"In the previous evening, he had a thousand dreams in his crowned head,
In the morning neither the head had a crown, Nor the body had a head."
– Persian poem, 17th century
An irreplaceable commander, a shady character, the man in charge of Iran's foreign policy in the Middle East, Khamenei's long arm in the region, the menace of the ISIS, arguably the most powerful man in Iran after Khamenei, a terrorist in the Middle east and a charismatic figure and role model for many militant young Iranians who put on T-shirts with his picture, a master of deceit and intelligence and more.
He was all that, and more than everything else, a soldier. That was how he liked to be called: Qods Force Commander Major General Qassem Soleimani, 62, who was killed on January 2, as a result of a U.S. air strike just outside Baghdad's unwelcoming airport.
During his decades-long leadership of Iran Qod’s Force, the foreign operations arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Soleimani was sanctioned multiple times by multiple international parties as he pursued policies that freely mixed duplicity, terrorism, human rights abuses, and military force to build-up Iran’s weapons capabilities and its influence in the Middle East and elsewhere.
—In March 2007, the UN included him in its list of Iranians targeted with sanctions for engaging in Iran’s proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities.
—In October 2007, the US included him in its list of Iranian individuals and entities supporting terrorism by providing material support for groups including the Taliban, the Lebanese Hizballah, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
—In May 2011 the US included him in a list of individuals providing material support to the government Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as it conducted crackdowns that human rights activists say killed more than 850 protesters calling for greater democracy. In June 2011, the European Union did the same.
—In October 2011, the US designated Soleimani as a terrorist in connection with an IRGC plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States and to carry out attacks against other countries’ interests inside the United States.
--In April 2019, the US designated the IRGC, including the Qods Force, as a foreign terrorist organization, in part for supplying Iranian-linked militias in Iraq with rocket-assisted exploding projectiles that killed hundreds of US soldiers between 2005 and 2011. The designation came just 8 months before a December 27, 2019, rocket attack by an Iranian-linked militia against a military base in Kirkuk which killed a US contractor and two injured two US servicemen — an attack followed by the US drone strike that killed Soleimani and the militia’s leader a week later.
Born to a poor family of 8 in a village near Kerman in south-eastern Iran, Soleimani moved to the provincial capital Kerman at 13, and joined the Islamic revolution and its guards' crops IRGC in June 1980 when he was 19. He was briefly in charge of an aircraft shelter and shortly afterward became the commander of an IRGC training center in the city. Then he went to the war against Iraq at the Sousangerd front.
He led an IRGC division during the war and when the war ended 8 years later, he was one of the IRGC's top commanders. After the war, he served for about 10 years in a unit fighting drug trafficking, but soon Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed him the commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, a position he held until his last day.
The Qods Force is the IRGC's extraterritorial unit. It started to spread its influence in the region as early as 1981. Under Qassem Soleimani, the Qods Force became a gigantic military, security, cultural and economic entity that ran and maintained dozens of militia groups in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories. During all these times, the force was also accused of terrorism as well as arms and drug smuggling.
The Qods Force's activities in the region made Soleimani a highly influential player particularly in Iraq and Syria. His growth and fame were largely because of Khamenei's wholehearted support and trust.
Khamenei relied on Soleimani in the new shape of the Middle East after 2011 with the rise of Arab Spring and the civil war in Syria as Iran became deeply involved in a proxy war in the region while also spreading its influence through terror and havoc. Soleimani was nicknamed Khamenei's foreign minister in the region.
Soleimani portrayed himself as Israel's number one enemy and kept bragging against the United States government and armed forces. While leading Iran's regional ambitions in Iraq and Syria, he was also involved in a multi-billion-dollar business venture in Iraq and Iran. Later, he put himself in charge of major development projects in Iraq. At the same time, he put the brakes on the Kurdish independence movement and oversaw the appointment of prime ministers in Iraq. All of this made him the most heavily decorated military man in Iran.
In the region, he bragged about the Shiite Crescent, with an eye on the region's oil wealth. Inside Iran he played an influential part in domestic politics as one of the signatories of a 1999 letter to -then- President Khatami that was the starting point of IRGC's intervention in domestic politics and king-making. Many years later, in 2017 he supported his IRGC comrade Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf in the presidential election and his presence was so elaborate in politics that many began to believe that he was preparing to take over as Iran's president at one point. But he insisted he wanted to remain a soldier and die a soldier.
In recent years, like many other Iranian politicians, his name was also implicated in a few financial corruption cases, but no one dared approaching the IRGC's most popular and most powerful man to ask questions.
His international fame and his charisma among many Iranians made him a legend and for others a nemesis. A living myth. But his star abruptly descended in the surprise strike on 2 January. His death is likely to change many things in Iran and the region. For one thing, within a few hours of Soleimani's death, Supreme Leader Khamenei for the first time took part in a Supreme National Security Council meeting to discuss how to react. When he went to the meeting, it was still dark in Tehran, reminding terrified Iranians of a poem in the book of kings, the Shahnameh: "The night is pregnant, let us wait and see what the day will give birth to."