Iraq: Top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani killed in US air strike

Reuters BAGHDAD/WASHINGTON | Updated on January 03, 2020

A file photo of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Qassem Soleimani.   -  REUTERS

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif calls the attack brutal and stupid.

Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were killed early on Friday in an air strike on their convoy at 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.

Iraqi paramilitary groups said on Friday that three rockets hit the Baghdad International Airport, killing five members of Iraqi paramilitary groups and two “guests”. The rockets landed near the air cargo terminal, burning two vehicles, killing and injuring several people.

Pentagon confirms Soleimani's death

The Pentagon confirmed it in a statement, adding that Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack Americans in Iraq and West Asia.

“At the direction of the President, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qassem Soleimani,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans,” it said, adding that the United States would continue to take necessary action to protect Americans and interests around the world.

The Pentagon said that Soleimani had “orchestrated” attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the past few months and approved the “attacks” on the US embassy in Baghdad this week. The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Soleimani had been killed in a drone strike in Baghdad.

One US official said that Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also believed to have been killed in the strike, according to initial information, though he was not the primary target.

The official said the Pentagon was aware of the possibility of an Iranian response and US military officials were ready to defend themselves. The official did not rule out additional US troops or military assets going to the region.

The game has changed: US Defence Secretary

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said while Soleimani was “an enemy of the United States,” the killing could put more Americans at risk. “One reason we don't generally (assassinate) foreign political officials is the belief that such action will get more, not less, Americans killed,” Murphy said on Twitter. “That should be our real, pressing and grave worry tonight,” he said.

Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said that Soleimani's death “should be applauded by all who seek peace and justice.”

Click here for more reactions to Soleimani's assassination

Earlier on Thursday, before the strike, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said there were indications Iran, or forces it backs, may be planning additional attacks, warning that the ”game has changed” and it was possible the United States might have to take preemptive action to protect American lives.

Resistance to continue: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that the assassination would double the motivation of the resistance against the United States and Israel, state television reported.

“All enemies should know that the jihad of resistance will continue with a doubled motivation, and a definite victory awaits the fighters in the holy war,” Khamenei said in a statement carried by TV, in which he called for three days of national mourning.

This sentiment was backed by Hassan Rouhani, Iran's President. He said that the nation would be more determined to resist the United States.

“Soleimani's martyrdom will make Iran more decisive to resist America's expansionism and to defend our Islamic values. With no doubt, Iran and other freedom-seeking countries in the region will take his revenge,” said Rouhani in a statement.

Iran often refers to regional countries and forces opposed to Israel and the United States as a “resistance” front.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the assassination of Soleimani would strengthen resistance against the United States 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,” Zarif said in a statement.

The nation's top security body will meet on Friday to discuss the “criminal” attack that killed Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, its spokesman was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency.

“In the next few hours, an extraordinary meeting of the Supreme National Security Council will be held to probe the criminal act of attack on commander Soleimani's car in Baghdad, which led to his martyrdom,” spokesman Keyvan Khosravi said.

Who was Soleimani?

Soleimani, who has led the foreign arm of the Revolutionary Guards and has had a key role in fighting in Syria and Iraq, acquired celebrity status at home and abroad. He was instrumental in the spread of Iranian influence in West Asia, which the United States and Tehran's regional foes Saudi Arabia and Israel have struggled to keep in check.

He survived several assassination attempts against him by Western, Israeli and Arab agencies over the past two decades.

Soleimani's Quds Force, tasked with carrying out operations beyond Iran's borders, shored up support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad when he looked close to defeat in the civil war raging since 2011 and also helped militiamen defeat Islamic State in Iraq.

Soleimani became head of the Quds Force in 1998, a position in which he kept a low profile for years while he strengthened Iran's ties with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and Shiite militia groups in Iraq.

Muhandis, who was killed with Soleimani, oversaw Iraq's PMF, an umbrella grouping of paramilitary groups mostly consisting of Iran-backed Shiite militias that was formally integrated into Iraqi armed forces.


Published on January 03, 2020

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