Tehran vowed harsh revenge after the United States killed Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force and architect of Iran’s spreading military influence in the Middle East, in an airstrike on Friday at Baghdad airport, Reuters reported.
Soleimani’s killing, authorized by President Donald Trump, marked a dramatic escalation in the regional “shadow war” between Iran and the United States and its allies, principally Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Top Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an adviser to Soleimani, was also killed in the attack. Tehran has been locked in a long conflict with Washington that escalated sharply last week with an attack on the U.S. embassy in Iraq by pro-Iranian militiamen following a U.S. air raid on the Kataib Hezbollah militia, founded by Muhandis, Reuters adds.
“At the direction of the president, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qassem Soleimani,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans,” it added.
U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he was killed in a drone strike. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said he was killed in an attack by American helicopters.
Iraqi paramilitary groups said three rockets landed near Baghdad airport’s cargo terminal, hitting two vehicles and killing five Iraqi paramilitary men and two “guests”.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said harsh revenge awaited the “criminals” who killed Soleimani. His death, though bitter, would double the motivation of the resistance against the United States and Israel, he said. In a statement carried by state television, he called for three days of national mourning, Reuters notes.
Soleimani, who led the Quds Force, the foreign arm of the Revolutionary Guards and had a key role in fighting in Syria and Iraq, had acquired celebrity status at home and abroad. Over two decades he had been at the forefront of projecting the Islamic Republic’s military influence across the Middle East.