Iraq News

Three years later, Soleimani's death still haunts IRGC Quds Force

By Behrouz Laregani

Former IRGC-QF commander Qassem Soleimani is seen here in Lebanon in a photo taken in 2019. [Tabnak]

Former IRGC-QF commander Qassem Soleimani is seen here in Lebanon in a photo taken in 2019. [Tabnak]

Experts say a much weaker Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF) continues to be the most significant consequence of the death of the force's previous commander, Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by a US air strike in January 2020.

The influence and clout of the once formidable IRGC-QF, which directs Iran's external operations, have been faltering under the leadership of Soleimani's successor, Brig. Gen. Esmail Qaani.

Tehran can neither rebuild the Quds Force nor strengthen it after Soleimani, intelligence analyst Sassan Tamgha told Al-Mashareq.

Soleimani's successor has dedicated his time to operations along Iran's borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan since the end of the Iran-Iraq war, so his experience is limited to those regions, Tamgha said.

IRGC-QF commander Esmail Qaani, seen here in April, lacks his predecessor's knowledge and contacts in the region, experts say. [Tasnim]

IRGC-QF commander Esmail Qaani, seen here in April, lacks his predecessor's knowledge and contacts in the region, experts say. [Tasnim]

Qaani's scant familiarity with the Quds Force's area of influence in the Middle East is restricted to Syria, mostly through his involvement in the formation of the Fatemiyoun Division, comprised of Afghan refugees living in Iran.

The proxy group is deployed to fight in Syria alongside the Syrian regime.

Lack of meaningful achievements

The selection of Qaani, who served directly under Soleimani, as his successor, means the regime intended to continue on the same course, Tamgha said.

But fundamental differences between the two have thwarted that intention.

The Iranian regime's propaganda vaunts what it describes as the IRGC-QF's "new victories", but it is well known that Soleimani's death shook the regime's foundations, he added.

Although the regime's overall policies have not changed since Soleimani's death, his successor has not been able to carry on in the same way that Soleimani exercised leadership and influence.

Qaani has not been able to reap the full benefit of the connections Soleimani established, Kerman-based political analyst Faramarz Irani said.

Over the three years he has been at the helm of the IRGC-QF, he has not had any meaningful achievements or any true success, Irani said. Meanwhile, he lacks Soleimani's capability to establish connections in the region.

"Soleimani knew the personalities of the region well, especially the Iraqis. He had connections with most extremist groups, both Shia and Sunni, and had gained credibility among them over time," he said.

"Soleimani was able to influence these groups. Of course, this influence was due to a long period of collaboration with them," he noted.

"Qaani has no such background."

Growing rifts

None of Qaani's visits to Baghdad in the past two years has been deemed successful by observers.

On his trip to Iraq last winter, as well as his "secret" trip to Baghdad in June, Qaani failed to convince proxy militias to stop firing missiles at Iraqi army bases.

Similarly, he was unable to unite Iraqi Shia militias or persuade them to change their attitude towards the Iraqi government.

Militias such as Sayyed al-Shuhada, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kataib Hizbullah and its affiliated militias have not obeyed the IRGC-QF's orders in the past year, many experts say.

Rifts have risen among these groups, which could affect the IRGC-QF's dominance in the long run.

Forces opposed to the Islamic Republic should take advantage of this opportunity to analyse the erosion of the IRGC-QF, observers say.

Even though much of Iran's propaganda is focused on Qaani's capabilities, a number of regime officials evidently have come to the conclusion that he cannot overcome the current challenges.

Tamgha said the West should not be complacent that the IRGC-QF cannot be reconstituted.

"The West must act against the Islamic Republic from a position of power because that is the only logic that Iranian regime officials understand," he said.

"If the slightest weakness is shown towards the Islamic Republic, the regime will abuse it to consolidate its position," Tamgha said.

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