An influential Iranian military leader seen as one of the country’s most prominent hardliners publicly renounced any ambition to enter politics on Thursday, quashing rumors he could seek the presidency.
Major General Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ elite al-Quds Force, publicly rejected rumors that he plans to run in May’s presidential elections.
He described the media reports that he plans to leave the military as “divisive,” according to a report in the Tasnim News Agency.
Suleimani, 59, said he wants to remain a soldier serving the country until the day he dies.
“I am a soldier of Velayat (Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) and the Islamic Republic regime and the brave population, which I value more than my own life,” Suleimani said according to a Bloomberg translation of a Tasnim report. “God willing, I will remain in this role of soldier until the end of my life.”
The presidential elections were scheduled to take place on May 19, 2017 with incumbent Hassan Rouhani expected to run for a second term.
The al-Quds Force under Suleimani’s command is allegedly responsible for overseas military and secret operations, including Iranian fighting in Syria. Suleimani has led the division since at least 1998.
The US State Department has specifically mentioned Suleimani as a driving force behind terrorism in the region.
In a briefing to reporters on June 4, the Department’s Acting Coordinator for Counter-terrorism Justin Siberell said: “Iran continues to provide support to Hezbollah, Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, and various groups in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.”
The report stated that the al-Quds Force was “Iran’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad.”
Iran uses the unit “to implement foreign policy goals, provide cover for intelligence operations and create instability in the Middle East,” the report overview read.
According to a report in The New Yorker, Suleimani has worked as a power broker to shape the Middle East in Iran’s favor.
“Suleimani is the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today and no one’s ever heard of him,” former CIA officer in Iraq John Maguire told magazine.
According to media reports Suleimani’s power comes partially because of his close relationship with Khamenei.
Hamas officials allegedly met with Suleimani in February and received promises of increased funding, after signing of the nuclear deal with Western powers in July 2015.
Israel’s Channel 2 reported at the time that Hamas officials met in Tehran with Suleimani and discussed Iranian funding for the terror group. He said he “kissed the foreheads” of all those thousands engaged in anti-Israel activities, the TV report said.
In August 2015 Suleimani also provoked US outrage when he allegedly violated an international travel ban and visited Moscow.
Suleimani is one of several Iranian officials targeted by a 2007 United Nations travel ban because of their alleged links to Iran’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs.
AFP contributed to this report.