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Qasem Soleimani

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Qasem Soleimani
Qasem Soleimani with Zolfaghar Order.jpg
Soleimani in his official military uniform with the Order of Zolfaghar in 2019
Native name
قاسم سلیمانی
Nickname(s)"Haj Qassem" (حاج قاسم)[1]
"The Shadow Commander" (in the West)[2][3][4][5][6]
Born(1957-03-11)11 March 1957
Qanat-e Malek, Kerman, Imperial State of Iran
Died3 January 2020(2020-01-03) (aged 62)[7]
Baghdad International Airport access road, Baghdad Governorate, Iraq
Buried
Golzar Shohada cemetery, Kerman, Iran[8]
(30°17′31″N 57°07′44″E / 30.291984°N 57.1289311°E / 30.291984; 57.1289311Coordinates: 30°17′31″N 57°07′44″E / 30.291984°N 57.1289311°E / 30.291984; 57.1289311)
AllegianceIran Iran
Service/branchIran Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps
Years of service1979–2020
RankMajor general[note 1]
Commands held41st Tharallah Division of Kerman
Quds Force
Battles/wars
See wars and battles

Kurdish Rebellion (1979)


Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988)[10]


KDPI insurgency (1989–96)


South Lebanon conflict (1985–2000)


Invasion of Afghanistan[12][better source needed]


2006 Lebanon War[13][14]


Iraq War


Iran–Israel proxy conflict


Syrian Civil War


Iraqi Civil War (2014–2017)


2019–20 Persian Gulf crisis

AwardsOrder of Zolfaghar (1)[19]
Order of Fath (3)[20]
ChildrenMohammadreza Soleimani, Zeinab Soleimani

Qasem Soleimani[note 2] (Persian: قاسم سلیمانی‎, pronounced [ɢɒːˌsem solejˈmɒːniː]; 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.[21][22] and his right-hand man.[23]

Soleimani initially worked in construction[24][25] before joining the Revolutionary Guards in 1979 and assembling and leading a company of men when the Iran–Iraq War began in 1980, rising through the ranks to become commander of the 41st Tharallah Division in his 20s.[26] He was later involved in extraterritorial operations, and in the late 1990s became commander of the Quds Force.[27] Following September 11th, 2001, Iranian diplomats under his direction collaborated with the U.S. to fight the Taliban.[2] Soleimani also provided assistance to Hezbollah in Lebanon.[2] In 2012, Soleimani helped bolster the government of Syria and its president, Bashar al-Assad, a key Iranian ally. He ran Iran's operations in the Syrian Civil War and helped to plan the Russian military intervention in Syria.[28] Soleimani oversaw Kurdish and Shia militia forces in Iraq, and assisted Iraqi forces that advanced against ISIL in 2014–2015.[29][30] Soleimani was one of the first to support Kurdish forces, providing them with arms.[31][32]

Soleimani was popular among many Iranians, with many viewing him as a "selfless hero fighting Iran's enemies",[33][34][35] while others deemed him a "murderer".[36][37][38] Soleimani was personally sanctioned by the United Nations and the European Union[39][40][41] and was designated as a terrorist by the United States.[42][43][44]

Soleimani was assassinated in a targeted U.S. drone strike on 3 January 2020 in Baghdad, which was approved by President Donald Trump. The strike was strongly condemned by many, including the Iranian government, and a multi-city funeral was held in Iraq and Iran for the general and other casualties. Hours after Soleimani's burial on 7 January 2020, the Iranian military launched missiles against U.S. bases in Iraq; no lives were lost in the attack.[45]

Early life[edit]

Soleimani was born on 11 March 1957, in the village of Qanat-e Malek, Kerman Province.[46][24][26][25][note 3] After he finished school, he moved to the city of Kerman and worked on a construction site[24][25] to help repay his father's agricultural debts. In 1975, he began working as a contractor for the Kerman Water Organization.[48][24][27] When not at work, he spent his time with weight training in local gyms, or attending the sermons of Hojjat Kamyab, a preacher and a protege of Ali Khamenei, who according to Soleimani spurred him to "revolutionary activities".[2][49]

Military career[edit]

General Soleimani in the NAC, a conference of generals of Iran

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.[2]

On 22 September 1980, when Saddam Hussein launched an invasion of Iran, setting off the Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988), Soleimani joined the battlefield serving as the leader of a military company, consisting of men from Kerman whom he assembled and trained.[50] He quickly earned a reputation for bravery,[51] and rose through the ranks because of his role in successful operations to retake the lands Iraq had occupied, and eventually became the commander of the 41st Tharallah Division while still in his 20s, participating in most major operations. He was mostly stationed at the southern front.[50][52] He was seriously injured in Operation Tariq-ol-Qods. In a 1990 interview, he mentioned Operation Fath-ol-Mobin as "the best" operation he participated in and "very memorable", due to its difficulties yet positive outcome.[53] He was also engaged in leading and organizing irregular warfare missions deep inside Iraq by the Ramadan Headquarters.[clarification needed] It was at this point that Soleimani established relations with Kurdish Iraqi leaders and the Shia Badr Organization, both opposed to Iraq's Saddam Hussein.[50]

On 17 July 1985, Soleimani opposed the IRGC leadership's plan to deploy forces to two islands in western Arvand Rud, on the Shatt al-Arab River.[54][why?]

After the war, during the 1990s, he was an IRGC commander in Kerman Province.[52] In this region, which is relatively close to Afghanistan, Afghan-grown opium travels to Turkey and on to Europe.[citation needed] Soleimani's military experience helped him earn a reputation as a successful fighter against drug trafficking.[2]

During the 1999 student revolt in Tehran, Soleimani 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 it might also launch a coup against Khatami.[2][55] Moreover, he had also a role in suppressing the Iranian Green Movement in 2009, according to the former IRGC commander, Mohammad Ali Jafari.[56]

Command of Quds Force[edit]

Soleimani receiving the Order of Zolfaghar from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

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.[27] 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.[57]

Following the September 11 attacks in 2001, senior U.S. State Department official Ryan Crocker flew to Geneva to meet with Iranian diplomats who were under the direction of Soleimani with the purpose of collaborating to destroy the Taliban.[2] 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 President George W. Bush named Iran as part of the "Axis of evil" in his State of the Union address.[2]

Soleimani strengthened the relationship between Quds Force and Hezbollah upon his appointment, and supported the latter by sending in operatives to retake southern Lebanon.[2] In an interview aired in October 2019, he said he was in Lebanon during the 2006 Israel–Hezbollah War to oversee the conflict.[58]

In 2009, The Economist stated on the basis of 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.[59][60][61]

On 24 January 2011, Soleimani was promoted to Major General by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.[52][62] Khamenei was described as having a close relationship with him, calling Soleimani a "living martyr" and helping him financially.[2]

Soleimani was described by an ex-CIA operative, responsible for covert operations, 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.[2] In Iraq, as the commander of the Quds Force, he was believed to have strongly influenced the organization of the Iraqi government, notably supporting the election of previous Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki.[2][63]

A report issued, late January 2020, by government fractions close to IRGC and published by Fars News Agency reveals some of Quds force’s infiltration, under the command of Qassem Soleimani, in other countries. The 1992–95 Bosnian War is brought as an example.[64]

Syrian Civil War[edit]

Map of Al-Qusayr and its environs. The Al-Qusayr offensive was reportedly orchestrated by Soleimani.[2]

According to several sources, including Riad Hijab, a former Syrian premier who defected in August 2012, Soleimani was one of the strongest supporters of the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian Civil War.[2][63] Soleimani was involved in planning and carrying out the Siege of Baba Amr during the Siege of Homs since 2011, according to the Syrian Minister of Defense, Ali Abdullah Ayyoub.[65][66] In the later half of 2012, Soleimani assumed personal control of the Iranian intervention in the Syrian Civil War, when the Iranians became deeply concerned about the Assad government's inability to fight the opposition, and the fallout to the Islamic Republic if the Syrian government fell. He reportedly coordinated the war from a base in Damascus at which a Lebanese Hezbollah commander and an Iraqi Shiite militia coordinator were mobilized, in addition to Syrian and Iranian officers. Under Soleimani, the command "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 were "spread out across the entire country".[2] The retaking of Qusayr in May 2013 from rebel forces and Al-Nusra Front[67] was, according to John Maguire, a former CIA officer in Iraq, "orchestrated" by Soleimani.[2]

Brigadier General Hossein Hamadani, the Basij's former deputy commander, helped to run irregular militias that Soleimani hoped would continue the fight if Assad fell.[2] Soleimani helped establish the National Defence Forces (NDF) in 2013 which would formalise the coalition of pro-Assad groups.[68]

Soleimani was much credited in Syria for the strategy that assisted President Bashar al-Assad in finally repulsing rebel forces and recapturing key cities and towns.[69] He was involved in the training of government-allied militias and the coordination of decisive military offensives.[2] The sighting of Iranian UAVs in Syria strongly suggested that his command, the Quds Force, was involved in the civil war.[2]

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.[70]

Orchestration of military escalation in 2015[edit]

In 2015, Soleimani began gathering support from various sources to combat the newly resurgent Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (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.[71][72][71]

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. 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 Iran–Russia alliance in support of the Syrian (and Iraqi) governments. Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, also sent a senior envoy to Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin. "Putin reportedly told [a senior Iranian envoy] 'Okay we will intervene. Send Qassem Soleimani.'" General Soleimani went to explain the map of the theatre and coordinate the strategic escalation of military forces in Syria.[71]

Operations in Aleppo[edit]
Map of the 2015 Aleppo offensives.[73][74][75][76][77][78]

Soleimani had a decisive impact on the theater of operations, which led to a strong advance in southern Aleppo with the government and allied forces re-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.[79] By mid-November, the Syrian army and its allies had gained ground in southern areas of Aleppo Governorate, capturing numerous rebel strongholds. Soleimani was reported to have personally led the drive deep into the southern Aleppo countryside where many towns and villages fell into government hands. He reportedly commanded the Syrian Arab Army's 4th Mechanized Division, Hezbollah, Harakat Al-Nujaba (Iraqi), Kata'ib Hezbollah (Iraqi), Liwaa Abu Fadl Al-Abbas (Iraqi), and Firqa Fatayyemoun (Afghan/Iranian volunteers).[80]

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,[81] 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.[82] In December 2016, new photos emerged of Soleimani at the Citadel of Aleppo, though the exact date of the photos is unknown.[83][84]

In late March 2017, Soleimani was seen in the northern Hama Governorate countryside in Syria, reportedly aiding Major General Suheil al-Hassan to repel a major rebel offensive.[18]

War against ISIL in Iraq[edit]

A map of Saladin Governorate in Iraq. Soleimani was involved in breaking the Siege of Amirli by ISIL in the eastern part of the governorate.[85]

Soleimani had a significant role in Iran's fight against ISIL in Iraq. He was described as the "linchpin" bringing together Kurdish and Shia forces to fight ISIS, overseeing joint operations conducted by the two groups.[29]

In 2014, Soleimani was in the Iraqi city of Amirli, to work with Iraqi forces to push back ISIL militants.[30] The Los Angeles Times reported that Amirli was the first town to successfully withstand an ISIL invasion, and was secured thanks to "an unusual partnership of Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers, Iranian-backed Shiite militias and U.S. warplanes".[86][87]

Soleimani praying in the Syrian desert in 2017

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.[12] Soleimani also seems to have been instrumental in planning the operation to relieve Amirli in Saladin Governorate, where ISIL had laid siege to an important city.[85] 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 forces in the Battle of Amirli,[88] providing not only liaisons for intelligence-sharing but also the supply of arms and munitions in addition to expertise.[89]

In the operation to liberate Jurf Al Sakhar, 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.[90]

In November 2014, Shi'ite and Kurdish forces under Soleimani's command pushed ISIL out of the Iraqi villages of Jalawla and Saadia in the Diyala Governorate.[29][91][92]

Soleimani played an integral role in the organisation and planning of the crucial operation to retake the city of Tikrit in Iraq from ISIL. 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, giving it a high strategic value. The city fell to ISIL during 2014 when ISIL made immense gains in northern and central Iraq. After its capture, ISIL's massacre at Camp Speicher led to 1,600 to 1,700 deaths of Iraqi Army cadets and soldiers. After months of careful preparation and intelligence gathering an offensive to encircle and capture Tikrit was launched in early March 2015.[92]

In 2016, photos published by a Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) source showed Soleimani attending a meeting of PMF commanders in Iraq to discuss the Battle of Fallujah.[93]

CIA chief Mike Pompeo said he sent Soleimani and other Iranian leaders a letter holding them responsible for any attacks on U.S. interests by forces under their control. According to Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, a senior aide for Iran's supreme leader, Soleimani ignored the letter when it was handed over to him during the Abu Kamal offensive against ISIL, saying "I will not take your letter nor read it and I have nothing to say to these people."[94][95]

In politics[edit]

Soleimani speaking at International Day of Mosque conference

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."[96]

Iranian media reported in 2012 that he might be replaced as the commander of Quds Force in order to allow him to run in the 2013 presidential election.[97] He reportedly refused to be nominated for the election.[96] According to BBC News, in 2015 a campaign started among conservative bloggers for Soleimani to stand for 2017 presidential election.[69] In 2016, he was speculated as a possible candidate,[96][98] however in a statement published on 15 September 2016, he called speculations about his candidacy as "divisive reports by the enemies" and said he will "always remain a simple soldier serving Iran and the Islamic Revolution".[99]

In the summer of 2018, Soleimani and Tehran exchanged public remarks related to Red Sea shipping with American President Donald Trump which heightened tensions between the two countries and their allies in the region.[100]

Sanctions[edit]

Major General Qasem Soleiman at farewell ceremony of his father 06.jpg

In March 2007, Soleimani was included on a list of Iranian individuals targeted with sanctions in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1747.[101] On 18 May 2011, he was sanctioned again by the U.S. along with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and other senior Syrian officials due to his alleged involvement in providing material support to the Syrian government.[54]

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".[102] 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.[103] Soleimani was also sanctioned by the Swiss government in September 2011 on the same grounds cited by the European Union.[104]

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.[57][105] The list, published in the EU's Official Journal on 24 June 2011, also included a Syrian property firm, an investment fund and two other enterprises accused of funding the Syrian government. The list also included Mohammad Ali Jafari and Hossein Taeb.[106]

On 13 November 2018, the U.S. sanctioned an Iraqi military leader named Shibl Muhsin 'Ubayd Al-Zaydi and others who allegedly were acting on Soleimani's behalf in financing military actions in Syria or otherwise providing support for terrorism in the region.[107]

Personal life and public image[edit]

Soleimani at the farewell ceremony of his father in 2017.

Soleimani's father, Hassan, was a farmer who died in 2017. His mother, Fatemeh, died in 2013.[108] He left behind four siblings.[109] His younger brother, Sohrab, who lived and worked with Soleimani in his youth,[110] is now a warden and former director general of the Tehran Prisons Organization. The U.S. imposed sanctions on Sohrab Soleimani in April 2017 "for his role in abuses in Iranian prisons".[111]

Soleimani practiced karate and was a fitness trainer in his youth. He left five children: three sons and two daughters.[112][113] One of his daughters, Zeinab, was asking for revenge after her father's death.[114]

He was described as having "a calm presence",[115] and as carrying himself "inconspicuously and rarely rais[ing] his voice", exhibiting "understated charisma".[51] In Western sources, Soleimani's personality was compared to the fictional characters Karla, Keyser Söze,[51] and The Scarlet Pimpernel.[116]

Unlike other IRGC commanders, he usually did not appear in his official military clothing, even on the battlefield.[117][118]

In January 2015, Hadi Al-Ameri the head of the Badr Organization in Iraq said of him: "If Qasem Soleimani was not present in Iraq, Haider al-Abadi would not be able to form his cabinet within Iraq".[119]

Soleimani was a popular national figure in Iran,[120] considered a hero especially by the conservatives.[121] According to a poll conducted in collaboration with IranPoll for the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, by October 2019 Soleimani was viewed favorably by 82% of Iranians with 59% of them very favorable toward him.[35]

He was often considered the second most powerful person and general in Iran, behind Ayatollah Khamenei.[21][122][123]

Since the Iran–Iraq War (1980–88), in which Iran felt attacked not only by Saddam Hussein's Iraq and by other countries which sided with Iraq[124] (including the U.S., which supplied weapons and intelligence to Iraq),[125] Soleimani had developed into an architect of Iran's foreign policies in the Middle East[121][126][21] and a key figure behind Iran's foreign and defence policies.[21]

Assassination[edit]

Qasem Soleimani (left) with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis at a 2017 ceremony commemorating the father of Soleimani, in Mosalla, Tehran

Soleimani was assassinated on 3 January 2020 around 1:00 a.m. local time (22:00 UTC 2 January),[127] by U.S. drone strike near Baghdad International Airport.[128][129] BBC News, NBC News, DW News, Time, The Guardian and other media outlets have said Soleimani was assassinated or described the killing as an assassination.[31][130][9][131][132] The New York Times compared it to Operation Vengeance in World War II, when American pilots shot down the plane carrying Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.[133] Soleimani had just left his plane, which arrived in Iraq from Lebanon or Syria.[134] His body was identified using a ring he wore on his finger, with DNA confirmation still pending.[135] CNBC reported that the U.S. had been in pursuit of the general for decades.[136] Also assassinated were four members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), including Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Iraqi-Iranian military commander who headed the PMF.[137]

Iraqi prime minister Mahdi said Soleimani was bringing Iran's response to a letter that Iraq had sent out on behalf of Saudi Arabia in order to ease tensions between the two countries in the region. The prime minister did not reveal the message's exact content.[138] Soleimani was posthumously promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General[9] and praised as a martyr by speaker of the Iranian parliament Ali Larijani[139] and Mohsen Rezaei, a former commander of the IRGC.[140] Soleimani was succeeded by Esmail Ghaani as commander of the Quds Force.[141]

U.S. decision-making[edit]

President Trump had expressed a desire to target Soleimani in a 2017 meeting with then National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.[142][143] On January 13, 2020, five senior current and former Trump Administration officials told NBC News that President 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.[142][143] In making the 2020 strike, the Pentagon focused on Soleimani's past actions and on deterring future such actions.[144] The strike followed attacks on the American embassy in Baghdad by supporters of an Iran-backed Iraqi Shia militia and the 2019 K-1 Air Base attack.[145] Anonymous officials told The New York Times that Trump had initially decided to strike at the Shia militia, but instead chose the most extreme option proposed – killing Soleimani – after seeing television footage of the attack on the embassy.[133] The death of an Iraqi-American contractor in a rocket attack in December 2019 was reportedly also used as justification for the strike,[142][143] contradicting the Trump Administration's claim that Soleimani was targeted because he was plotting "imminent" attacks on Americans and had to be targeted in order to stop these attacks.[142][143]

The U.S. Defense Department said the strike was carried out "at the direction of the President" and asserted that Soleimani had been planning further attacks on American diplomats and military personnel and had approved the attacks on the American embassy in Baghdad in response to U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria on 29 December 2019, and that the strike was meant to deter future attacks.[146][147] As part of the administration's changing justification for the strike, a national security adviser asserted that Soleimani had intended further attacks on American diplomats and troops,[148] and Mark Esper asserted the general had been expected to mastermind an attack within days.[149] Trump stated in a Fox News interview that four embassies, including the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, had been targeted; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it was not known where or when the attacks would have taken place.[150]

The strike was not approved by the U.S. Congress or consented to by the Iraqi government, leading to controversy regarding the legality of killing an Iranian military leader over Iraqi airspace.[151]

In an article in the Middle East Institute, former Deputy Defense Secretary for the Middle East Michael Mulroy and retired Navy SEAL Eric Oehlerich state that the targeted killing of Qassem Soleimani was justified and long overdue because he was an enemy combatant who orchestrated a lethal campaign against U.S. military, diplomats and intelligence officers in Iraq. However, they also made the point that the U.S. should have targeted Soleimani's subordinates to disrupt their operations and that covert authorities should have been considered to be able to deny the operation in order to avoid the possibility of an all-out regional war.[152]

Reaction[edit]

According to Agnès Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killing, "the killings of Qassem Suleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis violates international human rights law". She said the U.S. is required to confirm "the individual targeted constituted an imminent threat to others." Callamard also described the killing of other individuals alongside Soleimani as "unlawful"[153] and other scholars argue it violates international law.[154] Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Medea Benjamin (the founder of anti-war advocacy group Code Pink) and Hillary Mann Leverett (a political risk consultant and former director of Iran affairs at the White House's National Security Council) called the assassination of Soleimani "flatly illegal".[155][156]

Analysts Ali Vaez and Iain King and some Twitter users compared the event to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand,[157][158][159] and Ferdinand and #WWIII began trending on Twitter because of what BBC News called "obvious parallels [...] a single strike bringing existing tensions to boiling point".[160] Some protesters raised concerns that Iraq could become a site of open clashes between Iran and the U.S. following the assassination of Soleimani in Baghdad and Iran's retaliatory missile attacks on U.S. bases.[161]

Democrats, including top 2020 presidential candidates, condemned the killing of Soleimani, arguing that it escalated the conflict with Iran, and risked retaliation or war.[162]

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) praised the killing of Soleimani as a divine intervention, saying it helped jihadists.[163]

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, however, backed the strike, describing the American action as self-defense.[164]

According to a Facebook spokesperson, Instagram and its parent company Facebook are removing posts "that voice support for slain Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani to comply with US sanctions".[165]

Funeral and burial[edit]

Mourners at Azadi Square, Tehran

On 4 January, a funeral procession for Soleimani was held in Baghdad with thousands of mourners in attendance, waving Iraqi and militia flags[9] and chanting "death to America, death to Israel".[166] 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.[167] Soleimani's remains were taken to the holy Shia cities of Karbala and Najaf.[168]

On 5 January, the remains of the bodies arrived in Ahvaz, and then Mashhad. Tens of thousands of mourners in black clothes attended the funeral procession in the streets with green, white, and red flags – traditionally used by Shiites to symbolize the blood of people killed unjustly and call for avenging their deaths – and beating their chests.[169][170]

Muqtada al-Sadr paid a visit to Soleimani's house to express his condolence to his family.[171]

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.[172][173] Ali Khamenei mourned openly near the coffin while the general's successor swore revenge. Esmail Ghaani, who was named commander of the Quds Force hours after Soleimani's killing, said: "God the Almighty has promised to get his revenge, and God is the main avenger."[174] Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif asked if Trump had ever seen "such a sea of humanity".[175]

He was given a multi-city funeral, and his funeral procession was said to be the second largest after that of Ayatollah Khomeini.[176]

On 7 January 2020, a stampede took place at the burial procession for Soleimani in Kerman attended by hundreds of thousands of mourners, killing 56 and injuring 212 more.[177][178]

Retaliation[edit]

On 8 January 2020, the Iranian military responded to Soleimani's death by launching ballistic missiles at two U.S. bases in Iraq,[179][180] resulting in no reported casualties but 100 traumatic brain injuries.[181][182][183] Iranian officials[184] and some Western media analysts suggested the strike was deliberately designed to avoid causing any casualties to avoid an American response.[185][186] The Iranian president cautioned the U.S. that Iran will take more retaliatory actions if the U.S. continues to interfere in the region.[187]

Cultural depictions and legacy[edit]

Soleimani behind the scenes of the film 23 People

In 2015, the British magazine The Week featured a cartoon of Soleimani in bed with Uncle Sam, which alluded to both sides' fighting ISIL, although Soleimani had led militant groups that killed hundreds of Americans during the Iraq War.[188]

The 2016 Persian book Noble Comrades 17: Hajj Qassem, written by Ali Akbari Mozdabadi, contains memoirs of Qassem Soleimani.[189]

Resalat Expressway in Tehran was renamed "Shahid Sardar Qasem Soleimani" in his honor.[190]

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.[191]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ posthumously promoted to Lieutenant general[9]
  2. ^ His first name and surname are variously transliterated as Qassem, Qassim, Qasim, Ghasem, Suleimani, Soleymani.
  3. ^ In a 2007 memo, the U.S. State Department listed his birthplace as Qom, Qom Province, instead.[47]

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External links[edit]

Military offices
New title Commander of the 41st Tharallah Division
1982–1998
Succeeded by
Abdolmohammad Raufinejad
Preceded by
Ahmad Vahidi
Commander of Quds Force
1998–2020
Succeeded by
Esmail Ghaani