Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, was killed in an United States airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport early on Friday, AFP reported. The strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF, the state television said.
Pentagon officials confirmed that United States President Donald Trump ordered the strikes. “General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the Department of Defense said in a statement. “General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.”
“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.
After Soleimani’s death, United States President Donald Trump tweeted an image of the US flag without any explanation.
Meanwhile, a former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Mohsen Rezaei, vowed “vigorous revenge against America” for the killing of the head of the elite Quds Force. “Martyr Lieutenant General Qassem Suleimani joined his martyred brothers, but we will take vigorous revenge on America,” Rezaei, who is now the secretary of a powerful state body, said.
“The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani,” a spokesperson for PMF, Ahmed al-Assadi, told Reuters.
An official told AP that al-Muhandis had gone to the airport in a convoy to receive Soleimani. The airstrike took place when he descended from the plane to be greeted by al-Muhandis and his companions, killing them all.
The death of Iran’s most revered military leader is expected to be potential turning point in West Asia, and may draw severe retaliation from Iran and the forces it backs in the region against Israel and American interests.
Iraq’s military said the airport was hit with missiles after midnight. Unidentified officials also said the rockets targeted a Hashed al-Shaabi convoy and left eight people dead, including “important figures”. The Hashed is a network of mostly-Shiite armed units, having close ties to Tehran. They have been officially incorporated into Iraq’s state security forces.
Muhandis is the Hashed’s deputy chief and has been blacklisted by the US.
The attack came after Trump had blamed Iran for “orchestrating” the attack on the US embassy in Baghdad and said he would hold Tehran responsible.