More on General Qassem Suleimani

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 2 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.

Prior: Is Iran the Biggest Problem is Iraq?



  • jonesgp1996

    I think that there are number of important things to think about that this article raises.

    To begin with, I would be interested to know how much control the Iranian government exercises over General Suleimani’s activities. It’s a common error when analyzing the enemy to assume that they operate the same way that we do and that they are always perfectly executing the sinister plan that they had in mind, as directed from the top. I don’t discount the control that the Ayatollah Khameini exerts over him, but I wonder how much latitude and discretion the general has in conducting operations. There may not be the same strict control of the civil over the military that there is in Western countries.

    One minor point about President Ahmadinejad: his comments about destroying Israel are caustic and troubling, but I have to believe that at least some of that is for purely domestic consumption to galvanize an ethnically diverse population (who aren’t all necessarily in favor of the current regime and who may entertain separatist desires) against a common enemy. That’s just good politics, and it helps for regime preservation, too.

    Which leads me to my final point: does anyone else think it’s time to begin engaging with Iran on a more substantial diplomatic level? We’ve painted ourselves into a corner by calling Iran a state-sponsor of terrorism, and the US doesn’t deal with terrorists. But what made them this way? Since the revolution in 1979, the US has done everything it can to make Iran a pariah state and isolate it from the civilized world. Certainly the US has a legitimate complaint when it comes to how things unfolded with the hostage crisis. However, the conditions became ripe for the revolution to occur in the first place because the US supported the shah and his oppressive police state because they were good allies against the Soviet Union. Well, the USSR doesn’t exist anymore, so maybe it’s time to re-evaluate our position.

    Believe me, I’m not an apologist for Iran, but I think it’s important to consider the factors that led to the 1979 revolution, the history that’s happened since then, and the US’s actions towards Iran pre- and post-revolution. Didn’t the US support Iraq against Iran during their long and bloody war of attrition? Is that a legitimate grievance, i.e. the US enabling of the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iranians? Is it any wonder that a state that considers the United States to be an existential threat is pursuing nuclear weapons, the only means of deterrence that it thinks the US understands?

    I think that there is an important historical parallel to consider here, and that is the US’s relationship with the People’s Republic of China. Following the Communists’ 1949 victory, the US worked for 24 years to bring down that regime, and it even fought two hot wars against the PRC: an overt one in Korea and a covert one in Vietnam, where the PRC had thousands of advisers. In fact, it was with the PRC’s help (to some degree) that the US was ultimately able to extricate itself from Vietnam. With the recognition that both sides had interests in East Asia, the US and China were ultimately able to come to a “modus vivendi” and restore normal relations in 1979. Are the US and China “friends” today? Of course not, but they have figured out a way to live together without trying to destroy each other. I believe that the same opportunity exists for US-Iranian relations. If we talk to them, it doesn’t mean that we have to be their friends. But we both clearly have interests in the Middle East, so it is logically in both sides’ interests to reach an accommodation that allows for the peaceful pursuit of those goals. As we learned with the Soviets and Chinese, the revolutionary fire didn’t really spread as its proponents had envisioned, and the same can be said of the Iranian revolution; there is no threat in that regard now (as there may have seemed in 1979-80).

    After 30 years of shutting Iran out, isn’t it about time to talk to them?

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This article is filed under the category(s) General Suleimani,Iran and was published June 8th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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