Baghdad, January 3
Top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani was killed on Friday in a US strike on Baghdad’s international airport, Iran and the US confirmed, in the most dramatic episode yet of escalating tensions between the two countries.
The Pentagon said US President Donald Trump ordered Soleimani’s “killing”, after a pro-Iran mob this week laid siege to the US embassy.
Declaring three days of mourning across the country, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed to take “severe revenge” for Soleimani’s death.
Also read: Iran names Quds Force number 2 to replace slain Soleimani
Trump tweeted out a picture of the US flag without any explanation, as the pre-dawn developments marked the most major escalation yet in a feared proxy war between Iran and the US on Iraqi soil.
Early on Friday, a volley of missiles hit Baghdad’s international airport, striking a convoy belonging to the Hashed al-Shaabi, an Iraqi paramilitary force with close ties to Iran.
Just a few hours later, the Revolutionary Guard Corps announced Soleimani “was martyred in an attack by America on Baghdad airport this morning”.
The Hashed confirmed both Soleimani and its deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were killed in what it said was a “US strike that targeted their car on the Baghdad International Airport road”. The Hashed is a network of mostly-Shiite armed units, many of whom have close ties to Tehran but which have been officially incorporated into Iraq’s state security forces.
The units joined forces to fight the Islamic State group in 2014, after many of them built up years of fighting experience during Iraq’s war years, including against the US.
Muhandis was the Hashed’s deputy chief but widely recognised as the real shot-caller within the group.
Soleimani headed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force and also served as Iran’s pointsman on Iraq, visiting the country in times of turmoil. Both were sanctioned by the United States.
The Pentagon said Soleimani had been “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region”. It said it took “decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani”, but did not specify how.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif slammed the US strike as “extremely dangerous and a foolish escalation”. Top official Mohsen Rezai pledged to “exact terrible vengeance upon America”, and Tehran’s top security council said it would hold an urgent meeting.