Iran’s Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani: Portrait of a man of ice

Tony Duheaume
Tony Duheaume - Special to Al Arabiya English
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As seen in many photographs, Major General Qassem Soleimani rarely smiles, his deep-set eyes often stare cold and shark-like, and with lips set grimly across ghost-like features, it typifies a leader who demands respect. Being a short man, Soleimani has constructed a persona that exudes charisma, which compensates for his diminutive stature.

These days, with the power he yields from his close relationship with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has set him up with a vast personal fortune, he has no problem joking about his height.

Along with an unassuming manner, coupled with a calmness of voice, Soleimani has perfected the art of entering a room as silently as a ghost, and by not fully conversing with those gathered within, it adds an aura of mystery to the man, ensuring his guests are never too sure how to take him, while his true personality remains concealed.

Right now, the Iranian regime views Soleimani as invincible, while Iran’s faithful see him as an irreproachable war hero. But in most countries, where he tops a terror list, he is considered to be the biggest threat to world security, responsible for spearheading Iran’s export of revolution throughout the globe.

For this, he uses his Quds Force’s extensive sleeper cell network to carry out special operations, arms smuggling, and political actions in various locations. Over the years, this brutal commander has carried out a series of highly sensitive covert operations, all to keep Iran’s ongoing revolution on course, and to hit out at any enemy that might become a threat to the regime.

Born 11 March 1957, Qassem Soleimani was brought up in a poor peasant household, in the tiny village of Qalat Molk in the Rabor district of Kerman Province in southwestern Iran. With Qassem’s family having to survive on a meagre income, his parents struggled to bring up six children, and his father became heavily embroiled in debt.

To aid in the repayment of this debt, after completing elementary school, Qassem left his family home, and with his cousin, travelled to Kerman, the provincial capital, where they found work in the construction industry. After several years working as a common labourer, Qassem bettered himself by finding employment with the Kerman Water Organization as an unqualified technician.

At that time, determined to keep his body in trim, Soleimani took up weight lifting at a local gym, and was said to have become a fitness trainer, earning a black belt in karate, all of which would prepare him for a future military career.

But another factor that would steer Soleimani’s destiny towards becoming Iran’s most feared military leader, was brought about by him being a passionately religious man, who would spend much time attending the sermons of clerics, all protégés of Khomeini, opposed to the Shah’s rule.

In this March 27, 2015 file photo Qassem Soleimani greets Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, Iran. (AP)
In this March 27, 2015 file photo Qassem Soleimani greets Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, Iran. (AP)

Fired up by these religious firebrands, Soleimani became absorbed in the revolutionary doctrine espoused by Khomeini, and such was his zeal for this new form of Shiite fundamentalism, Soleimani became involved at street level in revolutionary activity, which in time toppled the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

With Khomeini in power, Soleimani looked towards a military career in the ranks of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a new military force founded by Khomeini to counter any coup attempt against him. When the IRGC established a command council in the city of Kerman, Soleimani joined its ranks, and although having no military experience, he proved himself to be of leadership material, and was soon appointed to a position of command.

From the start of his career, Soleimani showed himself to be a ruthless leader, as proved by an assignment in 1979, when he was sent to help suppress a Kurdish separatist uprising in the West Azerbaijan Province in north-western Iran.

Part of a military force sent in to defend the city of Mahabad, his unit of irregular troops aided in brutally suppressing the Kurdish uprising, putting an end to the bloody sectarian conflict between the Azeris and Kurds. Then in the 1980s, Soleimani served in the Iran/Iraq War, becoming a decorated hero, and due to his qualities as a leader, became a commissioned officer.

Since that time, Soleimani is known to have directed numerous military actions, in various regions throughout the Middle East and beyond, many of which have resulted in terror operations, carried out mainly by foreign proxy forces; trained, supplied and armed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) elite special forces division, the Quds (Jerusalem) Force, which is responsible for extraterritorial military and clandestine operations, a force which Soleimani has commanded since 1998.

In 2014, with the Obama administration taking a back seat in its dealings with the Middle East, Soleimani’s Quds Force was given approval by the Americans to enter Iraq to fight ISIS. With US troops involved only in an advisory capacity, rather than having serious boots on the ground, Soleimani seized the opportunity to gain a foothold in Iraq.

With the Quds Force and its proxy Hezbollah, fighting alongside other Iranian-backed foreign mercenaries, they became heavily involved in fighting ISIS on the ground. As this militia force advanced, they used homicidal tactics against civilians to drive the terror group from the country, and had also caused wanton destruction in Sunni districts, which resulted in the slaughter of thousands of non-combatants. Then with ISIS driven out, Soleimani integrated vast numbers of Iranian-backed Shiite militias into the ranks of the Iraqi military, effectively bringing it under his command.

Then in October 2015, Soleimani assumed overall command of the Aleppo offensive, and since then, has guided a brutal military campaign, in an effort to save Bashar al-Assad from annihilation. During the Aleppo offensive, Soleimani was said to have been in command of the 2,000 strong Syrian Arab Army’s 4th Mechanized Division, which included Hezbollah personnel, and various other foreign mercenary units, whose recruits had stemmed from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Receiving massive support from Russian airstrikes, the division pushed deep into southern Aleppo, backed by tanks, bulldozers and armoured personnel carriers, resulting in many towns and villages falling into government hands, causing massive civilian casualties, and the unbelievable destruction of property, including schools and hospitals.

Qassem Soleimani uses a walkie-talkie at the frontline during offensive operations against ISIS militants in Salahuddin province on March 8, 2015. (Reuters)
Qassem Soleimani uses a walkie-talkie at the frontline during offensive operations against ISIS militants in Salahuddin province on March 8, 2015. (Reuters)

Access to Mediterranean Sea

By conducting military campaigns in Iraq and Syria, Qassem Soleimani’s Quds Force has gained access to the Mediterranean Sea, created a land corridor across Iraq with which to supply the Quds main proxy Hezbollah, brought its troops to within striking distance of Israel, and gained a staging post within Yemen, from which its proxies can strike Saudi Arabia with missiles made in Iran.

As far as Soleimani’s methods of asymmetric warfare are concerned, they have paid off in Syria and Iraq, and are causing serious havoc in Yemen, where the Iranian regime is determined to complete its encirclement of Saudi Arabia, and further launch its hegemonic desires towards the Gulf States. But just like all past generals, who classed themselves as great tacticians, Soleimani will eventually overstretch himself, and finally defeat will come, with an outside force taking advantage of his wars on too many fronts.

In Iran’s dealings with the administrations of Iraq and Syria, it is Soleimani that makes foreign policy decisions, he is the true foreign minister on the ground, the wheeler dealer who twists arms, persuading leaders that his way is the right way. He is a wily operator, because he is straight in there when decisions of policy are to be made, always making offers that the leaders of both these countries soon realise they have no choice but to accept, especially where military aid and backing are on offer.

Soleimani is a man who likes to prove himself, which plays out in his reputation for being known as a soldier’s soldier, and for his liking of getting close to the front line, which has already led to him to have been seriously wounded. But seeming to believe the hype of his own invincibility, this attitude will probably never change, and rather than being a living martyr, he may soon find himself a dead one.

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