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|Photograph of a young & smiling Qasem Soleimani, taken during the early years of the 8-year war during which he served as an officer in the revolutionary guards|
|Commander of the Quds Force|
1997 or 1998
|Supreme Leader||Ali Khamenei|
|Preceded by||Ahmad Vahidi|
|Commander||Yahya Rahim Safavi
Mohammad Ali Jafari
|Born||11 March 1957
|Political party||Islamic Coalition Party|
|Nickname(s)||Haj Qasem , Sardar Soleimani, Shadow Commander, The Living Martyr|
|Allegiance||Islamic Republic of Iran|
|Service/branch||Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps|
|Years of service||1980-present|
South Lebanon conflict (1985–2000)
Shia insurgency in Yemen
2006 Lebanon War
Syrian Civil War
2014 Northern Iraq offensive
Seyed Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of Iran, calls him "the living martyr".Suleimani is not a cautious commander. He believes that offense is the best defense.
Early life and educationSoleimani was born 12 March 1957 in the village Rabor in the province of Kerman, and his father was a peasant. He has a high school education. In his early years, he worked as a contractor for the Kerman Water organization. When not at work, he spent his time lifting weights in local gyms and attending the sermons of a traveling preacher by the name of Hojjat Kamyab - a protege of Ayatollah Khomeini.
Career and activitiesSoleimani joined the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) in 1979 following the fall of the Shah of Iran to the Ayatollah Khomeini. Reportedly, his training was minimal, but he advanced rapidly. Early in his career as a guardsman, he was stationed in northwestern Iran and helped crush a Kurdish uprising.
On 22 September 1980, when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran, Soleimani was a lieutenant in the ranks of the IRGC. During the war, from 1980 to 1988, he was stationed at the south front, commanding the Forty-First Tharallah Division while still in his 20s. He is considered a hero of the war by some war veterans.
Suleimani is a practical man with proven problem solving skills characteristic of a tactical leader. Opensource materials also depict him as a commander who developed tactical military skills early based on his own experiences, which he seems to place more faith in than the orders of his superiors. On July 17, 1985, Suleimani opposed the IRGC leadership’s plan to deploy forces to two islands in western Arvandroud (Shatt al-Arab). Suleimani argued, “Taking the islands would be easy,but remaining there would be impossible. In addition to this, during retreat we will be leaving large troops behind”. While other equally critical commanders retracted their positions, Suleimani maintained his stance and the plan was abandoned. This incident may have been a formative moment in his career, which reinforced his stubbornness and nurtured an unwillingness to take others’ views into consideration.
After the war, during the 1990s, he was an IRGC commander in Kerman. In this border region of Afghanistan where opium trade travels to Turkey and onto Europe, Soleimani's military experience helped him earn a reputation as a successful fighter against drug trafficking.
During the 1999 student revolt in Tehran, Soleiman was one of 24 IRGC officers who signed a letter to President Mohammad Khatami. The letter stated that "Our patience has run out," and said that if Khatami did not crush the student rebellion the military would, and might also launch a coup against Khatami.
Command of Quds ForceThe exact date of his appointment as commander of the IRGC Special Forces - the Quds Force ("Jerusalem Brigade") is not clear, but Ali Alfoneh cites it as between 10 September 1997 and 21 March 1998. 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. Suleimani helped arrange a ceasefire between the Iraqi Army and Mahdi Army in March 2008.
Following the Twin Tower attacks of September 11, 2001, Ryan Crocker, a senior State Department official in the United States, flew to Geneva to meet with Iranian diplomats who were under the direction of Soleimani with the purpose of collaborating to destroy the Taliban, which had targeted Shia Afghanis. 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 George W Bush named Iran as part of the "Axis of evil" in his State of the Union address.
In 2009, a leaked report stated that General Soleimani met 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 (who has known General Soleimani for decades). Hill and General Odierno denied the occurrence of the meeting.
On 24 January 2011, Soleimani was promoted to major general by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Khamenei is described as having a close relationship with him, helping him financially and has called Soleimani a "living martyr".
Soleimani has been described 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-Israeli influence and promote the expansion of Shiite influence throughout the Middle East. Geneive Abdo has called him a "brilliant tactician". In Iraq, as the commander of the Quds force, he is believed to have engineered the Iraqi coalition government in its current form, supporting the election of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki.
According to some sources, Soleimani is the principal leader and architect of the military wing of the Lebanese Shia party Hezbollah since his appointment as Quds commander in 1998.
Syrian Civil WarRiad Hijab, a former Syrian premier who defected in August 2012, he is also one of the staunchest supporters of the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad in the Syrian civil war. In the later half of 2012, Soleimani assumed personal control of the Iranian intervention in the Syrian civil war, when Iranians became deeply concerned about the Assad regime's lack of ability to fight the opposition, and the fallout to the Islamic Republic if the Syrian regime fell. In Damascus he is reported to be coordinating the war from a base in Damascus at which a Lebanese Hezbollah commander and an Iraqi Shiite militia coordinator have been mobilized, in addition to Syrian and Iranian officers. Brigadier General Hossein Hamadani, the Basij’s former deputy commander helps to run irregular militias that the Soleimani hope to continue the fight if Assad falls. Under Soleimani the command has "coördinated 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 are "spread out across the entire country.” The retaking of Qusayr in May 2013 from Syrian rebels was, according to John Maguire, a former CIA officer in Iraq, "orchestrated" by Soleimani and "a great victory for him.”
He is widely credited with delivering the strategy that has helped President Bashar al-Assad turn the tide against rebel forces and recapture key cities and towns.
Hossein Hamadani, his former deputy.
Qassem Soleimani was in the Iraqi city of Amerli, to work with the Iraqi forces to push back militants from the Islamic State (IS). According to The Los Angeles Times, which reported that Amerli was the first town to successfully withstand an IS invasion, it was secured thanks to "an unusual partnership of Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers, Iranian-backed Shiite militias and U.S. warplanes". The US acted as a force multiplier for a number of Iranian-backed arm groups — at the same time that the head of the Revolutionary Guard's foreign operations was present on the battlefield.
SanctionsIn March 2007, Soleimani was included on a list of Iranian individuals targeted with sanctions in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1747. On 18 May 2011, he was sanctioned again by the United States along with Syrian president Bashar Assad and other senior Syrian officials due to his alleged involvement in providing material support to the Syrian regime.
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 regime suppress protests in Syria". 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. Soleimani was also sanctioned by the Swiss government in September 2011 due to the same grounds cited by the European Union.
He is listed by the United States as a terrorist, which forbids U.S. citizens from doing business with him. The list, published in the EU's Official Journal on 24 June 2011, also includes a Syrian property firm, an investment fund and two other enterprises accused of funding Assad's government. The list also includes Mohammad Ali Jafari and Hossein Taeb.
- His name is also spelled as Qassem, Ghasem, and Ghassem. His surname is also spelled as Soleymani, Suleimani, and Sulaimani. Persian pronunciation: [ɢɒːˈseme solejmɒːˈni]
- تایید نقش سلیمانی در عملیات مقاومت اربیل برابر داعش BBC
- Filkins, Dexter (30 September 2013). "The Shadow Commander". The New Yorker. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
- "Designation of Iranian Entities and Individuals for Proliferation Activities and Support for Terrorism". United States Department of State. 25 October 2007. Archived from the original on 12 March 2008. Retrieved 7 April 2008.
- "Iranian who brokered Iraqi peace is on U.S. terrorist watch list". McClatchy Newspapers. 31 March 2008. Retrieved 7 April 2008.
- Alfoneh, Ali (January 2011). "Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani: A Biography". Middle Eastern Outlooks 1. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- Alfoneh, Ali (March 2011). "Iran’s Secret Network: Major General Qassem Suleimani’s Inner Circle". Middle Eastern Outlooks 2. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- "News & Views". The Iranian. July 1999. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
- Iraq and its neighbours: A regional cockpit The Economist
- "The Islamic Republic's 13 generals". Iran Briefing. 3 February 2011. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
- Abdo, Geneive. "What an attack on Syria will mean for US-Iran relations". 10 September 2013. Al Jazeera. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
- Abbas, Mushreq (12 March 2013). "Iran's Man in Iraq and Syria". Al Monitor. Retrieved 13 March 2013.
- "FINITA L’ERA DI SULEIMANI, CAMBIO AL VERTICE DI AL-QUDS" (in Italian). AnalisiDifesa. 08 - 27 - 2014. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
- "Iraqi and Kurdish troops enter the sieged Amirli". BBC. Retrieved 31 August 2014.
- "So hilft Israels Todfeind den USA im Kampf gegen ISIS!". Bild. Retrieved 4 September 2014.
- "In Iraq, residents of Amerli celebrate end of militant siege". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 5 September 2014.
- "United Nations Security Council Resolution 1747". United Nations. 24 March 2007. Retrieved 7 April 2008.
- Alfoneh, Ali (July 2011). "Iran’s Most Dangerous General". Middle Eastern Outlooks 4. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- COUNCIL IMPLEMENTING REGULATION (EU) No 611/2011 of 23 June 2011
- "Syria: Deadly protests erupt against Bashar al-Assad". BBC News. 24 June 2011.
- "Ordinance instituting measures against Syria". Federal Department of Economy. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
- "EU expands sanctions against Syria". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani held an off-the-record dinner last month in New York with an elite group of former US officials. Among the guests were three former US national security advisers and a former secretary of state.Rouhani spoke generally about the potential for further US-Iran cooperation if a nuclear deal is reached, but did not delve deeply into the details of the nuclear negotiations underway between Iran and six world powers as they seek to conclude a deal by Nov. 24.
In comparison to a similar gathering last year with the then newly inaugurated Rouhani, which was “full of hope and excitement and a sense of history being made,” a US expert who attended the Sept. 23 dinner told Al-Monitor that what struck him most this time was that US-Iran relations have “become more normalized.”
If the positive trajectory of the relationship that followed Rouhani’s replacement last year of the Holocaust-denying Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues, some of the credit will go to a soft-spoken former US ambassador to Czechoslovakia and Venezuela, William Luers.
Along with fellow veteran US diplomats Thomas Pickering, William Miller and Frank Wisner, Luers has spent the past dozen years pursuing a quiet “track 2” dialogue bringing American and Iranian former officials and scholars together, some of whom have close ties to officials now in the Rouhani administration.
Luers and his fellow ambassadors have also co-authored several reports analyzing prospects for better US-Iran relations including a new report by the Iran Project that projects enhanced opportunities for the United States and Iran to pursue cooperation on mutual concerns such as fighting Islamic State militants, stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan, if there is a long-term nuclear accord.
Despite continued obstacles to the agreement, Luers remains optimistic. “I just don’t believe either side is going to walk away from a deal,” Luers told Al-Monitor Sept. 24. “They are too close.”
“Without Bill's [Luers] energy, leadership, drive and commitment, this would not have taken place," Pickering said at an Iran Project lunch in New York Sept. 18, launching the group’s latest report. “He has kept us moving through good times and bad.” (The bad times include not just geopolitics. Last winter, Luers, 85, contracted a life-threatening illness while on vacation with his grandchildren in Uruguay, but after some months has recovered.) On prospects for US-Iran relations, Pickering said, "We take a long view.”
“Bill has been the indefatigable, laser-like focused driver of the process,” said Stephen Heintz, the president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and a member of the Iran Project, which Luers directs. “Bill’s whole life was about the art and purpose of diplomacy to reduce tension and prevent conflict,” Heintz said. “And he became one of the really great practitioners of diplomacy.”
The path to expanded US-Iran diplomatic ties drew from Luers’ and his colleagues’ diplomatic experience dealing with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, he explained.
“I went into the foreign service mainly because I wanted to deal with the Soviet Union,” Luers told Al-Monitor in 2013, in one of a series of occasional conversations over the past year on his work on Iran. “I studied Russian and Marxism … I became a diplomat because of an obsession with how to work better with the Soviet Union.”
For the first 15 years of his diplomatic career, Luers worked on the Soviet Union, living in Moscow from 1962 to 1965, heading the State Department’s Soviet Affairs desk, then serving as deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe, and US ambassador to Czechoslovakia (1983-86).
As US envoy in Prague, Luers became good friends with then dissident Vaclav Havel, who later invited Luers to attend his inauguration, which he described as one of the most exhilarating experiences of his career. “So I became involved in the idea of how to deal with adversaries,” Luers said. “And so I took that as my principal interest and obsession, and teach a course at Columbia [University] on talking with the enemy … how to position oneself psychologically … and understand what they want, knowing what you want.”
After retiring from the Foreign Service in 1986, Luers served as president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for 13 years. In 1999, he became president of the United Nations Association of the United States (UNA-USA), during which time Iran’s ambassador to the UN was Mohammad Javad Zarif, the charismatic, US-educated diplomat who now serves as Rouhani’s foreign minister and top nuclear negotiator.
It was during Luers’ tenure at the UN Association (UNA), and Zarif’s as Iran’s envoy to New York that the plan for a “track 2,” unofficial dialogue among former US and Iranian officials and scholars got underway, and the Iran Project was born.
“The origins of the project were a conversation Bill and I had in my office in December 2001,” Heintz told Al-Monitor.
Luers was on the board of Heintz’s Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and he and Heintz were old friends from their Prague days. As president of the UN Association, Luers said their group, through his then deputy, Suzanne DiMaggio, had developed a rapport with Iran’s then permanent representative to the UN, Zarif, as the UN Association was trying to support Iran’s then Reformist President Mohammad Khatami’s idea for a Dialogue of Civilizations.
“So he [Luers] and I then started a conversation that maybe we could do something jointly on US-Iran relations,” Heintz said. “We kind of very quickly started thinking about a track 2 process.” Zarif was said to be supportive of the idea.
The Iran Project’s efforts to start the dialogue with the Iranians got off to a rocky start, however. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) offered to host the gathering, and the first meeting was set for March 2002. But the Iranian participants, ex-Iranian officials at think tanks and scholars canceled after President George W. Bush called Iran a member of the “axis of evil” in his 2002 State of the Union address. A rescheduled meeting, planned for June 2002, was also canceled by the Iranians, after another perceived US snub, when the White House said it had no interest in relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s government but would pursue dialogue with the Iranian people.
Finally, the first meeting happened in December 2002, at a small hotel outside of Stockholm. “It was very tense,” Heintz said. The Iranians “showed up with a small group, maybe three people … They were very wary. We were curious and wondering what this would all amount to.”
“But what happened at the meeting is that there was an agreement that this process should really take place,” Heintz said. And the group proceeded to hold 12 meetings, mostly in Stockholm, from 2002 until 2006, after Ahmadinejad came into office. “That was the reason it stopped,” Heintz said.
The agenda at the meetings followed the same pattern. “We would start with a kind of presentation by both sides, the current political context in each of the two countries, in the US and Iran, on the nuclear file,” Heintz said. “The nuclear issue was the single biggest part of the agenda.” Also covered were the topics of support for terrorism, Middle East peace and, eventually, sanctions.
In the first meetings, “the Iranians came with a pre-packaged set of messages, and there was not very much difference of opinion among them,” Heintz said. But that started to change as the process got traction.
“They were pretty clear with us, and we with them, that in between meetings … we would be making the rounds in Washington just to share insights, what we were learning and get reactions, with the White House and State Department and Capitol Hill,” Heintz said. “And they were doing the same thing in Tehran.”
“That made the conversations a lot more interesting and useful to everybody,” Heintz said, adding that he believes the Iran Project’s track 2 work did contribute to the opening up of the track 1, government to government US-Iranian contacts that got underway secretly in March 2013, and which gathered pace after Rouhani came into office in August 2013.
With their meetings on hiatus during the Ahmadinejad years, the Iran Project’s US participants moved to step up their publications and educating the US public and policymakers, beginning with a landmark 2008 article in the New York Review of Books revealing the dialogue they had been holding with the Iranians since 2002.
“For over five years, a group of former American diplomats and regional experts, including the authors of this article, have been meeting directly and privately with a group of Iranian academics and policy advisers,” Luers, Pickering and MIT arms control expert Jim Walsh revealed in the 2008 New York Review of Books article, titled "A Solution for the US-Iran Nuclear Standoff."
“Some of the American members of this group believe that there is now an opportunity for discussions on the single most important issue in the US–Iran relationship: Iran’s nuclear program,” they wrote. “We believe that the Iranian government would seriously consider a proposal for direct talks with the United States on issues beyond Iraq.”
A new opening
Five years after the article appeared, Rouhani was elected president and Zarif appointed Iran’s foreign minister. Rouhani and Obama quickly authorized their deputies to begin intense bilateral consultations on reaching a nuclear accord.
Beyond track 2 work and report writing, the Iran Project has also stepped up its work to reach Washington policymakers and media outreach, supported by Luer's deputy Iris Bleri. The track 2 dialogue with Iran has resumed under the management of DiMaggio, who now heads the New America Foundation’s Iran and Asia programs.
Even with regular US-Iranian diplomatic contacts on the nuclear issue underway for the past year, the track 2 process still has value, especially to think through issues not yet on the official agenda, DiMaggio said.
“The benefit of track 2 is not only the substance, but also the relationships built over time,” DiMaggio said, noting that a key proponent of the dialogue on the Iranian side has been Zarif.
Luers agreed the building of relationships plays a key role in managing ties between governments, even adversaries, especially over time. “This has been a journey, with some great satisfactions,” Luers said.
“When Rouhani was elected ... [and] when I realized that Zarif was going to be foreign minister ... I said to myself, here we go again,” Luers said. “If I can watch this hostility begin to unravel, it will be a great source of satisfaction.”