Monday, May 29, 2023
Support Our Journalism
HomeWorldSoleimani killing — how the most ‘perilous chapter’ in Donald Trump’s presidency...

Soleimani killing — how the most ‘perilous chapter’ in Donald Trump’s presidency unfolded

In a detailed account, The New York Times has reported particulars of the plan to assassinate Iranian General Soleimani, and its aftermath for the US.

Text Size:

New Delhi: The first week of January 2020 and the months preceding that mark the most “perilous chapter” of US President Donald Trump’s presidency, The New York Times has said in a report that details the plan and aftermath of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

Soleimani was the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and a top-ranking official believed to be the second most powerful person in Iran after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini. A controversial figure, he was seen as a terrorist in the West but is believed to have played a crucial role in fighting terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The assassination of Soleimani on 3 January, in a drone strike ordered by Trump, triggered talk of a possible third world war but the situation has since de-escalated.

With the help of interviews with diplomats, military officers and analysts in Trump’s office, the NYT in its report last week sought to explain the US’ motivation. It also reported how Washington and Tehran stepped back from the precipice of war, including Trump’s attempts “through allies and a back channel to keep the ensuing crisis from mushrooming out of control”.

Also read: Trump isn’t the first to test limits of US presidential powers. Obama did it too

The events before Soleimani’s assassination

On 27 December, an Iranian attack on a military base near Kirkuk killed an American civilian contractor. Four days later, pro-Iranian protesters broke into the US embassy compound in Baghdad, agitating US president Donald Trump.

Around then, the NYT report said, a top secret memo signed by the President’s national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien started circulating. General Qassem Soleimani was among the listed potential targets.

Soleimani was seen by US officials as responsible “for more instability and death in the Middle East than almost anyone”. As the head of the elite Quds Force, Soleimani had a hand in “managing proxy wars in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen”. Over the last few years, he had also carved out an international profile due to his war with the Islamic State.

The NYT report said officials claimed there had been discussions over targeting Soleimani for the previous 18 months. They “contemplated going after him during one of his frequent visits to Syria or Iran” because it would be difficult to get to him in Iran.

By September 2019, the United States Central Command and Joint Special Operations Command were brought in to plan a possible operation.

‘Mosaic effect’ and the killing

Quoting officials, the NYT report said there was “no single definitive piece of intelligence” on Qassem Soleimani’s whereabouts. Instead, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers spoke of a possible “mosaic effect” — there were multiple pieces of intelligence that indicated that Soleimani was organising “proxy forces” in Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq to attack US embassies.

While US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later described threats to embassies as “imminent”, the officials told NYT that there wasn’t enough concrete information for such an assertion. However, they saw a worrying pattern.

CIA Director Gina Haspel was convinced of an impending attack and argued for striking Soleimani instead of waiting. She also predicted that Iran’s most likely response would be an “ineffectual” missile strike on Iraqi bases where US troops were stationed.

While there was “little dissent” over killing Soleimani among Trump’s advisers, some Pentagon officials were “shocked that the president picked what they considered the most extreme option and some intelligence officials worried that the possible long-term ramifications were not adequately considered…”

However, on 3 January, Soleimani was killed in a strike at the Baghdad airport, starting a week of uncertainty around the world.

Also read: Proxies in Syria, Iraq, Yemen to missiles and drones — tools Iran can use against US

Concern and criticism all over

On 4 January, US President Donald Trump expected to be greeted with the same response as in October last year when Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed by US forces.

However, critics accused the US President of “reckless escalation”. In Riyadh, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was “unsettled”, and he dispatched his younger brother to the White House for an emergency mission. No major European power lauded the move either. For European leaders, Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran has remained a bone of contention.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass reportedly told Pompeo over a phone call that the “killing had not made it any easier to stabilise the region”. The French and the Japanese offered to serve as mediators, but that only “annoyed” the US President, said the report.

French President Emmanuel Macron even called Trump and emphasised the need for “de-escalation”.

Amid this storm of criticism, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emerged in support of Trump. The US has “full right to defend itself and its citizens”, he said.

Also read: Donald Trump doesn’t want war with Iran

White House address and briefing to Congress

On 8 January, in his address from the White House, Donald Trump made it clear that he would not retaliate further.

Trump then sent top officials to brief the Congress. During the briefing, the acting director of national intelligence presented “emphatic assertions of intelligence” that indicated Qassem Soleimani as a grave threat. However, one lawmaker reportedly said the “information was no more secret than what could be found on Wikipedia”.

Several lawmakers in the audience also asked, “What were the threats?” But no answers were forthcoming.

The NYT report said the “immediate march to war has ended”, but people inside the US security establishment consider the crisis to be far from over.

Also read: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Iraqi leaders privately want US troops to remain


Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism

Most Popular