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The IRGC's plan to win hearts and minds

Pro-regime culture portrays Qasem Soleimani as a brave, strong and mysterious commander as a key component in the campaign to recuperate trust in the IRGC among Iranians and to portray it as a formidable force in the region.
Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Qassem Soleimani uses a walkie-talkie at the frontline during offensive operations against Islamic State militants in the town of Tal Ksaiba in Salahuddin province March 8, 2015. Picture taken March 8, 2015.   REUTERS/Stringer (IRAQ - Tags: CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT POLITICS) - RTR4TU0N
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He is referred to as a “shadow” commander by Western journalists as he stealthily fights the Islamic State (IS) in places such as Syria and Iraq on behalf of Iran. He has kept a low profile, despite his position as the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) elite foreign operations branch, the Quds Force. Yet last year it seemed that he sprang onto the scene out of the blue. News outlets and social media featured his familiar face posing for selfies on the front lines in Iraq and Syria, documentaries touted his military acumen and music videos passionately praised his strength and bravery. Qasem Soleimani, these new depictions of him communicated, was a force to be celebrated, feared and respected. What accounts for this recent media love fest of a commander with nearly 40 years of service in the IRGC?

The surge in public displays of adoration for Soleimani are part of a larger public relations campaign by the IRGC that dates to the aftermath of the 2009 Green Movement. “We faced a crisis of legitimacy after the suppression of the 2009 uprisings,” a retired IRGC captain who now works in pro-regime media production told Al-Monitor. “People, especially young people, began to turn away from us. We knew we had to win them back. We had to give them heroes they could respect.” Soleimani, or Hajj Qasem as he is affectionately known in Iran, became one of those heroes whom pro-regime media producers wanted to portray, along with the martyred Mostafa Chamran and Imam Musa Sadr. The latter two, killed in 1981 and 1978, respectively, now have numerous films and documentaries that pro-regime cultural centers have backed and created. Yet, the media producers knew they had to offer a hero who is still alive for young people to admire.

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