A US airstrike in Iraq near Baghdad International airport ordered by President Trump on Friday killed Iranian Major-General Qaseem Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. The deaths were confirmed by the Pentagon. “General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the US Department of Defense stated. “This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world.”
Qaseem Soleimani, a veteran of Iran-Iraq war, was the leader of the elite Revolutionary Guards’ Quds force that armed and trained Shiite militias in Iraq who were responsible for the deaths of thousands of American troops during Iraq War. He was responsible for “attacks on U.S.-led coalition bases in Iraq in recent months,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
General Soleimani is also believed to be behind the most recent attack in Northern Iraq by Kataib Hezbollah militia that killed a US contractor. The United States responded by launching missiles against militia bases in Syria and Iraq, killing 27 people. Pro-Iranian supporters of the militia, angered by this attack, tried to storm the US Embassy in Baghdad and set some outbuildings on fire.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Iraqi deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella for several militias, also died during a strike on a convoy in Baghdad. He was an adviser to Soleimani. Al-Muhandis kept close ties with Iran and founded Kataib Hezbollah, a pro-Iranian paramilitary group. “He has history with basically every major network Iran had in Iraq. You would not have found a stronger ideal,” said Phillip Smyth, a researcher that studied Shia Islamist militarism.
“The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism,” responded Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zafir, condemning the US strike that escalated a US-Iran conflict overnight. Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets on Friday to protest the killing of Soleimani, chanting “Death to deceitful America.” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared 3 days of national mourning for Soleimani, pledging to avenge the General. “His departure to God does not end his path or his mission, but a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands,” Ayatollah said in a statement.
This move sparked debates in the US, with several Democratic lawmakers accusing Trump of an attempt to start a war. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on President Trump to brief Congress on the details of the operation that can raise tensions in the Middle East. She criticized the decision of Trump administration to launch a strike without consultation with lawmakers. She warned that this will provoke “further dangerous escalation of violence.” “We’re now at a boiling point, and Congress must step in before Trump puts even more of our troops in harm’s way,” said Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA). Several Republicans supported Trump and welcomed bold actions of his administration against Iranian aggression. “No man alive was more directly responsible for the deaths of more American service members than Qassem Soleimani,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
The White House responded that their action was an attempt to stop a war, not start one. “Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel but we caught him in the act and terminated him,” Trump said to reporters. The US will send 3500 additional troops to the Middle East, US Defense officials confirmed. Meanwhile, the State Department issued a warning urging US citizens to depart Iraq immediately.