He’s a father of five with back pain. He “respects” his wife, and takes her on trips. Though he can’t seem to control his daughter — she has been “deviating from the ways of Islam” and fled to Malaysia — it seems he’s got a pretty good handle on this Syrian civil war thing.
Iran’s Qassem Suleimani is a family man who happens to be the most powerful operative in the Middle East, according to an outstanding post by The New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins called “The Shadow Commander.”
Suleimani runs the Quds force, a para-military/intelligence/special operations group that has been central to America’s security headaches for the last 30 years.
Filkins explains how he has taken charge in Syria:
Suleimani began flying into Damascus frequently so that he could assume personal control of the Iranian intervention. “He’s running the war himself,” an American defence official told me. In Damascus, he is said to work out of a heavily fortified command post in a nondescript building, where he has installed a multinational array of officers: the heads of the Syrian military, a Hezbollah commander, and a coöcoordinator of Iraqi Shiite militias, which Suleimani mobilized and brought to the fight.
Late last year, Western officials began to notice a sharp increase in Iranian supply flights into the Damascus airport. Instead of a handful a week, planes were coming every day, carrying weapons and ammunition — “tons of it,” the Middle Eastern security official told me — along with officers from the Quds Force. According to American officials, the officers coordinated attacks, trained militias, and set up an elaborate system to monitor rebel communications.
Clearly, Suleimani is a hardworking and talented guy. He grew up poor. Started working at 13. Took a job with a water purification plant. Found his way into the Iranian revolution in the late ’70s, then the Iran-Iraq War, eventually scratching his way to the top of Iran’s most specialised fighting force.
He also has something of a warrior poet reputation. Filkins writes:
Among spies in the West, he appears to exist in a special category, an enemy both hated and admired: a Middle Eastern equivalent of Karla, the elusive Soviet master spy in John le Carré’s novels. When I called Dagan, the former Mossad chief, and mentioned Suleimani’s name, there was a long pause on the line. “Ah,” he said, in a tone of weary irony, “a very good friend.”
His true story even inspired a Spartacus-like moment: Following the botched attempt to assassinate a Saudi Arabian diplomat on U.S. soil, officials advised Congress to take him out; “In Iran, more than two hundred dignitaries signed an outraged letter in his defence; a social-media campaign proclaimed, ‘We are all Qassem Suleimani,'” wrote Filkins.
Later, recounting lost soldiers in the Iran-Iraq War, Suleimani explains his almost Eastern philosophy of war.
“The battlefield is mankind’s lost paradise — the paradise in which morality and human conduct are at their highest,” he says. “One type of paradise that men imagine is about streams, beautiful maidens, and lush landscape. But there is another kind of paradise — the battlefield.”
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