By Jay Boyd, Fox News Summer College Associate
A major proponent of terror, described as “the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today”, has re-emerged with the recent appearance of Major General Qasem Soleimani.
“The Shadow Commander” recently traveled to Moscow to meet with Russian officials, according to multiple reports, violating worldwide sanctions against him and Iran. Iran is an ally of Russia, and Soleimani, with his position as the commander of the powerful Quds force in Iran, provides Russia with a direct link to the Iranian government and military force. U.S. officials believe Soleimani was in the Russian capital to discuss strategy in the Middle East. His strong relationship with Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei leads one to conclude that he would be a sufficient messenger to their most powerful ally.
The Quds force is an elite unit, comprised of mainly Special Forces, within Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and is estimated to possess 15,000 troops. Its responsibility can be compared to United Nations forces, perhaps, as the group carries out most of their missions as extraterritorial activities. The group has given military assistance to organizations such as Hamas in the Palestinian region and Hezbollah in Lebanon. To go along with that, the United States has tied the group to multiple terrorist operations against the U.S. and other western forces over the years, making Soleimani a very dangerous individual, to say the least.
Soleimani has been on the side of radical organizations since 1979, joining the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) immediately after the Iranian Revolution. In the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, while still in his 20s, Soleimani commanded the 41st Sarallah Division from 1980-88. This post helped him gain standing in the ranks rather rapidly.
He became a commander in a region close to the border with Afghanistan, the Kerman province. This area is known for drug trafficking, as Afghan-grown opium would travel across the border to Turkey and Europe. Soleimani took a firm hold on the region, becoming notorious as a fighter against the drug trade. Sometime afterwards (we don’t know a specific date), he would assume the post that he has had ever since, commanding the Quds force.
Initially after the attacks on September 11, 2001, the United States sought Soleimani’s forces in a collaborative effort to root out the Taliban in the Middle East. Initially, this ended up working out well for both sides, as senior Taliban officials were captured as a result of the intelligence sharing. However, it all ended at the 2002 State of the Union address, where Iran was called out as a member of the Axis of Evil by President Bush.
Soleimani, according to several military sources, is a staunch supporter of the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. He is reported to have conducted operations from a base in Damascus, where he coordinates with Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite forces. In addition, the turning of the tide in favor of the Assad government is ascribed to the strategy outlined by Soleimani. His influence is wide-reaching and not limited to a single country in the Middle East.
In Iraq, Soleimani has been present in fighting against the ISIS forces. While not partnering with any western forces, the Major General has played a role in significant operations in attempts to take territory back from ISIS, such as Tikrit. He also helped defend the Kurdistan region from ISIS incursions. Individuals fighting with Soleimani describe him as “fearless”, sometimes even refusing to wear a flak jacket in battle.
However, as a result of his support for the Assad government, he was sanctioned by the United States’ government in 2011 as a known terrorist. The United Nations swiftly followed by placing their own sanctions on him. In traveling to Russia, Soleimani violated all sanctions against him, perhaps with aid from the Russian government, with whom the United States is already experiencing rough relations. Needless to say, the Iran-Russia dynamic provides problems for the United States long term.
The re-appearance of Soleimani in the realm of international relations isn’t a strong sign for US-Iran relations, even though the two are aiming for a reset through the recently-negotiated nuclear deal.