- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2020

The late Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani leaves a legacy in Iraq of more than 100,000 Shia militia loyalists and one of his closest advisers, a Quds Force general who serves as Iran’s ambassador in Baghdad.

The ambassador is Brig. Gen. Iraj Masjedi, long a practitioner of targeting U.S. troops, according to Iran’s main opposition group.

He is the third-highest ranking commander of the Quds Force, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization Soleimani aggressively led as he deployed operators in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and other countries Iran seeks to dominate. Gen. Masjedi’s embassy biography says he had a career teaching management at Iranian universities.

But the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the main Iran opposition group, says Gen. Masjedi reports to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and has secretly operated as a terrorist by ordering the killing Iraqis who are protesting in Baghdad against Tehran’s growing influence. Iran has a history of crushing dissidents and has killed thousands of protesters in Iran, the NCRI reports.

The U.S. killed Soleimani on Jan. 3 with a drone missile that blasted his car in Baghdad on orders of President Trump. He said the Quds leader was planning major attacks on U.S. forces invited by Iraq to fight the Islamic State.

Quds Force operatives have been killing Americans at least since the mid-2000s, and Gen. Masjedi played a critical role. The NCRI previously reported that he commanded the “Ramazan Garrison” near Iraq that trained and inserted Quds Force terrorists across the border to plant bombs to blow up American troops.

“It is clear that the Iranian regime’s ambassador to Iraq, Iraj Masjedi, is Khamenei’s secret governor of Iraq,” the NCRI said in a Nov. 15 report. “And as a top Quds Force commander, he is clearly the regime’s most important person in Iraq. Together, these positions provide him with both the authority and the diplomatic cover to order his agents to massacre the people of Iraq when their public demonstrations present a challenge to Iran’s influence.”

The NCRI has reported that inserting Quds operators inside embassies in the Middle East and Europe was the modus operandi of Soleimani.

Albania in December 2018 deported two Quds Force/diplomats for plotting assassinations against members of the NCRI and its People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), which made Albania its headquarters.

Earlier that year, French, German and Belgian authorities broke up a plot by Iran to detonate explosions at an MEK conference in Paris that featured a number of Western speakers, including Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s attorney.

Among the Iranians arrested was Asadollah Asadi, an intelligence operative in Tehran’s embassy in Austria who allegedly provided the explosives. Vienna revoked his diplomatic immunity.

“Masjedi is the field commander for the Iranian regime and the third-highest ranking officer in the Quds Force,” the Nov. 15 NCRI report said. “Masjedi has a more extensive history of interference in Iraq than even Qassem Soleimani. Masjedi has handled the situation in Iraq for the past 36 years. All the Iranian regime’s proxy groups and paramilitary groups such as the Badr Brigade and the terrorist operational units of Hezb-ol-Dawa and certain Kurdish groups were under Masjedi’s command and on his payroll.”

The NCRI said his resume includes the Quds Force campaign in 2005-11 to kill American troops by joining proxy militia members in deploying sophisticated roadside bombs. The Pentagon blamed Soleimani’s Quds Force for more than 600 deaths.

Like the Albanian and Paris plots, the targeted killings of Americans could be carried out only with Soleimani’s active participation, U.S. experts say.

The NCRI, which runs source networks in Iran, said Gen. Masjedi played a direct role last fall in putting down thousands of Iraqis who were protesting Iran’s influence.

“In recent years, Masjedi had a direct role in the creation of the Iranian regime’s paramilitary proxy groups, and now he directly commands and controls these groups,” the report said. “According to reports obtained by the Iranian resistance from inside of the Iranian regime, those who opened fire on Iraqi protesters in October were members of the Popular Mobilization Forces and Iraqi security forces under Masjedi’s command.”

Gen. Masjedi’s online embassy biography is scrubbed of his Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps history. It reads: “Teaching management at different universities of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Has worked for years in different political, security and advisory positions related to the political, defense, cultural and economic fields of Iraq and has a close relationship with Iraqi government officials and authorities in different parts of this country.”

The NCRI researched Iran’s state-run media and found an article that provided a fuller profile. Mizan Online News Agency said: “Some of the media outlets name ‘IRGC Brigadier General Iraj Masjedi,’ the senior advisor of IRGC’s Quds Force, as Iran’s new ambassador to Iraq. General Masjedi, the possible ambassador of Iran in Iraq, was the chief of staff of the IRGC’s only exterritorial garrison (Ramazan Garrison) during the sacred defense [Iran-Iraq War] The mission of [Ramazan] garrison was performing guerrilla operations inside the Iraqi territory with the cooperation of the Iraqi-Kurdish dissidents.”

Jim Phillips, a Middle East analysis at the Heritage Foundation, says Gen. Masjedi may lose some influence along with the Quds Force itself now that its most prominent leader is dead.

“General Soleimani essentially operated as Iran’s viceroy for Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon,” Mr. Phillips said. “All three of Iran’s post-Saddam [Hussein] ambassadors in Iraq were formerly members of Soleimani’s Quds Force, as were ambassadors in Syria and Lebanon. To the extent that General Soleimani’s demise undermines the perceived power and reputation of the Quds Force, Masjedi’s own influence is likely to be diminished.”

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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