"Suleimani took command of the Quds Force fifteen years ago, and has sought to reshape the Middle East in Iran's favor: assassinating rivals, arming allies, and directing a network of militant groups that killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq. And yet he has remained mostly invisible to the outside world. 'Suleimani is the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today,' a former C.I.A. officer in Iraq, told me, 'and no one's ever heard of him.'"
When Suleimani appears in public—often to speak at veterans' events or to meet with Khamenei—he carries himself inconspicuously and rarely raises his voice, exhibiting a trait that Arabs call khilib, or understated charisma. "He is so short, but he has this presence," a former senior Iraqi official told me. "There will be ten people in a room, and when Suleimani walks in he doesn't come and sit with you. He sits over there on the other side of room, by himself, in a very quiet way. Doesn't speak, doesn't comment, just sits and listens. And so of course everyone is thinking only about him."
Last year, Suleimani asked Kurdish leaders in Iraq to allow him to open a supply route across northern Iraq and into Syria. For years, he had bullied and bribed the Kurds into coöperating with his plans, but this time they rebuffed him. Worse, Assad's soldiers wouldn't fight—or, when they did, they mostly butchered civilians, driving the populace to the rebels. "The Syrian Army is useless!" Suleimani told an Iraqi politician. He longed for the Basij, the Iranian militia whose fighters crushed the popular uprisings against the regime in 2009. "Give me one brigade of the Basij, and I could conquer the whole country," he said. In August, 2012, anti-Assad rebels captured forty-eight Iranians inside Syria. Iranian leaders protested that they were pilgrims, come to pray at a holy Shiite shrine, but the rebels, as well as Western intelligence agencies, said that they were members of the Quds Force. In any case, they were valuable enough so that Assad agreed to release more than two thousand captured rebels to have them freed.