- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the veteran Iranian military leader killed by a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad earlier this month, enjoyed a level of autonomy from his superiors in Tehran that his successor likely will not possess, according to a new analysis of the Iranian military from the American Enterprise Institute.

Soleimani’s death, which sparked large-scale demonstrations in Iran, also calls into question the future role of the Quds Force, the military organization the general led for decades in operations beyond Iran’s borders.

“It’s going to change the way the Iranian security operations function. I would expect Soleimani’s portfolio to be broken up,” said Frederick W.Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project at AEI and co-author of “Iran’s Reserve of Last Report,” a study of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps that was released soon after he was killed in the drone strike.

Soleimani had been fully in charge of Iran’s military efforts in Syria prior to his death and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) members who had been sent there reported to him.

Analysts say that Esmail Ghaani, the new commander of the Quds Force, lacks the presence or the influence of his predecessor. He has spent the last two decades as the force’s second-in-command.

“He’s hardly an unknown, but he’s not the guy [Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei] has been interacting with,” Mr. Kagan said. “Soleimani had concentrated a lot of power in himself. He was a remarkably capable person.”

While the Quds Force may fall more under the IRGC umbrella, it will still likely remain a separate force with its own mission.

“It has a different function — running covert operations around the world. It’s different from the function of the mainline IRGC elements,” Mr.Kagan said.

But projecting future Iranian military organizational plans is not easy, Mr. Kagan acknowledged.

“Here we have a real Iranian obsession with secrecy. We had to put together a lot of separate pieces of data over many years in order to get a picture of what units are active,” he said.

“We think it’s important to do because having this baseline order of battle lets us begin the process of accessing what the regime’s capacity is to deal with both a major external military activity and a major domestic crisis — potentially at the same time,” Mr. Kagan said.

The American drone strike sparked demonstrations in Iran — both for and against the regime in Tehran. So far, Iranian law enforcement officers rather than the IRGC has been deployed to confront the anti-government demonstrators.

If the demonstrations throughout Iran continue and become too much for the police to deal with, government officials in Tehran will probably send in militia units. Only later will IRGC personnel ever get involved, analysts said.

“They really do seem to be trying to calibrate the lowest level of force that they can [employ] to deal with their internal unrest,” Mr. Kagan said.

“The temporary rallying of Iranians behind the regime following Soleimani’s killing did not last long,” the authors said in their study. “The order of battle presented in this report is the first step toward assessing the IRGC’s capacity to handle the challenges Iran is likely to face in the coming years.”

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