In the post-2003 Iraq invasion world based on fake WMD claims, any US official claims based on unspecified "intelligence assessments" should be treated with deep skepticism if not outright rejection. For this reason, many rightly immediately questioned the official Trump administration narrative that Qasem Soleimani was in Baghdad on the night of his death by US drone strike in order to organize more attacks on Americans and US interests. This key claim served as the White House's post hoc justification for killing the top Iranian general.
And now it has emerged that the slain IRGC Quds Force chief had arrived at Baghdad airport last Thursday night as part of ongoing diplomatic efforts to mediate peace and an easing of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. This according to no less than Iraqi (caretaker) Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi.
Iraq had been reportedly serving as intermediary for crucial Saudi attempts at diplomacy which saw tensions soaring between Tehran and Riyadh after a summer of "tanker wars" and the Sept.14 Aramco attacks, widely blamed on Iran and its proxies in the region.
Adel Abdul Mahdi told parliament in a speech on Sunday the Soleimani's killing was a "political assassination" by the US, according to The Daily Mail, which reports further:
Abdul Mahdi suggested that the Iranian military leader was in Baghdad as part of Iraqi-mediated negotiations with Iran’s main regional rival, Saudi Arabia.
He said that Soleimani was going to meet him on the same day that he was killed.
‘He came to deliver me a message from Iran, responding to the message we delivered from Saudi Arabia to Iran,’ Abdul Mahdi told The Washington Post.
The Iraqi leader did not provide any further details.
This would mean the high level assassination further served to disrupt peace efforts on a huge scale — something which Iran hawks, including Israeli government officials, likely saw as an additional benefit to the strike.
Iraq has further identified that Soleimani had been traveling in the capacity of a "formal" and "high profile" guest of the Iraqi government, and had been delivering Tehran's reply to a Saudi de-escalation letter at the moment he was killed.
Journalists and western sources have also separately confirmed Iraqi PM Mahdi's claim the IRGC general had been engaged as a diplomatic intermediary at the time of his death:
1. I’ve had a chance to check in with sources, including two US officials who had intelligence briefings after the strike on Suleimani. Here is what I’ve learned. According to them, the evidence suggesting there was to be an imminent attack on American targets is “razor thin”.— Rukmini Callimachi (@rcallimachi) January 4, 2020
Multiple journalists with sources in the administration have since referred to the US justification for the assassination as "razor thin".
This further helps explain why Soleimani and his entourage, which included Iraqi paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes — killed in the same attack — were traveling so "out in the open" through Baghdad's main international hub.
Given that a fundamental rationale for a continued muscular US presence in the Middle East is to "thwart Iranian ambitions," it remains crucial for the hawks to be able to point to the 'necessity' of protecting Saudi Arabia.
Hence also the recent thousands-strong troop deployment in the kingdom since September.
Sources in the Administration as well as in Congress say a classified briefing for members of Congress will happen this Wednesday. The briefing will cover the drone strike on Qasem Soleimani. The briefing will be done by the Dept of Defense as well as State Dept. #Iran #Congress— Edward Lawrence (@EdwardLawrence) January 6, 2020
At this point it remains dubious that any back-channel peace efforts between Riyadh and Tehran remain open, especially now that Iranian leaders have vowed that a "severe retaliation" is coming.