Qasem Soleimani: Pentagon says US airstrike killed powerful Iranian general Qassem Soleimani
An airstrike killed Soleimani, architect of Iran’s regional security apparatus, at Baghdad International Airport on Friday, Iranian state television and three Iraqi officials said, an attack that is expected to attract severe Iranian retaliation against Israel and U.S. interests.
The Defense Department said Soleimani was “actively developing plans to attack U.S. and military diplomats in Iraq and across the region.” He also accused Soleimani of approving the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad earlier this week.
A statement released late from the Pentagon by the Pentagon said the attack on Soleimani “was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.”
Qassen Soleimani (File Photo)
The attack 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’s media arm said the two were killed in a U.S. airstrike that attacked their vehicle on the road to the airport.
Citing a statement from the Revolutionary Guard, Iranian state television said That Soleimani was “martyred” in a U.S. helicopter attack near the airport, unprocessed.
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Their deaths are a potential turning point in the Middle East, and if the United States carried them out, it represents a drastic shift for U.S. policy toward Iran after months of tension.
Tehran shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone and seized tankers. Meanwhile, the United States blames Iran for a series of attacks on oil tankers, as well as a September assault on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry that temporarily halved its production.
Tensions entrenched Trump’s may 2018 decision to withdraw the United States from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, hit under his predecessor.
A senior Iraqi politician and a senior 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 of the Kataeb Hezbollah faction, who was involved in the New Year’s attack by Iranian-backed militias against the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
The security officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said al-Muhandis had arrived at the airport in a convoy along with others to receive soleimani, whose plane had arrived from Lebanon or Syria. The airstrike took place near the cargo area after it left the plane to be received by al-Muhandis and others.
Two Iraqi People’s Mobilization Forces officers said Suleimani’s body was destroyed in the attack while he did not find al-Muhandis’ body. A senior politician said Soleimani’s body was identified by the ring he was wearing.
Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue and because they were not authorized to make official statements.
As head of the Quds, or Jersualem, of Iran’s Paramilitary Revolutionary Guard Force, Soleimani led all his expeditionary forces. Members of the Quds Force have deployed in Syria’s long war to support President Bashar Assad, as well as in Iraq in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion that overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein, a longtime enemy of Tehran.
Soleimani rose to fame by advising forces fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria on behalf of besieged Assad.
U.S. officials say the Guard under Soleimani taught Iraqi militants to manufacture and use especially deadly bombs on the road against U.S. troops after the invasion of Iraq. Iran has denied it. Soleimani remains popular with many Iranians, who see him as a selfless hero fighting Iran’s enemies abroad.
Soleimani had been rumored dead several times, including in a 2006 plane crash that killed other military officers in northwestern Iran and after a 2012 bombing in Damascus that killed Assad’s top aides. Rumors circulated in November 2015 that Soleimani was killed or seriously wounded to leading forces loyal to Assad while fighting around Syria’s Aleppo.
Early Friday, a People’s Mobilization Forces official said seven people were killed by a missile fired at Baghdad International Airport, blaming the United States.
The group official known as the Popular Mobilization Forces said the dead included his airport protocol officer, identifying him as Mohammed Reda.
A security official confirmed that seven people were killed in the attack on the airport, describing it as an airstrike. Previously, Iraq’s security media cell, which publishes information on Iraqi security, said Katyusha rockets landed near the airport cargo room, killing several people and burning fire to two cars.
It was unclear immediately who fired the missile or rockets or who was attacked. There was no immediate comment from the U.S.
The attack came amid tensions with the United States after a New Year’s Eve attack by Iranian-backed militias on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The two-day attack on the embassy that ended Wednesday led President Donald Trump to order some 750 U.S. troops deployed to the Middle East.
It also led Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to postpone his trip to Ukraine and four other countries “to continue monitoring the current situation in Iraq and ensuring the safety of Americans in the Middle East,” State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus said Wednesday.
The rape at the embassy followed U.S. airstrikes Sunday that killed 25 Fighters from Iraq’s Iran-backed militia, the Hezbollah Kataeb. The U.S. military said the attacks were in retaliation for the murder of a U.S. contractor last week in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that the United States blamed on the militia.
U.S. officials have suggested they were prepared to participate in further retaliatory attacks in Iraq.
“The game has changed,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Thursday, telling reporters that violent acts by Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq, including the December 27 rocket attack that killed an American, will be greeted with U.S. military force.
He said the Iraqi government has fallen below its obligation to defend its U.S. partner in the attack on the Us embassy.
The events also represent a major recession in Iraq-U.S. relations that could further undermine U.S. influence in the region and U.S. troops in Iraq and weaken Washington’s hand in its lobbying campaign against Iran.