"The magnificent role of General Suleimani in the fight against the terrorists of Daesh [the Iranian acronym for the Islamic State group)," Iran's Fars news agency proclaimed on October 16.
Fars, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, boasted that an "English newspaper," "The Guardian," had noticed the role of Major General Qassem Suleimani, the leader of Iran's Quds Force (the branch of the Revolutionary Guards responsible for overseas operations) in combating Islamic State militants in Iraq.
"According to this publication," Fars enthused, "General Suleimani is playing a key role in the fight against the Islamic State group."
It is no coincidence that Fars bothered to fashion a whole news article out of the fact that an "English newspaper" has commented on Suleimani's presence and "key role" in combating IS in Iraq. Iran has made a concerted effort in recent weeks to show the world that Suleimani -- and by extension, the Quds Force -- is playing an important role in bolstering Shi'ite militias against Islamic State militants in Iraq.
Numerous photographs have circulated on social media and in Iran's state news press, showing Suleimani in Iraq and Syria. That these images have gained so much attention is to a great extent because until now, Suleimani has been an elusive figure, a subject of great media interest and speculation but also great secrecy: Suleimani's name has appeared frequently in the Western press, but usually accompanied by the description "shadowy," "shadowy figure," or even "Shadow Commander."
Yet this month, the hitherto rarely glimpsed Suleimani has been snapped in Irbil, grinning with Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, meeting with a top Shi'ite commander, Mohammad Kazmi at the Quds Force headquarters in Iraq and hanging out with Shi'ite militias while wearing a reversed baseball cap and Palestinian keffiyeh:
The latest photo of Suleimani shows the Quds Force commander on an airplane with an unnamed member of Iraq's Supreme Council:
A picture of Suleimani as a young man has also emerged.
In Iran, too, the media has focused on Suleimani's (and therefore Iran's) role in fighting the Islamic State group. Conservative news outlet Khabar Online even called on Suleimani to help defend Kobani, saying that the Quds Force had played a role in helping liberate the town of Amerli.
Placing Iran's role within the ideology of "resistance" -- which includes the concept that the United States created terrorist groups like IS and uses them to exacerbate regional conflict -- Khabar says that Suleimani bears the "weight of the resistance on his shoulders", and adds that the United States is not taking a "serious stance" toward IS in the Syrian town of Kobani.
Tehran's use of Suleimani as a symbol of Quds Force presence in Iraq and also Syria allows the Islamic republic to accomplish several things. Iran, which has openly opposed the U.S.-led coalition's air strikes against IS in Syria and Iraq, is able to show an alternative method of "fighting IS terrorists," a strategy that several prominent Iranian figures have hinted at in recent days. Iran's powerful parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour that Iran had aided Iraq "very early when the crisis broke out."
"Terrorists cannot be destroyed by bombing them. You cannot solve terrorism by occupation. And in order to fight them effectively, you have to choose another method. And you know that we have good experience in that, because we have actually fought against them," Larijani said.
Through the "Suleimani campaign," Iran is also able to show a domestic audience that it is playing an active role in fighting IS, including in Kobani. Such a strategy is important to show Iranians that Iran is not merely heckling on the sidelines while the United States and its allies fight IS.
The sudden flood of new photographs of Suleimani -- previously referred to as a "shadowy" figure -- on social media resulted in some sarcastic humor from Iran watchers:
-- Joanna Paraszczuk