The United States has assassinated Iranian commander Major General Qassem Soleimani in a major escalation of the conflict between Iran and the United States, which now threatens to engulf Iraq and the Middle East. President Trump authorized the drone strike that killed Soleimani at the Baghdad International Airport and four other people, including a high-level Iraqi militia chief, Thursday night U.S. time, Friday morning in Baghdad.
General Soleimani has long been one of the most powerful figures in Iran. He was the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force — Iran’s powerful foreign military force, similar to a combination of the CIA and U.S. Special Forces. Iran called Soleimani’s assassination an act of “international terrorism.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said, “The U.S. bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.” The Pentagon said, “General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” The Pentagon did not offer evidence of an upcoming planned attack.
Democratic lawmakers slammed the assassination as unconstitutional, as Trump did not have congressional authority to carry out the strike. Connecticut Democratic lawmaker Chris Murphy tweeted, “Did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?”
Both Presidents Obama and George W. Bush had rejected the idea of killing Soleimani, out of fears it would lead to outright war between the U.S. and Iran. This is Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaking after the assassination.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: “If the Islamic Republic decides to challenge and fight a country, it will do so unequivocally. We are strongly committed to our country’s interests and our peace. We are strongly committed to the dignity of our country. We are strongly committed to the progress and greatness of our country. And if anyone threatens that, we will, without any hesitation, confront it and strike it.”
The targeted assassination came after members of an Iranian-backed militia and its supporters attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and set fire to a gatehouse, in response to a slew of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria that killed two dozen members of the Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kata’ib Hezbollah. These strikes were in retaliation to the killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack in Kirkuk, Iraq, one week ago. The head of the Kata’ib Hezbollah, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was also killed in the drone strike.
The New York Times reports General Soleimani had flown into Baghdad from Syria in order to urge Iranian-backed militias in Iraq to do more to stop the wave of anti-Iran protests that have swept Iraq in recent months. The militias are already accused of killing and disappearing protesters and human rights activists who are demanding an end to corruption and foreign influence on Iraqi politics.
The Pentagon has sent more than 14,000 American troops to the region since May. The United States is now warning Americans to leave Iraq immediately. The attack has sparked fear and alarm in Iraq and across the world. France’s deputy minister for foreign affairs said this morning, “We are waking up in a more dangerous world.” Tensions between the United States and Iran have been escalating since President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the landmark Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and imposed crushing economic sanctions on Iran. We’ll have more on the United States’ assassination of Suleimani — one of the most powerful figures in Iran — after headlines.