Esmail Ghaani: Iran announces new military leader after commander killed in US airstrike

Alix Culbertson, news reporter

A replacement for Iran's top general has been announced after his predecessor was killed in a targeted US airstrike.

Esmail Ghaani, 62, has taken over from Major General Qassem Soleimani, after he was killed along with nine others when the US hit his motorcade just outside Baghdad's international airport on Friday morning.

The new commander of Iran's elite Quds Force, part of the 125,000-strong Revolutionary Guard, was Maj Gen Soleimani's deputy and will now answer only to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Announcing General Ghaani's new role, the ayatollah called him "one of the most prominent commanders" in Iran.

He said the Quds Force "will be unchanged from the time of his predecessor," according to Iran's state-run IRNA news agency.

Like Maj Gen Soleimani, General Ghaani fought for Iran in its eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s and later joined the newly founded Quds - or Jerusalem - Force.

Not much is known about him, but sanctions placed against him by the West suggest he has long been in a position of power in the organisation.

:: Listen to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts , Google Podcasts , Spotify , Spreaker

In 2012, Gen Ghaani was sanctioned by the US over "financial disbursements" to proxies affiliated to the Quds Force.

The sanctions tied Gen Ghaani to 13 shipping containers seized in Lagos, Nigeria, in 2010, labelled as "packages of glass wool and pallets of stone" which were bound for Gambia, then under the rule of dictator Yahya Jammeh.

Authorities instead found 107mm Katyusha rockets, rifle rounds and other weapons.

One of his first duties will likely be to oversee revenge for the US airstrike which killed his longtime friend , Maj Gen Soleimani.

"We are children of war," General Ghaani once said of his relationship with Maj Gen Soleimani, according to IRNA.

"We are comrades on the battlefield and we have become friends in battle."

Speaking about the million people killed during the Iraq-Iran War, Gen Ghaani said volunteers saw many young boys "killed, but when we ordered them to go, would not hesitate".

"The commander is looking to his soldiers as his children, and in the soldier's point of view, it seems that he received an order from god and he must to do that," he added.

Senior Revolutionary Guard commander, General Gholomali Abuhamzeh, said on Saturday Iran will punish Americans wherever they are within reach of the country and had identified 35 US targets, including in Tel Aviv and ships in the Gulf.

Over the past few decades the Revolutionary Guard's influence has grown both military and politically after Iran's conventional military was decimated by the execution of its old officer class during the 1979 Islamic Revolution and later by sanctions.

Much of its influence comes from the Quds Force, which works across the Middle East with allied groups to try to counter the US and its allies' advanced weaponry.

Iraqi militia, Lebanon's Hezbollah and Yemen's Houthi rebels are all aligned with the Quds.

Maj Gen Soleimani was the face of the Quds Force, with American officials frequently blaming him for roadside bombs targeting US troops in Iraq.

Giant images of Maj Gen Soleimani are now plastered on buildings in Baghdad calling for Iran to avenge his death.

In contrast, General Ghaani has remained much more in the shadows of the organisation and has only occasionally cropped up in western, or even Iranian media.