On December 2, Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo said that he sent a letter to the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Qods Force, Major General Qassem Soleimani, warning that Iran would be held responsible for attacks on U.S. interests in Iraq. Soleimani, once a shadowy figure, has played an increasingly public role and often traveled to the front lines of the fight against ISIS. He has been photographed extensively with Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria. The following are Pompeo’s excerpted remarks from The Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.
“You need only look to the past few weeks, and the efforts of the Iranians to exert influence now in northern Iraq in addition to other places in Iraq to see the Iranians’ effort to be the hegemonic power throughout the Middle East continues to increase. Indeed, there was a news story. It didn’t get a lot of attention here, it got a lot in Iran. I sent a note to Qassem Soleimani. I sent it because he had indicated that forces under his control might, in fact, threaten U.S. interests in Iraq.”
“His commander has also indicated an increased willingness to potentially attack U.S. forces that are in Iraq with the consent of the Iraqi government. He refused to open the letter. It didn't break my heart, to be honest with you.”
“What we were communicating to him in that letter was that we will hold he and Iran accountable for any attacks on American interests in Iraq by forces that are under their control. We wanted to make sure that he and the leadership in Iran understood that in a way that was crystal clear.”
DCIA Pompeo: Sent letter to General Soleimani & Iranian leaders expressing concerns re Iran’s increasingly threatening behavior in Iraq. US forces supporting Iraqi Government, at its request, in its fight against ISIS & helping to stabilize country after years of conflict.#RNDF— CIA (@CIA) December 3, 2017
Pompeo appeared to be responding to news stories in Iran. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s chief of staff, Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, said that Soleimani received the letter through an intermediary in November. At the time, Soleimani was in Abu Kamal, the last ISIS stronghold in Syria, just after the militants had been pushed out. “Our commander refused to receive the letter saying we don’t have anything in common for discussion,” he told Fars News Agency.
Major General #QasemSoleimani, the commander of Qods Force of #Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), in a surprise visit to #Syria's #AbuKamal. The #SyrianArmy and its allies are preparing to launch a major assault against #Daesh #terrorists in Abu Kamal soon. pic.twitter.com/sZiVkpPLSM— Press TV (@PressTV) November 16, 2017
In late November, Soleimani penned a letter to Supreme Leader Khamenei announcing the end of the ISIS caliphate. In it, he blamed the United States and Israel for the group’s formation and crimes. Soleimani earned praise from President Hassan Rouhani, who thanked him for coordinating the campaign against ISIS.
Soleimani has long been viewed by the United States as the mastermind of Iran’s strategy to build influence across the Middle East. This was not the first time that top U.S. officials have communicated with Soleimani. In 2008, in the midst of a fight between Iraqi Security Forces and Iran-backed Shiite militias, Soleimani conveyed a message through an Iraqi official to General David Petraeus. "General Petraeus, you should be aware that I, Qassem Soleimani, control Iran’s policy for Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan,” he said. Petraeus later reflected on Soleimani in an interview with The Washington Post. “What I will say is that he is very capable and resourceful individual, a worthy adversary. He has played his hand well,” Petraeus said in 2015. “But this is a long game, so let’s see how events transpire.”