Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s legendary top terror commander who U.S. officials say was responsible for the killing of hundreds of American service members and wounding of thousands more, was killed in a Jan. 2 airstrike ordered by U.S. President Donald Trump.
“At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization,” the Department of Defense said in a statement.
Soleimani was killed in a targeted strike after his plane arrived at Baghdad International Airport in Iraq.
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Also killed in the Jan. 2 strike was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces, which is part of a larger umbrella group that includes a number of Shia militant groups supported by Iran, the Military Times reported.
An Iraqi official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that al-Muhandis had arrived at the airport in a convoy to receive Soleimani whose plane had arrived from either Lebanon or Syria. The airstrike occurred as soon as Soleimani descended from the plane to be greeted by al-Muhandis and his companions, killing them all.
The DoD said Soleimani was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”
The Pentagon also said Soleimani was behind the Dec. 27 rocket attack on the Kirkuk military installation that resulted in the death of an American contractor and wounding of four American troops.
As commander of Iran’s Quds force — which is tasked with carrying out paramilitary and clandestine operations outside of Iran — Soleimani led Teheran’s irregular wars across Yemen and Syria for several years.
Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that a “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the U.S. Iranian state TV carried a statement by Khamenei also calling Soleimani “the international face of resistance.” Khamenei declared three days of public mourning for the general’s death.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif tweeted: “The US’ act of international terrorism, targeting & assassinating General Soleimani—THE most effective force fighting Daesh (ISIS), Al Nusrah, Al Qaida et al—is extremely dangerous & a foolish escalation.The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.”
Russia, which has pursued closer ties with Iran, called the U.S. killing of Soleimani “reckless.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran’s leaders have supported Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in his brutal years-long war. Soleimani was widely regarded as an architect of Assad’s war against the rebels in Syria.
“We regard the killing of Soleimani as a result of an American missile strike on the outskirts of Baghdad as a reckless step which could lead to a growth of tensions across the region,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said, according to Interfax.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab urged “all parties to de-escalate.”
“Further conflict is in none of our interests,” Raab said in a statement on Janu. 3, adding that Britain had recognized the “aggressive threat” posed by the Quds Force under Soleimani’s leadership.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted later on Jan. 3 that he had spoken to Raab and was “thankful that our allies recognizing the continuing aggressive threats posed by the Iranian Quds Force.” He also said the United States “remains committed to de-escalation.”
Related: Instagram psywar: Iran’s Gen. Soleimani warns Trump of asymmetric threat, August 21, 2018
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a trip to Greece following news of the Soleimani killing to follow “ongoing developments,” his office said.
Israel regards Iran’s Quds Force as the prime mover behind a network of anti-Israeli foes and has targeted the Iranian unit’s presence in Syria on several occasions.
“Just as Israel has the right of self-defense, the United States has exactly the same right. Qasem Soleimani is responsible for the death of American citizens and many other innocent people. He was planning more such attacks,” Netanyahu later tweeted.
Hizbullah, the Lebanon-based terrorist group that was founded in the 1980s with Iran’s help and relies heavily today on Iranian support, called for “resistance” around the world to avenge Soleimani’s death, AFP reported.
“Meting out the appropriate punishment to these criminal assassins…will be the responsibility and task of all resistance fighters worldwide,” said the group.
Meanwhile, in Washington, several Democrats complained that they were kept out of the loop on Trump’s order to take out Soleimani. Some echoed Russia’s response, calling the strike “reckless.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a 2020 presidential nomination contender, said Trump’s “reckless move escalates the situation with Iran and increases the likelihood of more deaths and new Middle East conflict.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the administration conducted the airstrike without consultation of Congress or an authorization for use of military force against Iran. She said it “risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence.”
The Heritage Foundation’s James Jay Carafano tweeted: “What makes least sense is complaining killing Soleimani will prompt further attacks since Soleimani was killed while PLANNING FURTHER ATTACKS-how would we know the difference?”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said: “I appreciate President Trump’s bold action against Iranian aggression. To the Iranian government: if you want more, you will get more.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released the following statement: “The end of Qasem Soleimani is welcome and long-overdue justice for the thousands of Americans killed or wounded by his Iranian-controlled forces across the Middle East, and for the hundreds of thousands of Syrians and Iraqi Sunnis ethnically cleansed by his militias. It is also long-overdue justice for our Israeli allies who have suffered decades of terrorism at the hands of Hezbollah terrorists commanded by his IRGC Quds Force. The message to all those who mean harm to America is loud and clear.”
William Fallon, a retired admiral who ran U.S. Central Command from March 2007 to March 2008, told Military Times that Soleimani’s death is a “significant blow” to Iran.
“There is little doubt in my mind he was in Baghdad orchestrating activity,” said Fallon, who pointed to the recent attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad Tuesday by pro-Iranian militants. “Those were not protests, they were coordinated attacks on the embassy.”
Fallon said that while tensions between the U.S. and Iran are likely to ratchet up, he does not anticipate a full-scale war.
“It will be interesting to see how big a strike back Iran wants to try,” Fallon said, adding that he expects terror attacks and Iranian-backed militia leaders to “put on a pretty good show against the embassy.”
“They have to be careful about it, as we have seen over the last six months, they are not shy,” said Fallon. “Whether it is tanker attacks, drone attacks, they will likely do something, but they will have to calculate how far they want to go.”
As far as an all-out war, “neither side really wants it,” said Fallon. “It is not in the interest of either party to do it. There is too much to lose. The Iranians have a lot of chess pieces on the table.”