Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
October 16, 2014

Iran Moves Iraq And Syria Portfolio to Higher Management

Foreign Policy wonders about the new publicity the commander of the Iranian Quds force, Qassem Suleiman, is striving for:

Qassem Suleimani, a silver-haired Iranian spymaster Washington has long disparaged as a terrorist, has spent decades staying out of public view as he quietly worked to funnel arms and money to Iranian proxies and allies across the Middle East. Now, he's stepping into the limelight as the face of Tehran's intensifying battle with the Islamic State.

In recent weeks, photos of Suleimani on a mountaintop alongside Yazidi elders who had faced extermination at the hands of the Islamic State and shaking hands with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters on battlefields in Kurdistan have been widely shared on Twitter, Facebook, and Iranian state-run media. That means the once-elusive leader of the Quds Force, a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard responsible for high-profile missions outside of Iran, is enjoying a strange form of celebrity

FP is asking "why" Suleiman is now going public but finds no answer to the question aside from pure speculations.

Suleiman was solely responsible for Iran's external relations with various "militant" groups in the Middle East including Hizbullah in Lebanon, Islamic Jihad in Palestine and various Iran friendly militia in Syria and Iraq. While he was successful in earlier years the recent rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as well the U.S. intervention in those countries is rather dangerous for Iran's direct security and its influence in those states.

Suleiman's portfolio has now been moved upwards. He is no longer the sole responsible man for Iran's relations to those groups but is now subordinated to a new committee (machine translated) which was formed under Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani. Shamkani is the Supreme Leader's military adviser and is secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council.

Suleiman's sudden publicity is likely a kind of self-defense against his critics in the Islamic Republic: "Look here, I am doing a lot!" The rise of the Islamic State is not the only danger to Iran. The re-introduction of U.S. troops in Iraq, under the pretense of fighting the Islamic State which U.S. allies helped to create, is the bigger problem. Suleiman, his critics say, did not foresee this and/or failed to prevent it.

The new role of Admiral Shamkhani is visible in his recent travels. He met Lebanon's Prime Minister and offered Iranian help against Sunni Jihadists in Lebanon. He also met Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah. He has visited Syria and held talks with the Syrian president Assad. Yesterday he received the head of the Islamic Jihad Movement of Palestine and promised further help and weapons for Gaza. Shamkhani's portefolio is wider than just the contact to "militant" groups. He recently had talks with the former French foreign minister De Villepin likely about further developments in Syria.

So unlike in earlier years, when Suleiman was directly negotiating with the U.S. over Afghanistan and Iraq, Suleiman is no longer the sole person to decide over such policies. Endangered in his position he now needs to up his image in Iran and that is very likely the reason why one now seems more pictures of him in the field with various of his client groups.

[Side remark: The FP piece repeats the U.S. propaganda about Iranian origin of "explosively formed penetrators" used against U.S. troops in Iraq:

Shiite militias used advanced weapons called explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) to destroy American armored vehicles and kill those inside. Those weapons were almost certainly made in Iran and then given, using networks Suleimani helped establish, to Shiite fighters.

Many U.S. media have reported that these penetrators were found to be produced in various workshops in Iraq and there has never been any fact based report that traced their origin to Iran.]

Posted by b on October 16, 2014 at 8:00 UTC | Permalink


Looks like the Iranians are utilizing good old fashioned foreign diplomacy to potentially help "stabilise" the region. Good to see the Iranians on the global stage.

Posted by: really | Oct 16 2014 8:29 utc | 1

It's Suleimani not Suleiman

Posted by: Fhb | Oct 16 2014 9:14 utc | 2

"under the pretense of fighting the Islamic State" quite correct, another Iraqi town comes under siege, a suburb of Falujah is surrounded by IS fighters and tanks from various directions Where are those F16's the Iraqis have already paid for? Where are the US F16's the US has all round the area? It should not be forgotten that during the Serbian bombing campaign in 1999 the US used 138 bombing missions per day, whereas they can barely manage half a dozen a week in Syria/Iraq. There is a moral in this story somewhere. On that last side story, as I said in the last thread @103, Those explosively formed projectiles [EFP's] which can go clean through a modern battle tank from front to rear, were not produced by Iran as claimed by US Generals, but in hundreds of Iraqi workshops. They could produce them because they had been producing similar items for the past 50 years for the local oil industry. That was really a no brain er, what does that tell you about the US high command?

Posted by: harry law | Oct 16 2014 9:18 utc | 3

Rear Admiral Shamkhani is a Rouhani appointment to position of Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran. Before that he was Minister of Defense under the Khatami administration. He's generally in favor during liberal of liberal-moderate administrations. His fortunes are likewise tied to current Minister of Defense Dehghan.

There were a number of photos and videos of Soleimani before the rise of ISIL. However they were in Persian media.

Posted by: Pirouz | Oct 16 2014 9:58 utc | 4

While I regularly agree with b, this occasion is a rare exception. Senior military commanders in Iran are not allowed to interact with the media unless they have permission from above. This is definitely a policy decision.

Posted by: Amar | Oct 16 2014 12:34 utc | 5

My understanding, from circa 2004, is that Iraq's EFPs were based on a design detailed in hundreds of copies of a US Army handbook, about ambush techniques and weapons, provided by the Pentagoons to the Iraqi Army in the early days of the Iran-Iraq war (when Saddam was a 'friend' of America).

Fast forward to 2003, Mission Accomplished, and Paul Bremer's Rumsfeldian ("War is messy") decision to disband the Iraqi Army, without compensation or stipend. That act created the perfect environment for the bloodbath which ensued (alienating the people best prepared and equipped to engage in the wholesale removal of the limbs of US Military personnel), and also gave the US High Command an excuse to Stay The Course - revenge & retribution.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Oct 16 2014 13:38 utc | 6

I also think that Iran recognizes that foreign policy has become A LOT more complicated now the US is coming back to Iraq. And that Iran needs to be more careful with what they're doing.

Posted by: Willy2 | Oct 16 2014 13:56 utc | 7

@b & et al - can someone please explain to me, why military/intelligence officers in the Syrian government cannot reach out to the Al-Douri/Iraqi Baathists who are part of ISIS? Afterall the Syrian govt. vehemently opposed the American war on Iraq and allowed former Iraqi officials in to Syria, aswell as having a cold shoulder attitutde/general mistrust of the new Iraqi govt. installed by the Americans, even though they were alligned to Iran. Surely they must have built relationship/trust /softpower with this group to be able to breakaway from al-Baghdadi & co?

Posted by: Irshad | Oct 16 2014 13:58 utc | 8

@8 There were a few articles floating around about former Iraqi Baathists turning to religion. Then of course, the "good/moderate/word of the day" Syrian rebels started as Sunni Baathists defecting expecting to be rewarded by the U.S. after a swift uprising and Western bombing campaign. Sunnis from Iraq might not be trusted in Damascus. Besides the fanatics, the remaining Baathists involved with ISIS probably have crossed the Rubicon for both Syria and even our puppet government in Iraq.

Posted by: NotTimothyGeithner | Oct 16 2014 14:19 utc | 9

Hoarsewhisperer@6 The EFP is simply a pipe with high explosives in it with a copper disc on the outside, upon explosion the disc travels many thousands of feet per second in a semi liquid form through anything, I remember reading about a test at the Lawrence Livermore laboratories where one of these devices [which are in effect merely a 'shaped charge'] penetrated up to 5 feet of steel.I don't know about the US Army handbook, but how to make these devices can be picked up on the internet. and here The US spent billions on trying to counteract these devices, University departments grew rich on electronically equipping vehicles with scanners etc etc the insurgents simply started using fertilizer based explosives and instead of electrically initiating the charge used a piece of string, low tech, but it was game over for the US.

Posted by: harry law | Oct 16 2014 14:23 utc | 10

I personally don't see any dramatic perception management change and obviously neither a hard policy one from the Iranian side. The Iranian armed forces are devoted to the civilian in charge and as Amar rightly put it they will not publicly make moves that give any impression of independence from the SL authority. Besides Shamkhani is answerable to the President while Soleimani is under the Aegis of the Leader, these are 2 parallel tracks. To me, this looks more like a move by some Western media outlets well linked to intelligence circles to project light on part of the Iranian operations. A good question is, why now?

Posted by: ATH | Oct 16 2014 14:31 utc | 11

But it also exposes more the relationships Iran has with a number of countries in the region. It gives Iran's adversaries more ammunition to bash Iran.

Posted by: Willy2 | Oct 16 2014 14:35 utc | 12

Al-Monitor had an excellent report a few weeks ago on the demotion of Qasem Soleimani because of his failures in Iraq and developements in Syria. Shamkhani is part of the new team of handlers sent to Iraq by the Grand Ayatollah to install their chosen replacement for al-Maliki, al-Abadi and to try and salvage their faltering Satrap in Baghdad.

The mystique around Soleimani, admired and feared in the East, reviled and demonized in the West, wasn't enough to save his position leading the Iraq or Syrian defense.

His one great contribution to modern warfare is not the EFP but the Barrelbomb that has killed and maimed so many civilians in Syria and Iraq hence I refer to him as al-Barrelbombi.

Posted by: Wayoutwest | Oct 16 2014 15:11 utc | 13


Soleimani is still the head of the Gods Forces he hasn't been demoted. So what do you mean by this misinforming us?

Posted by: ATH | Oct 16 2014 15:15 utc | 14

I think this is a policy decision. Iran is positioning itself as a protector of minorities hence the pictures. I remember a while back there
were photos of a Hezballah fighter saluting a statue of the virgin Mary in Syria.

Posted by: erraticmind | Oct 16 2014 16:19 utc | 15


Soleimani has strong public support in Iran so he was demoted up to this new traveling diplomat position and removed from the decision making process on the defense of Syria and Iraq, this is what I think has happened and the reports I have read seem to agree, Shamkhani is now running the show.

Posted by: Wayoutwest | Oct 16 2014 16:50 utc | 16

I think you are still misinforming.
Soleimani never made political decisions in Iran. He was always a military guy and he still is. He hasn't been demoted from his post.

Posted by: ATH | Oct 16 2014 17:28 utc | 17

Wayoutwest - I can see your heart absolutely bleeds for the deaths of Syrian and Iraqi civilians. And not at all in a selective manner. If those barrel bombs keep falling consistently, they just might beat out the Americans and their British poodles and win the award for Most Civilians Killed in Syria and Iraq Since 2003.

Posted by: Farflungstar | Oct 16 2014 17:49 utc | 18

My crystal ball says that Iran with the wisdom of Putin will straighten out the M.E. and if we behave we might participate.....Most likely we will try an screw it all up.We prefer chaos over order and peace.

Posted by: Gerry1211 | Oct 16 2014 19:46 utc | 19


There is little doubt who is the Great Shaitan and I do support Iran's resistance to its hegemony but that doesn't mean that there are not lesser demons that should be ignored. I think that Iran could have been smarter and more successful in Iraq if they had chosen another path in dealing with their enemies. They claim to resist Western influences but have copied the failing divide and rule dogma that has caused so much suffering in the ME.

They now face a resurgent, unifying and growing force, the Islamic State that is their worst nightmare.

Posted by: Wayoutwest | Oct 16 2014 21:29 utc | 20

@20 - wow.. ISIS, another made in the usa product, this time in the form of a mercenary group that is based right where the exceptional nation likes to create failed states.. they are going for 2 and next 3.. that wesley clark was onto it way back when, but now has the audacity to claim they have to go after ISIS.. what a bonehead.

Posted by: james | Oct 16 2014 21:40 utc | 21

This is another misinformation from your side, Iran's policy has never been divide and rule. They never put SA in their enemies' list neither the US as a matter of fact, Israel for sure but not the US. But they will resist any aggressive policy harming their allies. In this particular case they are pretty fortunate since the tool called ISIS doesn't have any political grass-root among overall Sunni population in the world.

Posted by: ATH | Oct 16 2014 21:59 utc | 22

I believe we are witnessing a break between IRGC and always smiling president. Read Thierry Meyssan.

Posted by: Rihard | Oct 17 2014 3:09 utc | 23

@15 The photo of a Hezbollah fighter saluting a statue of the Virgin Mary expresses traditional Muslim reverence toward "Hazrat" (a title of respect for great spiritual figures) Mariam, whose name is not properly spoken without the invocation "Alaihas Salaam" (Peace be upon her). Following the great shrine at Mecca being finally taken by the Muslims, as the statues and pictures, the 'idols', therein were being destroyed, when the Prophet came upon a picture of Hazrat Mariam, he reverently covered it with his cloak. If you imagine how the supporters of the "Caliphate" would behave with Hazrat Mariam herself if they came across her, you see immediately that they cannot be thought of as Muslims. Maybe the photo is aimed at Muslims first, and then minorities.

Posted by: sarz | Oct 17 2014 14:07 utc | 24

you're wrong on this. despite what cnn and fox news claim, suleimani never had 'control' over iran's policies in Iraq or elsewhere, his has always been limited to a liason role with various popular supported armed groups, and preparing countermeasures and checks on western military forces. his current bout of publicity is a concerted effort by iran's establishment to sell it's role in the region to the citizens of the countries it is intervening in, and take the credit for the defeat of ISIL's offensive.
'Khameini's military advisor' means less than it sounds like. it is essentially an emeritus position for Shamankhahi who was the defense minister for Khatami. it doesn't mean Khameini gives any particular weight to his opinion, simply that he is a long serving official with significant expertise, and some political base that needs to be recognized. his power comes from the fact that Rouhani has named him as the secreatary general of the national security council, the same position he once occupied, and that javad larijani and saeed jalili(iran's nuclear negotiator's) had during the Ahmadinejad era. this body synchronises the national security focus' of important institutional actor's(the leadership, the president, cabinet parliament, and the heads of the armed forces) and is therefore a very important institution in itself. it's a highly political and policy setting role, that a soldier like Suleimani wouldn't want anything to do with. rouhani has successfully reassigned the nuclear negotiations file to the foreign ministry, and seems to be employing Shamankhani, who happens to be an ethnic Arab, in more of a regional public diplomacy role.
You've generally got a solid grasp on things, but this recent bit of Kremlinology-esque Iran speculation is pretty off the mark.

Posted by: masoud | Oct 18 2014 4:18 utc | 25

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