Iranian influence “declining but not suppressed” two years after Suleimani’s assassination

Two years have passed since the Trump administration ordered the assassination of senior Iranian general Qassem Suleimani in the hope of not only sending a message to Iran, but also halting much of the ambitions. of Iran in the region.

While the general’s death apparently did little to stop Iran’s regional ambitions, his absence certainly rattled the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and dealt a blow to Iran’s strength and transnational networks, according to Arash Azizi, journalist and author of The Shadow Commander: Soleimani, the United States and Iran’s Global Ambitions.

“Mr. Suleimani was one of the most unique operatives in the history of modern warfare, not just in the Middle East but all over the world,” Azizi said. The National, stressing that the general commanded a multinational ideological army of more than 100,000 people which extended over the whole region.

But while Suleimani’s legacy is unique and impressive, it is not likely to last long, he said.

Esmail Qaani, who was appointed head of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps just hours after the assassination, failed to replace his predecessor, Azizi said.

“Mr. Qaani lacks Suleimani’s charisma, diplomatic acumen, fluency in the Arabic language and years of experience in establishing personal relationships with allies of the Iranian regime in the region, such as Hassan Nasrallah , Lebanese Hezbollah leader, and Iraqi militia leaders.

In Iraq in particular, Suleimani’s death was a massive loss in terms of maintaining some cohesion among the already “discordant and disunited” Shiite militias, Azizi said. The effects of this were seen in the general elections in October, when Iranian-backed groups lost most of their seats in the Iraqi parliament.

Adnan Tabatabai, co-founder and director general of the German think tank Carpo, said that the assassination of Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), who was also killed in the drone strike on Suleimani outside Baghdad airport had a big role to play in the disunity among its member militias.

Al Muhandis’ death “sparked dangerous internal competition in Iraq,” he said.

Mr. Tabatabai said that Al Muhandis and Suleimani were able to “tame the ambitions of these groups”, but the double assassination and “various commitments in favor of vendetta and leadership claims” by PMF units undermined their cohesion.

The problem now for Iran, Iraq and the Quds Force is that “mobilizing them for an attack will always work, while demanding of these groups to hold back has become increasingly difficult,” he said. -he declares. This “endangers the stability of Iraq and exacerbates the vulnerability of the American presence.”

Suleimani was very focused on Iran’s relations and dominance in Iraq, and his legacy there, in particular, is complicated. Under his leadership, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were an essential part of the fight against ISIS. Suleimani often put himself on the front lines and forged close ties not only with Shiite groups but also with Iraqi Kurdish parties, so he was respected and revered, Azizi said.

However, the role of Iran and Suleimani in suppressing Iraqi political movements, especially the bloody crackdown on the 2019 protests, and their outsized role in the governance of Iraq, have often undermined Iraq’s sovereignty. , according to Azizi. “Most people do not like that a stronger and bigger neighbor undermines the sovereignty of their country, even if they are both from the Shiite community,” he noted.

Retaining the gains made by Suleimani is an almost impossible task, not only because of his loss, but also because of what Iran is promoting. Its theocratic government is one of a kind and largely unpopular even in Iran: in the 40 years of its existence, Iranians have often taken to the streets. It is, as Azizi says, “effectively non-exportable”.

The countries where Iran is very present and has tried to export its ideology are not, as Azizi says, “enviable” places. Syria and Yemen have been caught up in civil wars which have caused widespread destruction and hunger. In Iraq and Lebanon, Iran’s network of allies has created a system of corruption that has led to ineffective and crippled governments.

Even before Suleimani’s death, Iraqis and Lebanese took to the streets to protest Iran’s role in corrupting government and exacerbating sectarianism.

Finally, the impact of US economic sanctions on Iran’s ability to project its influence beyond its borders should not be ruled out. Suleimani’s ability to expand and create these alliances has been costly for Iran; U.S. sanctions have reduced its ability to fund regional activity to some extent, but not as much as the former Trump administration would have hoped. The budget for 2022 more than doubled funding for the Revolutionary Guards, from 403 trillion rials to 930 trillion rials ($ 22 billion).

Despite all of these factors, Iran’s power in the region does not rest solely on its political influence, nor even its financial support for like-minded groups across the region. Iran still has military might, and Azizi says it’s not something that’s going to go away.

Mr. Tabatabai attributes this to the institutionalized structure of the Quds Force. The Iranian military, while allied in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, has also used its influence and power in Syria to support President Bashar Al Assad, and its military has supported Houthi rebels in Yemen. These aspects of Suleimani’s legacy – aspects devoid of Iranian ideology – are unlikely to fade away.

Despite the assassination of its revered general, Iran has continued to force its way into the region both militarily and diplomatically, and it is unlikely to lose its foothold completely in the countries where Suleimani has invested his time.

Updated: January 3, 2022, 2:41 PM

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