The initial major rationale and justification the US administration offered for the drone assassination of IRGC Gen. Qassem Soleimani and commander of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was the Dec.27 rocket attack on K1 camp in Kirkuk, which houses coalition forces.
That attack involving surface-to-surface missile strikes killed an American contractor and reportedly wounded several US troops. Washington immediately blamed the Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary group Khataib Hezbollah, with Mike Pompeo saying of the attack: “We will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy,” after he briefed President Trump. But top Iraqi military and intelligence officials are now calling this entire narrative into question.
A new lengthy New York Times investigative report cites multiple top Iraqi officials who go on record to say of their analysis of the Dec.27 Kirkuk incident: “These facts all point to the Islamic State, Iraqi officials say.”
The Pentagon says it has evidence decisively pinning it on Khataib Hezbollah, known for its closeness to Tehran; however, the paramilitary group itself has denied that it was behind the operation. US officials have from the start been scant on details and have not made public any evidence or intelligence.
This led some analysts in the days after the attack to question whether ISIS cells, still known to be active in the area, might have been behind it — given also it would be to the Sunni terrorist group's benefit to sow a major rift between US and local Iraqi Shia forces, which is precisely what happened (Trump has recently gone so far as to threaten "very big sanctions" on Baghdad if US forces are kicked out). Alternately the White House perhaps appeared ready to manufacture a justification to take out Soleimani.
Further, as detailed in the Times report, the white Kia pick-up from which the rockets were launched was found near a known ISIS execution site, in a heavily Sunni area not known to have had a Shia paramilitary presence since 2014:
But Iraqi military and intelligence officials have raised doubts about who fired the rockets that started the spiral of events, saying they believe it is unlikely that the militia the United States blamed for the attack, Khataib Hezbollah, carried it out.
...Iraqi officials say their doubts are based on circumstantial evidence and long experience in the area where the attack took place.
The rockets were launched from a Sunni Muslim part of Kirkuk Province notorious for attacks by the Islamic State, a Sunni terrorist group, which would have made the area hostile territory for a Shiite militia like Khataib Hezbollah.
Khataib Hezbollah has not had a presence in Kirkuk Province since 2014.
The Islamic State, however, had carried out three attacks relatively close to the base in the 10 days before the attack on K-1. Iraqi intelligence officials sent reports to the Americans in November and December warning that ISIS intended to target K-1, an Iraqi air base in Kirkuk Province that is also used by American forces.
And the abandoned Kia pickup was found was less than 1,000 feet from the site of an ISIS execution in September of five Shiite buffalo herders.
The NYT further says this single event set off "a chain of events that brought the United States and Iran to the brink of war" which President Trump confided at a private luncheon this week was "closer than you thought".
The attack that provoked the Soleimani killing may have been an ISIS false flag. It wouldn't be the first time unfortunately that the US has been manipulated by Sunnis Islamists to do their bidding. Also can't rule out US intelligence itself having known. https://t.co/ryJg3dW5Nb pic.twitter.com/3QRb779ivL— Richard Hanania (@RichardHanania) February 6, 2020
Brig. General Ahmed Adnan, the Iraqi chief of intelligence for the federal police at K-1, told the NYT: “All the indications are that it was Daesh.” He said further: “I told you about the three incidents in the days just before in the area — we know Daesh’s movements.”
“We as Iraqi forces cannot even come to this area unless we have a large force because it is not secure. How could it be that someone who doesn’t know the area could come here and find that firing position and launch an attack?” he questioned.
Anonymous US officials, however, claim that evidence from within the Kia pickup points to Khataib Hezbollah, and also cited "multiple strains of intelligence" though without making it known.
Interestingly, amid a general breakdown in trust between Baghdad and Washington, a top Iraqi general has said the US side hasn't even shared its claimed evidence that Khataib Hezbollah was behind the Kirkuk attack:
“We have requested the American side to share with us any information, any evidence, but they have not sent us any information,” Lt. Gen. Muhammad al-Bayati, the chief of staff for former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, said in an interview.
The director general of Iraqi Intelligence and Counterterrorism, Abu Ali al-Basri, said the United States did not consult Iraq before carrying out the Dec. 29 counterattacks on Khataib Hezbollah.
“They did not ask for my analysis of what happened in Kirkuk and neither did they share any of their information,” he said. “Usually, they would do both.”
The bombshell NYT report further collects eyewitness accounts and other Iraqi official statements, all of which strongly suggests the chain of events which led to Soleimani's Jan.3 killing, which in turn led to an Iranian 'revenge' attack with ballistic missiles on Ain al-Asad Air Base, wounding scores of troops (we later found out as part of an ever growing number of solders with 'Traumatic Brain Injury' from the blasts), was a possible 'false flag' event undertaken by ISIS meant to be pinned on the Islamic State's Shia enemies backed by Iran.
As Northeastern University counter-terrorism expert Max Abrahms observes: "Let's recap. Pompeo said Soleimani was killed because he was an imminent threat, a claim he couldn't substantiate even in private settings."
Abrahms said further on Twitter: "The escalation began with a Shia militia attack in which the best evidence indicates the perpetrators were actually ISIS, Soleimani's enemy."
The White House wanted to kill Soleimani. So, they manufactured a narrative to justify the decision. https://t.co/sMiOVA0b9H— Max Abrahms (@MaxAbrahms) February 6, 2020
Ultimately, the United States stood on the brink of major war with Iran which could have spiraled into a World War 3 scenario — all of which was potentially initiated by an ISIS false flag event designed to unleash more regional chaos.