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General killed hundreds of British troops in Iraq then fought with UK against ISIS

2019/03/14 | 20:25

(Hatha al-Youm | Iraq News)- He is one of the most powerful figures in the Middle East , a military mastermind who has singlehandedly shaped some of recent history’s most world-changing wars. And in the process Iranian Qassem Soleimani turned from enemy to ally - and to enemy again - of the West. The general, who is in charge of Iran's foreign military interventions, was blamed for causing the deaths of hundreds of British and American soldiers after deploying Iran’s military might to support Shia militants during the Iraq war. Yet just a few years later, he went from foe to friend by fighting alongside Britain and the US against ISIS , when he helped halt the terror group’s onslaught towards the Iraqi capital Baghdad. But while Soleimani has been photographed directing operations on battlefields from Mosul to, most recently, Aleppo in Syria, he mostly operates in the shadows and is rarely seen or speaks in public.





















Suleimani went from a poor upbringing to power as Iran's top military general

(Image: BBC)





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  Now, a new BBC documentary tells the story of the man dubbed “the Darth Vader of contemporary Middle Eastern politics” by one American military commander - and traces his complicated relationship with Western powers over the years. Shadow Commander: Iran’s Military Mastermind, which airs at 9pm tonight, reveals Soleimani’s extraordinary role in recent conflicts across Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. It also suggests the commander is now turning his attention to Iran’s ultimate enemy, Israel, using the allies he has made to surround the Jewish state for the ultimate battle. Describing his dealings with the man revered as a hero in his own country, Gen David Petraeus, the former CIA director and commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said: “We saw Qassem Soleimani as a very capable, charismatic, skilled, professionally competent, diabolically evil human being." And former US ambassador to Iran Ryan Crocker said: “He is the quintessence of global evil. Not a sparrow falls that Qassem Soleimani didn’t personally shoot down.” Soleimani’s rise from a humble upbringing in a poor Iranian village to being it’s undisputed military leader is itself the stuff of legend.





















The general has been seen on battlefields all over the Middle East

(Image: BBC)





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  Leaving his home in 1979 soon after the Iranian Revolution unfolded, he joined the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and quickly became a committed follower of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had returned from exile to seize power. He rose steadily through the ranks of the Iranian military, earning a reputation for bravery during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) when, after getting injured, he refused to go home and fled the hospital back to the front line. Sheikh Jalal Al-Saghir, a Shia Imam and Iranian politician, remembered fighting alongside him. He said: “On the battlefield I found him to be very brave. He gained an extraordinary reputation. “He was spiritual and idealistic, which is different from the strict and harsh character you normally find in military commanders.” Soleimani was already a high-ranking military commander when the 9/11 terror attacks happened, and Iran and the USA - up until then sworn enemies - discovered they had a common enemy, the Sunni extremists from groups like al-Queda. Days after the World Trade Center attacks, Ryan Crocker, who at the time was US ambassador to Syria, was sent to meet Soleimani in Geneva.





















Ryan Crocker describedhim as the "quintessence of global evil"

(Image: BBC)



He said: “We all realised that this development opened up a moment in which the United states and Iran could cooperate effectively. We both had the same enemies in Afghanistan. “He produced a map that showed the Taliban order of battle throughout Afghanistan, and he accompanied that with the advice that we strike certain targets first. “I asked if I could take notes and he said ‘you can keep the map’. “He clearly had the ability to make things happen quickly. "There was none of this talk about the horrors of the past, what we had done to Iran and what Iran had done to us. He was all about, let’s get on with this show, right now.” But the two nations’ new-found willingness to work together came crashing down after US president George Bush made his ‘Axis of Evil’ speech, including Iran, and claiming they were state sponsors of terrorism. Mr Crocker recalled: “We moved literally overnight from a situation where we were doing business with Iran on Afghanistan, which was quite significant and that held open the prospect of a completely different chapter in our relationship.





















David Petraeus, the former CIA director and commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, describedhim as a "diabollically evil human being"

(Image: BBC)



“Axis of Evil slammed that door shut and it has not since reopened.” A year later, months before the US invasion of Iraq, Soleimani was appointed to command the most elite unit of the Iranian military - the Revolutionary Guard’s expeditionary special force, Al-Quds. And with American forces now hemming in Iran to the west and the east, he knew he needed to support Iraq’s Shia muslim majority which was trying to resist the Coalition occupation. He reached out to Qais Khazali, the leader of Iraq’s Shiite insurgency. Khazali, now an Iraqi politician, said: “Iran had political and strategic interests against the United States. And we had national interests against the American occupation. And so our interests met and the result was achieved.” Iran’s covert involvement in the Iraq war changed the balance of power completely. Soleimani was responsible for smuggling of thousands of sophisticated bombs into the country and arming the militias fighting the occupation, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of British and US troops.





















Suleimani helped Qais Khazali fight Coalition troops in Iraq

(Image: BBC)



In particular the use of Iranian-made explosively-formed projectiles (EFPs), including one in which four British soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb as they patrolled in a Warrior armoured vehicle, began to change the British public’s perception of the costly war. Brigadier Gareth Collett, the head of Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal, helped set up the Troy track force to tract the source of the weapons that were causing so much bloodshed. She said: “Most people hit by an EFP will die simply because the injury is catastrophic. It wasn’t a nice thing to see. People were literally torn to shreds.” “We knew Iraq didn’t have the technology to design itself so the intellectual property and the means to creating an EFP to devastating effect was coming from Iran. "And that was backed up by the numbering, lettering and packaging that we saw on the EFPs that we found. “We were playing a cat and mouse game with the insurgents on a daily basis. It didn’t really matter what technology you threw at the problem, they would find a counter to that and get ahead of you again.” Gen David Petraeus revealed that, in the middle of the war, he received a phone call from Iraq’s president, passing on a message from Qassem Soleimani.





















British troops patrolling a road in Basra, Iraq

(Image: PA)



He said: “He said ‘I have just come back from a meeting with Qassem Soleimani’ It was a real jaw-dropper. “He said, ‘I have a message from you from General Soleimani and it goes like this: General Petraeus, you should know that I, Qassem Soleimani, control the policy for Iran with respect to Iraq and also Syria, Afghanistan, Gaza and so on.’ “So the point he was making was ‘you should deal with me”. Forget all the others, we should do a deal. “I told him I wasn’t going to speak with a general that was leading elements that were killing our soldiers. There was no way that I was going to sit down with him.” British and American troops finally pulled out of Iraq in 2011 - but it wasn’t long before a new Sunni terrorist group, ISIS - known in Iraq as Daesh , began to sweep through the country leaving death and destruction in its wake. But while the coalition forces had left, Soleimani was ready to get involved again.





















The general armed and training militia groups fighting Isis

(Image: BBC)



Iraq’s prime minister at the time, Nouri Al-Maliki, revealed that he personally called the general to ask for Iran’s help. He said: “America stopped our arms supply and we didn’t have the weapons to confront Daesh. "I say this with all honesty and very clearly, we asked for Iran’s help. Iran stood by us, for which we are very thankful.” Knowing the ISIS terorrists would quickly become a threat to Iran, Soleimani sent three planes full of advanced weapons to Baghdad, as well as to the Iraqi Kurdish groups fighting them, while he and his men crossed the border again. Just years after his bombs had been killing their troops, America and Britain now found themselves on the same side as Soleimani and Iran.





















Suleimani among Iraqi fighters fighting the Isis terrorists

(Image: BBC)

























He gained a reputation for leading militia groups towards victory

(Image: BBC)



And even the American tacticians were impressed by his hands-on approach, and the way he motivated the militia groups he was directing as they fought the Islamic extremists. Former CIA officer John Maguire said: “For a little guy whose out there with no body armour who’s 25 years old fighting in a militia group fighting, how can you not rise to the occasion when your boss, whose the age of your grandfather, is in a shirt walking around the battle space with gunfire going off. “It’s an inspiring message that this man is fearless and we must follow.” As always, though, Soleimani’s aim in defeating ISIS was part of his strategy to increase Iran’s power and influence in region. Some also believe that his support of Iran, Syria and Lebanon - he has also sent weapons to Shia militant group Hezbollah - is all part of the general’s master plan to surround and defeat Iran’s greatest enemy, Israel. Observers believe he is creating a route from Iran to Syria’s Mediterranean coast where he can transport weapons, and launch his biggest battle of all to retake Jerusalem and carry out his country’s dream to “wipe Israel off the map”.





















Fighters in Syria celebrate the defeat of Isis

(Image: AFP/Getty Images)



Iraqi Shia leader Qais Khazali told the BBC that Israel “should be afraid” of Soleimani. He said: “If Israel doesn’t want to cause harm and expand its ambitions over the countries in the region it shouldn’t be afraid. “But if it really wants to be an occupying force and expand its reach over other Arab countries it should be afraid.” Israel has already seen an increase in attacks in the disputed Gola Heights region of Lebanon, which Israel occupies, including a number of unmanned drones which are suspected to have come from Iran. General Nitzan Alon, the Israeli Defence Forces commander in the Gola Heights, warned Soleimani not to imagine he would be as successful taking on Israel. He said: “I think he has underestimated Israeli capabilities and maybe overestimated his capabilies against Israel. I’m not sure he has learned his lesson yet.”







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