Despite presidential elections still eight months away in Iran, potential candidates have been making their moves early as they take on the challenge to deseat the country’s incumbent Hassan Rouhani.
Top military commander and head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds forces Qassem Soleimani and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were among the more familiar names.
The national security candidate
Denying the rumors, Soleimani has ruled out a run for the presidency. In a statement to Iranian media this week, he accused Iran’s enemies of spreading propaganda and attempting to sow seeds of discord among the nation of Iran.
“I am a soldier of Velayat (the guardian referring to Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei) and the Islamic Republic regime and the brave population, which I value more than my own life. God willing, I will remain in this role of soldier until the end of my life,” a statement published by Iran’s semi-official Tasnim News said.
Referred to as the “Shadow Commander” by the West, Soleimani has emerged as ‘the face’ of Iran’s military efforts in Iraq and Syria, as photographs emerged of him on the front lines of the battle against ISIS. Footage of him appearing with Shiite militia in Iraq and Hezbollah units in Syria have spread virally on social media among his fans.
Iranians credit Soleimani for saving Baghdad from falling into the hands of ISIS, and he recently has spoken out on several social and domestic issues, beyond the scope of his military responsibilities, leading some to believe he is laying down the seeds of a political campaign, according to Bloomberg.
Despite the lifting of international sanctions following the landmark nuclear deal between world powers and Iran last July, Soleimani remains under a U.N.-mandated international travel ban, while the U.S. has maintained its terror designation of Iran’s IRGC Quds Forces.
The devil you know
Meanwhile, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is pressing on with his attempts at a political comeback as he aims to upset the country’s so called ‘moderate’ regime responsible for the landmark nuclear agreement with the West.
Ahmadinejad, who led Iran from 2005-2013, was criticized domestically for his economic policies and left Iranian politics with record low ratings after serving two consecutive terms, the maximum permitted under Iran’s constitution.
Internationally, Ahmadinejad’s policies have been described as isolationist, as a vociferous supporter of Iran’s controversial nuclear program and repeatedly calling for the annihilation of Israel. Ahmadinejad’s harsh words and rogue policies led to frequent spars with the West as well as and with Iran’s neighbors.
In June 2009, Ahmadinejad’s reelection victory was called into question by Iranians who flooded the streets of major cities in the Green or Twitter Revolution; an uprising led by social media-savvy Iranians who used smart phones and social media accounts to tell the world their story.
What began as a recall for an allegedly rigged election, became a mass movement led by Iran’s youth majority—As it is frequently cited that more than 2/3 of Iran’s population is under the age of 35.
President Obama and other Western leaders came under scrutiny for months to follow for not throwing support behind the protestors in what was deemed a missed opportunity for regime change, or at least significant policy and behavioral change by Iran’s government.
Despite insisting that he would retire from politics at the conclusion of his second term, Ahmadinejad has remained politically active and recently made headlines when he wrote a letter to President Obama demanding the return of Iranian assets seized by the U.S. to compensate victims’ families of the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon.
The attack left 241 U.S. service personnel dead, and in 2003 a U.S. judge found the Iranian government guilty of ordering the attack which was carried out by Hezbollah, a terror group funded by Iran’s government.
Ahmadinejad remains a popular choice among leading hard-right conservatives who remain opposed to Iran’s nuclear agreement with the West.
For some, he is the only one who can truly mount a challenge to the ‘moderate’ rule of Rouhani.