Iranian and Shiite hegemony over Iraq and Lebanon is to be continued… by a new military strongman.

6 January 2020 By Paul Martin
Our SUV drives past an Iranian-backed Shia militia truck near Mosul, Iraq’s second-biggest city. Photo c. Paul Martin /
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EXCLUSIVE PHOTO c. Paul Martin / The grave of Imad Mughnieh, military commander of Hizbullah, the Shiite Iranian-backed force that now dominates Lebanon. Above the grave, a cutout life-like picture of Mughnieh (centre) alongside his son, killed in action fighting for Hizbullah in Syria, and Mugnieh’s mother.
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In a Shiite suburb of Beirut, a Hizbullah militiaman is pictured firing a rocket at Hizbullah’s key target Israel, its southern neighbour, symbolised by the Al Aqsa Mosque of Jerusalem.
PHOTO c. Paul Martin /

Qassem Soleimani's deputy, Maj. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, who was appointed as the new commander of the Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force.
Qassem Soleimani’s deputy, Maj. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, the new commander of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force.

A new Iranian general Esmail Ghaani has stepped out of the shadows to lead the country’s Quds Force. He is responsible for Tehran’s proxies across the Mideast as the Islamic Republic threatens the U.S. with “harsh revenge” for killing its previous head, Qassem Soleimani.

The Quds Force is part of the 125,000-strong Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary organisation that answers only to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Guard oversees Iran’s ballistic missile program, has its naval forces shadow the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf and includes an all-volunteer Basij force.

Like his predecessor, a young Esmail Ghaani faced the carnage of Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s and later joined the newly founded Quds, or Jerusalem, Force.

While much still remains unknown about Ghaani, 62, Western sanctions were imposed on him years back, suggesting he has long been in a position of power in the organisation. And one of his first duties is likely to be to oversee whatever revenge Iran intends to seek for the killing of his longtime friend by the U.S. airstrike early Friday.

Soleimani was the face of the Quds Force. His fame surged after American officials began blaming him for deadly roadside bombs targeting U.S. troops in Iraq. Images of him, long a feature of hard-line Instagram accounts and mobile phone lock-screens, now plaster billboards in Iran and Lebanon calling for Iran to avenge his death.

“We are children of war,” Ghaani once said of his relationship with Soleimani, according to Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency. “We are comrades on the battlefield and we have become friends in battle.”

The Guard has seen its influence grow ever-stronger both militarily and politically in recent decades. Iran’s conventional military was decimated by the execution of its old officer class during the 1979 Islamic Revolution and later by sanctions.

A key driver of that influence comes from the elite Quds Force, which works across the region with allied groups to offer an asymmetrical threat to counter the advanced weaponry wielded by the U.S. and its regional allies. Those partners include Iraqi militiamen, Lebanon’s Hizbullah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

In announcing Ghaani as Soleimani’s replacement, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the new leader “one of the most prominent commanders” in service to Iran.

The Quds Force “will be unchanged from the time of his predecessor,” Ayatollah Khamenei said, according to IRNA.

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