On July 3, Major General Qassem Soleimani, the chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Qods Force, spoke at an Iran-Iraq war veterans gathering in his home province of Kerman.
Soleimani praised the Islamic Republic’s decades-long effort to take the mantle of the Palestinian cause and boasted that Tehran’s influence in the Middle East has expanded as a result of the Syrian war. He excoriated Saudi Arabia, as well as domestic Iranian critics of the Guard Corps. And the general also lamented the drop in religious observance in Iran.
Soleimani hailed the importance of Qods Day, established by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to call for Israel’s destruction and express support for Palestinians. Tehran-sponsored Qods Day celebrations were held in several countries last month. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: Qods Day commemorations highlight Tehran’s global reach.]
“One of the important and valuable innovations of Imam Khomeini was making central the system’s policies on the Palestinian issues, and the Imam (may the almighty God be pleased with him) hoisted the flag of mahdavi in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Soleimani said. Mahdism is belief in the Mahdi, or the 12th Shiite Imam, who would rise before judgement day.
Soleimani then chastised “some Arab countries” who are “surrounding” the “oppressed” Palestinians. Tehran has accused Arab states of “selling out” the Palestinian cause, because these same Arab nations have expanded ties with Israel over shared concerns about Iranian power.
“The Islamic Republic’s global defense of the oppressed peoples of Iraq and Syria” has increased Iran’s global popularity, Soleimani claimed. Other evidence suggests the opposite has happened: over the past decade, Tehran’s regional policies have led to sharp drops in Iran’s favorability rating in the Middle East and around the globe.
“The target of the takfiri terrorists was to bring the Islamic Republic to the ground with these conspiracies and to make it kneel in front of this religious sedition,” Soleimani claimed. He elaborated: “Those who were behind this sedition and fanned it also had this imagination. This is while the greatness and strength of the Islamic Republic of Iran after the emergence of DAESH [the Islamic State] and toward the end of DAESH increased tens of times.”
Like other senior Iranian officials, Soleimani has claimed that the Islamic State was a conspiracy weaved by Tehran’s enemies to target the Islamic Republic. Although Iranian-backed forces and the Islamic State fight one anther in Iraq and Syria, Tehran has used the Sunni jihadist group’s rise to justify its involvement abroad and its own jihad to defend Shiite shrines from virulently anti-Shiite extremists.
Soleimani boasted about the Syrian regime’s rising fortunes, though he failed to mention that Russia’s military intervention was essential in turning the tide of war. “One day, Syria faced many problems, and today the Syrian government becomes stronger every day,” he stated. The “global belief today is that the Syrian system is undefeatable.”
Soleimani spoke about the expansion of Tehran’s operations in Syria during the war. “Several years ago in Syria, we didn’t have relations with individuals and movements more than the numbers of fingers, while we have relations with hundreds of thousands today,” he boasted. “While some countries that argued with us, ‘don’t defend Syria’s government,’ [they] are standing next to the Islamic Republic today and have changed their policies.”
The Qods Force chief lauded the rise of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a conglomeration of Iraqi militias dominated by IRGC-backed factions. He omitted the fact that US air support has been crucial in the anti-Islamic State campaign.
“The Iraqi army is moving as a national, powerful Islamic army. This is due to popular forces. Something similar happened in our country,” he said, referring to the formation of the IRGC and the Basij paramilitary. Tehran aspires to consolidate its gains in Iraq through the vehicle of the PMF. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: Qods Force commander to advance Tehran’s influence as ambassador to Iraq.]
The Iranian general mocked Saudi Arabia: “If there’s a lot of oil in a country…but mad logic rules, terrible events happen, and mad things like war with Yemen happen and these ignorant individuals are incapable of extinguishing this fire.” As the civil war in Yemen enters its third year, Soleimani has overseen increasing Iranian support for Houthi fighters and allied forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Houthi-Saleh alliance seeks to stymie the Saudi and UAE-led coalition.
“The Islamic Republic has been the victor of all events that have happened in the region,” Soleimani claimed.
He also praised the IRGC’s missile strikes on Islamic State positions in Syria last month, saying “this had several good benefits, one that it showed the Islamic Republic has the will to act, and the principle of will was more important than the result.” Israeli sources say Iran’s missile strikes were largely unsuccessful, with only one projectile striking their targets. Soleimani’s statement could be read as an admission that not all the missiles struck their targets. Regardless, he emphasized that the missile strikes highlighted the training of experts in building “precise” missiles.
“I have witnessed many scenes of missile raining down including American missiles,” he explained. He cited a Quranic verse in his praise, arguing “this movement of the corps was truly, ‘It was not you who threw when you threw; God is the One who threw.'”
On domestic politics, Soleimani had strong words for critics of the IRGC, indirectly criticizing President Hassan Rouhani. “In the Islamic Republic, we’re all responsible towards martyrs, society, religion and our country. The biggest betrayal is to cast doubt toward the foundations of this system.” He continued, saying “none today must weaken the corps.” This is likely a reference to Rouhani’s recent criticism of the IRGC during and since the presidential campaign. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: The Revolutionary Guard’s long shadow over Iran’s presidential election.]
“Do not compare the corps with me…target me, not the corps,” he said. “Without the corps, there wouldn’t be a country.”
Soleimani acknowledged the drop in religious observation in Iran, though he sought to deflect blame from the regime’s practice of shoving its version of religiosity down people’s throats. “We must not make people pessimistic toward religion and make society fear the devout, because turning people away from religion leads to higher divorce rate, and social corruption grows with reduction in values,” he said.
“How is it that some seek to make society afraid of the religiously devout? This is a wrong strategy and policy.”
A Revolutionary Guard commander once admitted that only five percent of Iran’s mosques are fully operational during the year.