President Donald Trump ordered an airstrike at Baghdad International Airport that killed Qasem Soleimani, a key Iranian military commander, in a “decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad” that was intended to deter “future Iranian attack plans,” the Pentagon confirmed Thursday.
Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force unit and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis the deputy head of the Iran-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) were among those killed in the attack early Friday morning local time, according to a statement from the PMF, which said the pair “were martyred by an American strike.”
The assassination of the top military leader marks a major escalation in regional tensions that has pitted Tehran against the US and Washington’s Gulf Arab allies in the region.
Soleimani was revered in Iran, where three days of national mourning have been declared. In a message published to his official website, the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed revenge for the killing, saying that “harsh revenge awaits the criminals” involved.
Formed in 2014 to fight ISIS, the PMF is a Shia paramilitary force made up of former militias with close ties to Iran. It was recognized under a 2016 Iraqi law as an independent military force that answers directly to the prime minister.
Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members, and the wounding of thousands more, the Pentagon added. The Pentagon also blamed the Iranian general for orchestrating attacks on coalition bases in Iraq in recent months, including an attack on December 27 that culminated in the deaths of an American contractor and Iraqi personnel.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the Iran-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), left, and Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force unit, right, were killed in the US strike.
Khamenei warned the fight would continue and added it had been Soleimani’s wish for years to become a martyr.
“His pure blood was shed in the hands of the most depraved of human beings,” Khamenei said.
In a tweet, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif described the US strike as an “act of international terrorism,” adding that it was an “extremely dangerous and foolish escalation. “The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism,” he added.
In a statement, Muqtada Sadr, who leads the largest political bloc in Iraq’s parliament, has ordered the revival of the “Mahdi Army,” which fought US troops during the 2003 invasion. He also called on Iraqis to exercise “wisdom and shrewdness.”
One pro-Iranian Iraqi cleric, Qais al-Khazali, called for the removal of US forces from Iraq and for the “demise” of Israel, as a response to the deaths of Soleimani and Muhandis.
Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Iran-backed Lebanese militant and political group, has also vowed to avenge the assassinations.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi said he considered the assassination of Muhandis an “attack on the Iraqi state, government, and people,” according to a tweet by Abdul Mahdi’s media office.