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Iraqi, Syrian informants helped US track Soleimani before strike: Reuters

Senior commanders of the Islamic Republic of Iran's armed forces met with the Leader of the Revolution, Ayatollah Khamenei for the new Iranian year. (Khamenei.ir/Wikimedia Commons)
January 10, 2020

Falih al-Fayadh, Iraq’s National Security Adviser and head of Iraq’s pro-Iranian Popular Mobilization Front (PMF) Shi’ite militias, is looking into whether Syrian and Iraqi informants helped coordinate the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Among those suspected of leaking Soleimani’s whereabouts to the U.S. are two Baghdad airport security workers and two employees for Cham Wings, the private airline that secretly brought Soleimani to Baghdad on the night he was killed. According to an exclusive from Reuters, Iraq’s National Security investigators have “strong indications that a network of spies inside Baghdad Airport were involved in leaking sensitive security details,” the resulted in the U.S. successfully targeting and killing Soleimani.

Soleimani reportedly avoided using his private plane, amid concerns about his security. Cham Wings had instead enabled Soleimani and his security entourage to travel aboard a Cham Wings flight with their names removed from the passenger manifest.

Soleimani landed in Baghdad to join Abu Mahdi Muhandis, the deputy head of the same PMF group al-Fayadh leads, only to be killed minutes later by a U.S. drone firing two missiles. Soleimani’s security team, traveling in a separate vehicle, was hit by another missile seconds later.

The Iraqi investigation into how Soleimani was killed on their watch reportedly began within minutes of the airstrikes. Iraqi National Security agents immediately moved to seal off the airport and contain security staff from leaving.

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Cham Wings is based out of the Syrian capital of Damascus, and Soleimani was reportedly flying from Syria into Iraq when he was killed.

“Initial findings of the Baghdad investigation team suggest that the first tip on Soleimani came from Damascus airport,” one Iraqi security official told Reuters. “The job of the Baghdad airport cell was to confirm the arrival of the target and details of his convoy.”

Neither the media office for the Iraqi National Security agency or Iraq’s missions to New York and Washington D.C. responded to Reuters’ requests for comments on the case.

The U.S. Department of Defense also declined to comment on whether well-placed informants helped track Soleimani. Meanwhile, U.S. officials who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity did say the U.S. had been tracking Soleimani’s whereabouts in the days preceding the strike, but did not detail how they confirmed his exact location.

Starting in October, Soleimani had reportedly secretly increased attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and increased the flow of weapons to proxy pro-Iranian militias in Iraq that helped carry out the attacks. Those pro-Iranian militias reportedly carried out deadly rocket attacks and instigated further attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad in the days leading up to Soleimani’s death.