The powerful General Qasem Soleimani, killed in a US bombing in Baghdad on Friday, was one of Iran’s most popular figures and a feared adversary of the United States and its allies.
An expert strategist, he was the head of the Quds Force of the Guardians of the Revolution, declared a terrorist group by the United States. In a statement, the Pentagon has stated that his attack “was aimed at deterring future plans for Iranian attacks” and has accused Soleimani of planning actions against US diplomats.
For his part, the leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, assured on Friday that those who assassinated the commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolution Guardians (IRGC), General Qasem Soleimani, face a “hard revenge”. The proximity of him with the ayatollah, who had referred to the general as “a living martyr of the revolution,” was known, has increased his power in the country.
In charge of the foreign operations of the Islamic republic, Soleimani has exercised great influence in the political negotiations on the formation of a government in Iraq since 2018. In his country, where many consider him a hero, he had just been voted man of the year. on the web Akhbar Online and, at 62, had become a true star with numerous followers on his Instagram account.
Both for his supporters and for his detractors, Soleimani was the key man of Iranian influence in the Middle East, where he reinforced Tehran’s diplomatic weight, especially in Iraq and Syria, two countries where the United States is militarily involved. . He played a key role in the fight against the jihadist forces.
“For the Shiites of the Middle East it is a mixture of James Bond, Erwin Rommel and Lady Gaga,” wrote former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack in his portrait of Soleimani for an issue of the US magazine Time dedicated to the 100 most influential people in the world. world in 2017.
“For the West he is responsible for having exported the Islamic revolution from Iran, for supporting the terrorists in waging Iran’s wars abroad,” he adds.
In Iran, many suggested that he go into politics but Soleimani settled all rumors that he could run in the 2021 presidential elections.
Privileged position in Iraq
Soleimani has been a key player in Iraq whenever there has been a relevant political or military situation in the country. The determining role of him when redrawing
Middle Eastern alliances in favor of his country, supporting allied armies or networks of like-minded groups, including Shiite militias that fought against the US occupation of Iraq
The progression of the Islamic State (IS) group, the independence referendum in Kurdistan or currently the formation of a government, are an example of this. In each of the situations, he met with the different parties and defined the line to follow, say sources who attended these meetings, always kept secret.
His influence came from afar, as he led the Quds Force when the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001. “My Iranian interlocutors were very clear. Although they reported to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the end it was General Soleimani who would make the decisions,” he declared in 2013 to the BBC Ryan Crocker, a former US ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq.
After staying out of the media spotlight for decades, Soleimani began to appear on the front pages of the media following the start of the war in Syria in 2011, where Iran, a Shiite heavyweight in the region, stands alongside the President Bashar al Assad.
Soleimani became something of a myth to Iranians, appearing in photos on the battlefield, in documentaries, and even in an animated film and music video. For the United States, on the other hand, he represented a danger and his name had been on the list of Iranians sanctioned for supporting terrorism since 2007. A senior Iraqi official described him as quiet and not very talkative.
“He is sitting at the other end of the room, alone, very calmly. He does not speak, he does not comment, he just listens,” he told the New Yorker.
According to a study published in 2018 by IranPoll and the University of Maryland, 83% of the Iranians surveyed had a favorable opinion of Soleimani, better than of President Hasan Rohani and Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif.
Abroad, some Western leaders see him as a central figure in Tehran’s relations with groups such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas movement.
His death at the hands of the United States may unleash an international conflict of proportions still difficult to foresee.