Qassem Soleimani long targeted the United States

USA

Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, targeted for death by President Trump and the U.S. military, was a longtime enemy of America blamed for hundreds of U.S. soldiers’ deaths and the spread of Iranian-sponsored terrorism throughout the Middle east.

Soleimani, killed near Baghdad’s airport in a targeted U.S. drone strike, was Iran’s most recognizable battlefield commander and the leader of the elite Quds Force division of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, directly overseeing Iran’s proxy forces in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

The U.S. had considered assassinating Soleimani for years as his militias killed more than 600 U.S. troops, fought against American interests and funneled resources to bomb-makers as Iran looked to increase its power at the expense of the U.S. Both the Bush and Obama presidential administrations at various times had him in their sights but opted not to pull the trigger, deeming that a martyred general and a furious Iran outweighed the benefit of removing him.

In 2007, U.S. commandos watched as a convoy carrying Soleimani made its way to northern Iraq.

It was a prime opportunity to take him out. But military leaders passed on a strike, deferring to deep concerns about the potential fallout of such a provocative attack.

“To avoid a firefight, and the contentious politics that would follow, I decided that we should monitor the caravan, not strike immediately,” retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal wrote last year in Foreign Policy. Following Thursday’s attack, however, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said the Pentagon had come to the conclusion that “the risk of inaction exceeded the risk of action.”

President Trump’s National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien told reporters on Friday, the day after the strike that finally killed Soleimani after years of rumored deaths, that the general had just flown into Baghdad from Damascus, where he’d been cooking up a scheme to attack U.S. forces.

“Soleimani was a central figure in Iran — he was Iran’s military representative to the Middle East,” Jim Walsh, an expert on terrorism and the Middle East at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the Herald. “There was sort of a cult of personality about him, and people thought of him as being talented.”

He rose to prominence as a battlefield commander in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s before taking command of the Quds Force. He was rumored dead several times — in a 2006 plane crash in northwestern Iran and in a 2012 bombing in Damascus. More recently, rumors circulated in November 2015 that Soleimani had been killed or seriously wounded in combat in Aleppo, in Syria.

U.S. forces blamed the Quds Force for an attack in Karbala during the Iraq War that killed five American troops, as well as for training and supplying the bomb-makers whose improvised bombs made improvised explosive devices.

He was so close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that Iran’s leader officiated the wedding of the general’s daughter.

But Alex Vatanka of the Middle East Institute said Soleimani was more controversial in Iran than some coverage has made him out to be. Some viewed him the way the government portrayed him, as “the guy who single-handedly defeated ISIS,” Vatanka said.

But to others, he was an example of Iran’s government’s focus on extending its power in the region rather than bettering life for residents.

“He was in many ways the face of the Islamic Republic in the region,” Vatanka said. “But he was important because he wasn’t just a face — he was an ideologue in fatigues.”

— Herald wire services contributed to this report.

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