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 recently taken on a larger political role. He 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.
Qassem Soleimani had recently arrived at Baghdad's airport early on Friday when a Hellfire missile blew up his convoy, killing him and nine others, courtesy of US President Donald Trump.
Why was the Iranian major general in Iraq, a country that Iran had fought in 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 that 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 several 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 terrorist groups like Hezbollah. In 2007, the US declared the Quds Force that Soleimani led a state sponsor of terrorism.
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In Iraq, Soleimani had recently taken on a larger political role. He 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 called it a "political assassination" and said Soleimani's trip was intended to de-escalate tensions with Saudi Arabia.
It's also likely that the trip had a more lethal purpose. In mid-October, Soleimani secretly met with Shiite 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 on Friday. Soleimani delegated this campaign to Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a head of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces and the commander of the Kataib Hezbollah militia.
Skye Gould/Business Insider
On December 27, Kataib 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 strike that killed Soleimani.
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