1957-03-11 to 2020-01-03
Iran, IraqQasem Soleimani (11 March 1957 – 3 January 2020) was an Iranian Major General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and, from 1998 until his death in 2020, commander of its Quds Force, a division primarily responsible for extraterritorial military and clandestine operations. In his later years, he was considered the second most powerful person in Iran behind Ayatollah Khamenei, as well as being his right-hand man.
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 Azerbaijan Province.
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".
In 2007, the U.S. included him in a "Designation of Iranian Entities and Individuals for Proliferation Activities and Support for Terrorism", which forbade U.S. citizens from doing business with him.
In 2009, The Economist stated based on a leaked report that Christopher R. Hill and General Raymond T. Odierno (America's two most senior officials in Baghdad at the time) met with Soleimani in the office of Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, but withdrew the story after Hill and Odierno denied the occurrence of the meeting.
On 24 June 2011, the Official Journal of the European Union said the three Iranian Revolutionary Guard members now subject to sanctions had been "providing equipment and support to help the Syrian government suppress protests in Syria".
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.
In a visit to the Lebanese capital Beirut on 29 January 2015, Soleimani laid wreaths at the graves of the slain Hezbollah members, including Jihad Mughniyah, which strengthened suspicions about a collaboration between Hezbollah and the Quds Force.
In early February 2016, backed by Russian and Syrian air force airstrikes, the 4th Mechanized Division – in close coordination with Hezbollah, the National Defense Forces (NDF), Kata'eb Hezbollah, and Harakat Al-Nujaba – launched an offensive in Aleppo Governorate's northern countryside, which eventually broke the three-year siege of Nubl and Al-Zahraa and cut off the rebels' main supply route from Turkey. According to a senior, non-Syrian security source close to Damascus, Iranian fighters played a crucial role in the conflict. "Qassem Soleimani is there in the same area", he said. In December 2016, new photos emerged of Soleimani at the Citadel of Aleppo, though the exact date of the photos is unknown.
Trump had expressed a desire to target Soleimani in a 2017 meeting with then National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. On January 13, 2020, five senior current and former Trump Administration officials told NBC News that Trump had authorized the killing of Soleimani in June 2019 on the condition that he had been involved in the killing of any American, a decision backed by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
On 4 January, a funeral procession for Soleimani was held in Baghdad with thousands of mourners in attendance, waving Iraqi and militia flags and chanting "death to America, death to Israel". The procession started at the Al-Kadhimiya Mosque in Baghdad. Iraq's prime minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, and leaders of Iran-backed militias attended the funeral procession. Soleimani's remains were taken to the holy Shia cities of Karbala and Najaf.
On 6 January, the body of Soleimani and other casualties arrived at the Iranian capital Tehran. Huge crowds, reportedly hundreds of thousands or millions, packed the streets. 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.
On 13 January 2020, Syrian Minister of Defense, Ali Abdullah Ayyoub, presented the medal of "The Champion of the Syrian Arab Republic", which President Bashar Al-Assad granted posthumously to Qassem Soleimani, to his Iranian counterpart, Amir Hatami.