Why Iran's Qassem Soleimani was on a not-so-secret trip to Iraq when he was assassinated
- Qassem Soleimani was on a not-so-secret trip to Iraq to meet with politicians and military allies when the US assassinated him in Baghdad last week.
- We now know his trip likely had a secret component: coordinating an intensifying campaign of rocket strikes to maim and kill some of the 5,000 American troops based there.
- In Iraq, Soleimani had taken on a larger political role recently. He had met with Iraqi political figures to secure support for the country's embattled prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, whom he planned to meet on the day he was killed.
- One of the leaders also killed in the drone strike was the commander of the militia that Soleimani had ordered to coordinate the rocket attacks on Americans at Iraqi bases.
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Qassem Soleimani had recently arrived at Baghdad's airport when a Hellfire missile blew up his convoy on January 3, killing him and nine others, courtesy of US President Donald Trump.
Why was the Iranian major general in Iraq, a country that his country had fought a bitter war three decades earlier?
Soleimani was on a not-so-secret trip to Iraq to meet with politicians and military allies. And we now know it likely had a secret component: to coordinate an intensifying campaign of rocket strikes to maim and kill some of the 5,000 American troops based there.
Soleimani was Iran's most powerful military figure, a leader of commandos and spies across dozens of countries tasked with achieving the aims of Iran's supreme leader through whatever means necessary. His operatives fought adversaries like ISIS, trained insurgents like the Houthis in Yemen, and provided support to terror groups like Hezbollah. The US declared the Quds Force that Soleimani led a state-sponsor of terrorism in 2007.
In Iraq, Soleimani had taken on a larger political role recently. He had met with Iraqi political figures to secure support for the country's embattled prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi; the widespread protests that started in October were in part a reaction to Soleimani's presence.
Mahdi said he planned to meet Soleimani later on the day he was killed by the US MQ-9 Reaper drone. Mahdi, for his part, called it a "political assassination" and said Soleimani's trip was intended to de-escalate tensions with Saudi Arabia.
It's also likely the trip had a more lethal purpose. In mid-October, Soleimani secretly met with Shi'ite militia leaders to coordinate attacks against the US in hopes of triggering a US reprisal that would refocus public anger from Iran to the US, Reuters reported. Soleimani had delegated this campaign to Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a head of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Units and the commander of the Kata'ib Hezbollah militia.
On December 27, Kata'ib Hezbollah rocket strikes killed one US contractor and wounded several troops, prompting US airstrikes against the militia group, which reacted by storming the US embassy in Baghdad on New Year's Eve. The Trump administration was forced to rapidly deploy US Marines to defend the compound.
Muhandis was killed in the same January 3 strike that killed Soleimani.
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