Presence of Qods Force Commander in Iraq Signals Worrying Rise of Iranian Power in Middle East
The recent presence in Iraq of Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s terrorism-supporting Qods Force and one of the most powerful individuals in the Islamic Republic, indicates an increasing brazenness in Tehran’s conduct of foreign affairs, a leading Middle East expert told The Algemeiner.
“As the secretive leader of a special unit tasked with financing terrorism and promoting radical Islamic movements abroad, Soleimani might be expected to live in the shadows when he leaves Iran,” said Emanuele Ottolenghi, a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and an expert on Iran and Hezbollah. “But the fact that he’s out there in the limelight suggests that he feels he can be open about his presence abroad.”
Soleimani has been subject to an international travel ban and asset freeze by the U.N. Security Council since 2007. The US designated Soleimani’s Qods Force as a supporter of terrorism in the same year, with the European Union following suit in 2011.
Western governments and Israel have amassed evidence of Qods Force military support for a number of terrorist groups across the Middle East, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon. The word “Qods” is Farsi for “Jerusalem.”
However, the latest report by the UN Panel of Experts on Iran, which monitors the sanctions against the Tehran regime, claims that Soleimani has been photographed in various locations around Iraq, in a flagrant violation of the travel ban against him.
News agency Reuters recalled that an “Iranian general said in September that Soleimani was in Iraq and was playing a critical role in the fight against Sunni Islamic State militants.”
“Even the director of the CIA travels under an assumed identity,” Ottolenghi said. “But the leader of the Qods Force comes out and says, ‘Hi, I’m Qassem Soleimani, and here I am.'”
Ottolenghi expressed skepticism that the Obama Administration, which has been heavily criticized by Israel and many conservative Arab states for pursuing a covert strategic partnership with Iran in an effort to secure a final deal over Tehran’s nuclear program, would act against Soleimani’s presence in Iraq.
“I don’t think they are in a position to do anything about this. Soleimani has frequently been in Baghdad,” Ottolenghi said.
“It was the Iranians who supplied the technology for the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that claimed the highest number of American casualties after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime,” he noted.
Soleimani has also played a pivotal role in propping up the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad. Over the last month, speculation that the Americans are quietly cooperating with the Iranians in the war against Islamic State (IS), which has rampaged across Syria and Iraq, has increased, with Secretary of State John Kerry describing any Iranian action against IS as “positive.”
During Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza in July and August, Soleimani issued a rare public statement in support of a number of Palestinian terrorist groups.
According to Middle East website Al Monitor, he “specifically praised the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the Al-Nasser Salah al-Deen Brigades, the Abu Ali Mustapha Brigades, the political leaders of Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and all the resistance groups.”
“God damn anyone who closes to the doors of relief to you and who is a partner to the Zionists in their crimes,” Soleimani said.