In what could turn out to be another flashpoint between the United States and Iraqi forces, Gen Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was killed in a US-led airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport on Friday. While the Pentagon has confirmed that the strike was carried out by the US, Iraqi militia groups have issued a statement to slam the US.
According to AFP, Pentagon has said US President ordered the ‘killing’ of Qassem Soleimani.
Minutes after reports of Gen Qassem Soleimani’s death trickled in, US President Donald Trump tweeted to post an image of the US flag, triggering further speculation that the airstrike is indeed an attack by his administration.
“This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards confirmed in a statement that Soleimani was killed.
Apart from Gen Qassem Soleimani, the strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). PMF has blamed the United States for the attack at Baghdad International Airport on Friday.
Later the White House, too, confirmed that the attack was carried out on the orders of Donald Trump. “At the direction of the President, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization,” said the White House, in a statement.
It added, “General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”
Meanwhile, oil prices jumped more than $1 on Friday after the US airstrike killed Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
“The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani,” said Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces umbrella grouping of Iran-backed militias.
Iraqi paramilitary groups said on Friday that three rockets hit Baghdad International Airport, killing five members of Iraqi paramilitary groups and two “guests”.
The rockets landed near the air cargo terminal, burning two vehicles, killing and injuring several people.
According to Reuters, the high-profile assassinations of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani are seen as a massive blow to Iran, which has been locked in a long conflict with the United States that escalated sharply last week with the storming of the US embassy perimeter in Iraq by pro-Iranian militiamen following an American air raid on an Iraqi Shi’ite militia.
Soleimani, who has led the foreign arm of the Revolutionary Guards and has had a key role in fighting in Syria and Iraq, acquired celebrity status at home and abroad. He was instrumental in the spread of Iranian influence in the Middle East, which the United States and Tehran’s regional foes Saudi Arabia and Israel have struggled to keep in check.
He survived several assassination attempts against him by Western, Israeli and Arab agencies over the past two decades.
Soleimani’s Quds Force, tasked with carrying out operations beyond Iran’s borders, shored up support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad when he looked close to defeat in the civil war raging since 2011 and also helped militiamen defeat Islamic State in Iraq.
Soleimani became head of the Quds Force in 1998, a position in which he kept a low profile for years while he strengthened Iran’s ties with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and Shi’ite militia groups in Iraq.