Strategist and executor of Iran’s military and political penetration in the Middle Eastwhich makes the Islamic Republic a thorn in the side of the USA and Israel: this was the role of general Qassem Soleimani, killed in an American raid in Baghdad four years ago, during whose commemoration the massacre occurred today in Kerman, where he is buried.
Soleimani had been commander of the Qods Force since 1998, the division of the Revolutionary Guards responsible for cross-border operations. After his death he was replaced in this position by General Esmail Qaani. Until a few years before his killing, which occurred when he was 62, Soleimani had remained a figure shrouded in mystery. The civil war in Syria, which had seen him coordinate tens of thousands of Shiite militiamen from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan engaged in fighting alongside President Bashar al Assad’s troops, projected him into the spotlight on the international scene. Thanks to these events and the leadership of Iraqi militias in the war against ISIS, the Pasdaran general had acquired such popularity that he was spoken of as a possible candidate for the Iranian presidency. Soleimani, trained during the years of the war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the 1980s, responded directly to the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and with him studied the moves to be made on the regional chessboard, excluding even the institutional bodies of the government. Under his direction, Iran developed its influence in the region, completing a project started with the Khomeinist revolution of 1979, aided in this by the upheavals that hit the Middle East, starting with the overthrow of Saddam’s Iraqi regime in 2003 by the United States. The armed wing he used is the Qods Force, whose exact number of personnel is not known. There are those who speak of 10-20 thousand men. But the special division of the Pasdaran operates above all in the organization and direction of non-state militias loyal to Tehran, and not only Shiites: from the Lebanese Hezbollah to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine, to the Houthis in Yemen, to the volunteers from Asia committed in Syria. Finally, in Iraq, the Qods Force continues to maintain close ties with some of the best armed and organized Shiite militias, an extraordinary military force at Tehran’s disposal and a means to penetrate the country’s security apparatus.