Qasem Soleimani

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Qasem Soleimani
Sardar Qasem Soleimani-03.jpg
Nickname(s) The Shadow Commander[1][2][3][4][5]
Born (1957-03-11) 11 March 1957 (age 58)
Rabor, Iran
Allegiance Iran Iran
Service/branch IRGC-Seal.svg Revolutionary Guard
Years of service 1980—present
Rank 19- Sarlashgar-IRGC.png Major General
Unit Quds Force
Commands held 41st Sarallah Division of Kerman
Quds Force

Kurdish Rebellion (1979)
Iran–Iraq War

KDPI insurgency (1989–96)
South Lebanon conflict
Invasion of Afghanistan[6]
Iraq War

Sa'dah War
Iran–Israel proxy conflict

Syrian Civil War

War on ISIL

Awards Fath Medal.jpg Fath Medal of Honor[9]

Qasem Soleimani (Persian: قاسم سلیمانی‎‎, born 11 March 1957) is a major general in the Iranian Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (IRGC) and since 1998 commander of its Quds Force—a division primarily responsible for extraterritorial military and clandestine operations.[10] A veteran of the Iran–Iraq war, he has been active in many conflicts from Afghanistan to the Levant. His methods have been a blend of military intervention through ideological proxies and hard-nosed strategic diplomacy. The Quds Force has long provided military assistance to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian Territories. After the United States invasion of Iraq, Suleimani gained increasing political and military influence in the country through al-Maliki's government and the Shia militia, which are equipped and directed by Quds Force. Beginning in 2012, Soleimani helped bolster the Syrian government, a key Iranian ally, during the Syrian Civil War. Soleimani also assisted in the command of combined Iraqi government and Shia militia forces that advanced against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in 2014–2015.[11] Largely an unknown figure before 2013 and taking a higher profile recently during the War on ISIL, "emerging from obscurity has proved as much blessing and curse because he is now associated with Iran’s setbacks as much as with its advances”.[12]


Soleimani's name is also variously spelled as Qassem, Ghasem, and Ghassem. Likewise, his surname is also variously spelled as Soleymani, Suleimani, and Sulaimani.[note 1]

Early life and education[edit]

Soleimani was born in Rabor, Kerman Province, to an impoverished peasant family. He has a high school education.[13] In his youth, he moved to Kerman and worked as a construction worker to help repay a debt his father owed. In 1975, he began working as a contractor for the Kerman Water Organization.[14] When not at work, he spent his time lifting weights in local gyms and attending the sermons of a traveling preacher by the name of Hojjat Kamyab – a protege of Ayatollah Khomeini.[13]

Career and activities[edit]

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.[13]

On 22 September 1980, when Iraq launched an invasion of Iran, setting off the Iran–Iraq War, Soleimani was a Lieutenant in the ranks of the IRGC. During the war, from 1980 to 1988, he was stationed at the southern front, commanding the 41st Sarallah Division[15] while still in his 20s.

On July 17, 1985, Soleimani opposed the IRGC leadership’s plan to deploy forces to two islands in western Arvandroud (Shatt al-Arab).[16]

After the war, during the 1990s, he was an IRGC commander in Kerman Province.[15] In this region, which borders Afghanistan, Afghan-grown opium travels to Turkey and onto Europe. Soleimani's military experience helped him earn a reputation as a successful fighter against drug trafficking.[13]

During the 1999 student revolt in Tehran, Soleiman 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 might also launch a coup against Khatami.[13][17]

Command of Quds Force[edit]

The exact date of his appointment as commander of the IRGC's Quds Force is not clear, but Ali Alfoneh cites it as between 10 September 1997 and 21 March 1998.[14] He was considered one of the possible successors to the post of commander of the IRGC, when General Yahya Rahim Safavi left this post in 2007. In 2008, he led a group of Iranian investigators looking into the death of Imad Mughniyah. Soleimani helped arrange a ceasefire between the Iraqi Army and Mahdi Army in March 2008.[18]

Following the September 11 attacks of 2001, Ryan Crocker, a senior State Department official in the United States, flew to Geneva to meet with Iranian diplomats who were under the direction of Soleimani with the purpose of collaborating to destroy the Taliban, which had targeted Shia Afghanis.[13] 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 George W Bush named Iran as part of the "Axis of evil" in his State of the Union address.[13]

In 2009, a leaked report stated that General Soleimani met Christopher R. Hill and General Raymond T. Odierno (America’s two most senior officials in Baghdad at the time) in the office of Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani (who has known General Soleimani for decades). Hill and General Odierno denied the occurrence of the meeting.[19]

On 24 January 2011, Soleimani was promoted to Major General by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.[15][20] Khamenei is described as having a close relationship with him, helping him financially and has called Soleimani a "living martyr".[13]

Soleimani has been described 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 Shiite and Iranian influence throughout the Middle East.[13] In Iraq, as the commander of the Quds force, he is believed to have strongly influenced the organization of the Iraqi government, notably supporting the election of previous Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki.[13][21] Soleimani has even been described as being "Iran’s very own Erwin Rommel".[22]

According to some sources, Soleimani is the principal leader and architect of the military wing of the Lebanese Shia party Hezbollah since his appointment as Quds commander in 1998.[13]

Syrian Civil War[edit]

A map of Al-Qusayr and its environs. The Al-Qusayr offensive was allegedly masterminded by Soleimani[23]

According to several sources, including Riad Hijab, a former Syrian premier who defected in August 2012, he is also one of the staunchest supporters of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian Civil War.[13][21] In the later half of 2012, Soleimani assumed personal control of the Iranian intervention in the Syrian civil war, when Iranians became deeply concerned about the Assad government's lack of ability to fight the opposition, and the fallout to the Islamic Republic if the Syrian government fell. In Damascus he is reported to have coordinated the war from a base in Damascus at which a Lebanese Hezbollah commander and an Iraqi Shiite militia coordinator have been mobilized, in addition to Syrian and Iranian officers. Brigadier General Hossein Hamadani, the Basij’s former deputy commander helps to run irregular militias that Soleimani hopes to continue the fight if Assad falls.[13] Under Soleimani the command has "coordinated attacks, trained militias, and set up an elaborate system to monitor rebel communications". According to a Middle Eastern security official Dexter Filkins talked to, thousands of Quds Force and Iraqi Shiite militiamen in Syria are "spread out across the entire country.”[13] The retaking of Qusayr in May 2013 from Syrian rebels was, according to John Maguire, a former CIA officer in Iraq, "orchestrated" by Soleimani.[13]

He is widely credited with delivering the strategy that has helped President Bashar al-Assad turn the tide against rebel forces and recapture key cities and towns.[24] The details of his involvement however are little known but many events from the training of government allied militias and coordination of decisive military offensives[13] to the sighting of Iranian UAVs & spy-drones in Syria, strongly suggest that his command (the Quds force) is heavily involved in many aspects of the civil war.[13] In a visit to the Lebanese capital Beirut on Thursday 29 Jan 2015, Soleimani laid wreaths at the graves of the slain Hezbollah members, including Emad Mughniyah, the son of late Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah which strengthens some possibilities about his role in Hezbollah military reaction on Israel.[25]

Soleimani helped in formation of the National Defence Forces (NDF) in Syria.

In October 2015, it was reported that he had been instrumental in devising during his visit to Moscow in July 2015 the Russian-Iranian-Syrian offensive in October 2015.[26]

War on ISIS in Iraq[edit]

The east of Saladin Province in Iraq where Qasem Soleimani was involved in breaking the Siege of Amirli by ISIS[27]

Qasem Soleimani was in the Iraqi city of Amerli, to work with the Iraqi forces to push back militants from ISIS.[28][29] According to The Los Angeles Times, which reported that Amerli was the first town to successfully withstand an ISIS invasion, it was secured thanks to "an unusual partnership of Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers, Iranian-backed Shiite militias and U.S. warplanes". The US acted as a force multiplier for a number of Iranian-backed arm groups — at the same time that was present on the battlefield.[30]

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.[6] Qasem Soleimani also seems to have been instrumental in planning the operation to relieve Amirli in Saladin province where ISIS had laid siege to an important city.[27] 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,[31] not only providing liaisons for intelligence sharing but also the supply of arms and munitions in addition to "providing expertise".[32]

In Operation Ashura, he was reportedly "present on the battlefield". 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.[33]

Soleimani was also intimately involved in the planning & execution of the operation to liberate Tikrit[34][35]

Hadi al-Amiri, the former Iraqi minister of transportation and the head of the Badr Organization [an official Iraqi political party whose military wing is one of the largest armed forces in the country] highlighted the pivotal role of General Qasem Soleimani in defending Iraq's Kurdistan Region against the ISIL terrorist group, maintaining that if it were not for Iran, Heidar al-Ebadi’s government would have been a government on exile right now.[36] and he adds there was no Iraq if Gen. Soleimani hadn't help us.[37]

There were reports by some Western sources that Soleimani has been seriously wounded in action against ISIL in Samarra. The claim was rejected by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.[38]

Soleimani played an integral role in the organisation and planning of the crucial operation to retake the city of Tikrit in Iraq from ISIS. 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, gifting it a high strategic value. The city fell to ISIS during 2014 when ISIS made immense gains in northern and central Iraq. After months of careful preparation and intelligence gathering an offensive to encircle and capture Tikrit was launched in early March 2015.[35] Soleimani is directing the operations on the eastern flank from a village about 35 miles from Tikrit called Albu Rayash, captured over the weekend. The offensive is the biggest military operation in the Salahuddin region since last summer, when ISIS fighters killed hundreds of Iraq army soldiers who had abandoned their military base at Camp Speicher outside Tikrit. His planned operation failed, and only after the request of American air power the battle was finally won. Soleimani record as a military commander was darkened after Tikrit and his failed operations in Syria.[35]

Orchestration of Military Escalation in 2015[edit]

In 2015 Soleimani started to gather support from various sources in order to combat the newly resurgent ISIL and rebel groups which were both successful in taking large swathes of territory away from Assad's forces. He was reportedly the main architect of the joint intervention involving Russia as a new partner with Assad and Hezbollah.[39][40][41]

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. Qasem 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 Iranian-Russian alliance in support of Assad. Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei also sent a senior envoy to Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin. "Putin reportedly told the envoy 'Okay we will intervene. Send Qassem Soleimani'. Gen. Soleimani went to explain the map of the theatre and coordinate the strategic escalation of military forces in Syria.[40]

Operations in Aleppo[edit]

map of the offensive.[42][43][44][45][46][47]

The influx of the plethora of Shi'ite militias that was brought about by Qasem Soleimani, who would also assume overall command in the Aleppo offensives of 2015 had a decisive impact on the theatre of operations and led to a strong advance in southern Aleppo with the government and allied forces capturing two military bases and dozens of towns and villages in a matter of weeks. There was also a series of major advances towards Kuweiris air-base to the north-east.[48]

By mid November the Syrian army and its allies has advance deep into the southern countryside of Aleppo capturing numerous rebel strong-holds. Gen. Soleimani was reported to have personally led the drive deep into the southern Aleppo countryside where many town and villages fell into government hands. Gen. Soleimani has commanded of the Syrian Arab Army’s 4th Mechanized Division, Hezbollah, Harakat Al-Nujaba (Iraqi), Kataebat Hezbollah (Iraqi), Liwaa Abu Fadl Al-Abbas (Iraqi), and Firqa Fatayyemoun (Afghan/Iranian volunteers).[49]


In March 2007, Soleimani was included on a list of Iranian individuals targeted with sanctions in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1747.[50] On 18 May 2011, he was sanctioned again by the United States along with Syrian president Bashar Assad and other senior Syrian officials due to his alleged involvement in providing material support to the Syrian government.[51]

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".[52] The Iranians added to the EU sanctions list were two Revolutionary Guard commanders, Soleimani, Mohammad Ali Jafari, and the Guard's deputy commander for intelligence, Hossein Taeb.[53] Soleimani was also sanctioned by the Swiss government in September 2011 due to the same grounds cited by the European Union.[54]

He is listed by the United States as a known terrorist, which forbids U.S. citizens from doing business with him.[18][55] The list, published in the EU's Official Journal on 24 June 2011, also includes a Syrian property firm, an investment fund and two other enterprises accused of funding Assad's government. The list also includes Mohammad Ali Jafari and Hossein Taeb.[56] According to Newsweek, Iran, beside sending weapons, uniforms and pilots to Iraq, sent their military mastermind, Qasem Soleimani, leader of the Quds Force, whom many military leaders regard as an excellent, and highly strategic commander.[57]


  1. ^ Persian pronunciation: [ɢɒːˈseme solejmɒːˈni].


Qasem Soleimani website :

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  2. ^ Joanna Paraszczuk (16 October 2014). "Iran's 'Shadow Commander' Steps Into the Light". The Atlantic. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  3. ^ Kambiz Foroohar. "Iran's Shadow Commander". Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
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  11. ^ "From the east, Iran-backed force advances on Tikrit". The Daily Star. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
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  14. ^ a b Alfoneh, Ali (January 2011). "Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani: A Biography" (PDF). Middle Eastern Outlooks 1. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  15. ^ a b c Alfoneh, Ali (March 2011). "Iran’s Secret Network: Major General Qassem Suleimani’s Inner Circle" (PDF). Middle Eastern Outlooks 2. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
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  17. ^ "News & Views". The Iranian. July 1999. Retrieved 17 February 2013. 
  18. ^ a b "Iranian who brokered Iraqi peace is on U.S. terrorist watch list". McClatchy Newspapers. 31 March 2008. Retrieved 7 April 2008. 
  19. ^ Iraq and its neighbours: A regional cockpit The Economist
  20. ^ "The Islamic Republic's 13 generals". Iran Briefing. 3 February 2011. Retrieved 13 August 2013. 
  21. ^ a b Abbas, Mushreq (12 March 2013). "Iran's Man in Iraq and Syria". Al Monitor. Retrieved 13 March 2013. 
  22. ^ Bret Stephens (16 March 2015). "Bret Stephens: What Assad Knows - WSJ". WSJ. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  23. ^ Dexter Filkins (30 September 2013). "The Shadow Commander". The New Yorker. 
  24. ^ "BBC News - Iran's Qasem Soleimani wields power behind the scenes in Iraq". BBC News. 
  25. ^ "Iran's Soleimani pays tribute to fallen Hezbollah fighters". MehrNews. 
  26. ^ "How Iranian general plotted out Syrian assault in Moscow". Reuters. 6 October 2015. Retrieved 14 October 2015. 
  27. ^ a b "Suleimani was present during battle for Amerli - Business Insider". Business Insider. 3 September 2014. 
  28. ^ "Iraqi and Kurdish troops enter the sieged Amirli". BBC. Retrieved 31 August 2014. 
  29. ^ "So hilft Israels Todfeind den USA im Kampf gegen ISIS!". Bild. Retrieved 4 September 2014. 
  30. ^ "In Iraq, residents of Amerli celebrate end of militant siege". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 5 September 2014. 
  31. ^ "Waging Desperate Campaign, Iraqi Town Held Off Militants". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 February 2015. 
  32. ^ "Iranians play role in breaking ISIS siege of Iraqi town". Reuters. 
  33. ^ "Iran general said to mastermind Iraq ground war". The Times of Israel. 
  34. ^ "Iranian General Again in Iraq for Tikrit Offensive". 2 March 2015. Retrieved 3 March 2015. 
  35. ^ a b c "Iraqi army and militias surround Isis in major offensive in the battle for Tikrit". The Independent. Retrieved 31 March 2015. 
  36. ^ "Iraq owes many victories against ISIL to Iran". MehrNews. 
  37. ^ "هادي العامري: لولا ايران وسليماني لما كانت الحكومة العراقية موجودة في بغداد". وكالة مهر للانباء. 
  38. ^ "PressTV-Major General Soleimani not injured: Iran". Retrieved 11 February 2015. 
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  52. ^ "COUNCIL IMPLEMENTING REGULATION (EU) No 611/2011 of 23 June 2011". 
  53. ^ "Syria: Deadly protests erupt against Bashar al-Assad". BBC News. 24 June 2011. 
  54. ^ "Ordinance instituting measures against Syria" (PDF). Federal Department of Economy. Retrieved 24 February 2013. 
  55. ^ "Designation of Iranian Entities and Individuals for Proliferation Activities and Support for Terrorism". United States Department of State. 25 October 2007. Archived from the original on 12 March 2008. Retrieved 7 April 2008. 
  56. ^ "EU expands sanctions against Syria". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 17 February 2013. 
  57. ^ "Nemesis: The Shadowy Iranian Training Shia Militias in Iraq". newsweek. Retrieved 27 November 2014. 

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Ahmad Vahidi
Chief commander of
Quds Force

Succeeded by