Middle East

Iran claims to reveas Qasem Soleimani’s key role in defeat of ISIS 

When ISIS launched its blitzkrieg across Iraq in 2014 it appeared on the cusp of conquering Baghdad. In June of 2014, as ISIS was massacring Shi’ites and committing the most brutal crimes, Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa calling men to arms to defend Iraq from the black-clad extremists. At the same time, across the border in Iraq the IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani was beginning to contemplate a mission that would bring him to Baghdad, Erbil, Damascus and Moscow to encourage locals to fight ISIS and to bring Iran’s influence and expertise to the frontline.  

Soleimani was often seen as a key force behind Iran’s confrontation with Israel and also a key to Iran’s influence in the region that opposes the US. However other sides of his role are also clear and Iran’s Tasnim News has laid out some of the backstory behind his role fighting ISIS. This new story comes almost two years after he was killed in US airstrike in Baghdad in January 2020. ISIS was mostly defeated by 2017.  

The news story relates to a letter Soleimani sent to Iran’s Supreme Leader. “The evil movement, known as the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’, managed to plunge tens of thousands of young Muslims into a very dangerous crisis in the very first months by deceiving tens of thousands of young Muslims,” he wrote. At the end of the letter, it stated: “I declare and represent all the anonymous commanders and Mujahideen of this scene and the thousands of martyrs and veterans who defended the sanctuary of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Pakistan who sacrificed their lives to defend the lives and honor of Muslims and their saints. This is a great victory.” 

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei apparently wrote back, thanking Soleimani for his role. “By disintegrating this cancerous and deadly mass [ISIS], you have done a great service not only to the countries of the region and the Islamic world, but also to all nations and to humanity. This is a divine victory.” 

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The report looks at the background of ISIS. It notes that ISIS grew out of Al Qaeda after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in 2006. It notes that Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi became a leader of Al Qaeda and changed its name to Islamic State in Iraq. “After a while, Abu Omar Baghdadi was killed and Abu Muhammad Mohajer became the leader of the group. He was also killed and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi became the emir of the Islamic State in Iraq,” the report says. 

At this time ISIS only operated in Iraq. But as the Syrian civil war grew, it began to sink its fangs into Syria. “As the Syrian crisis began, Baghdadi sent Abu Muhammad Jolani to Syria to form an al-Qaeda affiliate called Jabhat al-Nusra. The Nusra Front quickly expanded to become the strongest Takfiri militant group in Syria. The Baghdadi and Golani divisions gradually escalated, distancing themselves from each other.” The report says that Baghdadi went to Syria and merged the branches in Iraq and Syria into what became known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). “Within two years, ISIS took control of many parts of northern and eastern Syria and killed many Muslims and Christians in heavy fighting with Jabhat al-Nusra.” Some time after that, the story says, “Baghdadi later declared a caliphate in Mosul, Iraq, and became the strongest armed takfiri group in Iraq and Syria, with the support of countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Turkey, etc.” Takfiri is the term that Iran uses for Sunni jihadist extremist groups that accuse other Muslims, such as Shi’ites, of not being Muslim.  

Here the article claims that the US played a role in “designing and implementing,” the role of groups like ISIS. This is part of the usual conspiracy theory spread by Tehran that sees the US hand behind the chaos in the Middle East. Even though Al Qaeda targeted the US on 9/11, these voices argue the US is somehow behind these extremist groups. This argument gets support from the fact that some US voices have over the years suggested the US should back Turkish-backed extremist groups in Syria, and some in the US wanted to work with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which was once Al Qaeda in Syria. There have always been some US think tank commentators who have preferred extremist groups in the Middle East and wanted to work with them over moderates. 

The Tasnim article notes that “from the very beginning, ISIL committed many crimes against Muslims and Christians in Syria and Iraq, killing many people in those countries. ISIL gained access to many weapons and equipment to kill people, for example in Iraq, ISIL disarmed 90,000 Iraqi soldiers, of whom 90,000 were army personnel and another 30,000 were Iraqi federal police. These 90,000 troops had the latest American advanced weapons, so the latest model of advanced military weapons was provided to ISIL.” This is an accurate account since it is known that Iraqi divisions did surrender in their masses to ISIS in 2014 and thousands of armored vehicles fell into the hands of ISIS.  

“With the beginning of the crisis in Syria and Iraq, Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the IRGC, left for the battlefield with ISIL at the request of the governments of those countries [i.e Syria and Iraq] and at the order of the Supreme Leader of the Revolution. The method and logic of the Quds Force of the IRGC was to activate the dormant capacities in the same countries. And the terrorist cells in these two countries almost gathered,” the report says. 

The story claims that Soleimani arrived in Baghdad in time to help organize the defense of the capital and that Mohammad Jafar Asadi, the former commander of Iranian advisers in Syria, said; “I was a servant in Syria when a senior member of the Ministry of Intelligence came to that country and said in a meeting that ‘I come from Iraq.’ There was a meeting in Baghdad and clerics, politicians, economists and so on. ‘If they had not come on the Wednesday that Soleimani entered Baghdad, not only Baghdad but also the cities of Najaf and Karbala would have been lost. The people were fleeing. The Baghdad officials were also preparing to leave the city,’ they said. ‘But Sardar Soleimani came and changed the situation.” 

A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa June 29, 2014. The offshoot of al Qaeda which has captured swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria has declared itself an Islamic ”Caliphate” and called on factions worldwide to pledge their allegiance, a st (credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)

The assertion here is that Soleimani helped save Iraq from ISIS. In August 2014 ISIS shifted its offensive to try to take Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan autonomous region. ISIS broke through defenses on the road to Dohuk and also at Makhmour on the road to Erbil. At the time Kurds told me that they were preparing to flee Dohuk and men were practicing with their rifles to go to the front immediately to stop ISIS. It was believed ISIS would be in the key Kurdish cities within days. Tens of thousands of men went to the frontlines at that time. Yazidis, captured by ISIS in Sinjar, were being massacred and sold into slavery.  

“After the ISIS attack, the first country to arrive at Erbil airport even before the United States and Europe was the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Mohammad Haj Mahmoud, secretary-general of the Kurdistan Social Democratic Party, told Tasnim. “Hajj Qasim came with 70 troops of military experts and three consignments of ammunition needed to fight ISIL, and they themselves cooperated with the Peshmerga forces, even in the Makhmur area.” 

This story of the arrival of Soleimani by helicopter to Erbil to meet with Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani has been told in recent clips from a dramatized movie made about the event. The Iranian film, criticized by some in Kurdistan for making the Kurds appear defeated in the face of ISIS, shows Barzani on the phone facing the possibility that no one will come to Kurdistan’s aid. His advisors tell him the West has abandoned him. The Americans, French and Turks will not arrive in time to stop the ISIS advance on Erbil. As his staff is about to abandon Erbil the Kurdish leader sees an old photo of him and Iran’s Supreme Leader. It is only when he speaks with Qasem Soleimani that he hears help will arrive from Iran.  

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The article praising Soleimani’s role against ISIS also says that commanders in Syria saw his role as key. Defenders of the Zaynab shrine near Damascus praised him. “The commanders of the Syrian army trusted Hajj Qasim in every sense of the word and considered his presence a power for themselves. Haj Qasim’s presence in the region had a great and positive psychological impact on the forces.” 

The article says that Soleimani’s stature grew in the face of the ISIS. “The public opinion became acquainted with another figure of Soleimani, a figure who, as an experienced politician and diplomat, showed his ability to persuade and accompany other countries to enter the war front against terrorists in Syria. Qassem Soleimani, as Iran’s envoy to Moscow during talks with Russian President Putin, was able to use the Russians’ operational capacity to advance their goals,” the article says.  “After four years of Iranian struggle and resistance in Syria, Soleimani met with Putin for two hours and twenty minutes during a trip to Russia to meet with the Russians,” one source told the reporters. Soleimani told Putin that Syria was a key to Russia’s stronghold in the Middle East. “If you lose it, the Westerners will not value you,” Soleimani supposedly said. “He also understood politics well and had an understanding of international politics, he knew the cultural and social arena, and his interactions with the people reflected the depth of their vision,” the report says. “Thus, Sardar Soleimani’s efforts in the field of diplomacy and diplomacy led to the end of ISIS’s dominance.” 

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