American contractor killed in the late December Kirkuk base attack. “These facts all point to the Islamic State, Iraqi officials say.”
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 statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.