Naveed Aman Khan
GENERAL Qasem Soleimani of Iran, killed in a US attack in Iraq on 03 January 2020, was widely popular among Iranians, who viewed him as a “selfless hero fighting Iran’s enemies”, and he achieved the status of a national icon. He was designated as a terrorist by the United States and the European Union. The entity he led, the Quds Force, part of the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps ( IRGC), is considered a terrorist organization by many countries including the US. President Trump approved Qasem’s killing on the grounds that he posed an “imminent threat” to American lives/interests. The 63-year old General Soleimani, before his induction into the Army, used to attend sermons of Hojjat Kamyab, a preacher and a protege of Ali Khamenei, who, according to Soleimani, spurred him to “revolutionary activities. Soleimani joined the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in 1979 following the Iranian Revolution, which saw Shah’s fall and Ayatollah Khomeini taking over power. 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 western Azerbaijan province.
When Saddam Hussein launched an invasion on Iran, setting off the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88), Soleimani joined the battlefield serving as the leader of a military company, consisting of men from Kerman whom he assembled and trained. He quickly earned reputation for bravery, 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 also engaged in leading and organizing irregular warfare missions deep inside Iraq by the Ramadan Headquarters. 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.
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. Why? After the war, during the 1990s, he was an IRGC commander in Kerman Province. In this region, relatively close to Afghanistan, Afghan-grown opium travels to Turkey and Europe. Soleimani’s military experience helped him earn a reputation as a successful fighter against drug trafficking. 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.
He was appointed as commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force on 10 September 1997. 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. Following the September 11 attacks in 2001, senior US State Department official Ryan C Crocker flew to Geneva to meet Iranian diplomats who were under the direction of Soleimani with the purpose of collaborating to destroy the Taliban. 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.
Soleimani strengthened the relationship between Quds Force and Hezbollah of Lebanon, upon his appointment, and supported the latter by sending in operatives to retake southern Lebanon. In 2009, Soleimani met with 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. Hill and Odierno denied the occurrence of the meeting. On 24 January 2011, Soleimani was promoted to the rank of Major General by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Khamenei was described as having a close relationship with him, calling Soleimani a “living martyr” and helping him financially. Soleimani was described by an ex-CIA operative 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. 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.
Soleimani is considered a hero and martyr in Iran. He was the first man to be honoured with a multi-city funeral in the history of Iran and his funeral procession was said to be the second largest after that of Ruhollah Khomeini. On 7 January 2020, a stampede took place at the burial procession of Soleimani in Kerman attended by hundreds of thousands of mourners, killing 56 and injuring 212 more. His funeral has a lesson and a message for anti-Iran powers. Encircling Iran, International Establishment has started playing long political chess in the Gulf and the Sea of Oman. Donald Trump wants to contest election with anti-Iran slogan. The assassination of Soleimani is the beginning of his election campaign. In the name of US-Iran tension, American aircraft carriers are present in Gulf. CPEC cargo ships are to move through the same route but this international route is hindered by Americans because of a warlike situation. This situation will completely hault work on CPEC ultimately damaging Pakistan and China. Turkey will be free from hindered years long sanctions in 2023. Turkey has made remarkable progress under Erdwan. America will try to control Turkey in the days to come. Iran is committed to teaching a lesson to its enemies. However, Pakistani nation is in confusion about what future holds for them.
— The writer is book ambassador, columnist, political analyst and author of several books based in Islamabad.
Naveed Aman Khan