BEIRUT (Reuters) - A leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard rejected on Sunday accusations that Iran was interfering in regional affairs and accused Saudi Arabia of “adventurism”.
In rare remarks, Commander Qassem Soleimani, one of the most influential figures in Iran, suggested the Saudis were responsible for militant Islamist groups such as Islamic State.
“Takfir and takfiris” - Shi’ite terms for Sunni extremists - “are a fire within the house of our Sunni brothers,” Soleimani said. “And the people who created them thought that the Islamic Republic and Shias would fall to their knees.
“It’s Saudi which has engaged in adventurism against Islam and us.”
Iran, a predominantly Shi’ite country, is engaged in a struggle for regional influence against Saudi Arabia, a mostly Sunni country. The two countries are now supporting opposing armed factions in conflicts in Syria and Yemen and opposing political factions in Iraq and Lebanon.
Soleimani heads the Quds Force, the branch of the Revolutionary Guard responsible for operations outside Iran. He has personally been involved in combat operations in both Iraq and Syria.
In the past couple of years, he has been photographed with fighters in Syria, where Iran is defending the government of President Bashar al Assad, and Iraq, where Iranians have fought against Islamic State.
Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh, editing by Larry King