On 2 January 2020, the US Department of Defense announced that at "the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization." Soleimani was killed in a US strike on early Friday morning 03 January 2020 (Baghdad time) that targeted the vehicle he was in on an access road by Baghdad International Airport. Also killed in the airstrike was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), along with five other individuals. Reports indicated that a US drone carried out the attack.
The Revolutionary Guard's Tasnim news agency released a photo of a bloody hand wearing a ring with an large oval red stone, which Suleimani was often photographed wearing. The ring was how his body was identified.
Soleimani always dreamed of martyrdom, and was hailed as a martyr and a hero inside Iran. The Supreme Leader, the commander of Iran’s armed forces, once called him “the living martyr of revolution”. For the Iranian revolutionaries, martyrdom is service. As the Supreme Leader once said about another fallen soldier, in the end, Soleimani “drank the sweet syrup of martyrdom”. Soleimani's funeral was the largest since that of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, in 1989.
The US assassination of Soleimani created a martyr and unified Iran’s fractious political establishment. The killing of Soleimani triggered one of the biggest public outpourings of grief ever seen in the country. Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, in an address to Iranian mourners in Tehran described Soleimani as "the martyr of Jerusalem". Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani added that “the unique role of martyr Soleimani during the years of fighting with the elements of ISIL in Iraq, as well as the many hardships he suffered in this regard, will not be forgotten.” Shiism has flourished for over a millennia on worship of martyred imams. Ali, the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law - regarded by Shias as his legitimate successor - was slain in 661 by a rival in the city of Najaf. And in the year AD680 Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, was slain in battle with Sunni forces in the Shia holy city of Karbala. Shias ritually mourn their martyrs throughout the year.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s official website posted an illustration showing slain IRGC-Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in an embrace with Imam Hussain. In the photo, Imam Hussain’s face is not shown as he is illustrated in an embrace with Soleimani. Imam Hussain ibn Ali is one of the grandsons of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad.
Narges Bajoghli, who wrote the book, “Iran Reframed: Anxieties of Power in the Islamic Republic”, is an assistant professor of Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “What the United States has achieved with this is creating -- internally within Iran and among Shia groups in Iraq and Lebanon -- a martyr out of Soleimani. He’s going to become an even larger figure in death than he was in life.... “There is a reason why Soleimani was not assassinated in the past by U.S. administration when they had the ability to do so … Part of that is the repercussions that would come with such an assassination on U.S. forces and troops and personnel within the region.”
Commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Hossein Salami at the funeral of Major General Haj Qassem Suleimani stated: "He never feared the enemy; his heart was calm for 41 years. He did wear the dignity of a Muslim, his personality beyond the borders of the Islamic world made him the personality of today's humanity. His praise and admiration are referred to as a pattern of resistance and protection for the oppressed. Salamis said: "How humble those who want to quench the sun with their pebbles, Qasim Suleimani is the Sun of Islam. Today he has opened a path that will surely lead to the ultimate victory of Islam and the defeat of the arrogant people."
The vice-president of the Islamic Propaganda Coordination Council announced the official statistics of at least 7 million people attending farewell and funeral with the body of Sardar Haj Qasim Soleimani in Tehran. However, counter-revolutionary media reported the funeral of Sardar Suleimani and other martyrs from 90,000 to 200,000.
The Kerman Resistance Front Martyrs' Funeral Service in Kerman announced that millions of people were present at the funeral of the martyred commanders, postponing the burial program to prevent further injury to participants. Due to heavy crowding at the funeral of martyr Sepahbod Soleimani in Kerman, so far, the death toll reached 63. The number of corpses at Shafa Hospital is 37, including 23 women, 8 men and the rest are children from all over Iran. There are 15 corpses in Bahonar Hospital, 7 corpses in Necsa's Kalahdouz Hospital (Fatima Al-Zahra) and 1 in the Social Security Hospital. According to the report, all of the deceased died due to suffocation due to congestion and population pressure, and the identities of some of the bodies were unclear. The injured were taken to medical centers and monitored. Sardar Sharif, a spokesman for the Revolutionary Guards on the sidelines of the funeral of martyr Sardar Suleimani, said that the funeral program will be held at a different date in order to preserve the honor and pride of the martyrs. He thanked the people of Kerman province and the participants of the ceremony on the sidelines of the event. He said: "The Iranian people have done their duty today and the vast ocean and the millions of people attending the funeral have confirmed this".
The merits of the commander of the Al-Quds special forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC, elite units of the Iranian armed forces), General Kassem Suleimani, in the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group (IG, banned in the Russian Federation) in Syria undeniable. This was announced at the Russian Ministry of Defense. The killing by the US side of Suleimani will lead to a sharp escalation of the military-political situation in the Middle East and will negatively affect the entire system of international security, the department noted. "The short-sighted steps of the United States, expressed in the assassination of General Suleymani, lead to a sharp escalation of the military-political situation in the Middle East region and serious negative consequences for the entire international security system," the statement said.
Speaking on 03 January 2020 in Prague, the director of Radio Farda, RFE/RL's Persian Service, Mehdi Parpanchi, called Qasem Soleimani "irreplaceable," in part because of his close connections with Iranian military proxies throughout the Middle East. “Soleimani was Iran’s point man across the Middle East, not just in terms of military operations but implementing Tehran’s political strategy,” said Scott Lucas, an Iran expert at Birmingham University in Britain and editor of the EA World View website.
Iran is likely to respond forcefully to the killing of Soleimani, who had survived numerous assassination attempts against him over the past two decades. “Iran has no choice but to strike back and retaliate against the assassination of Soleimani,” said Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
The Supreme Leader took part in a meeting of Iran's National Security Council for the first time since becoming Supreme Leader. Khamenei appointed Soleimani's deputy, Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani, to replace him as head of the country's Quds Forces. "The Revolutionary Guards, the wise Iranian nation and the resistance front across the geographical expanse of the Muslim nation will avenge the blood of this martyr (Soleimani)," warned IRGC spokesman Ramezan Sharif. "The joy of the Zionists and Americans will in no time turn into mourning." “Power is highly institutionalized in the Quds Force,” said Alfoneh at The Arab Gulf States Institute. “His successor may not possess Soleimani’s charisma but will exert influence in Iran and abroad thanks to the power of the Quds Force.”
Qasem Soleimani (a.k.a. Qassem Soleimani, aka Qasim Soleimany, aka Kazem Soleimani), the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), was born 11 March 1957. He had been nicknamed by Western media sources as the Shadow Commander because of his clandestine military operations, his behind-the-scenes political achievements in Iraq, and his inconspicuous demeanor.
Soleimani came from a humble background, born into a poor family in southeastern Iran's Kerman Province. He started working as a 13-year-old to help support his family, spending his free time lifting weights and attending sermons by Khamenei. As a young man during the Iranian revolution in 1979, Soleimani began his ascent through the Iranian military, reportedly receiving just six weeks of tactical training before seeing combat for the first time in Iran's West Azerbaijan province. Soleimani emerged from the Iran-Iraq war a national hero for the missions he led across Iraq's border.
Since at least 2003, Brigadier General Qasem Soleimani was the point man directing the formulation and implementation of the IRIG's Iraq policy, with authority second only to Supreme Leader Khamenei. Through his IRGC-QF officers and Iraqi proxies in Iraq, notably Iranian Ambassador and IRGC-QF associate Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, Soleimani employed the full range of diplomatic, security, intelligence, and economic tools to influence Iraqi allies and detractors in order to shape a more pro-Iran regime in Baghdad and the provinces.
US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad noted in 2007 that there was no doubt that the Quds Force was killing Americans in Iraq and undermining the country's stability. If Iran continued to escalate by causing more coalition deaths through explosively formed projectiles (EFPs), the U.S. would escalate as well.
Many Iraqi opposition figures had relationships with Quds Force commander Qassem Suelimani during the Saddam regime. In 2007 Iraqi President Jalal Talabani told the US Ambassador in a meeting on 21 January 2007 that IRGC Quds Force Commander Qassem Suleimani visited him in Syria to pass a message for the Ambassador. Suleimani told Talabani the U.S. and Iran have common interests in Iraq and are both working for success and security and against the terrorists; he said "I swear on the grave of Khomeini I haven't authorized a bullet against the U.S." He admitted to having hundreds of agents in Iraq at his disposal but denied ever using them against U.S. forces. He told Talabani he is ready to cooperate directly or indirectly through the Iraqi authorities. He said he wanted the new Iraq strategy to be successful. He admitted that Iranians captured in Erbil were members of Pastaran but denied that they were Quds Force. He also admitted that they were targeting the British. Talabani admonished him to stop attacking the Brits, and Suleimani agreed to return to Iran to discuss it with Khamenei. Suleimani told Talabani that Iran is ready to have a dialogue with the U.S. on Iraq security. He said they could assist with Baghdad security, security in the south, and the militias. He told Talabani they would try to stop the Jaysh al-Mahdi militia, and support Prime Minister Maliki against them.
Soleimani enjoyed long-standing close ties with several prominent GOI officials, including President Talabani, Vice-President Adel Abdal-Mahdi (ISCI), Prime Minister Maliki (Da'wa), former PM Jaafari, and Speaker Samarra'i. Khamenei, President Ahmadinejad, Speaker Larijani, and former president Rafsanjani consulted regularly with visiting GOI officials as part of the IRIG's broader "strategic" council of advisers seeking to influence the GOI. Following the GOI's crackdown on Iranian-supported Sadrist militias in Basrah during the "Charge of the Knights" operation in March 2008, Iran recalibrated its operations in Iraq to encompass more "soft power" (economic, religious, educational) support and investment as part of a broader "hearts and minds" campaign.
As IRGC-QF Commander, Qasem Soleimani oversaw the IRGC-QF officers who were involved in the 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States Adel Al-Jubeir, while he was in the United States and to carry out follow-on attacks against other countries’ interests inside the United States and in another country.
Soleimani was previously designated by the Treasury Department under E.O. 13382 based on his relationship to the IRGC. He was also designated in May 2011 pursuant to E.O. 13572, which targets human rights abuses in Syria, for his role as the Commander of the IRGC-QF, the primary conduit for Iran's support to the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate (GID).
Since the beginning of the uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, Iran remained a steady backer of Damascus through funding, manpower and weaponry. If Syria were to fall, so would Hizb Allah in Lebanon. A clear sign of Iran's commitment was the dispatch to Syria of Qods Force head Qassem Soleimani, to help Damascus in its efforts to subdue the uprising against it.
The European Union expanded its financial and travel sanctions against Syria in June 2011, and moved to condemn its brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters. Among others, the new sanctions targeted three commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guard the EU accused of supporting Mr. Assad's three-month effort to quell dissent in the Arab nation. The Iranians were identified as Major General Qasem Soleimani and Brigadier Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari of the Revolutionary Guard, as well as the guard's deputy commander for intelligence, Hossein Taeb.
In January 2012 senior US officials said Iran was supplying weapons to aid Syria's crackdown in an initiative spearheaded by the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps' elite Quds force. The officials cited Quds chief Ghassem Soleimani's recent visit to Damascus as a concrete example of direct, high-level cooperation between Iran and Syria.
In early June 2014, Sunni militants led by fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant steamrolled through parts of northern Iraq, seizing Mosul, Tikrit and other cities. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, frustrated with leaders of the demoralized Iraqi military, reportedly turned to a top Iranian commander for some advice. Maliki met 15 June 2014 in Baghdad with the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, Gen. Ghasem Soleimani. Kurdish sources said the general was drafting a coordination strategy for the Iraqi military. The next day, the prime minister dismissed four of Iraq’s military leaders for failing to perform their “national duty”.
Soleimani masterminded the strategy that contained the expansion of the Islamic State in Iraq. Soleimani personally led the battle to lift the siege of Amerli – and his forces’ way was paved by US airstrikes. "General Soleimani allowed himself to be photographed last September on the battlefields of Amerli, clearly sending a message to the West that Tehran was very present," Newsweek later wrote.
Iran, which borders the Iraqi Kurdistan region, was quick to exploit any Iraqi Kurdish disappointment with Ankara. Political columnist Asli Aydintasbas of Turkish newspaper Milliyet noted in September 2014 that "Iran was there, out there offering help. 'Whatever you guys need,' they were at the battlefield. And not just that. That Qasem Soleimani, head of Quds force, was out in the field fighting with the Kurds and being quite visible on the scene means something. This episode marks a comeback for Iran."
Iran had saved the Iraqi government from the threat of collapse by the ISIL Takfiri group, a top commander of Iraq’s volunteer forces said 06 January 2015. "If it were not for the cooperation of the Islamic Republic of Iran and [Major] General [Qasem] Soleimani [a commander of Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC)], we would not today have a government headed by [Iraqi Prime Minister] Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad," Secretary General of Badr Organization Hadi al-Ameri said in the Iranian capital, Tehran.
Commander of the IRGC Quds Force Major General Qassem Soleimani met with Hezbollah leaders in Beirut on 30 January 2015 following an Israeli attack on Hezbollah fighters in Syria’s Quneitra region. General Soleimani held talks in Beirut with Hezbollah Secretary General Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah and other officials from the Lebanese resistance movement 48 hours after the attack. Senior IRGC commander Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi was among those killed in the strike.
The Iranian Islamic Revolution Guards Corps took part in the offensive led by Quds Force Commander General Qassem Soleimani. In an unprecedented move, the Iraqi government and parliament officially requested General Soleimani to oversee the operation by supervising and advising Iraqi forces. Effectively, this means the Iranian general will be commanding the joint Iraqi-Iranian offensive on Tikrit. The Iranian commander, who enjoys a great deal of influence among Shia militias in Iraq, arrived in the vicinity of Tikrit on 28 February 2015 and was received by a large crowd of Iraqi army leaders, soldiers, and Iraqi civilians hailing his presence.
CIA Director John Brennan said 22 March 2015 that Soleimani – and Tehran, at large – could destabilize Iraq even further once the Islamic State is defeated. Brennan called General Soleimani “very aggressive and active,” and expressed fears that he and the Iranian government could forge a close ties with Iraq, only to turn against Sunni and Kurdish Iraqis. "We’re not letting them play that role," Brennan said. "I think they’re working with the Iraqis to play that role. We’re working with the Iraqis, as well." Going further, Brennan said he "wouldn’t consider Iran an ally right now inside Iraq."
Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq in the George W. Bush administration, told VAO in February 2016 that "Anyone who thought that the Iran nuclear deal was going to herald a new era of a gentler, kinder Iran in the region is nuts," he said. "What you’re seeing now in Iraq is the old Iranian playbook that they began to write in the early ’80s."
Crocker indicated that there's a need to foil an expanded Iranian role in Iraq. "Qassem Suleimani, the Iranian Quds Force commander, is seeking to achieve what Iran could not in the 1980s: to gain a definitive victory over Iraq by fragmenting it,” he said. Crocker warned against repeating an American policy mistake from the past: "As the United States withdrew from Iraq, it ceded the battlefield to Iran and its proxies in the center and south, and to ISIS in the west.”
Soleimani was rumored to be dead on several occasions, including in a 2006 aircraft crash that killed other military officials in northwestern Iran and following a 2012 bombing in Damascus that killed top aides of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In November 2015, rumours circulated that Soleimani was killed or seriously wounded leading forces loyal to Assad as they fought around Syria's Aleppo. There have been repeated air attacks on Quds bases in Syria and in August Israel accused the force of planning "killer drone attacks" and said its air raid showed Tehran that its forces were vulnerable anywhere. Foreign Minister Israel Katz said at the time that Israel was working to "uproot" Soleimani, according to Israeli media. And in October 2019, Tehran said it had foiled a plot by Israeli and Arab agencies to kill Soleimani.
Soleimani acquired celebrity status at home and abroad as leader of the foreign arm of the Revolutionary Guards and for his key role in fighting in Syria and Iraq. He was instrumental in the spread of Iranian influence in the Middle East, which the United States and Tehran's regional foes Saudi Arabia and Israel have struggled to keep in check.
Soleimani was the most popular political figure in Iran, according to several local and external polls. The latest, a poll commissioned by the Center of International and Security Studies at Maryland University, found that Soleimani had increased his influence, with eight in 10 respondents saying they view him favorably.
Soleimani, 62, was killed 02 February 2020 after the vehicle he and a senior Iraqi Shia militia leader were riding in was struck by a missile launched by a US Reaper Drone at the Baghdad International Airport. Soleimani’s assassination was the culmination of a series of incidents going back to December 27, when a US military base in Kirkuk, Iraq was hit by rocket fire, killing a US civilian contractor and injuring several US troops. No group has claimed responsibility for that attack, but the US blamed Kata’ib Hezbollah and Iran. The US responded by attacking five Kata’ib Hezbollah facilities across Iraq and Syria, killing 25 fighters and injuring dozens more. On New Year’s Eve, angry protesters attempted to storm the US Embassy in Baghdad. The Pentagon then warned that it would carry out further preemptive “defensive strikes” against forces targeting US interests. After Soleimani’s death, US President Trump and the State Department accused the Quds Force commander of harbouring “imminent” plans to attack Americans. Soleimani’s Quds Force was involved in multiple anti-terrorist operations in the region, targeting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Syria, and participating in Syrian and Iraqi operations to defeat Daesh (ISIS).
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