This Soleimanification of the Middle East is an attempt to use Soleimani to project Iran’s influence. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has vowed revenge for the death of the Iranian general. Soleimani did play an important to role in the past few decades in the Middle East. He helped convince Moscow to intervene in the Syrian civil war in 2015, changing the map of Syria. He also advised the Iraqi government on recruiting Shiite militias to fight Islamic State. This led to the empowering of an Iraqi version of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, forever shifting Iraq’s security forces toward a more balkanized network of groups linked to Iran. He also worked closely with Nasrallah during the 2006 war against Israel. Israel and the U.S. had considered targeting Soleimani in the past due to his support for Iranian-backed terror networks across the region.
Now in death, Soleimani is being used as a symbol by Iran to knit together a plethora of extremist groups it supports. The messaging is not just about the groups. Iran wants a face of a “martyr” it can use to showcase its role to the public. Pictures of the Ayatollah Khamenei are seen as more narrowly Shiite and sectarian, thus lacking broad appeal. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani is a dour and uninteresting functionary. Soleimani, by contrast, is presented a noble and modest soldier confronting American “arrogance” as part of Iran’s “resistance.”
The mushrooming of Soleimani posters across the region on the anniversary of his death is an example of this public relations onslaught by Iran.