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I was looking for more of an in-depth study into Soleimani. Despite the books title, the book actually deals very little with Soleimani. If you have a good knowledge about Iran and Iranian history, i'd say most of it is very general - i.e. histories on the Iran-Iraq War, formation of the IRGC in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution etc. I would say it is better described as a study of the events that likely shaped Soleimani, rather than a biography of the man himself.
It is rather hard to find a good book that is a page-turner and also tells you the inner-dynamics of Iran and the region as astutely as a historian. Through the life of Qassem Soleimani, Azizi tells the story of the political culture of Iran, intertwined with the Middle East and USA. Dabashi’s Iran: A People Interrupted captured the audience now a decade ago, through the intellectual dynamics in the country. Azizi’s book provides a different window into the region, Iran, and the world politics, by telling the story of the local, and regional local politics.
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.
Arash Azizi's "The Shadow Commander" is a valuable biography of IRGC-Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani's rise from a simple Kermani village luti to one of the most powerful people in the Middle East. Azizi writes in a comfortable, easy to digest prose on topics that are discussed elsewhere in much drier but less informative ways, such as in Ariane Tabatabai's "No Conquest, No Defeat." Azizi's book is most useful in its treatment of Soleimani's earliest years and his formative experiences in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), the longest conventional war of the twentieth century.
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.
Fascinating read giving us an insightful, detailed and rare look at the intricacies of Iranian politics and culture. A must read for those especially interested in the tricky political relationship between the US and Iran / The Middle East.