Major General Qasem Soleimani was born in 1957 to a self-described “peasant” family in Kerman, the sunbaked province in southeastern Iran famed for its pistachios, rose water and hospitable inhabitants. Family debts forced him to leave school and earn a living as a construction worker at age 13. By his late teens, Soleimani was swept up in the country’s growing political fervor that culminated in one of the greatest geopolitical earthquakes of the past half-century: the 1979 revolution that replaced a U.S.-allied monarchy, led by Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, with a viscerally anti-American theocracy, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini...

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This article was originally published in TIME.