Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani. Photo: Pool/Press Office of Iranian Supreme Leader/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
On Monday, Iran's Supreme Leader and Commander-in-Chief Ayatollah Ali Khamenei presented Major General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF), with the order of the Zulfiqar — the country's highest military decoration, and one that hasn't been awarded since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
Why it matters: Despite not having fought a conventional war since 1988, Iran is involved in countless Middle Eastern conflicts, supporting, arming, or financing forces in its "axis of resistance." Leading this axis, and often beside its forces on the battlefield, is Soleimani.
Background: Soleimani rose to prominence during the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq War. He was appointed to lead the IRGC-QF sometime in the late 1990s, and was promoted from the rank of Brigadier General after a decade at the helm. The U.S. Treasury has designated Soleimani under multiple authorities since October 2007.
- Soleimani remains the most important individual in Iran’s regional strategy. Having recently embraced a more public role, his fame — and infamy — in the West have even fueled rumors of possible political opportunities in his future.
- Zulfiqar, which means "spine cleaver" in Arabic, is the name of the fabled cleft sword of Ali ibn Abu Talib, the first Imam of Shi'ism and the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad.
- Iran has named several military platforms after the Zulfiqar, including a short-range ballistic missile, a battle tank, and a battle rife, just to name a few.
What they're saying: Awarding the medal, Khamenei asked God to grant Soleimani "martyrdom in the end," but "of course not any time soon." Several other Iranian officials have since congratulated Soleimani.
Behnam Ben Taleblu is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.