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  1. ITV Report

Who was Iranian general Qassem Soleimani?

Iranian general Qassem Soleimani was killed in an overnight airstrike by the US. Credit: AP

Iranian general Qassem Soleimani was killed in an overnight airstrike by the US, but who was the experienced battlefield commander who rose to become one of the most powerful men in the Middle East?

For the US and Israel, General Soleimani was the man responsible for pulling the strings in Iran's proxy wars, including backing Bashar al-Assad's forces in Syria and the killing American troops in Iraq.

For Iranians, he was their most recognisable military leader, ignoring calls to enter politics but becoming as powerful, if not more, than its civilian leadership.

Soleimani, 62, rose through the ranks during his military career to become the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force, responsible for the Islamic Republic’s foreign campaigns.

Born on March 11, 1957, Soleimani is thought to be the son of a peasant who joined Iran's Revolutionary Guard during the country's Islamic Revolution in 1979.

He was deployed to Iran's north west with forces that tackled Kurdish unrest following the revolution.

Soon after, he began to make a name for himself during Iran's bloody eight-year war with Iraq.

The fighting killed more than one million people and saw Iran send waves of lightly armed troops into minefields and the fire of Iraqi forces, including teenage soldiers.

Gen Qassem Soleimani Credit: Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP

After the war, he largely disappeared from public view, which some attribute to disagreements with Hashemi Rafsanjani, who would serve as Iran’s president from 1989 to 1997.

In the post-Rafsanjani era, Soleimani was made the head of the Quds forces and became so close to Ayatollah Khamenei that the Supreme Leader officiated the wedding of the general’s daughter.

As head of the Quds Force, he oversaw foreign operations which brought him into conflict with the US troops during the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Secret US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks showed that US officials discussed Iraqi efforts to reach out to Soleimani to stop rocket attacks on the highly secured Green Zone in Baghdad in 2009.

US forces later blamed the Quds Force for an attack in Karbala that killed five American troops, as well as for training and supplying the bomb makers whose improvised explosive devices made IED a dreaded acronym among soldiers.

A burning vehicle at Baghdad International Airport following an air strike Credit: Iraqi Prime Minister Press Office via AP

Soleimani was put on a US and UN sanctions list in 2007 but he continued to travel.

In 2011, US officials named him as a defendant in a Quds Force plot to allegedly hire a purported Mexican drug cartel assassin to kill a Saudi diplomat.

He is perhaps most notoriously known for his role in the Syrian civil war and the rapid expansion of so-called Islamic State.

Iran, a major backer of Assad, sent Soleimani into Syria several times to lead attacks against IS and others opposing Assad’s rule.

While a US-led coalition focused on air strikes, several ground victories for Iraqi forces came with photographs emerging of Gen Soleimani leading, never wearing a flak jacket.