Qasem Soleimani

Major General Qasem Soleimani was the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, the external wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) responsible for liaising with Iran’s global proxies.“Treasury Targets Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, October 11, 2011, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1320.aspx. As head of the Quds Force, Soleimani reported directly to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.Dexter Filkins, “The Shadow Commander,” New Yorker, September 30, 2013, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/09/30/the-shadow-commander. The U.S. government, the United Nations, and the European Union have all sanction-designated Soleimani for involvement in either Iran’s nuclear program or the Syrian civil war in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.“Treasury Targets Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, October 11, 2011, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1320.aspx;
“Designation of Five Individuals Pursuant to Executive Order 13224 of September 23, 2001, ``Blocking Property and Prohibiting Transactions With Persons Who Commit, Threaten To Commit, or Support Terrorism,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, October 17, 2011, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-10-17/html/2011-26775.htm;
“Security Council Toughens Sanctions Against Iran, Adds Arms Embargo, With Unanimous Adoption of Resolution 1747 (2007), United Nations, March 24, 2007, http://www.un.org/press/en/2007/sc8980.doc.htm;
“Council Implementing Regulation (EU) No 611/2011 of 23 June 2011 Implementing Regulations (EU) No 442/2011 Concerning Restrictive Measures in View of the Situation in Syria,” Official Journal of the European Union, June 24, 2011, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2011:164:0001:0003:EN:PDF; “Treasury Targets Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, October 11, 2011, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1320.aspx;
“Designation of Five Individuals Pursuant to Executive Order 13224 of September 23, 2001, ``Blocking Property and Prohibiting Transactions With Persons Who Commit, Threaten To Commit, or Support Terrorism,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, October 17, 2011, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-10-17/html/2011-26775.htm;
“Security Council Toughens Sanctions Against Iran, Adds Arms Embargo, With Unanimous Adoption of Resolution 1747 (2007), United Nations, March 24, 2007, http://www.un.org/press/en/2007/sc8980.doc.htm;
Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, “General Qasem Soleimani: Iran’s Rising Star,” BBC News, March 6, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-27883162.
Furthermore, U.S. Central Command documents declassified in 2015 reveal that Iraqi Shiite militants under Soleimani’s command killed more than 500 U.S. service members in Iraq between 2005 and 2011.Rowan Scarborough, “Iran responsible for deaths of 500 American service members in Iraq,” Washington Times, September 13, 2015, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/sep/13/iran-responsible-for-deaths-of-500-us-service-memb/. U.S. intelligence has also linked Soleimani to a 2011 assassination attempt of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States in Washington, D.C.“Treasury Targets Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, October 11, 2011, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1320.aspx. Soleimani was killed on January 3, 2020, in a U.S. airstrike.Frank Miles, “Baghdad rocket attack kills Iranian military leaders including Gen. Qassim Soleimani, reports say,” Fox News, January 2, 2020,  https://www.foxnews.com/world/rockets-baghdad-airport-injuries-reported; Missy Ryan and Dan Lamothe, “Pentagon launched airstrike that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, Defense Sec. Mark Esper says,” Washington Post, January 2, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/defense-secretary-says-iran-and-its-proxies-may-be-planning-fresh-attacks-on-us-personnel-in-iraq/2020/01/02/53b63f00-2d89-11ea-bcb3-ac6482c4a92f_story.html.

Soleimani had commanded the Quds Force since 1998, having proven his dedication to the Iranian regime as an IRGC divisional commander during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. As Quds Force commander, Soleimani coordinated Iraqi Shiite militants fighting against U.S. forces between 2005 and 2011. Soleimani also reportedly influenced then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to insist on the 2011 U.S. withdrawal.Dexter Filkins, “The Shadow Commander,” New Yorker, September 30, 2013, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/09/30/the-shadow-commander. He led Quds Force operations against ISIS in Iraq, where he oversaw approximately 100,000 Iraqi Shiite fighters and six Iranian training camps, according to August 2016 U.S. military estimatesLucas Tomlinson, “US officials: Up to 100,000 Iran-backed fighters now in Iraq,” Fox News, August 16, 2016, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/08/16/us-officials-up-to-100000-iran-backed-fighters-now-in-iraq.html;
Farnaz Fassihi, “Iran Deploys Revolutionary Guard Forces to Fight Militants in Iraq, Iranian Security Sources Say,” Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2014, http://online.wsj.com/articles/iran-deploys-forces-to-fight-al-qaeda-inspired-militants-in-iraq-iranian-security-sources-1402592470.
Soleimani had told Iranian media that he believed Western nations created ISIS in order to target Iran.“Takfiri Terrorists on Verge of Defeat on ‘All Fronts’: General Soleimani,” Tasnim News Agency, October 6, 2016, https://www.tasnimnews.com/en/news/2016/10/06/1206080/takfiri-terrorists-on-verge-of-defeat-on-all-fronts-general-soleimani. Soleimani had also accused the U.S. government of seeking to weaken Iran and preserve ISIS.“US undergoing ‘serious damage’ in ME,” MEHR News Agency, September 16, 2015, http://en.mehrnews.com/news/110184/US-undergoing-serious-damage-in-ME;
Arash Karami, “Soleimani: US power in region has declined,” Al-Monitor, September 1, 2015, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/en/originals/2015/09/soleimani-us-power-decline.html.

Soleimani’s influence extended to Syria as well. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Soleimani oversaw Iran’s military support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.“Administration Takes Additional Steps to Hold the Government of Syria Accountable for Violent Repression Against the Syrian People,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, May 18, 2011, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1181.aspx. One Free Syrian Army commander told the Wall Street Journal in 2013 that Soleimani was “running Syria. [President] Bashar [al-Assad] is just his mayor.”Farnaz Fassihi, Jay Solomon, and Sam Dagher, “Iranians Dial Up Presence in Syria,” Wall Street Journal, September 16, 2013, http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887323864604579067382861808984. During the October 2016 funeral of IRGC Brigadier General Hossein Hamedani, Soleimani justified Iran’s role in Syria as repayment for Syria’s support during the Iran-Iraq War. He further argued that it was in Iran’s interests to intervene on Assad’s behalf.“Iran’s Soleimani Says Syria War Plays to Iran National Interests,” Asharq Al-Awsat, October 7, 2016, http://english.aawsat.com/2016/10/article55359787/irans-soleimani-says-syria-war-plays-iran-national-interests.

Soleimani was banned from international travel because of his 2007 U.N. designation for his role in Iran’s nuclear program.“Security Council Toughens Sanctions Against Iran, Adds Arms Embargo, With Unanimous Adoption of Resolution 1747 (2007), United Nations, March 24, 2007, http://www.un.org/press/en/2007/sc8980.doc.htm. Nonetheless, he reportedly flew to Moscow at least three times—in July 2015, April 2016, and February 2017—for meetings with Russian officials.Lucas Tomlinson, “EXCLUSIVE: Shadowy Iranian general visits Moscow, violating sanctions,” Fox News, February 15, 2017, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/02/15/exclusive-shadowy-iranian-general-visits-moscow-violating-sanctions.html;
Jennifer Griffin and Lucas Tomlinson, “Exclusive: Quds Force commander Soleimani visited Moscow, met Russian leaders in defiance of sanctions,” Fox News, August 6, 2015, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/08/06/exclusive-quds-force-commander-soleimani-visited-moscow-met-russian-leaders-in.html.
After Soleimani reportedly traveled to Russia for military discussions in April 2016, the U.S. State Department confirmed that U.N. travel sanctions on Soleimani remained in effect despite the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1.Lidia Kelly and Parisa Hafezi, “Iran's Soleimani in Russia for talks on Syria, missiles: sources,” Reuters, April 15, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-iran-soleimani-idUSKCN0XC0TR.

Despite being dubbed “the shadow commander” in a 2013 New Yorker article,Dexter Filkins, “The Shadow Commander,” New Yorker, September 23, 2013, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/09/30/the-shadow-commander. Soleimani had gained celebrity status in Iran. Iranian media began publicizing Soleimani’s role in the fight against ISIS in late 2014, labeling him a hero.Saeed Kamali Dehghan, “Qassem Suleimani photo makeover reveals Iran’s new publicity strategy,” Guardian, October 14, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/14/suleimani-high-profile-to-publicise-irans-key-anti-isis-role. Since 2014, Iranian media have published numerous photos of Soleimani with Iranian, Iraqi Shiite, and Hezbollah fighters in Iraq and Syria.Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, “General Qasem Soleimani: Iran’s rising star,” BBC News, March 6, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-27883162;
“Top Iranian military commander Soleimani seen rallying Iranian officers, Hezbollah in Syria,” Fox News, October 19, 2015, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/10/15/top-iranian-military-commander-soleimani-seen-rallying-iranian-officers.html.
In addition, Iranians have increasingly praised Soleimani on social media, while others outside of Iran have used social media to mock his celebrity. In April 2015, Soleimani reportedly insisted that a planned Iranian film about him be canceled, while Iraqi Shiite fighters that month made a music video celebrating Soleimani.Arash Karami, “Soleimani: No more selfies,” Al-Monitor, April 14, 2015, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/04/iran-qassem-soleimani-social-media-selfies.html;
Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, “General Qasem Soleimani: Iran’s rising star,” BBC News, March 6, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-27883162.
Soleimani is also featured in Battle of Persian Gulf II, a 2017 animated Iranian movie in which Soleimani-led IRGC forces defeat the U.S. Navy in a confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program.Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, “Iran defeats U.S. Navy in defiant animated film,” Reuters, February 15, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-trump-animation-idUSKBN15U1E1.

Soleimani was killed on January 3, 2020, in a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad International Airport. Kata’ib Hezbollah leader Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, a.k.a. Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, was also killed in the strike. The Pentagon confirmed shortly after that U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the strike because Soleimani was “actively developing plans” to attack U.S. troops and officials.Frank Miles, “Baghdad rocket attack kills Iranian military leaders including Gen. Qassim Soleimani, reports say,” Fox News, January 2, 2020,  https://www.foxnews.com/world/rockets-baghdad-airport-injuries-reported; Missy Ryan and Dan Lamothe, “Pentagon launched airstrike that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, Defense Sec. Mark Esper says,” Washington Post, January 2, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/defense-secretary-says-iran-and-its-proxies-may-be-planning-fresh-attacks-on-us-personnel-in-iraq/2020/01/02/53b63f00-2d89-11ea-bcb3-ac6482c4a92f_story.html. The PMF blamed the United States and Israel for Soleimani and Ibrahimi’s deaths. The strike reportedly killed at least five others, including the PMF’s airport protocol officer, Mohammed Reda.Qassim Abdul-Zahra, “Iran’s Gen. Soleimani killed in airstrike at Baghdad airport,” Associated Press, January 2, 2020, https://apnews.com/5597ff0f046a67805cc233d5933a53ed. The strike followed a December 31, 2019, assault on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad by Iraqi protesters and members of KH. Protesters withdrew on January 1, 2020. U.S. leaders held the Iranian leadership responsible and promised retaliation.Frank Miles, “Baghdad rocket attack kills Iranian military leaders including Gen. Qassim Soleimani, reports say,” Fox News, January 2, 2020,  https://www.foxnews.com/world/rockets-baghdad-airport-injuries-reported. Ibrahimi was reportedly among the KH members involved in the assault.Mustafa Salim and Liz Sly, “Militia supporters chanting ‘Death to America’ break into U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad,” Washington Post, December 31, 2019,  https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/iran-backed-militia-supporters-converge-on-us-embassy-in-baghdad-shouting-death-to-america/2019/12/31/93f050b2-2bb1-11ea-bffe-020c88b3f120_story.html; Mustafa Salim and Liz Sly, “Supporters of Iranian-backed militia end siege of U.S. Embassy in Baghdad,” Washington Post, January 1, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/supporters-of-iranian-backed-militia-start-withdrawing-from-besieged-us-embassy-in-baghdad-following-militia-orders/2020/01/01/8280cb34-2c9e-11ea-9b60-817cc18cf173_story.html.

Shortly after Soleimani’s death on January 3, Khamenei appointed Ismail Ghaani as the new commander of the Quds Force.Sune Engel Rasmussen, “Iran Appoints Commander to Succeed General Killed in Air Strike,” Wall Street Journal, January 3, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/iran-appoints-commander-to-succeed-general-killed-in-air-strike-11578050590. Sune Engel Rasmussen, “Iran Appoints Commander to Succeed General Killed in Air Strike,” Wall Street Journal, January 3, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/iran-appoints-commander-to-succeed-general-killed-in-air-strike-11578050590.“Martyr Soleimani’s panorama museum inaugurated in Tehran,” Mehr News Agency, August 4, 2020, https://en.mehrnews.com/news/161854/Martyr-Soleimani-s-panorama-museum-inaugurated-in-Tehran. The Iranian leadership continues to praise Soleimani as a martyr and fixture of peace and security.“‘General Soleimani was truly a general of peace and security,’” Tehran Times, February 9, 2020, https://www.tehrantimes.com/news/445002/General-Soleimani-was-truly-a-general-of-peace-and-security.

United States

On October 11, 2011 the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated Soleimani as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224 in connection with an IRGC plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S. and to carry out attacks against other countries’ interests inside the U.S. “Treasury Targets Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, October 11, 2011, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1320.aspx; “Designation of Five Individuals Pursuant to Executive Order 13224 of September 23, 2001, ``Blocking Property and Prohibiting Transactions With Persons Who Commit, Threaten To Commit, or Support Terrorism,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, October 17, 2011, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-10-17/html/2011-26775.htm.

On May 18, 2011 the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned U.S.-held properties and possessions of multiple Syrian officials as well as Soleimani under Executive Order 13572. All named individuals were sanctioned for human rights abuses, including repression of the Syrian people. “Administration Takes Additional Steps to Hold the Government of Syria Accountable for Violent Repression Against the Syrian People,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, May 18, 2011, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1181.aspx.

On October 25, 2007, the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated Soleimani under Executive Order 13382 for providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations. “Fact Sheet: Designation of Iranian Entities and Individuals for Proliferation Activities and Support for Terrorism,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, October 25, 2007, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/hp644.aspx.

United Nations

The U.N. Security Council sanctioned Soleimani in connection with Iran’s nuclear program on March 24, 2007. “Security Council Toughens Sanctions Against Iran, Adds Arms Embargo, With Unanimous Adoption of Resolution 1747 (2007), United Nations, March 24, 2007, http://www.un.org/press/en/2007/sc8980.doc.htm.

The European Union

The European Union sanctioned Soleimani on June 24, 2011, under EU Regulations 442/2011 Concerning Restrictive Measures in View of the Situation in Syria, for “providing equipment and support to help the Syrian regime suppress protests in Syria.”“Council Implementing Regulation (EU) No 611/2011 of 23 June 2011 Implementing Regulations (EU) No 442/2011 Concerning Restrictive Measures in View of the Situation in Syria,” Official Journal of the European Union, June 24, 2011, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2011:164:0001:0003:EN:PDF.

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