Once upon a time, back in the summer of 2015, I tried – very politely – to explain to my old boss that the man behind the seemingly imminent deployment of Russian military assets to Syria was not in fact Vladimir Putin, but Quds commander Qassem Soleimani.
See Soleimani has a way of showing up in all kinds of places where big things eventually happen. And in the summer of 2015, he was in Syria saying things like this:
The world will be surprised by what we and the Syrian military leadership are preparing for the coming days.
That was in June of 2015. At the time, Bashar al-Assad’s forces were in dire straits and looked to be on the verge of losing the battle for Syria as a long-running, multi-front war against a hodgepodge of rebel groups was taking its toll.
Well, to anyone who knew anything at all – and I do mean anything – about Mideast politics, it was painfully obvious what Soleimani was hinting at. He was about to convince Russia to intervene. And it wouldn’t be a hard sell given Russia’s existing relationship with Damascus. Ultimately, the idea would be for the Russians to effectively serve as Hezbollah’s air force while Hassan Nasrallah’s army – along with fighters from other Iran-allied Shiite militias – basically took over ground operations from the beleaguered SAA.
Fast forward to July 24, 2015 (or thereabouts) and Soleimani showed up in Moscow.
At that point, I again told my old employer that a Russian military intervention in Syria was all but certain, and while he was willing to concede that, he was not at all willing to entertain the idea that Soleimani was behind it.
Fast forward another couple of months to October 6 (so, a week or so after Russia established an air base at Latakia) and Reuters ran a piece called “How Iranian general plotted out Syrian assault in Moscow.” Finally, I was allowed to move ahead with my analysis on Soleimani and his efforts to bring Russia into the Syria conflict.
Here’s the thing. If you are someone who knows anything about Mideast politics or really, about Iran in general, what I just recounted probably seems absurd. Because if you are not a complete buffoon, you are acutely aware of the fact that Qassem Soleimani is a veritable goddamn James Bond figure. He’s a foreign policy legend and in spy circles, he’s like Keyser Söze. Running a firm whose job it is to conduct foreign policy analysis and not knowing this would be the rough equivalent of purporting to be a specialist in war films and having never seen f*cking Rambo.
The reason I bring this up again, is because as it turns out, Soleimani was the man behind the seizure of Kirkuk from the Kurds, the biggest geopolitical event of the month. Here’s NBC:
A few days after the Trump administration announced a new, get-tough approach to Iran, one of that country’s top military commanders and the armed Shiite militias he supports played a key role in the seizure of an important Iraqi city from the U.S.-backed Kurds, according to Iraqi, Kurdish and American officials.
Former U.S. national security officials told NBC News the Iranian-brokered seizure of oil-rich Kirkuk by the Iraqi government and its militia partners, which heightens the risk of civil war, amounts to an embarrassing strategic blow to the U.S. at the hands of Iran.
“It is a catastrophic defeat for the United States and a fantastic victory for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, proving that Qassem Soleimani gets his way once again,” said Ali Khedery, a former senior adviser on Iraq policy in the Bush and Obama administrations.
Soleimani is head of the Iranian military’s special forces and extraterritorial operations. The major general commands an elite unit known as the Quds Force and has been dubbed the most powerful intelligence operative in the Middle East. According to Kurdish and Iraqi officials, he traveled to Kirkuk last week to weigh in on the dispute between Baghdad and the Kurds over the strategically important city of Kirkuk
And it gets better. Here’s how he planned it out:
Kurdish officials and former U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News Soleimani helped negotiate a deal under which one Kurdish faction would abandon its checkpoints and allow Iraqi government forces, backed by Iranian-supported Shiite militias, to take the city uncontested. That explains, they say, why there was so little fighting as Iraqi forces, armed with heavy weapons provided by the U.S., seized Kirkuk from the Kurds, who also carry American weapons and have been the most stalwart U.S. ally in the fight against ISIS.
“We’re confident that Qassem Soleimani engineered, guided, directed, manipulated this deal,” Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdish representative in Washington, told NBC News.
She said Soleimani used a carrot-and-stick approach, threatening force and offering financial inducements to certain elements of a Kurdish faction whose soldiers abandoned their positions.
Boom. Now recall what we said just last week when it became apparent that Trump was set to abandon the Iran nuclear deal:
Additionally, this opens the door for the Quds to instruct Iran-backed militias in Iraq to get more ambitious.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but we know what the f*ck we’re talking about when it comes to geopolitics.
That’s it, I’m done.