Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani (center, with black hat) posing for a picture in Anbar province, Iraq.
Major General Qassem Soleimani, the commanding officer of Qods Force, the special operations branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, has reportedly been photographed in Iraq’s Anbar province alongside Shiite militiamen. Additionlly, Soleimani was photographed with the head of the Popular Mobilization Committee, who is listed by the US as a terrorist, and the leader of the Imam Ali Brigade, an Iranian-backed Shiite terror group.
The photographs of Soleimani in Anbar and Baghdad were published by Haidar Sumeri, an Iraqi who is supportive of Soleimani and the Iranian-suported Shiite militias that make up the Popular Mobilization Committee.
The Long War Journal cannot independently verify the authenticity of the photographs. However, US military and intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal that Soleimani was in Iraq visiting with Shiite militias and commanders over the past several days.
In one grainy photograph, which is said to be from Iraq’s Anbar province, Soleimani is photographed in the desert with a group of Iraqis dressed in military fatigues (above). In another photograph (below), Soleimani is standing outside of a Toyota Hi-Lux reviewing a map with other men. The faces of the men are blurred.
Soleimani was also photographed in Baghdad with Popular Mobilization Committee chief Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, and Imam Ali Brigade leader Shebl al Zaydi (below).
Muhandis is a former commander in the Badr Organization who was listed by the US government as Specially Designated Global Terrorist in July 2009. The US government described Muhandis, whose real name is Jamal Jaafar Mohammed, as “an advisor to Qassem Soleimani.” In addition to leading the Popular Mobilization Committee, Muhandis also is said to direct operations for the Imam Ali Brigades, well as command the Hezbollah Brigades, a US-listed Foreign Terrorist Organization.
Zaydi, a former commander in Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army, is the secretary-general of the Imam Ali Brigade. He has been photographed meeting with Soleimani in the past.
Soleimani is likely meeting with Muhandis and Zaydi to coordinate the militias’ operations in Anbar province, and specifically the counterattack against the Islamic State in Ramadi. Beleaguered Iraqi forces were routed in Ramadi on May 17, forcing Prime Minister Haider al Abadi to turn to the militias to retake the provincial capital.
Soleimani’s visit to Anbar, if confirmed, isn’t the first by an Iranian military officer. Jassem Nouri, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps military commander, was killed in the Iraqi province on May 28, presumably while advising Iraqi forces and the Shiite militias. [See LWJ report, Iranian military commander killed fighting in Ramadi.]
Soleimani’s meeting with militia commanders and battlefield visit in Anbar, Nouri’s death in Ramadi, and the participation of Hezbollah Brigades and the Imam Ali Brigade in the fighting near Ramadi contradicts claims by senior US officials that the Iranian-backed militias, or the so-called “extremist elements,” are not involved in the fighting in Anbar. In an interview with CBS News on May 29, General (retired) John Allen, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition To Counter ISIL, or the Islamic State, claimed that the militias in the Popular Mobilization Committee “have been subordinated to the Iraqi higher military campaign or command” and are not associated with Iran.
“So the fact that militias are involved and tribes are involved in this part of the campaign, this part of the implementation of supporting Iraq ultimately to recover the country, should not alarm us,” Allen insisted.
The US military launched three airstrikes near Ramadi and Fallujah, where the Iranian-backed militias are operating, over the previous 24 hours.
Qods Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad with Popular Mobilization Committee chief Abu Mahdi al Muhandis and Imam Ali Brigade leader Shebl al Zaydi:
Soleimani in Anbar province: