Major-General Qassem Soleimani, a one-time Iranian military hero who leads the Islamic Republic’s covert international fighting force, has fallen from grace after speaking out about Tehran’s regional influence in spreading Shiite rule, the Economist reported on Saturday.
The commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps was for many years in the background, operating out of the public eye (according to Western intelligence agencies, he directs much of Iran’s terror operations abroad). However, after photos showed him in the thick of battle in Iraq, helping militias defend Baghdad against the advance of Islamic State group fighters, he became a folk hero in Iran.
But once in the spotlight, Soleimani, 58, began to speak out, trumpeting Iran’s clout in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Bahrian, leading to a March 13 public dressing down by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the highest ranking Shiite cleric in Iraq.
According to a local source quoted by the report, Sistani personally wrote to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, grumbling about Soleimani.
The general’s actions in Iraq, while effective, were also said to have put too much stress on the local Sunni population, leading to complaints.
Soleimani was also blamed with underestimating the Saudi response to Iran’s backing of Houthi rebels in Yemen. While the Quds force had predicted the Saudis would stay out of the fray, in practice they launched an air campaign against Houthi positions that has persisted for several months and killed thousands of people.
It was after he allegedly boasted that the so-called Shia Crescent — a region of the Middle East where Shia Muslims are a majority or have strong influence — was reaching into Jordan that his superiors decided to take action.
Soleimani has now been reeled in and can “no longer act as a de facto foreign minister” the source said.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif now publicly fills the role of foreign envoy, handling all of Iran’s affairs abroad and replacing Soleimani’s past backroom dealings.
With the nuclear deal under his belt, Zarif, the report said, is now focusing on curtailing Iran’s involvement in the Syrian civil war, where it is has backed the Bashar Assad regime through the deployment of its proxy, the Lebanese-based Hezbollah militia, as well as military advisers.