Qassem Soleimani: A general who became Iran’s icon by targeting US
TEHRAN: For Iranians whose icons since the Islamic Revolution have been stern-faced clergy, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani widely represented a figure of national resilience in the face of four decades of U.S. pressure.
For the US and Israel, he was a shadowy figure in command of Iran’s proxy forces, responsible for fighters in Syria backing President Bashar Assad and for the deaths of American troops in Iraq.
Solemani survived the horror of Iran’s long war in the 1980s with Iraq to take control of the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force, responsible for the Islamic Republic’s foreign campaigns.
Relatively unknown in Iran until the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Soleimani’s popularity and mystique grew out American officials calling for his killing.
By the time it came a decade and a half later, Soleimani had become Iran’s most recognizable battlefield commander, ignoring calls to enter politics but becoming as powerful, if not more, than its civilian leadership.
“The warfront is mankind’s lost paradise,” Soleimani recounted in a 2009 interview. “One type of paradise that is portrayed for mankind is streams, beautiful nymphs and greeneries. But there is another kind of paradise. … The warfront was the lost paradise of the human beings, indeed.”
A US airstrike killed Soleimani, 62, and others as they travelled from Baghdad’s international airport early Friday morning. The Pentagon said President Donald Trump ordered the U.S. military to take “decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing” a man once referred to by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a “living martyr of the revolution.”
Soleimani’s luck ran out after being rumored dead several times in his life. Those incidents included a 2006 airplane crash that killed other military officials in northwestern Iran and a 2012 bombing in Damascus that killed top aides of Assad. More recently, rumours circulated in November 2015 that Soleimani was killed or seriously wounded leading forces loyal to Assad as they fought around Syria’s Aleppo.
Iranian officials quickly vowed to take revenge amid months of tensions between Iran and the U.S. following Trump pulling out of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. While Soleimani was the Guard’s most prominent general, many others in its ranks have experience in waging the asymmetrical, proxy attacks for which Iran has become known.
“Trump through his gamble has dragged the U.S. into the most dangerous situation in the region,” Hessameddin Ashena, an adviser to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, wrote on the social media app Telegram. “Whoever put his foot beyond the red line should be ready to face its consequences.”
Born March 11, 1957, Soleimani was said in his homeland to have grown up near the mountainous and the historic Iranian town of Rabor, famous for its forests, its apricot, walnut and peach harvests and its brave soldiers. The U.S. State Department has said he was born in the Iranian religious capital of Qom.
Little is known about his childhood, though Iranian accounts suggest Soleimani’s father was a peasant who received a piece of land under the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, but later became encumbered by debts.