(CNSNews.com) – Awarding Iran’s highest military honor to Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force chief Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani this week, Iran’s supreme leader expressed the hope that he would die a martyr – although not just yet.
“I hope that Allah the Exalted will reward and bless him, that he will help him live a blissful life and that he will make his end marked by martyrdom,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said as he awarded Soleimani the Order of Zulfaqar.
“Of course, not so soon,” Khamenei added. “The Islamic Republic will be needing his services for many years to come, but I hope that his services will culminate with martyrdom, Allah-willing.”
Soleimani, viewed by some Iran experts as Iran’s most dangerous man, has been accused by U.S. military officials and lawmakers of responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of American service personnel in Iraq during the war
The Qods Force, responsible for terrorist and military operations abroad, is believed to have overseen and armed Iraqi Shi’a militia which deployed sophisticated Iranian-supplied IEDs and other weaponry to deadly effect against U.S. forces.
“This is a man who has American blood on his hands,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said of Soleimani last fall.
According to the U.S. Treasury Department, the Soleimani-led Qods Force has provided funds and weapons to the Taliban, Hezbollah, and Palestinian terrorist groups including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.
The department has designated Soleimani for sanctions several times over the past 12 years, for supporting terrorism, for supporting the Assad regime’s repression in Syria, and in connection with an aborted 2011 Qods Force plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. by bombing a restaurant in Washington.
During a U.S. House Homeland subcommittee hearing on Iranian terrorism weeks after the bomb plot was revealed, a former U.S. Army vice chief of staff and a former CIA operative both suggested that Soleimani be assassinated, drawing official protests in Tehran.
Once seen as a mysterious figure, Soleimani assumed a higher profile in recent years, receiving considerable Iranian media coverage as he led Iran’s effort to prop up the Assad regime and its support for Iraqi forces’ operations against the Sunni jihadists of ISIS.
Last year, after President Trump warned Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Twitter never again to threaten the U.S., Soleimani hit back in a speech, warning that “Trump should know that we are nation of martyrs and that we await him.”
“You may start the war, but we will be the ones who end it,” Soleimani said, boasting that it would not even be necessary for Iran’s regular armed forces to involve themselves, as “I myself and the IRGC’s Qods Force are enough to face you as an adversary.”
In his remarks at the award ceremony, Khamenei said Soleimani had “time and time again exposed his life to the invasion of the enemy and he has done so in the way of Allah.”
“What is offered to you in return for jihad in the way of Allah, and what Allah the Exalted grants in return for laying down your life and offering your possessions is paradise and divine satisfaction.”
For Muslims, martyrdom is the sacrifice of one’s life in the defense of Islam. In Shi’a Islam, the historical list of martyrs starts with Abel in the Bible and includes 11 of the 12 imams – those viewed as spiritual successors of Mohammed.
Since the 1979 Iranian revolution, those who die “in defense of the revolution” are deemed martyrs, and a cult of martyrdom developed during the Iran-Iraq war, when Iranian combatants were promised immediate entrance into heaven and its awaiting virgins.
During the costly 1980-1988 conflict, tens of thousands of Iranian school children were deployed to the front where, according to published accounts they were used among other things to clear minefields with their bodies.
The Zulfiqar award is named for the sword of Ali, Mohammed’s cousin, who is regarded by Shi’ites as the prophet’s true successor, and the first of the 12 revered imams.
The overall commander of the IRGC, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, congratulated Soleimani, saying the award was the result of his and the IRGC’s strategic, and decisive efforts in “supporting the Resistance Front, fighting American-Zionist terrorism, and ensuring the security of Iran.”
The “Resistance Front” is Iran’s term for an axis led by Iran, including terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, Syria’s Assad regime, and Shi’a militia in Iraq and Yemen.