Originally appeared at The American Conservative.
Iraqi military and intelligence officials claim that the original December 27 attack that led to U.S. strikes on an Iraqi militia and Qassem Soleimani was probably not carried out by Kata’ib Hezbollah at all, but was instead the work of ISIS:
American officials insist that they have solid evidence that Khataib Hezbollah carried out the attack, though they have not made it public.
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 [bold mine-DL].
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.
These facts all point to the Islamic State, Iraqi officials say [bold mine-DL].
“All the indications are that it was Daesh,” said Brig. General Ahmed Adnan, the Iraqi chief of intelligence for the federal police at K-1, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “I told you about the three incidents in the days just before in the area – we know Daesh’s movements.
If the Iraqi claims are true, the Trump administration’s actions in Iraq in late December and early January are even harder to justify. If ISIS was responsible for the attack that killed an American contractor, the administration not only retaliated against the wrong group with its first round of airstrikes, but it then proceeded to commit an act of war against Iran by killing one of ISIS’ main adversaries as a result of an ISIS attack. That strongly suggests that the administration was looking for an excuse to escalate against Iran and the Iraqi militias that it supports, and it seized on the base attack as their chance to take military action. Attributing the attack to ISIS would not fit with the administration’s fixation on Iran, and it would not give them the pretext they needed for escalation. Blaming it on an Iraqi militia that received Iranian support would be only too convenient. If that is what happened, the administration has misled the public about everything leading up to the Soleimani assassination, and they did ISIS’ work for them by killing one of the group’s most effective foes. This makes the administration’s talk of “restoring deterrence” even more absurd, since they were probably not even attacking the people responsible for the death of the contractor.
It is possible that the Iraqi officials are mistaken, or they may be coming up with this story for their own reasons, but these allegations are serious enough that they need to be investigated thoroughly. Congress needs to demand to see the “solid evidence” that links the original attack to Kata’ib Hezbollah, and top administration officials need to be called to testify about what they know. Journalists need to challenge the president and the Secretaries of State and Defense on this issue until they get some credible answers. The Trump administration has lied too many times and too egregiously about Iran and other national security issues to be taken at their word.
If the administration has evidence, they need to make it available to the appropriate committees in Congress. We already have good reason to believe that their claim about an “imminent attack” was a lie that they cooked up to justify Soleimani’s illegal assassination after the fact. It is not that much of a stretch to imagine that the administration distorted and manipulated intelligence to blame the wrong group for the K-1 base attack. Given the suspicions that the president ordered these attacks in late December and early January in an attempt to distract from his domestic political problems, this warrants much more attention and scrutiny from Congress and the press.
Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.