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The Shadow Commander: Soleimani, the US, and Iran's Global Ambitions Hardcover – November 24, 2020
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When the US assassinated Qassem Soleimani, he was one of the most powerful men in Iran. Known as ‘the shadow commander’, he enacted the wishes of the country’s Supreme Leader across the Middle East, establishing the Islamic Republic as a major force in the region. But all this was a long way from where he began – on the margins of a nation whose ruler was seen as a friend of the West.
Through Soleimani, Arash Azizi examines how Iran came to be where it is today. Providing a rare insight into a country whose actions are often discussed but seldom understood, he reveals the global ambitions underlying Iran’s proxy wars, geopolitics and nuclear programme.
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‘This energetic account sheds more light on Soleimani’s character and his relationships with [Ayatollah] Ali Khamenei…and [Hezbollah’s] Nasrallah.’ ― The Times
‘A brilliant primer on the politics of the Islamic Republic and an in-depth study on one of its most famous sons.’ ― The New Arab
‘[A] groundbreaking new biography of the late Qassem Soleimani… Azizi is a skillful interpreter of Soleimani’s moves, and an astute analyst of how Iran’s “living martyr” lied, schemed, and abetted the ugly torture and murder of true revolutionaries and Muslims across the Middle East, and wherever else the IRGC’s reach permitted.’ ― Tablet
‘An excellent contribution to our knowledge of Iran and Soleimani.’ -- Kim Ghattas, author of Black Wave
‘Mr. Arash Azizi…provides one of the most fascinating books of 2020 and one of the most insightful – into not just Soleimani, but also Iran’s foreign and security aims in the Middle East. A story that easily could have descended into hagiography is masterfully told by Mr. Azizi, who weaves one of the richest and most complex tapestries about the region I’ve come across in some time, especially in so short of a book. It is not just a biography of Soleimani, but a biography of modern Iran and its role in the Middle East.’ ― Diplomatic Courier
“The strength of Azizi’s book lies in his achievement in presenting the first written work about Soleymani’s life story… the prose is reader-friendly; the author describes events chronologically and in a straightforward format.” -- Ali Alavi, Senior Teaching Fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies, Middle East Journal
‘Extensively researched and drawing on a vast range of sources, this is the definitive account of one of the Middle East’s most powerful, ambitious and enigmatic figures. Essential reading.’ ― Christopher Davidson, author of Shadow Wars
‘A fascinating account of the strengths and weaknesses of the most enigmatic warlord in the Middle East. Azizi skilfully portrays Soleimani’s life and death in the wider context of Iran’s recent history and politics.’ ― Anshel Pfeffer, author of Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu
About the Author
- Publisher : Oneworld Publications (November 24, 2020)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1786079445
- ISBN-13 : 978-1786079442
- Item Weight : 1.01 pounds
- Dimensions : 6 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,063,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #345 in Iran History
- #659 in Historical Middle East Biographies
- #1,012 in Middle Eastern Politics
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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Of course it is impossible to discuss Soleimani in the abstract without going over the various military and political conflicts going on in the region, many of which Soleimani had a central role, but the book too often diverges from discussing Soleimani to giving lengthy backstory and context of Iran's domestic politics, other leaders of Shia movements, and broader international political trends. While interesting and well explained, these topics leave you wondering if this book is about Soleimani at all.
The author clearly did a lot of research and appears in earnest in their attempt to tell a balanced and fair account of a very enigmatic figure, no small feat, but there are also periods of time in Soleimani's life that are glaringly absent. The 2011 to 2012 period when the Quds Force was tied to a large number of plots abroad is given less than a page, Soleimani and the Quds Force's intervention in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen also appear like a footnote at the end of the book rather than a central part of the story. I found this very odd given that it was in this period, between 2013 and up until now, that Soleimani and the Quds Force came much more into the public eye.
I was also disappointed as I have a lot of respect for this author (and still do) and was really looking forward to a deep account of Soleimani's life as well as a history of what is arguably his brainchild, though he didn't found it, the Quds Force. You walk away knowing very little extra about it though beyond what can be gleaned from public sources, a lot of which does not even make the book. The book rounds out well in the end though with a frank and not-so-rushed discussion about Soleimani's killing by the U.S. in January 2020 which undoubtedly the author nor the world was not planning for.
Ultimately, I think we are still waiting for the authoritative account on Soleimani's life, the Quds Force, and his influence within Iran.
The book’s first half is Soleimani’s and Islamic Republic of Iran’s rise to formation until Khomeini’s death. The book starts with the geo-politics of Iran prior to revolution, and the apolitic detachment of the tribal regions to the center. It follows how the people were mobilized, under the rhetorics of Khomeini and mobilized to fight against Iraq, with in cases strategically suicidal plans. Most importantly, it shows the importance of the small wins in the war, and how this enabled the Khomeini and the new ruling class to encourage people to continue. At the same time, Azizi transfers the audience to Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and other countries in the region, through the ventures of Sadr’s and other Iranians in mobilizing Shia’s outside of Iran. Soleimani’s military accolades and Iran’s regional ambitions grow at the same time, creating the space for the future commander.
The second half of the book is the post-Khomeini, but also post-war period where regional politics including Iran is not stable. The book follows the inner dynamics of Iran skillfully, drawing attention to areas of crime gangs, and Soleimani’s rise to power as he succession to Khameini’s radar as he rids these areas of crime. Azizi shows how the Quds Force and Soleimani’s involvement in global affairs is product of political tension and power fears. The last three chapters of the book explain in detail Soleimani’s and Iran’s global ambitions from their support to Hezbollah, Hamas, PIJ and others, to their fights against Taliban and ISIS.
Azizi by contextualizing Soleimani’s life path within Iranian cities, politics, region and the world, lets the reader visualize the narrative. I recommend this book to all that’s interested in the Middle East and regional politics.
Azizi does assume his readers have a general familiarity with Iran's history, but this is acceptable given the relatively short length of his book at around 275 pages. For those seeking a deep history of Iran from the longue durée perspective, Abbas Amanat's "Iran: A Modern History" is a good place to start before reading Azizi's book.
The long history of the relationship between Iran and Lebanon is also assumed in Azizi's book, so it would be helpful to read "Distant Relations: Five Centuries of Lebanese-Iranian Ties" by H.E. Chehabi (ed.) to understand this key nuance about the grand narrative of the world in which Soleimani lived. This is especially true for understanding the formation of Hezbollah out of the Amal movement and the linkages between Jabal 'Amil in south Lebanon to the IRGC-Quds Force.
Top reviews from other countries
Whilst away on business he was attacked and expired instantly. I won't write too much more so you too can enjoy the booklet.