Trump which heightened tensions between the two countries and their allies. He was always described as having a very calm nature and never raising his voice. It is no doubt that he was revered by his followers and throughout the Shia community and beyond.
Regarding the decision to kill Soleimani, the U.S. Defense Department said the strike was carried out “at the direction of the President” and asserted that Soleimani had been planning further attacks on American Diplomats and military personnel and had approved the attacks on the American embassy in Baghdad in response to U.S. air strikes on Iraq and Syria in December 2019 and that the strike was meant to deter future attacks. The strike was not approved by the U.S. Congress or consented to by the Iraqi government, leading to controversy regarding the legality of killing an Iranian military leader over Iraqi airspace.
According to Agnes Callmard, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial killing, “the killings of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis violates international human rights law”. She said the U.S. requires to confirm “the individual targeted constituted an imminent threat to others.” Also, Callamard described the killing of other individuals alongside Soleimani Unlawful and other scholars argue, it violates international law. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Medea Benjamin (the founder of anti-war advocacy group CodePink) and Hillary Mann Leverett (a political risk consultant and former director of Iran affairs at the White House’s National Security Council) designated the assassination of Soleimani “flatly illegal”.
On 4 January, a funeral procession for Soleimani was held in Baghdad with tens of thousands of mourners in attendance, waving Iraqi and militia flags[ and chanting “death to America, death to Israel”. Tens of thousands of mourners attended the funeral procession in the streets with green, white, and red flags — traditionally used by Shiites to symbolize the blood of people killed unjustly and call for avenging their deaths — and beating their chests.
On 6 January, the body of Soleimani and other casualties arrived at the Iranian capital Tehran. Huge crowds, millions, packed the streets. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who had a close relationship with Soleimani, led the traditional Islamic prayer for the dead, weeping at one point in front of the flag-draped coffins. Ali Khamenei mourned openly near the coffin while the general’s successor swore revenge. Semail Ghaani, who was named commander of the Quds forces after Soleimani’s killing, said: “God the Almighty has promised to get his revenge, and God is the main avenger.” Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif asked if Trump had ever seen “such a sea of humanity.”
Soleimani will always and forever be considered a hero and martyr in Iran. He was the first man to be honored with a multi-city funeral in the history of Iran and his funeral procession was said to be the second largest after that of Ruhollal Khoemeni.
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