By Sohrab Suleimani’s telling, the international media has unfairly maligned Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s much feared Quds Force. In an interview published Wednesday by Iran’s Fars News Agency, Sohrab countered the conventional account of his brother. He offered words of praise, humanizing a brother described more often as amilitary mastermind who facilitates Shiite extremists than as a tender-hearted family man.
As leader of the Quds Force, which is the elite wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and oversees Tehran’s extensive involvement in regional theaters of conflict, Qassem could be forgiven for spending too little time with family. Not necessary, according to Sohrab: “As the head of the Quds Force, he has little time to devote to his own life, yet his attention [to his family and friends] has not diminished.” Sohrab elaborated on the balance between the sobriety of the general’s work and who he is on the inside: “He’s a serious person, but very kind and emotional.… Those who don’t know him well can’t believe what kind of personality he has.”
As noted in a Foreign Policy report on the photos of Qassem consorting with Kurdish fighters, his elevated public profile marks a departure from the shadows in which he moved for most of his career. The interview with Sohrab adds to a long list of public relations efforts meant to glorify Qassem and, more generally, to cast Iran in a kinder light. In a propaganda video for an Iraqi militia group, soldiers are seen spray-painting the general’s mien on nondescript walls, while others quickly line up to salute it. He also maintains an Instagram account, cataloging a few hundred images fancied by the general.
One piece of information Sohrab provided about his brother may pique the interest of U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies. “My brother is strongly opposed to bodyguards; his safety is probably now causing concerns for the commander of the IRGC,” he said. Regardless, if the United States and Israel did know his whereabouts, as they likely do from time to time, they could risk sparking a major conflict by assassinating the person who is possibly Iran’s favorite security asset.
Sohrab insisted that his brother is an Iranian hero, one unconcerned by politics and consumed by his love for nation: “He has very close ties to the martyrs’ children. And he doesn’t care to which faction the martyrs belong.” Sohrab’s effusive descriptions may not miss the mark entirely. A New Yorkerarticle corroborated the description of Qassem as an empathetic military leader: “Before sending his men into battle, he would embrace each one and bid him goodbye; in speeches, he praised martyred soldiers and begged their forgiveness for not being martyred himself.”
The celebrity buzz around Qassem may presage a career transition. His rising star may also prepare him for an expanded role in public affairs, as the face of Iran’s foreign policy of “resistance.” Regional conditions no longer demand that he stay in the shadows. Not long ago, he was leading covert operations against U.S. occupying forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, as attention has shifted to regional extremism, the general can — and will — pose for the camera and proliferate his growing cult of personality. As Qassem shows a friendlier side to Iranian policies, he could help the Islamic Republic shed its image as an untrustworthy and meddlesome power for at least certain segments of the Middle East and, instead, become a reasonable, if discomfiting, powerhouse in the region.