Garrett Khoury writes: Qassem Soleimani has many nicknames, generally containing one or both of the words “shadow” or “dark.” However, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force has been operating in the light since the devastating advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) began in the summer of 2014, but a year later is seeing him begin to wear out his welcome with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Tasked with organizing the defense of the Shi’a holy sites in central Iraq and leading the Shi’a militias called up in the panic following the collapse of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), Soleimani has been seen regularly on the front lines and in Baghdad. With the power of the militias behind him, he has come to be seen as attempting to assert himself as the power behind the government, Iraq’s very own eminence grise.
The past month, though, has seen an ever-wider rift growing between Prime Minister Abadi and Soleimani, one that may threaten the relationship between Iran and Iraq as a whole. Abadi once spoke respectfully about Soleimani and Iran’s role in the country and the fight against ISIS. While perhaps not warmly, it was at least grateful and realistic about the need for Iranian assistance.
That has changed dramatically, though. Luckily, perhaps, for Abadi, events on the streets are working in his favor. The popular protests against corruption and government inefficiency that have spread around Iraq have crossed sectarian lines, but have been particularly aggressive towards Shi’a politicians in the south of the country. [Continue reading…]