Ex-Iraqi PM on events leading to General Soleimani’s assassination

January 3, 2022 - 21:50

TEHRAN - The following is a transcript of an interview by former Iraqi Prime Minister, Adil Abdul-Mehdi, about the events that led up to the assassination of Iranian Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani and the deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis by American drone strikes at Baghdad International Airport on January 3rd 2020.

It is the only interview he gave following his resignation and gives a rare insight from a narrative that has not been highlighted enough in the media. 

Abdul-Mehdi participated in the funeral procession for the two slain war heroes and was then forced to resign following riots that took place in southern Iraq, in what some analysts have described as a foreign-backed conspiracy. 

 Adil Abdul-Mehdi (Former Iraqi PM):
“Of course, the developments were quick, overlapping from different angles, it was very complicated.  There are many backlogs and a situation that turned into a crisis. 

The events escalated from the summer, when there were bombings, targeting [of sites] and airstrikes of bases belonging to the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) etc... the language was all escalatory, during that time. 

However, the most important incident was what took place at [the town of] Al-Qa'im. [Former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Mark] Esper called before the airstrikes [on the PMU] and said the ‘K-1 Air Base in Kirkuk was targeted, one American was killed and another injured and we will respond by striking bases’ of what [Esper] described as militias. 

I repeated what he said, I told him, ‘Did I hear you correctly? that you are going to strike bases? These are all Iraqi bases and this will cause a ricochet, this will lead us to the unknown and very dangerous things. 

He said ‘we must respond and I have been instructed to inform you officially that we will undertake this action in a matter of hours.’  

I said, ‘please do not take this action allow us to meet, let us discuss this, give us some time, because this will lead to huge ramifications.’

He insisted on his message and said ‘I will transfer your reply to [former] President [Donald] Trump, but we are determined to take this action.’

As soon as I put the phone down, I contacted the Iraqi military leadership [operations room] to inform them air strikes will take place and I called the martyr brother [Abu Mehdi] al-Muhandis. When I spoke to [Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis], the conversation took place around 06:30 - 06:45 on 29 December. 

When I spoke to the brother martyr [Abu Mehdi] al-Muhandis, he said ‘the airstrikes have begun’. It means [the U.S. administration] did not give us hours but around 10 to 15 minutes [before striking]. 

The airstrikes took place, a large number of people were martyred and injured. 

 Interviewer interrupts: “Sorry to interrupt, what was the evidence that was in the possession of the [former] U.S. administration that the attack on K-1 Air Base [in Kirkuk] was... [does not finish the sentence.]

 Adil Abdul-Mehdi:
“We said to them, we are undergoing an investigation, nothing has been proven yet, this investigation is still ongoing, this area [K-1 Air Base] is not a region where the PMU has a presence. We must continue with our investigations and a coordinated approach [to the probe] so we can prevent this from happening again, this was mentioned in the phone conversation [with Esper]. During the conversation, i focused on the series of events that could happen later. 

Because after the martyrdom, after the martyrs and injuries [at Al-Qa'im], the next day there was demonstrations or the funeral processions to put it more precisely and correctly. 

During the funeral processions, the bodies were at the PMU bases in the Green Zone, some of the mourners, who came from the Jadriya neighborhood, entered the Green Zone. And some of the mourners who entered the Green Zone headed to the [U.S.] embassy. This was on the 30th of December. 

That’s when the protests occurred [outside the U.S. embassy], this was a large protest and a major event. The American side [purportedly] thought something big will occur similar to what happened at the U.S. embassy in Tehran at the beginning of the Islamic Revolution. [the sit-in] continued from the 30th December until evening of 31st December. 

Interviewer: What action did you take during the protests? 

 Adil Abdul-Mehdi:

We performed our duty as a government to protect the [American] embassy. We did a lot, more than we should have done to be frank with you. But the Americans said ‘you fell short and did not fulfill your duty. These [protesters] have no right to be here’. 

We sent a massive number of security forces to protect the embassy. [at the same time] we were in touch with the embassy itself and with Washington. 

 Interviewer: Do you think the Americans did not trust your efforts at that moment?

Adil Abdul-Mehdi:
“Ask the Americans about this, I cannot judge them. In their letters they say the Iraqis did not do what they should have. Despite that myself on the night of the 31st December, I held a telephone conversation with [Former] President [Donald] Trump. After the crowed withdrew from the embassy and he thanked me [for the protection we provided the embassy]. 

He asked ‘were they Iranian?’; I said ‘No, these are Iraqis that are protesting against what happened at Al-Qa'im. And we warned the American Defense Secretary [Mark Esper] that there would be dangerous reactions. [Trump] said ‘we don’t know the Iranians well; you know them better than us’. I told him ‘The Iranians don’t want war and you say you don’t want war; there are no other options but for direct talks and if no direct talks are possible, then some form of agreements that were sort of made in 2003 regarding red lines. He said ‘you are good mediators in this, whatever you can do in this regard, we are ready’.

I had no idea that at that time they were already planning an operation of assassination. An operation to assassinate cannot be done in two or three days. There is no doubt that this operation was thought out in a matter that does not include a short time frame. 

And in reality, the martyr [Abu Mehdi] al-Muhandis played a big role in withdrawing those crowds [from the American embassy].
(The protestors withdrew from the American embassy before the end of the year 2019). The crowd was furious, they even brought tents and other facilities to continue with the sit-in. 

And then it escalated in a dangerous manner. 

At around one o’clock [on 3rd January] some news began coming in about an attack on an airplane that had Iranian passengers. The person that woke me up was brother [former head of intelligence] al-Khadhimi himself, the current Prime Minister, in a phone call. 

There was some doubt. We knew that martyr [General Qassem] Soleimani would be coming to Iraq, because the next day at 08:30 we had a meeting together. We were scheduled to have breakfast together. 

So, at around 01:00, al-Khadhimi called saying an incident has occurred, it was still not clear that the martyr [General Soleimani] was the one present on the plane. I began receiving images on my mobile phone, photos started to circulate about a vehicle incident. 

I contacted the Iranian embassy to get some information. They did not have any answers. As more pictures began to be sent, one of the photos had a ring. Straight away i recognized that this ring is the ring of the martyr [General Qassem] Soleimani. 

End of transcript. 

This interview was published by Iraqi media on the first anniversary [January 2021] of the U.S. act of state terrorism in the Iraqi capital that led to the martyrdom of Iran’s Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani and Deputy Leader of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis. An act of terror that a United Nations investigation found to be “unlawful” and against the “UN charter.”

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