Why is there so much intrigue in Iraq over Soleimani's death? - analysis

The Harakat al-Nujaba pro-Iranian militia blamed the US drone strike for Soleimani's death, but that's not the only theory.

 Statue of former IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in Shahrekord, Iran, January 2022 (photo credit: Fatemeh Bayati/Mehr News Agency)
Statue of former IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in Shahrekord, Iran, January 2022
(photo credit: Fatemeh Bayati/Mehr News Agency)

Nasr al-Shammari, spokesman for the pro-Iranian militia Harakat al-Nujaba, slammed claims made by former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo while also addressing conspiracies inside Iraq. The report was published by Iran’s Fars News and reflects the continuing fears among pro-Iran groups that they have been infiltrated by “traitors” who feed intelligence to foreign services.

The Nujaba movement is known for being one of the most anti-American groups in Iraq. Iranian-backed groups in Iraq have carried out rocket and drone attacks against US forces over the last three years, and Harakat al-Nujaba has been behind a number of such attacks and threats against the US.

In the Fars News interview, it appears that the Nujaba movement continues to blame “the traitors in the Iraqi intelligence service who were involved in the assassination of the martyrs Soleimani and Mohandes.”

This refers to the US drone strike on IRGC Quds Force head Qasem Soleimani and Kata’ib Hezbollah head Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes in January 2020. Mohandes was a key figure in the pro-Iran militias in Iraq. Kata’ib Hezbollah has been involved in threats against Saudi Arabia and the pro-Iran militias also threaten Israel via its network in Syria and Lebanon. Some of them are close to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Soleimani helped guide this network.

The militias have long spread rumors that current Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was somehow linked to the killing because of his role with the Iraqi intelligence services prior to becoming premier. The militias used a drone to target his house last year. The report says that the Nujaba movement believes some of the claims about their movement being infiltrated is an “exaggerated lie” and at the same time they called for the prosecution of “traitors” in the Iraqi intelligence service who collaborated with the Americans in the assassinations.

A poster of senior Iranian military commander General Qassem Soleimani is seen during a rally marking the annual Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day, on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan in Tehran, Iran April 29, 2022 (credit: WANA NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS)A poster of senior Iranian military commander General Qassem Soleimani is seen during a rally marking the annual Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day, on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan in Tehran, Iran April 29, 2022 (credit: WANA NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS)

In the interview, the spokesman for the movement said, “It should be noted that Sardar [“General”] Soleimani arrived in Iraq on an official and announced visit; so any claim of American influence among those close to the two martyred commanders, with the aim of carrying out the assassination, as well as hacking into their cell phones, is an exaggerated lie.”

However, the spokesperson then claimed that since it was an official visit the real blame lies in the current office of the prime minister because supposedly information was leaked via official channels to the US. The White House then ordered a drone strike and the drone struck the vehicles the men were driving in as they left Baghdad International Airport.

“The traitors in the Iraqi intelligence service were involved in the assassination of the martyrs Soleimani and Mohandes.”

Nujaba movement

SHAMMARI ALSO “lamented the violation of Iraqi sovereignty during the assassination of the martyrs Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, adding that this is not a new issue. As can be seen, a foreign country (referring to Turkey) occupies part of Iraqi territory and bombs its territory; but the Iraqi government is the only the observer of these sabotages.” This new rhetoric against Turkey is part of a new campaign by pro-Iran militias to target the Turkish base at Bashiqa over the past year.

The militia spokesperson next repeated his blame of the Iraqi intelligence services and also blamed “a number of Kurdish security elements.” The pro-Iran groups have also targeted the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil in the last year. The man also blamed US forces based near the embassy in Baghdad. Toward that end, the same pro-Iran militias have been targeting Union III, the facility near the embassy where US forces are based.

Now the Nujaba spokesperson adds new details to the intrigue. He claims the Reaper drone that fired the first missile only damaged the car carrying Soleimani and Mohandes. The car was still moving.

“A sniper team targeted it and attacked it with a second missile after it was stopped.” He claims that the team then moved in and grabbed some documents that Soleimani had been carrying.

“The Baghdad Airport crime was carried out publicly with the help of an Iraqi security service, but I do not want to hold the Iraqi intelligence agency completely responsible for this.... There is no doubt that there are people in this service who committed great treason because of their participation in this crime, and they should be tried according to Iraqi law.”

Mike Pompeo's comments

The recent comments by Pompeo are one of the issues involved in why Nujaba is shouting about the assassination again. It appears they are increasing rhetoric against the former US official and using this as an excuse to settle scores in Iraq.

For instance, the article refers again to the claim of “exposing the betrayal and conspiracy of Kurdish elements and Iraqi security personnel who serve the US interests at the airport and may have been involved in crimes against the Iraqi people.” This apparently is an excuse for Iran and pro-Iran groups to continue to attack the Kurdish autonomous region.

Currently the Kurdish region is involved in a constitutional dispute with Baghdad over revenue and energy issues and Baghdad has not been able to form a government. A new round of pro-Iran militia attacks may be on the horizon.