MORE facts and details are emerging about the motivation behind the targeted killing on January 3 of Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, on the orders of United States President Donald Trump. It now emerges that Trump had taken an executive decision to kill the leader of the Quds Force much before the rocket attack on the K-1 Iraqi military base in Kirkuk, which U.S. soldiers shared with Iraqi troops. Trump was only waiting for a pretext, and a routine targeting of an Iraqi army base in the last week of December provided the flimsy excuse. The Iraqi government’s intelligence service is now convinced that the rockets fired on the base came from remnants of the Daesh (Islamic State). The firing injured six people and killed one U.S. civilian contractor. The dead contractor was an Iraqi who was working as a translator for the U.S. forces and had only recently received U.S. citizenship.
According to Iraqi government sources, the rockets were fired from a Sunni-dominated area in Kirkuk, still under the influence of the Daesh. According to them, the Kataib Hezbollah, the Shia militia accused by the U.S. of carrying out the act, has not had a presence in the area since 2014. The remnants of the Daesh, on the other hand, were active and had staged three attacks in the days prior to the attack on the Americans. In Kirkuk province, the Daesh carried out daily attacks in the last year. According to Iraqi officials, the attack on the Iraqi base was launched from a single pick-up truck from a location where the Daesh used to carry out executions.
A few days before the attack, the Daesh executed five Shia cattle herders in the same place. Brig. Gen. Ahmed Adnan, the Iraqi police intelligence chief, told the media that all the indications pointed to the December attack being the handiwork of the Daesh. The Kataib Hezbollah denied involvement in the incident soon after it occurred and challenged the U.S. to share evidence, if any, about its involvement in the attack. The U.S. has refused to share any evidence even with the Iraqi government.
The Director General of Iraqi Intelligence and Counter Terrorism, Abu Ali al-Basri, told the media that the U.S. did not either consult or inform Iraq when it carried out retaliatory strikes against the Kataib Hezbollah on December 29, 2019. He said that the U.S. chose to keep the information about the alleged militia attack on their forces and their decision to retaliate a secret. The Iraqi side was also not allowed to investigate the U.S. claims about the number of rockets that were fired at the base. On previous occasions, after attacks similar to the December incident, the U.S. used to keep its Iraqi counterparts in the loop.
Refused to heed warning
In the first week of November, Iraq’s National Security Council sent a report to the U.S. stating that the Daesh was trying to target the K-1 base. On the day of the attack on K-1, an Iraqi police commander warned the Americans to be on high alert, but, according to him, they refused to heed the warning and actually brought down their reconnaissance balloon on that day of all days. Reconnaissance balloons are used to prevent attacks. The chief of staff of the Iraqi side of the military base told the media that the villages surrounding the base were populated with Sunni and Turkmen tribespeople who still had a soft corner for the Daesh.
Trump’s decision to target Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the head of the Kataib Hezbollah, for assassination has backfired on the military and diplomatic fronts. The only leaders who back him on the Iran issue are his ideological buddies, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. According to an article in The New Yorker , Israel played a role in instigating Trump to target Soleimani. Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Israel Katz told a popular news site in the middle of last year that plans were afoot to eliminate Soleimani. “Israel is acting to strike the head of the Iranian snake and Qassem Soleimani, the Commander of the Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, is the teeth of that snake,” he had said.
Trump, according to reports in the American media, had even alerted Netanyahu before ordering the hit on Soleimani. The Trump administration was also providing “actionable intelligence” to Israel so that it could target key Iranian functionaries in Iraq and Syria for assassination. Israel has been carrying out attacks against Syrian government forces with increasing regularity in recent months as the terror groups there are making their last stand. Israeli intelligence services with the tacit approval of the U.S. have carried out assassinations in the region with seeming impunity for over a decade. Before the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal was signed, many Iranian nuclear scientists were killed in operations by the Mossad.
The U.S. will pay a big price for the duplicitous killing of Soleimani and Muhandis. Speaking to the media after attending the Munich Security Conference in the third week of February, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that the killing of Soleimani “was an act of terror” and warned that the U.S. could not “remain immune from the consequences”. The Iraqi government has given the U.S. notice to end its military presence and leave the country. Shia militias are now targeting U.S. troops in their bases in Iraq on a regular basis. It is getting increasingly difficult for U.S. forces to operate in both Iraq and Syria. It was Soleimani’s ambition to see the back of the U.S. occupation forces in the region. From the point of view of many people in the region, his death may not have been in vain.
According to reports in the American media, Gina Haspel, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), had assured Trump that Iran would not respond in a big way if he went ahead with his plan to target the general commanding the Quds Force. After announcing the killing of Soleimani, Trump said that Iran would not dare retaliate and was in fact preparing to “stand down”. He warned Iran against retaliating militarily, threatening fire and brimstone and even to target Iranian cultural sites if there were casualties among U.S. troops as a result of an Iranian military response.
There are new revelations on the true impact of the Iranian counter-attack on the Ain al-Asad airbase in Iraq where some 1,500 U.S. troops are stationed. Trump claimed immediately after the Iranian missile strikes that no U.S. soldier had been hurt and that it was an insignificant act of retaliation that could conveniently be glossed over. The Pentagon, however, had to admit a few days later that a few U.S. soldiers had suffered minor head concussions.
In response to questions from the media, Trump said in the third week of January that some American troops were suffering from “headaches” but were not seriously injured. At the end of January, the Pentagon once again revised the list of those injured upwards, stating that 50 American service members sustained brain injuries. The U.S. Defence Department said that 34 soldiers had been diagnosed with “traumatic brain injuries”. Then the numbers again escalated. In the second week of February, the Pentagon announced that more than a hundred servicemen had in fact been injured. Traumatic brain injuries, according to medical experts, can lead to long-term debilitating effects.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, continues to insist that there is no cover-up ordered by the White House about the damage inflicted on planes and other military equipment in the Iranian military response. Initial American reports based on feedback from the Pentagon had claimed that the Iranian missiles had landed harmlessly on open ground. Now it has been revealed that among the facilities hit were the U.S. troops’ sleeping quarters, aircraft hangars, among other facilities. The attack started after midnight and continued intermittently for a couple of hours. It is clear that Iran “did not aim to miss”. The very fact that the Trump administration did not choose to respond militarily to the attack on the Ain al-Asad airbase represents a significant climbdown.
U.S. defence analysts and military experts are finally starting to admit that the Iranian missile strikes were potent and sophisticated. They have conceded that Iran’s ballistic missile technology and operational competency have the potential to cause serious damage in the event of a conventional war. The Iranian missile barrage also showed that Iran is not all that constrained by the doctrine of strategic restraint and is not overly concerned by the threat of a U.S. military response.
Political and strategic blunder
Even the Republican Senators who have blindly been supporting Trump on domestic issues seem to be of the view that the decision to target Soleimani was a political and strategic blunder. In the second week of February, the Republican-controlled Senate voted to restrain the President’s war-making powers. This followed a similar resolution passed in the House of Representatives. The legislators are generally upset with the President’s failure to take them into his confidence before taking the precipitate step of assassinating the top military leader of another country. The bipartisan resolution requires President Trump to get congressional authorisation for further military action against Iran. Trump has pledged to veto the resolution, which passed only with a simple majority. Only a two-thirds majority can override a presidential veto.
Leading U.S. politicians and former U.S. security officials have described the assassination of Soleimani as an uncalled-for and provocative act. John Brennan, who headed the CIA under the Barack Obama administration, condemned it and said that the Iranian general was “the face of resistance to Sunni extremism in the region” and that he had seen no evidence that Soleimani was planning a strike against U.S. targets. He stressed that there was “no legal basis” for what Trump did.