8 Oct 2014

Qassem Suleimani Iran’s Shadowy Commander Who Has No Shadow

It was a hot summer evening in Tehran, as the scents of spices wafted through Tehran’s Grand Bazaar and the voice of the muezzin could be heard in the distance calling the pious for the evening prayer and something suitably mysterious and oriental about Persian carpets, a group of official-looking people were walking silently among the crowd. To the casual eye there would have been nothing special about this group of middle-aged men, but the casual eye didn’t recognise Iran’s most important weapon in its war against the US and its pathetic sidekicks: Qassem Suleimani.

The leader of the elite branch of the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guard, the Quds Force, Major General Qassem Suleimani is a fearsome figure that makes foreign correspondents and analysts tremble with delight as they concoct fantastical tales about his legendary powers. Nicknamed ‘Qassem Supermani’ by his friends, enemies and casual acquaintances, Suleimani has become a symbol of Iran’s secretive, enigmatic and behind-the-scenes legendary intelligence and sabotage capabilities. Primarily because he has never bothered to deny any of the stories circulating about him, and quite honestly who would.

To better understand the legendary power of Suleimani, we would do well to examine his diary for the 17th of August. After waking up to do his morning prayers in his small secretive and enigmatic humble house in Tehran, Suleimani had his customary breakfast which consists of sweet tea, yoghurt and the secret potion prepared for him by Iran’s leading Western-trained scientists to combat diabetes. One would think he should cut back on the sweet tea, but that would be failing to understand the man’s complexity.

A photo of Suleimani on the frontline in Syria. 
According to reliable witnesses, Suleimani was seen a few hours later organising a counter-attack near a Damascus suburb led by his forces stationed in Syria, who are an elite force in case we didn’t mention that before. The attack was important enough for Suleimani to attend in person, highlighting how important the battle in Syria has become to Iran. The story doesn’t end there. At the exact same time, other reliable witnesses swore that they saw Qassem Suleimani in Baghdad, coordinating an attack by local Shia militia against the advances of ISIS towards the Iraqi capital.

Western analysts who have been following Iran’s shadowy behind the scenes intelligence scene for decades agree that Suleimani’s ability to be in two places at the same time is one of his most vital assets, not least because he hasn’t missed an official engagement for 17 years. Suleimani picked up the skill early in his career, training for years to perfect the art of being in two places at the same time, not least because he knew it would make things easier with his second wife.

What made the 17th of August story particularly hard to verify is the fact that Suleimani’s image cannot be captured by photographic processes and certainly not by using normal cameras. Hundreds of people have tried to take pictures of Suleimani, only to discover that everyone else around him appeared in the photography but in the place where he stood there would be a void or a conveniently placed hand-woven Persian carpet. This is another one of Suleimani’s valuable assets, although it’s a nightmare when he’s trying to renew his passport and needs a new photograph.

It is also said by the same Western analysts who have been following Iran’s shadowy behind the scenes intelligence scene for decades that Suleimani’s reflection doesn’t appear in the mirror, which official Iranian media attribute to his legendary modesty. To add to the mystery, Suleimani doesn’t cast a shadow as a result of an old war wound he got while stationed at the frontline during Iran’s long conflict with Iraq in the 1980s. Which is ironic considering that the most common word used to describe him is ‘shadowy’. This is apparently a source of much mirth for the normally stern Suleimani, which indicates that he does indeed appreciate the irony.

Suleimani took command of the Quds Force fifteen years ago, and in that time he has sought to reshape the Middle East in Iran’s favour, working as a power broker and as a military force: assassinating rivals, arming allies, and, for most of a decade, directing a network of militant groups that killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq. We had to borrow this paragraph from another article about Suleimani because it sounded more menacing than anything we came up with.

What does the future hold for ‘Supermani’, Iran’s most dangerous weapon at this crucial juncture of the history of the Middle East as the ancient rivalries push the region towards an apocalyptic confrontation and the whole area approaches an unimaginable abyss that will redraw its geo-political map for the decades to come? It is quite important to close pieces like this with suitable complex questions.

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Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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