Qassem Soleimani and building an Iranian war figure

It’s obvious that the importance of the general stretches beyond his military command position

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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It is unusual for the Iranian regime to publicize its military and security leaders despite the many wars it has been involved in during the last three decades. This is what makes General Qassim Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian revolutionary Guards, an interesting case. He has received unusual media exposure beyond what’s allowed in the Iranian state-run media and in the Arab media outlets affiliated with Tehran.

It’s obvious that the importance of the general stretches beyond his military command position as he leads Iran’s foreign political and military wars.

Soleimani’s publicity may be a natural result of Iran’s increasing dependency on its own military power after it had mainly depended on its local proxies, like Hezbollah, the Hamas movement and Iraqi Shiite militias. Soleimani was tasked with a prominent role in Syria and the statement that “if it hadn’t been for Iranian help, the Syrian regime would have collapsed” is no exaggeration.

The Americans say that it’s “he (Soleimani) who’s leading the war in Syria.” As a matter of fact, the regime of Bashar al-Assad tottered for two years and Syrian regime forces were besieged everywhere until they were revived when the Iranians assumed many leadership tasks and brought in, funded and managed tens of thousands of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, Iraqi Asaa’ib Ahl Al-Haq militants and Shiite Afghans.

The Syrian scenario, which Soleimani is leading, is being repeated in Iraq. Hadi al-Amiri, head of the Iraqi Badr organization, was quoted as saying that “if it hadn’t been for Iran’s help and for Soleimani’s presence in Iraq, the government of Haidar al-Abadi would have been outside Iraq now.” There is news that General Soleimani is present with his forces, in a lesser number, in Yemen alongside the Houthi rebels.

Speaking about Soleimani, David Petraeus, former commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, recently said that in the spring of 2008, Suleimani made it clear to him that he was in charge of Iran’s policy regarding Iraq.

It’s obvious that the importance of the general stretches beyond his military command position

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

This explains Iran’s policy and that it depends on General Soleimani managing conflict zones, like Iraq, Syria and Yemen. And it depends also on him managing political activities, like supporting certain parties over others and achieving results and political decisions which serve the interests of Iran and of those allied with it.

During the past year, it has become clear that the Iranian leadership adopts a fierce offensive policy which could extend beyond its current borders. It’s publicizing its military and security leaderships and presenting them as heroes to the Iranian people and to those allied with Iran. It’s doing so by embellishing a military commander like Soleimani.

This style is often used in big wars. Among the stars of World War II are generals whose importance was equal to political leaders. Some examples were British general Montgomery, German general Rommel and American general Patton. General Soleimani has certainly become the most famous Iranian figure in the arena of regional wars.

Two years ago, the New Yorker published a report on him as the figure managing Iran’s foreign wars. Sanctions against Soleimani by the U.S. Department of Treasury did not prevent his media appearances, confirming that the Iranian policy has become clearer than before when prominent figures were not allowed to be part of foreign political and military battles.

Our region has become full of war generals who decide the region’s fate more than politicians do especially as fronts multiply and circumstances complicate. The frequent question is: how will the war end?

I’ll quote what General Petraeus said: “Yes, ‘Hajji Qassem,’ our old friend. I have several thoughts when I see the pictures of him… What I will say is that he is very capable and resourceful individual, a worthy adversary. He has played his hand well. But this is a long game, so let’s see how events transpire.”

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Saturday, March 24, 2015.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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