With the announcement that documents pertaining to the plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington have been submitted to the United Nations and submission of documents implicating Iran’s Ghods force in the plan to the Security Council, the name of the commander of the Ghods force, Ghasem Soleimani is again the focus of media attention, both in Iran and internationally. Some foreign media have even called him the number two man in the Islamic Republic of Iran after supreme leader ayatollah Khamenei. Some Iranian websites have referred to him as principal choice in the elections for the eleventh president of Iran.
Analysts associated with these media point to the letter that Ghasem Soleimani is said to have sent to general Petraeus, the former senior US commander in the Middle East region in which it is said that Iranian policy in the region is decided by him”, and suggest this to be evidence for Ghods Force’s planning role in the assassination plot of the Saudi ambassador in the US. Some analysts have even gone further to attribute larger missions for the Iranian force than the assassination plot and stress that “Washington believes that the Revolutionary Guards’ Ghods Force has expanded its aggressive activities beyond Iran’s borders and may be planning other plots beyond the assassination scheme of the Saudi ambassador in the US.”
Some websites belonging to Iranian principlists (conservatives who proclaim adherence to the original principles of the 1979 Islamic revolution who were at one time united in their support for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) have exaggerated the influence and authority of Ghasem Soleimani in the regime and by quoting Western sources claim that he is a candidate in the elections for Iran’s next president.
These reports about the Ghods force come as discussions and debate about the possible constitutional changes in Iran which could eliminate the position of the presidency altogether, as suggested by none other than ayatollah Khamenei himself, are pursued. There is talk that Khamenei may be interested in having someone from amongst the trusted IRGC commanders to take up the post of prime minister.
Amid all of this, senior IRGC commanders too are interfering in politics and have expressly presented their demands about who should find their way to the Majlis and the presidency. Just a few days ago, Yadollah Javani, the head of the IRGC political bureau said that elections had constituted a “challenge” for the regime and “were the focus of attention of the enemies of the Islamic republic,” and announced that “the Basij (paramilitary force) and the IRGC were engaged in efforts so that those who get into the Majlis are supporters of the Islamic revolution to strengthen the supreme leader’s position.”
Soleimani is among commanders who are trusted by ayatollah Khamenei who in 2000 was appointed to lead the Ghods force (foreign operations) of the IRGC on his orders. Ten years after this appointment, ayatollah Khamenei promoted him to the status of a general.
Prior to leading the Ghods Force, Soleimani was the commander of the 41 and 43 Kerman Sarallah IRGC divisions. He is among those commanders who in 1999 signed a letter of support for ayatollah Khamenei sent to reformist president seyed Mohammad Khatami which makes threatening references to “impatience” of the commanders and “decisive action.”
Since becoming the commander of the Ghods Force, international organizations and agencies have accused Soleimani to be the principal person responsible for Iran’s interjections in regional affairs, ranging from Afghanistan to Lebanon, including Iraq and Syria and writing that he has played the central role in destabilizing the Middle East region.
In 2007, the US Treasury Department added Soleimani’s name to the list of individuals sanctioned by the US. More recently the governments of the US and Canada have declared him to be a supporter of terrorism because of his role, and those of forces under his command, in cooperating with Bashar Assad’s policies and actions in violently suppressing protestors in Syria and have subjected him to extensive international sanctions.
Since leading the Ghods Force, Soleimani has refrained from speaking to the media and his comments are published only after he makes official speeches. Recently a reporter from Iran’s national radio and television network published an incident involving the commander when the latter was attending a conference titled Islamic Awakening.
He wrote that when he first saw the commander he was not sure it was him. He asked a young person behind Soleimani who confirmed that it was. At this point Soleimani saw the reporter’s microphone and cameraman and seemed shocked. He sternly told the reporter not to get any closer and absolute not to film anything. The reporter also said that Soleimani turned down his request to create a documentary on his life.