8 years, 10 months ago
David Ignatius gives us another glimpse into the Main Man in Iran’s Fight with the United States.
Let’s try for a moment to put ourselves in the mind of Brigadier General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. For it is the soft-spoken Soleimani, not Iran’s bombastic President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who plays a decisive role in his nation’s confrontation with the United States.
Soleimani represents the sharp point of the Iranian spear. He is responsible for Iran’s covert activities in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and other battlegrounds. He oversees the regime’s relations with its militant proxies, Hizbullah and Hamas. His elite, secretive wing of the Revolutionary Guard is identified as a terrorist organization by the Bush administration, but he is also Iran’s leading strategist on foreign policy. He reports personally to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his budget (mostly in cash) comes directly from the supreme leader’s office.
Soleimani is said to be confident about Iran’s rising power in the region, according to an Arab official who met recently with him. He sees an America that is weakened by the war in Iraq but still potent. He has told visitors that United States’ and Iran’s goals in Iraq are similar, despite the rhetoric of confrontation. But he has expressed no interest in direct, high-level talks. The Quds Force commander prefers to run out the clock on the Bush administration, hoping that the next administration will be more favorable to Iran’s interests.
“The level of confidence of these [Quds Force] guys is that they are it, and everything else is marginal,” says the Arab who meets regularly with Soleimani.
Soleimani has been adept at turning up the heat in Iraq, then lowering the temperature when it suits Iran’s interest. A good example was the Basra campaign in March when Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki attacked the Mehdi Army, the Shiite militia headed by Muqtada al-Sadr. Though the Iranians had been backing Sadr, they made a quick switch to supporting Maliki. It was Soleimani himself who brokered the cease-fire that restored calm in Basra.
The simultaneous support for Maliki and Sadr is characteristic of Soleimani, according to people who know him well. Rather than pick a single ally, as Americans tend to do, he will choose at least two. By riding several horses at once, he maximizes Iran’s opportunities and reduces its risks.
Soleimani’s opportunism was evident during the heavy shelling of the Green Zone in March. The Iranians had supplied their Mehdi Army allies in Sadr City with very powerful 240 mm rockets and mortars, and they had bracketed their targets in the Green Zone so precisely that US casualties were rising sharply.
After a particularly heavy day of shelling, Genral (sic) David Petraeus sent Soleimani a message – “Stop shooting at the Green Zone.” The message was conveyed verbally by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. The Quds Force commander didn’t react immediately. But the heavy mortar fire on the Green Zone soon tapered off. Iran had flexed its muscles and demonstrated America’s vulnerability, and then opted for a tactical retreat.
The only compromise between full scale conventional war with Iran and abject surrender to Iraninan hegemony is selective targeting and fomenting an insurgency inside of Iran and its security apparatus (Qassem Suleimani himself should be targeted, and he should know that he is is a marked man). As for the words from General David Petraeus to General Qassem Suleimani, they might have been more effective had they carried threats.
Iran has mastered the art of small scale, covert intelligence warfare. The U.S. will master the art as well if we are to be successful in Iraq and throughout the larger region. Time is short.