In a stunning move that many analysts are calling a potential “turning point” in U.S.-Iran relations, President Trump ordered an airstrike early Friday in Iraq that killed an Iranian general that the U.S. State Department says is ultimately responsible for operations leading to 17 precent of all deaths of U.S. personnel during the Iraq War.
Qasem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, was reportedly killed in a strategic strike at Baghdad International Airport early Friday along with at least seven other military officials.
As reported by Fox News, the State Department announced in April 2019 that Iran was responsible for the deaths of 608 U.S. soldiers during the Iraq War (2003 to 2011).
“Soleimani was the head of the Iranian and Iranian-backed forces carrying out those operations killing American troops,” Fox News reports. “According to the State Department, 17 percent of all deaths of U.S. personnel in Iraq from 2003 to 2011 were orchestrated by Soleimani.”
“U.S. officials say the Guard under Soleimani taught Iraqi militants how to manufacture and use especially deadly roadside bombs against U.S. troops after the invasion of Iraq,” The Associated Press reports. Iran has denied the claim.
The New York Times highlights the significance of the targeting of Soleimani: “It is not just that he was in charge of Iranian intelligence gathering and covert military operations, and regarded as one of its most cunning and autonomous military figures. He was also believed to be very close to the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — and seen as a potential future leader of Iran.”
Another key Iranian military leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a group of Iran-backed militias, was also killed in the strike Friday, according to multiple reports.
“The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani,” a PMF spokesman said.
Sources told AP that the strike occurred just as Muhandis was greeting the newly arrived Soleimani at the airport. The general had reportedly flown from either Syria or Lebanon.
The Defense Department has since confirmed the death of Soleimani in a statement issued late Thursday:
At the direction of the president, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.
General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more. He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months – including the attack on December 27th – culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel. General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week.
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.
The strike targeting the Iranian military leaders followed an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad orchestrated by Iran-backed militias in retaliation for U.S. strategic airstrikes on five Kataeb Hezbollah facilities on Sunday that killed some 25 of the group’s fighters. Those airstrikes were ordered in response to the Iran-backed group attacking an Iraqi base and killing an American contractor.
Following the two-day siege of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad Tuesday and Wednesday, spray-painted messages on the wall of the embassy read, “Soleimani is our leader.”
“Soleimani is our leader,” written under window by Iran-backed militiamen pic.twitter.com/o6CjW08VSi
— Lucas Tomlinson (@LucasFoxNews) January 2, 2020