The commander of Iran’s secretive special forces unit known as the Quds Force has appeared on Iranian television standing alongside Kurdish peshmerga fighters, in what analysts are calling a message to the West that Iran is the answer in the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group. Major General Qassem Suleimani has stepped out of the shadows and appeared often in Iraq since the fall of the Iraqi town of Mosul to the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, in June. His emergence into the spotlight, according to analysts, sends a message from Tehran to the West: If you want to beat the Sunni Muslim militant group, the Shiite state is the best place to turn.
“He is sending a message to the U.S. about their influence,” Antony Cordesman, a senior analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a research organization in Washington, told Bloomberg. “And there is a message to the Arabs that they, too, have to deal with Iran,” which is a Muslim, but not Arab, state.
Suleimani, 57, who was appointed Quds (or "Jerusalem") Force commander in 1997, served in the 1980-1988 war against Iraq in the Revolutionary Guards. Such is his power in the country, he reports directly, Bloomberg wrote, to the Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and is responsible for all of Iran’s secret operations in Syria, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iraq.
According to Bloomberg, Iranian General Amir Ali Hajizadeh said the Iraqi Kurdish state capital of Erbil would now be under ISIS control if not for Suleimani and 70 of his men intervening to defend the city.
“The current branding of Suleimani shows him to be a charismatic man of the people who is not afraid to go to the fronts and command the war efforts personally,” said Payam Mohseni, director of Iran Project at Harvard Kennedy School of Government. “Many Iranians may not have known who Qassem Suleimani was in the past, but his popularity has been on the rise domestically since the PR campaign.”
However, in order to get the help of Iran, it appears the U.S. will have to make concessions on Iran's nuclear program.
While Iran was excluded from a multinational conference regarding ISIS in Paris on Sept. 15, it has been funding Shiite militias in Iraq to fight against Sunni militias, including ISIS. However, four days later, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the U.N. Security Council: “There is a role for nearly every country in the world to play, including Iran.”
“Iran is showing how seriously they are taking the threat to Iraq,” said Fawaz Gerges, a political scientist at the London School of Economics. “It says we are here to stay and have to be taken seriously in any fight against ISIL.”