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The IRGC's Mysterious $15 Million Man

Abdolreza Shahlai, a mysterious and dangerous IRGC commander. Photo made public by the U.S. State Department. December 2019
Abdolreza Shahlai, a mysterious and dangerous IRGC commander. Photo made public by the U.S. State Department. December 2019

There are no pictures of him in the Iranian media. The United States has published a blurry image of him. None of Iran's many media outlets have ever had an interview with or a comment from him. He is nowhere to be seen and nobody ever talks about him.

As far as Iranian media are concerned, he does not exist. Avid Iran watchers who scan every picture of Supreme Leader Ali Khameneni and his military commanders have never seen him in any picture. Yet, he is the only IRGC commander the United States has put a price tag on his head: $15 million for any information about him and the network he runs in Yemen. He is Brigadier General Abdolreza Shahlai (Shahlaei), but it could be a fake name for a real man.

In January, on the same night that the IRGC downed a Ukrainian airliner just outside Tehran, Reuters had another story that was lost in the news traffic in the eventful night. The report said that on January 3, when a U.S. drone killed Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani, another U.S. military unit was tasked with killing a second senior Qods Force Commander, Abdolreza Shahlai, but he escaped unscathed. Since then, The Pentagon, the IRGC and the Iranian media have remained silent about the report.

Nevertheless, U.S. officials believe Shahlai is one the most active Qods Force commanders in the Middle East who has been planning, funding and executing operations to kill U.S. forces in the region from Afghanistan to Iraq, and from Syria to Yemen.

On January 20, 2007 he was in Karbala where five American military men were killed, and three others wounded in an ambush. On that day, at least 24 U.S. soldiers were killed within 24 hours in various parts of Iraq. Some were shot by Iraqi militia supported by Iran.

U.S. sources say Shahlai is the deputy commander of Qods Force who controls many organizations believed to be behind targeting American forces worldwide. He has planned and executed the murder of many coalition soldiers in Iraq and provided weapons and ammunition to radical Shiite groups. The United States designated him as a terrorist in 2008.

In 2011 Shahlai was implicated in the plan to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. Iran denied attempting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador but refused to acknowledge the existence of Abdolreza Shahlai. Subsequently, the EU and Canada also designated him as terrorist.

Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq (MeK) says Shahlai was the mastermind behind the 2013 attack on the MeK's Camp Liberty in Iraq. The Mujahedin have also published images that apparently depict Shahlai. The MeK says Shahlai is 61 years old. He was born in Kermanshah in Western Iran. During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s he was one of the commanders of Iran's Ramadan HQ. After the War, Shahlai and Mohammad Jafar Sahraroudi went to Iraq in 2003 to design the attack on Mujahedin. Sahraroudi is currently the Chief of Staff of Iran's Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani.

The other commanders of the Ramadan HQ include Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr and Mohammad Reza Naqdi who is an Iraqi expat. Iraj Masjedi, Iran's ambassador to Baghdad was also a Ramadan HQ commander and was a brigadier general. The HQ launched many operations in the Iraqi Kurdistan against Saddam’s forces.

Sahraroudi was also implicated in the assassination of Kurdish Democratic Party Leader Abdolrahman Qasemlou in Vienna in1989.

The only Ramadan HQ commander no one has information about, is Shahlai. His name and pictures are nowhere to be found in many research centers that work on the history of the Iran-Iraq war. Even none of the many volumes of memoires published by former commanders contain anuthing about him.

U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook announced in December 2019 that Washington would give $15 million for any information about Shahlai and his network.

Evidence indicates that he has been in charge of operations in Yemen at the IRGC's Qods Force at least since early 2015 when Sana was captured by Houthi rebels.

It appears that his responsibility goes beyond Yemen as his traces are also found all over the Middle east and Central Asia. Nevertheless, the Islamic Republic has kept silent even about the U.S. attempt on his life. A silence that has been echoing for thirty years about one of the most mysterious IRGC commanders.

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    Morad Vaisibiame

    Morad Veisi is a journalist and an editor at Radio Farda and is considered an expert in affairs related to Iran's IRGC and the Supreme Leader ayatollah Ali Khamenei.