Qassem Suleimani is the deadliest man in the Middle East that you’ve never heard of.
The 57-year-old Suleimani is a virtual ghost — he’s never pictured, never seen and never accounted for. His location in the world is only ever rumored, and not even his closest advisors know where he’ll pop up next. His presence is always felt but never seen.
Suleimani is the commander of the Qud’s Force, a highly secretive Iranian security and intelligence operation that will do anything to protect the Islamic Republic of Iran. He became Qud’s commander in 1998 and in 2005 was named by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, as “a living martyr.” He has delivered fewer than a handful of public speeches, and few photographs exist of him.
Now, with civil war threatening Iraq and Syria, Suleimani and his Qud’s Force is needed now more than ever. He has already partnered with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to fight the Sunni-led rebels in the country’s civil war, providing intelligence and security. A source told Agence France Presse that Suleimani “knows Syria like he was born there.”
In a rare public appearance earlier this year, Suleimani was quoted as saying, “No force or country except for Iran is capable of leading the Muslim world today … due to Iran’s support for revolutionary and Islamic movements and fighters as well as its defence [sic] of Muslims against aggressors.”
Suleimani is now setting his sights on Iraq, where the terrorist group ISIS is threatening the country’s very existence. Suleimani was a main force in getting Iraq’s now Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki elected when he organized a meeting between Maliki and an influential exiled Shiite cleric who was the former head of Iraq’s Army and was living in Iran during Iraq’s gridlocked 2010 election. After the meeting the cleric endorsed Maliki for the Prime Minister position, effectively wining Maliki the election.
Suleimani’s Qud’s Force is infamous not only in the Middle East, but around the world. In 2008, the U.S. accused Suleimani of training Iraqi hit squads; however, no real evidence ever supported those claims. Israel has also accused him of orchestrating terrorist attacks on Israeli tourists in 2012.
An anonymous official said of Suleimani: “He is everywhere, but nowhere.”