United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has claimed that last week's assassination of top Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani was necessary because the top general was planning an "imminent" attack on American interests. But a new report on Saturday said that the Donald Trump administration plotted the attack on Soleimani for 18 months before finally carrying it out with a drone strike on January 3.
According to the report by The New York Times, based on interviews with multiple officials, the administration contemplated attacking Soleimani in Syria, as well as in Iraq, on one of his frequent visits to the two countries where Iran maintains militias loyal to the country, and under Soleimani's influence.
As far back as last May, military and intelligence officials presented then-National Security Adviser John Bolton with plans for killing Soleimani, after attacks on four oil tankers that were attributed to Iranian forces. Though the U.S. did not strike at that time, operations to track the 62-year-old general's movements were stepped up, according to the Times' reporting.
According to a New Yorker roundup of the events leading up to Soleimani's death, Pompeo discussed killing Soleimani with Trump "months ago," and was the "driving force" behind the assassination. CIA Director Gina Haspel also pushed for the strike against the Iranian general, predicting — correctly — that Iran would retaliate by firing missiles at a base containing U.S. troops.
Within hours of the attack on Soleimani, Pompeo made a public statement claiming that the Iranian military leader had organized an attack against U.S. interests and lives that was "imminent." But by Tuesday of this week, Pompeo appeared to walk back that claim, saying that Soleimani was killed as retaliation for past attacks he allegedly ordered.
On Friday, Trump appeared to come up with a whole new story, claiming that Soleimani had been planning attacks on four U.S. embassies, according to a Washington Post report.
Trump made the claim in an interview with Laura Ingraham of Fox News, saying that Soleimani was "looking to blow up our embassy" in Baghdad, Iraq. In the same interview, Trump later said, "I believe it probably would've been four embassies."
But top officials told The Post that any intelligence indicating an embassy attack in Baghdad was "vague." The Post sources also said that there was no intelligence suggesting that multiple embassies were under threat from Soleimani.
Trump, according to the sources who spoke to The Post, is "totally obsessed" with the thought that a situation similar to the 2012 attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans could happen during his term — because such an attack would cause him to be "compared unfavorably to his predecessor," Barack Obama.