Key Figures and Leaders

Featured Leadership

  • Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

    Supreme Leader of Iran

    Under the Islamic Republic of Iran’s velayat-e faqih (guardianship of the jurist) system of government, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is the most powerful political official in Iran. His powers include “constitutional authority over the judiciary, the regular armed forces and the elite Revolutionary Guards, and the state-controlled media.” Given the power vested in Ayatollah Khamenei's position, understanding his political and ideological views—"In His Own Words"— is crucial to understanding the Iranian regime’s current domestic and foreign policies.

  • Abolqasem Salavati

    The Judge of Death

    Abolqasem Salavati is an Iranian judge infamous for violating the human rights of defendants and sentencing them to death or long prison terms on trumped-up charges. He is nicknamed “The Hanging Judge” and “The Judge of Death.”

  • Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi

    Chief Justice of Iran

    Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi has steadily risen through the ranks of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Spending most of his career in the judiciary, Raisi’s ascendance can be explained by three factors: promotion by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, an influential family network, and a knack for leveraging state positions to feed his ambition. Raisi has spent his career developing his image as an anti-corruption crusader. In recent years, Raisi has emerged as a leading candidate to succeed Khamenei.

  • Brigadier General Esmail Qaani

    Commander of the IRGC's Qods Force

    On January 3, 2020, the United States assassinated Major General Qassem Soleimani, who commanded the Qods Force (QF), the expeditionary branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). That same day, Brigadier General Esmail Qaani, Soleimani’s longtime deputy, was named the QF’s new chief by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

  • Hassan Rouhani

    President of Iran

    Hassan Rouhani has emerged victorious with 57% of the vote in the May 2017 Iranian election, defeating his primary hardline challenger Ebrahim Raisi and the five other candidates permitted to run out of over 1600 applicants. Western media accounts of the Iranian election (See here, here, here, here, here, here and here for a small sampling) incorrectly sought to portray Rouhani as a “moderate” or “reformist,” and erroneously concluded that his reelection would be a harbinger of domestic social reforms and a more conciliatory approach to foreign policy. Characterizations of Rouhani’s “moderation” ignored the reality of Rouhani’s true nature as a loyal servant of Iran’s Islamic Revolution who is dedicated to the preservation of its repressive, theocratic regime.

  • Hojatoleslam Mahmoud Alavi

    Intelligence Minister of Iran

    Hojatoleslam Mahmoud Alavi’s career has spanned Iran’s armed, deep, and elected states. He has been a legislator, a member of the Assembly of Experts, an appointee of Iran’s supreme leader, and most recently intelligence minister. Alavi is unique in that he has maintained his credibility as a national security decision-maker while simultaneously railing against the securitization of society. At times, this has caused him political problems. He has also managed to become one of Iran’s only national security policymakers not sanctioned by the United States. This profile will explore Alavi’s trajectory across Iran’s multiple power centers.

  • Major General Qassem Soleimani

    Former IRGC-Quds Force Commander

    Major General Qassem Soleimani arose from humble origins to become the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, the external expeditionary wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that oversees and carries out intelligence operations, terrorist plots, and unconventional warfare outside of Iran. The Quds Force, whose name refers to Iran’s desire to liberate al-Quds (Jerusalem) from Israeli control, is primarily tasked with spearheading the export of Iran’s Islamic Revolution throughout the Middle East and coordinating the activities of the loyal terrorist proxies and militias that Iran has cultivated around the region.

  • Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf

    Speaker of Iran's Parliament

    On May 28, 2020, Iran’s parliament elected Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf as speaker. Ghalibaf takes over from Ali Larijani, who was the longest-serving speaker in the history of the Islamic Republic. Parliament’s authority has eroded in recent years. The institution of a new gas policy in 2019, which circumvented the legislative chamber, is one such example. But the speaker remains relevant because he is a powerful political broker in the legislature and also holds seats on Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) and the Supreme Economic Coordination Council.

  • Mohammad Hejazi

    Deputy Commander of the IRGC's Quds Force

    Following the death of Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. airstrike, his deputy Esmail Qaani was appointed to command Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force (IRGC-QF). Two weeks later, Brigadier General Mohammad Hejazi - a shadowy officer with a storied career in the IRGC - became Qaani’s vice-commander. Following his appointment, sources claimed that Hejazi would assume much of the Quds Force field command responsibilities.

  • Mohammad Kawtharani

    Lebanese Hezbollah's Representative in Iraq

    Mohammad Hussein Kawtharani is Lebanese Hezbollah’s representative in Iraq. Kawtharani assumed greater responsibility in overseeing Iraq’s Shia militias since the death of former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani. The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Kawtharani in 2013, describing him as the “individual in charge of Hizballah’s activities in Iraq.”