The US says that Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was plotting “imminent and sinister” attacks against its diplomats and military personnel. But when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was pressed for evidence of this, he gave none.
Soleimani, commander of the Iranian military’s Quds Force, was assassinated in a drone strike in Baghdad, Iraq, on Friday. Before the strike, President Donald Trump implicated Iran in a fatal rocket attack on an American base in Iraq in December, and in the storming of the American embassy in Baghdad by protesters last week. Afterwards, he said that Soleimani was killed to prevent “imminent and sinister” attacks against American officials and troops in the Middle East.
With Washington and Tehran throwing escalatory threats at each other following the strike, Pompeo spoke to reporters on Tuesday. Asked for evidence of the threat posed by Soleimani, the US secretary of state provided little in the way of information.
Instead, he claimed that America’s intelligence agencies gave Trump “multiple pieces of information” proving Soleimani’s nefarious intentions, but declined to say what this information detailed.
Citing Soleimani’s activities in Iraq and Syria, but neglecting to mention that the Quds Force commander was instrumental in the defeat of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in these countries, Pompeo again gave no specific evidence of any planned attacks. Instead, he pointed to the rocket attack on an American base and to the embassy riots as proof of his future plans.
“If you’re looking for imminence, you needn’t look no further than the days that lead up to the strike,” he told reporters. “It was the right decision. We got it right.”
Few observers were left satisfied. “He has absolutely nothing,” one commenter wrote on Twitter. “These men want to lie us into war, again.”
At a Pentagon press conference later on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper reiterated the administration’s claim of imminent attacks, stating that Soleimani was planning on hitting US targets within “days, for sure.” Esper also quashed rumors that the US is preparing to leave Iraq, even after the Iraqi parliament voted to expel foreign troops. Esper said that the vote was non-binding, and argued that ordinary Iraqis want American troops to stay in the country.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi claimed on Sunday that Soleimani was in Iraq to discuss a possible peace agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia. When asked about this on Tuesday, Pompeo laughed and delivered a sarcastic response.
“Anybody here believe that?” he asked. “Is there any history that would indicate that it is remotely possible that this kind gentleman, this diplomat of great order, Qassem Soleimani, had traveled to Baghdad for the idea of conducting a peace mission? We know that wasn’t true.”
The assassination of Soleimani triggered the sharpest escalation of tensions between Iran and the US since the Trump administration withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or Iran nuclear deal) in 2018 and launched a “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions and isolation on the Islamic Republic. In recent days, Trump has threatened to target 52 “high level” Iranian cultural and state sites, while Iran has declared the US military a “terrorist entity” and reportedly considered 13 “revenge scenarios” in retaliation for Soleimani’s killing.