Saturday, July 23, 2016


Persian Letters

Wanted For Terrorism, Commander Of Iran's Quds Force Is Actually Kind And Emotional, Brother Says

The commander of Iran's Quds Force, Major General Qassem Soleimani, prays during a religious ceremony in Tehran in March.
The commander of Iran's Quds Force, Major General Qassem Soleimani, prays during a religious ceremony in Tehran in March.
By Golnaz Esfandiari

Qassem Soleimani, a top military commander in Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), is a wanted man.

For years, he's been linked to support for terrorism, covert operations, arms smuggling, and other efforts aimed at expanding Iran's influence abroad and undermining that of its enemies.

Since 2007, he's been formally labeled a supporter of terrorism by the United States. In 2012, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Soleimani for his alleged role in an assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

In fact, what he really is, according to an unusual interview with his younger brother, is misunderstood.

"He's a serious person, but very kind and emotional," said Sohrab Soleimani in an interview published on August 23 with the Fars news agency, a Persian-language news outlet affiliated with the powerful IRGC.

"Those who don't know him well can't believe what kind of personality he has," he was quoted as saying.

The interview comes at a critical time for Iran's role and influence in the region. The landmark deal reached last month aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear ambitions is poised to lift crippling sanctions and open up Iran's rusting economy to global investment and world markets.

Meanwhile, chaotic wars in Syria -- Iran's closest ally -- and in Yemen continue as proxy battlefields between Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias and forces backed by Sunni regional powers like Saudi Arabia, Iran's deepest rival.

Soleimani has been hit by a United Nations travel ban over his alleged role in Iran's nuclear and ballistic-missile programs. The UN sanctions against him will be lifted as part of the nuclear deal, although he will remain on the U.S. blacklist. Earlier this month, Washington expressed concern over reports that Soleimani had visited Moscow in late July. Russia denied the reports.

Widely picked up by Iranian news sites, the Fars interview appeared to be part of Iran's efforts to boost Soleimani's profile and portray him as a selfless national hero who plays an instrumental role in the volatile Middle East. 

"Haj Soleimani has been born in our family, but he doesn't belong to us, he belongs to the country and to the Shi'a," Sohrab Soleimani said, referring to his brother by the honorific to describe him as devout.

Fars said it conducted the interview with Sohrab Soleimani, who heads the Prisons Organization of Tehran Province, because the private life of his brother is of great interest to "many people, particularly to Iran's youth."

Major General Qassem Soleimani, accused of helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remain in power and arming Shi'ite militia in Iraq, used to be a man in the shadows. The unit he commands, the Quds Force, was formed during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, and is now believed to conduct clandestine paramilitary operations throughout the region.

Qassem Soleimani in 2013Qassem Soleimani in 2013
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Qassem Soleimani in 2013
Qassem Soleimani in 2013

In recent months, he's become a celebrity, with numerous photos of his appearances on the battlefield against the Islamic State militant group in Iraq popping up on social media and news blogs. Pictures of the bearded Soleimani at funerals held for Iranian fighters killed in Syria and Iraq have also been circulating on the Internet.

Iranian officials have suggested that Soleimani does not enjoy being in the spotlight but that his growing popularity has prompted media and others to publish the photos.

In January, more than 200 Iranian lawmakers praised Soleimani and his Quds Force for playing a "determining role" in what they described as defending Muslims and regional security, and also fighting terrorist groups, namely "the criminal and evil [Islamic State group]."

Meanwhile, hard-line Iranian officials have paid tribute to the 58-year-old Qassem Soleimani through songs, social media posts, and documentaries amid rumors that he could enter politics.

In the Fars interview, Sohrab Soleimani recalled a meeting between a former regional governor and his father, who is a farmer from the same region. "[The former governor] told my father, 'Do you know how famous your son is and how much the 'arrogance' fears him?'" Sohrab said, using a term hard-line Iranian officials use to describe the United States.

Soleimani said his father responded, "They're afraid of Islam, not of my son."

Soleimani also said his older brother had always made sure that his close relatives did not take the wrong path in life. "As the head of the Quds Force, he has little time to devote to his own life, yet his attention for his [family and friends] has not diminished," he said.

The two brothers fought together during the war with Iraq when Qassem Soleimani was in charge of the IRGC's Sarallah Division. "Haj Qassem has a [belt] in karate, he used to work as a fitness coach in a bodybuilding club," he said.

Qassem Soleimani joined the IRGC following the 1979 revolution that ended the rule of Iran's U.S.-backed shah. After leaving the Sarallah Division of the IRGC, he became commander of the Quds Force following an order by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to whom Soleimani is said to be deeply loyal.

Sohrab Soleimani suggested that the IRGC was currently concerned about the safety of his influential brother. "My brother is strongly opposed to bodyguards, his safety is probably now causing concerns for the commander of the IRGC," he said.

In the interview, Sohrab Soleimani also spoke about his brother's "love" for children of the martyrs, a term used in Iran to describe soldiers and IRGC members killed in the war with Iraq and also those killed more recently in the fighting in Syria and Iraq.

"He loves the children of the martyrs so much that sometimes his own children become jealous. He has very close ties to the martyrs' children. And he doesn't care to which faction the martyrs belong," he said.

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Myles Bard
August 26, 2015 04:12
This guy seems like a true general who has the respect and admiration of his fellow colleagues, soldiers and countrymen. If he's living by a code of ethics while protecting his countries' sovereignty and not harming innocent people, Suleimani is a man of the people and notable military general worth keeping an eye on.
In Response

by: JF from: NYC
August 27, 2015 20:35
All he DOES is harm innocent people. WTH has happened at RTE, publishing this Iranian propaganda.

This guy is a TERRORIST.

The editor who let this through needs to be investigated.

by: Ali
August 26, 2015 13:54
The IRGC has been actively involved in the torture and repression of Iranians. Yet for my naive countrymen Soleimani is a hero! Sad.

by: Tom Mc from: USA
August 26, 2015 19:04
Himmler loved dogs and small children...

by: Maryam
August 27, 2015 20:39
Thank you for highlighting Iranian propaganda. They've turned this guy into a hero, even some reformists support him. I hope Persian language media shed light on the propaganda as well.

by: alireza from: canada
August 28, 2015 21:04
you people are incredible liars,these men are bunch of professional terrorists.

by: keyvan
September 14, 2015 01:40
He is a noble man who is doing everything in his power to protect his country. Many rival generals have voiced their respect for his code of ethics in how he has his men operate. Western propeganda has tried unconvincingly to pin terrorist acts but Sunni jehadi groups on him...

About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.

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Seen anything in the Iranian blogosphere that you think Persian Letters should cover? If so, contact Golnaz Esfandiari at esfandiarig@rferl.org