The killing of high-profile Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani will undoubtedly change the security scenario in the Middle East. While the top IRGC commander's killing displays the United States' steely resolve when it comes to taking Iran head on, the act has rankled nerves in Tehran so much so that a wave of revenge attacks is waiting in the wings.
General Soleimani was killed on Friday morning when the US drones blew up his convoy outside the Baghdad International Airport. Soleimani had reportedly flown in from Lebanon or Syria and was heading out of the airport when the Donald Trump-ordered attack took place. Pentagon confirmed the mission, while top officials in Tehran, including the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, vowed revenge.
Here are some quick, unmissable facts about General Soleimani and why his killing will be a game-changer in the Middle East:
- General Soleimani headed the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The Quds Force is the powerful external operations wing of the IRGC. Soleimani has been at the helm of the Quds Force since 1998
- The 62-year-old commander wielded immense influence within the country as well as the region. He reported directly to the Supreme Leader, and has been the second most powerful person in Iran for a long time.
- He was 22 years old when the Shah of Iran was deposed in 1979 and Ayatollah Khomeini took power. Soleimani, who grew up listening to the fiery sermons of a protege of Khamenei in the run-up to the Islamic revolution, soon joined the elite Revolutionary Guards.
- He burnished his military credentials during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, which broke out immediately after the revolution. Soleimani rose through the ranks in the IRGC, earning stripes for bravery and military acumen.
- Soleimani became the chief of the Quds Force way back in 1998. His clout and power saw a marked upward shift since the US occupation of Iraq in 2001.
- Another watershed event that catapulted him to folk here status in Iran was the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. Soleimani was in Lebanon, spearheading the Hezbollah shelling of Israel that revealed the chinks in Tel Aviv's armor.
- Soleimani's stature rose further when he became the kingpin in Iraqi politics in recent years. He made sure that the Shiites had the upperhand in Iraqi politics, and has been spending a considerable amount of time in Iraq in the post-Saddam era.
- His popularity in Iran was immense, and his Instagram account was one of the most widely followed in the country. "To Middle Eastern Shiites, he is James Bond, Erwin Rommel and Lady Gaga rolled into one," former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack wrote for the Time, as per the Agence France-Presse.
- Soleimani's name had frequently come up as a possible presidential candidate in Iran, though he never openly talked about political ambitions. A 2018 survey by IranPoll and the University of Maryland showed that Soleimani was more popular in Iran than President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
- However, the US and allies saw him as the key figure in fosering Iran's rlations with militia groups including Lebanon's Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas. Last week's attack on the US embassy in Baghdad was seen as the handiwork of the militias directly controlled by Soleimani.