The United States killed Iran’s most powerful general in an air strike at Baghdad’s international airport on Friday, on the direct orders of President Donald Trump.
- The Pentagon says the strike was carried out to deter future attacks
- A former Iran Revolutionary Guard chief has vowed “vigorous revenge on America”
- The attack takes the US confrontation with Iran to a dangerous new level
The Pentagon confirmed the death of Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force and the architect of Tehran’s proxy wars in the Middle East.
Major-General Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were killed in the strike on their convoy near the Baghdad airport, an Iraqi militia spokesman told Reuters.
“The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani,” said Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces umbrella grouping of Iran-backed militias.
Three missiles hit the Baghdad airport, killing five members of Iraqi paramilitary groups and two “guests”, Iraqi paramilitary groups said. The rockets landed near the air cargo terminal, burning two vehicles.
“This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
It said the military took “decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qassem Soleimani” and that it considered the Quds Force to be a foreign terrorist organisation.
“General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” it said.
“General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.
@thestevennabil tweet: Two SUVs were hit on the road leading to the arrival/departure of Baghdad International Airport
“He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months — including the attack on December 27 — culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel.
“[He] also approved the attacks on the US Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week.”
In the December 27 incident, a US civilian contractor was killed during a rocket attack on a US military base in northern Iraq.
‘This is bigger than taking out bin Laden’
A former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Mohsen Rezaei, vowed “vigorous revenge” against America for the killing of General Soleimani, describing him as a “martyr”.
“Martyr Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani joined his martyred brothers, but we will take vigorous revenge on America,” Mr Rezaei said in a post on Twitter.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the assassination would strengthen resistance against the US and Israel in the region and the world, Iranian state television reported.
“The brutality and stupidity of American terrorist forces in assassinating Commander Soleimani … will undoubtedly make the tree of resistance in the region and the world more prosperous,” Mr Zarif said in a statement.
Twitter Ranj Alaaldin: Make no mistake – this is bigger than taking out Osama bin Laden.
Academic Ranj Alaaldin, author of Sacred Warriors, a recent book on Shiite militias and the future of Iraq, said on Twitter that the significance of the hit could not be overstated.
“Make no mistake — this is bigger than taking out Osama bin Laden,” he wrote.
General Soleimani, who was responsible for coordinating foreign military actions, survived several assassination attempts against him by Western, Israeli and Arab agencies over the past two decades.
Twitter Sophie McNeill: HUGE HUGE news out of the Middle East. The US has just assassinated arguably what is Iran’s most important military leader.
Earlier this week, top Iraqi militia commander al-Muhandis, also known as Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, warned of a strong reaction against US forces following air strikes.
“The blood of the martyrs will not be in vain and our response will be very tough on the American forces in Iraq,” he said.
US citizens urged to leave Iraq ‘immediately’
Mr Trump tweeted a photo of the American flag without explanation just moments before the US claimed responsibility for the air strike.
Twitter Donald Trump tweets picture of US flag
The US is now urging citizens to leave Iraq “immediately”, citing “heightened tensions in Iraq and the region”.
“Due to Iranian-backed militia attacks at the US Embassy compound, all consular operations are suspended. US citizens should not approach the Embassy,” the US State Department said in a statement.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the Trump administration conducted the airstrike without consulting Congress or having any authorisation to use military force against Iran.
She said the move “risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence.”
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said Mr Trump had “tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox”.
The former vice-president joined other Democratic White House hopefuls in criticising Mr Trump’s order, saying it could leave the US “on the brink of a major conflict across the Middle East.”
Democrats also acknowledged the threat formerly posed by General Soleimani, with Senator Elizabeth Warren calling him “a murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans.”
However she added, Mr Trump’s “reckless move escalates the situation with Iran and increases the likelihood of more deaths and new Middle East conflict.”