LESS than 12 hours after the killing in a US airstrike of General Qasem Soleimani, Tehran named his deputy as the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

The appointment by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei of Brigadier General Esmail Qaani is seen as an attempt to ensure there will be no interruption to the status quo and the paramilitary branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), “will be unchanged” from Soleimani’s time in charge.

Iranian forces were said to have been shocked by the unexpected killing of their top general and the swift appointment of Qaani was also a bid to allay their fears.

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Khamenei described him as “one of the most distinguished Revolutionary Guard commanders”.

Qaani will report directly to the supreme leader and will play a significant role in final foreign policy decisions and Iran’s role in other countries – as did his predecessor.

However, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the country’s opposition in exile, described Qaani as being among “the most criminal commanders of the IRGC”.

In a statement issued from its Paris office, the NCRI welcomed Soleimani’s death, and praised its own “resistance units” which had posted banners in Tehran and other Iranian cities, carrying pictures and messages from Maryam Rajavi, its president-elect.

Among the messages on the banners were, “Soleimani’s elimination expedites regime’s overthrow”, and “Flowers have blossomed from the blood ofthe martyrs”.

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But the NCRI’s security and counterterrorism committee warned that Qaani had over the past 40 years, played a “significant role in the suppression of the Iranian people and the massacres in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and other regional countries”.

It said he was one of the commanders in the Iran-Iraq war and was responsible for sending a large number of youths and students “to the killing fields”.

He had also spent time in operations in the Kurdistan region, commanded IRGC operations in Afghanistan and played a “decisive role suppressing protests” in Mashhad, a site of religious pilgrimage in north-eastern Iran.