The Shadow Commander Smiles For The Camera: ISIS Glorifies In Wanton Violence And Wants You To See This
21 March 2015
By Diana Moukalled
Before a year ago, mystery, intrigue and frustration surrounded the search
for any report, photograph, or fact relating to Qassem Suleimani, the leader
of Iran's Quds Force, a division of its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
For more than two decades Suleimani's mission has been to export the values
of Khomeini's revolution outside Iran, a difficult and major task requiring
an uncomfortable blend between a religious ideology and the nasty, sometimes
brutal work of a security specialist—and always, naturally for a man known to
many as the ''Shadow Commander,'' conducted under a veil of darkness and
But now things appear to have changed somewhat . . .
The usual amateur, low-quality images of Suleimani are no longer that rare,
and neither are the videos of him appearing fleetingly at a public event or
celebration in Iran. For months now, high-quality photographs and footage of
Suleimani have been appearing regularly, and the image of Suleimani smiling
to the camera, exaggerating a pose, or even checking on the quality of the
camera being used to snap him up, has become a regular sight for those who
follow the man's movements. In those pictures he may appear with his arm
around Iranian, Iraqi or Syrian soldiers who have been fighting in Iraq or
Syria. Here in Beirut in January he even visited the graves of Hezbollah
fighters who died in Quneitra in Syria, with the pictures and news reports
all out there in the open.
Suleimani is no longer the perennially mysterious and silent ''Shadow
Commander'' of old whose very mention could tip the scales from truth to
legend. He now shouts out from the rooftops that, yes, he is Tehran's
strongman tasked with expanding its military influence outside its own
borders to Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Palestine. And, yes, those are
photographs of him on foreign soil commanding Iranian soldiers, disregarding
the sovereignty of other states. And, yes, in case you are wondering, those
soldiers are ready to do everything he commands.
Such images of Suleimani are transformed when seen in the light of Tehran's
propagandist perspective, which now boasts unequivocally and unabashedly of
the Islamic Republic's foreign exploits. A template excuse for this
transformation is of course ready and available: ''We are fighting the
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS] and the takfirists. So these
photographs and opinion pieces that sing Suleimani and his movement's praises
present him as someone capable of standing up to ISIS leader Abu Bakr
Al-Baghdadi. Do you really think it is the international anti-ISIS coalition
that has stopped the group's advance?''
These are, naturally, the words of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, taken
from a recent televised interview during which he mocked the Western powers
and tried to ascribe any success in holding back ISIS's advances in Syria and
Iraq to Suleimani.
So, according to the Iranian account, and those of its allies, Suleimani is
the only person capable of stopping ISIS. He and his group are the only ones
who can truly stand up to this barbarous plague of murderers, decapitators
But let us try and think for a moment; what kind of strategy would Suleimani
use to defeat this bloodthirsty group?
Well, in Syria Suleimani has offered his support to the forces of Syrian
President Bashar Al-Assad to fight groups such as ISIS—essentially fighting
those who would cut off heads and burn people alive with those who would
torture their own people and (also) burn them alive, though in this case
using barrel bombs.
In Iraq, a country that represents great strategic importance for Tehran,
Suleimani is fighting ISIS using militias and armed groups such as the
Shi'ite Islamist Asa'ib Ahl Al-Haq and the infamous Badr Organization. How
are these militias helping in the fight against extremist groups such as ISIS
exactly? A slew of reports have recently flooded in—the most prominent of
which was by Human Rights Watch—accusing these groups of carrying out mass
killings of prisoners (including burning people alive), as well as torching
homes in the Diyala region in the country, where Iranian influence is strong.
Some of Tehran's supporters use an incredibly lame and inane question when
attempting to defend the country against its detractors here: ''Who would you
prefer, Iran or ISIS?'' (As if those were the only two choices available and
we could easily just settle for anything or anyone so long as they are ''not
as bad as ISIS.'')
What is even more galling here is that these selfsame people will then insist
that the Badr Organization or Asa'ib Ahl Al-Haq or any of these other groups
Iran supports offer ''less harrowing'' alternatives to ISIS. Are they any
less harrowing, these groups which carry out acts of mass murder and burn
prisoners alive, than one whose preferred method of execution is
The truth is that the difference between these groups vanishes as soon as you
take away the camera: ISIS glorifies in wanton violence and wants you to see
this; the others do it behind closed doors. As for Asa'ib Ahl Al-Haq and the
Badr Organization, it is Human Rights Watch that will expose them for us.
Indeed, the organization's report on these militias is a must-read, one that
fully exposes Tehran's once-mysterious Shadow Commander, dragging him out
into the light for all to see.
Diana Moukalled is a prominent and well-respected TV journalist in the
Arab world thanks to her phenomenal show Bil Ayn Al-Mojarada (By The Naked
Eye), a series of documentaries on controversial areas and topics which airs
on Lebanon's leading local and satelite channel, Future Television. Diana
also is a veteran war correspondent, having covered both the wars in Iraq and
in Afghanistan, as well as the Isreali "Grapes of Wrath" massacre in southern
Lebanon. Ms. Moukalled has gained world wide recognition and was named one of
the most influential women in a special feature that ran in Time Magazine in