In September 2014, a social media campaign was launched featuring Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander General Qasim Suleimani. The conventional wisdom was that this was an attempt by Tehran to portray it as the major force leading the war against the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria. Dozens of pictures appeared on Facebook and Twitter and other outlets, and eventually found their way into the Iraqi and international media. Afshon Ostovar in Vanguard of the Imam, Religion, Politics, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards argued there might have been another motivation.
Immediately after the Islamic State seized Mosul in June 2014 Iran mobilized the Quds Force to help Baghdad. Two battalions of the Revolutionary Guard were sent to Iraq, while General Suleimani went to Baghdad to coordinate security policy. That including coordinating with the militias he’d been working with for years such as Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, while Iran flew in planeloads of weapons and military supplies. In the following months Suleimani was pictured at almost all the major battles from Jurf al-Sakhr in Babil to Jalawla in Diyala and many others. These photographs quickly multiplied and went from Iranian and Iraqi social media to the Iraqi press and then out to the world. In the process Suleimani became akin to a folk hero in Iran and Iraq for his role in the war. This made Iran appear to be the main country aiding Iraq with Suleimani in the forefront of that effort.
Behind the scenes another campaign may have been taking place. While General Suleimani was widely accepted to be Iran’s point man in Iraq, Tehran actually replaced him with Ali Shamkhani, the head of the National Security Council early in the war. Shamkhani for example, took part in the negotiations that forced Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki out of office after the fall of Mosul. There were also rumors that Suleimani was going to be removed from his post. That was because he was in charge of the Iranian effort in the Syrian war, but ignored the Islamic State. Its rise in Syria and then surge into Iraq was partly blamed on the general in some Iranian circles. The Quds Force responded with this public relations operation promoting Suleimani to push back against his opponents within the government. This was a decided change as the general had mostly worked behind the scenes, but now became a celebrity. With that publicity he could not lose his position.
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