The Pentagon said Thursday the U.S. military had killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, at the direction of President Donald Trump.
Gen. Qassem Soleimani
An air strike killed Soleimani, architect of Iran’s regional security apparatus, at Baghdad’s international airport Friday local time, Iranian state television and three Iraqi officials said, an attack that was expected to draw severe Iranian retaliation against Israel and American interests.
The Defense Department said Soleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” It also accused Soleimani of approving the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad earlier this week.
A statement released late Thursday by the Pentagon said the strike on Soleimani “was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.”
The strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF, Iraqi officials said. The PMF media arm said the two were killed in an American airstrike that targeted their vehicle on the road to the airport.
Citing a Revolutionary Guard statement, Iranian state television said Soleimani was “martyred” in an attack by U.S. helicopters near the airport, without elaborating.
President Donald Trump was vacationing on his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, but sent out a tweet of an American flag.
Their deaths are a potential turning point in the Middle East and if the U.S. carried them out, it represents a drastic change for American policy toward Iran after months of tensions.
Tehran shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone and seized oil tankers. Meanwhile, the U.S. blames Iran for a series of attacks targeting tankers, as well as a September assault on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry that temporarily halved its production.
The tensions take root in Trump’s decision in May 2018 to withdraw the U.S. from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, struck under his predecessor.
A senior Iraqi politician and a high-level security official confirmed to The Associated Press that Soleimani and al-Muhandis were among those killed in the attack shortly after midnight. Two militia leaders loyal to Iran also confirmed the deaths, including an official with the Kataib Hezbollah faction, which was involved in the New Year’s Eve attack by Iran-backed militias on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
The security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said al-Muhandis had arrived to the airport in a convoy along with others to receive Soleimani, whose plane had arrived from either Lebanon or Syria. The airstrike took place near the cargo area after he left the plane to be greeted by al-Muhandis and others.
Two officials from the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces said Soleimani’s body was torn to pieces in the attack, while they did not find the body of al-Muhandis. A senior politician said Soleimani’s body was identified by the ring he wore.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject and because they were not authorized to give official statements.