Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei appointed on Friday Brigadier General Esmayeel Qaani (photo) as the new Commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Qods Force whose late chief, Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed Friday morning in a U.S. air strike on his convoy at Baghdad airport.
The airstrike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Deputy Commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), or Hashad al-Shabi. A PMF official said seven people were killed by missiles fired by the US helicopters at Baghdad International Airport. He said the dead included the PMF airport protocol officer, Mohammed Reda.
In a decree on Friday, Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Brigadier General Qaani as the new Commander of IRGC’s Qods Force, noting that Qaani has been one of the prominent Commanders during the eight years of Sacred Defense and has been accompanying martyr General Soleimani in the past several years in the region, Fars News Agency (FNA) reported.
“The plan of the Force will exactly be the same as the plan during martyr Soleimani’s tenure,” underlined the Supreme Leader.
The attack came amid tensions that started by the US attack on PMF units that killed 28 Iraqi popular forces. A day later, Iraqi people attacked the US embassy in Baghdad. On Wednesday President Donald Trump ordered about 750 US soldiers deployed to the Middle East. US officials earlier suggested they were to engage in further retaliatory attacks in Iraq.
The attack represents a dramatic escalation by the US toward Iran after months of tensions. The tensions take root in Trump’s decision in May 2018 to withdraw the US from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, struck under his predecessor.
Soleimani was responsible for clandestine overseas operations and was often seen on battlefields guiding Iraqi Shi’ite groups in the war against Islamic State, Reuters reported.
As a young high-school graduate, he commanded a unit in Iran’s war with Iraq in the 1980s. After that, he rose rapidly through the ranks of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to become chief of the Qods Force, a post in which he helped Iran form alliances in the Middle East as it came under pressure from U.S. sanctions that have devastated the Islamic Republic’s economy.
The United States designated the Revolutionary Guards a foreign terrorist organization in 2019, part of a campaign of maximum pressure to force Iran to negotiate on its ballistic missile program and nuclear policy.
Soleimani had a pointed reply: any negotiation with the U.S. would be “complete surrender.”
Soleimani’s Qods Force shored up support for Syrian President Bashir al-Assad when he looked close to defeat in the civil war raging since 2011 and also helped militiamen defeat Islamic State in Iraq.
Khamenei made Soleimani head of the Qods Force in 1998, a position in which he kept a low profile for years while he strengthened Iran’s ties with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Assad’s government, and Shi’ite militia groups in Iraq.
In the past few years, he has acquired a more public standing, with fighters and Commanders in Iraq and Syria posting images on social media of him on the battlefield, his beard and hair always impeccably trimmed.
Soleimani’s growing authority within Iran’s military establishment was apparent in 2019 when Khamenei awarded him the Order of Zolfiqar medal, Iran’s highest military honor. It was the first time any Commander had received the medal since the Islamic Republic was established in 1979.
In a statement after Soleimani’s death, Khamenei said harsh revenge awaited the “criminals” who killed him. His death, though bitter, would double the motivation of the resistance against the United States and Israel, the Iranian leader said.