A few minutes past midnight a plane from Syria lands in Baghdad, Iraq’s capital which, for the past few days, has been in a turmoil of protests. Onboard the aircraft are two key players of Iranian foreign policy: general Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds forces, and Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, leader of the Hashed Shia militia. The general has been a target of Israel and the United States for some time. Only a few months back, in August, Tel Aviv’s attempt to eliminate him was unsuccessful. Astute eyes, a well-groomed grizzled beard, Soleimani knows how to move cautiously. Sometimes he travels from one place to another without leaving any trace; other times he appears on the frontline to send his enemies a message, such as when he was portrayed in the streets of Aleppo while, not far away, the battle against the Al Nusra jihadi militia raged. The Iranian general knows how to use shadow and light. He is well-aware of the power of imagery. And of propaganda.
When he lands in Baghdad he is relaxed. He knows Iraq well and has no fears. As Guido Olimpio writes on the paper edition of today’s Corriere – “Soleimani probably considered himself covered by immunity, he had often crossed paths with Americans in Iraq and they had never touched him.” Last night however something changed and Soleimani became a target to be eliminated. Immediately. The supposed immunity which had protected him till then vanished. Why?
The general’s death is still shrouded in mystery. Firstly: it is still unclear what his real mission in Baghdad was. It would seem reasonable to suppose it was connected with the protests which, in the days preceding his arrival, had targeted the American embassy and plunged the White House in the nightmarish fear of a new Benghazi, when the US diplomatic compound in Libya was assaulted in 2011 culminating in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens. Was Soleimani really in Baghdad to incite the crowds and implement a plan to eliminate the American diplomats, as president Donald Trump declared , or was his objective to use his influence in order to find a way to bring the Iraqis to adopt a more moderate approach?
Furthermore: how was Soleimani detected? By the intelligence services, no doubt. “Re-enactments assume a strict monitoring on the part of the United States, using interception and a high number of stealth aircraft constantly patrolling the area. They tracked him to make sure the man travelling on the SUV really was him. They probably received direct confirmation from informers and vigilant “eyes” in the area surrounding the airport in order to avoid any mistake,” writes Il Corriere. But whose eyes saw the general land, who informed the Americans? One of the (many) double-crossers on the field? Or could it be, as hypothisized also on InsideOver, that an inside information leak occurred, “on the part of the Hezbollah affiliated Iraqi militias or even on the part of Iran”?
Finally, Trump’s first tweet after Soleimani’s targeted murder was simply the American flag with no comment. An unusual gesture for the US president, used to more emphatic and sometimes excessive tones. The tycoon said he “acted to stop a war not to start one.” Events over the next hours will prove Trump right or wrong. And maybe will also help us understand how – and above all why – Soleimani was killed.