Qassim Suleimani, Master of Iran’s Intrigue, Built a Shiite Axis of Power in Mideast

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“For Qassim Suleimani, the Iran-Iraq war never really ended,” Ryan C. Crocker, a former American ambassador to Iraq, once said in an interview. “No human being could have come through such a World War I-style conflict and not have been forever affected. His strategic goal was an outright victory over Iraq, and if that was not possible, to create and influence a weak Iraq.”

Sometimes, American officials secretly communicated with General Suleimani in an effort to ease tensions in Iraq. In 2008, the American general, David Petraeus, was trying to find a truce in a fight that American forces and the Iraqi Army were waging against Shiite militias loyal to Iran. In Mr. Petraeus’s telling of the story, he was shown a text message directed to him: “General Petraeus, you should know that I, Qassim Suleimani, control the policy for Iran with respect to Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan.”

Years later, General Suleimani personally, and mockingly, addressed another American leader: President Trump, who in July 2018 warned Iran’s president not to threaten the United States.

“It is beneath the dignity of our president to respond to you,” General Suleimani declared in a speech in western Iran. “I, as a soldier, respond to you.”

“We are near you, where you can’t even imagine,” he added. “We are ready. We are the man of this arena.”

For years after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran railed against what it saw as American aggression in the region, worried that the United States would turn its attention to regime change in Iran after Mr. Hussein was gone.

American officials have blamed Iran for killing hundreds of American soldiers during the war, many with sophisticated, shaped-charge bombs that could slice through American armored vehicles.


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