General Qassem Soleimani 270718 CREDIT PA .jpg

Who Was Iran's General Qassem Soleimani?

The 62-year-old began leading the country's elite Quds Force in 1998 and was accused of being behind numerous attacks on American soldiers.

General Qassem Soleimani 270718 CREDIT PA .jpg

General Qassem Soleimani was one of Iran's top military commanders and was considered to be among the country's most powerful figures.

As commander of the Iran Revolutionary Guard's elite Quds Force unit, Gen Soleimani was responsible for the Islamic Republic's military campaigns abroad.

He is also believed to have played a major role in the deaths of thousands of civilians and western military personnel.

Gen Soleimani's military career began in the First Gulf War but in more recent times, he directed militant groups to carry out attacks against United States targets, as well as backing pro-Assad fighters in Syria.

For Iranians, he widely represented a figure of national resilience in the face of four decades of US pressure. 

In 2013, John Maguire, a former CIA officer, told The New Yorker that Gen Soleimani was the "single most powerful operative in the Middle East". 

But on Friday morning, Gen Soleimani was killed by a US air strike at Baghdad international airport. 

The US said he was killed, under the orders of President Donald Trump, for "actively developing plans" to attack Americans in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.

The 62-year-old, who grew up in the mountainous town of Rabor, joined the Revolutionary Guard in 1979 and fought in the First Gulf War.

General Qasem Soleimani was made head of the elite Quds Force in 1998 (Picture: PA).

During the eight-year battle, Gen Soleimani's unit was hit by Iraqi chemical weapons and he became known for his opposition to "meaningless deaths" on the battlefield.

After the war, Gen Soleimani largely disappeared from public view for several years - something experts put down to his wartime disagreements with Hashemi Rafsanjani, who served as Iran's president between 1989 and 1997.

But once Mr Rafsanjani left office, Gen Soleimani became head of the Quds Force in 1998 and he formed a close relationship to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

As chief of the Quds, he oversaw the Guard's foreign operations and eventually came to the close attention of the US, following the 2003 Iraq Invasion and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

He was accused of ordering militant groups to attack US troops and bases, killing hundreds.

The structure of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps before the death of Gen Soleimani, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (Picture: IISS).

US forces blamed the Quds Force for an attack in Karbala, Iraq, that killed five American troops, as well as for training and supplying the bomb makers who made IEDs.

In 2007, Gen Soleimani was put on a sanctions list by the US and the United Nations, although he continued his work.

With the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, Gen Soleimani's work moved into Syria.

Iran, a major supporter of the Assad-regime, sent Gen Soleimani into Syria several times to lead attacks against so-called Islamic State (IS) and others opposing Assad's rule.

Cover Image: General Qassem Soleimani in July 2018 (Picture: PA).