President Donald Trump has ordered an airstrike that killed Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani, the powerful head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, at Baghdad International Airport, the Pentagon confirmed.
The strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, which were responsible for the recent attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, officials said.
The audacious airstrike is a potential turning point in the Middle East as the U.S. and Iran teeter on the brink of all-out war, and is expected to draw severe retaliation from Iran and and its regional Shiite allies against Israel and American interests.
A Pentagon statement issued to DailyMail.com late Thursday, Washington DC time, said: ‘At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Quasem Soleimani.’
Soon after news of the strike spread, Trump, who is currently at Mar-a-Lago, tweeted an image of an American flag, offering no further remarks or explanation.
Iran called the strike an act of ‘international terrorism’ and the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed that ‘harsh revenge is waiting for the criminals’ who killed Soleimani.
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Qassem Soleimani (left), the powerful head of Iran’s Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (right), the deputy commander of Iran-backed PMF militias in Iraq, have been killed by a US airstrike in Baghdad
Social media photos show burning wreckage of the US airstrike on two cars at Baghdad International Airport. Iranian officials and pro-Iran militia members were among those killed
Full Pentagon statement on US strike that killed Soleimani
The Department of Defense sent the following statement to DailyMail.com:
‘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 attack unfolded in a precision strike on two cars that were carrying Soleiman and Iraq-based PMF militiamen who were picking him up from the airport.
Soleiman had reportedly just arrived to Baghdad on a flight from Syria. Airport logs show a Cham Air flight arriving from Damascus at 12.34am Friday Baghdad time, but it’s unclear whether Soleiman was on that commercial flight or a private charter.
Four precision missiles fired from a U.S. drone struck the two black Hyundai cars carrying Soleiman and his entourage, according to U.S. officials. The cars were struck on an access road near the Baghdad airport.
Two officials from the PMF said Suleimani’s body was torn to pieces in the attack, while they did not find the body of al-Muhandis.
A senior politician said Soleimani’s body was identified by the ring he wore. Photos from the scene show a hand with large ring that looks identical to one Soleiman is seen wearing in old photos.
The Defense Department said that the airstrike was justified to protect American lives.
‘General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,’ the Pentagon statement said.
The statement added that Soleimani ‘orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months’ including the embassy assault.
Soleiman had just arrived on a flight from Syria, and was in a car leaving the airport when missiles from a US drone killed him
A senior politician said Soleimani’s body was identified by the ring (above) he often wore
Iran condemns strike and vows ‘vigorous revenge’
Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, responded in a statement calling the U.S. strike an act of terrorism.
‘The US’ act of international terrorism, targeting & assassinating General Soleimani—THE most effective force fighting Daesh (ISIS), Al Nusrah, Al Qaeda et al—is extremely dangerous & a foolish escalation,’ Zarif said.
‘The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism,’ he continued.
An advisor to Iran´s President Hassan Rouhani quickly warned of retaliation imminent from Tehran.
‘Trump through his gamble has dragged the U.S. into the most dangerous situation in the region,’ advisor Hessameddin Ashena wrote on the social media app Telegram. ‘Whoever put his foot beyond the red line should be ready to face its consequences.’
A former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Mohsen Rezaei, on Friday vowed ‘vigorous revenge against America’ for the airstrike.
‘Martyr Lieutenant General Qassem Suleimani joined his martyred brothers, but we will take vigorous revenge on America,’ Rezaei, who is now the secretary of a powerful state body, said in a post on Twitter.
ISIS and Al Qaeda are Sunni factions that are bitterly opposed to Shiite Iran, which sponsors anti-Sunni militant groups throughout the region.
Iran’s foreign minister responded in a statement calling the U.S. strike an act of terrorism
This photo released by the Iraqi Prime Minister Press Office shows a burning vehicle at the Baghdad International Airport following an airstrike, in Baghdad, Iraq, early Friday
Soleimani (right) is seen attending a religious ceremony with Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a file photo. Soleimani was immensely popular in Iran
Democrats chastise Trump for killing Soleimani without permission from Congress
Top Democrats, while condemning Soleimani, warned that that the airstrike had the potential to set off a war, and chastised Trump for not seeking congressional approval.
‘Tonight’s action represents a massive escalation in our conflict with Iran with unpredictable consequence,’ said House Foreign Committee Chair Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, in a statement.
‘To push ahead with an action of this gravity without involving Congress raises serious legal problems and is an affront to Congress’s powers as a coequal branch of government,’ Engel said.
‘Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. That’s not a question,’ said Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, in a statement.
‘The question is this – as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?’ Murphy said.
Andrew Yang was the first of the Democratic presidential candidates to react to the strike, tweeting: ‘War with Iran is the last thing we need and is not the will of the American people. We should be acting to deescalate tensions and protect our people in the region.’
Joe Biden said in a statement that ‘President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox.’
‘The Administration’s statement says that its goal is to deter future attacks by Iran, but this action almost certainly will have the opposite effect,’ Biden said.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, tweeted: ‘Soleimani was a murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans. But this reckless move escalates the situation with Iran and increases the likelihood of more deaths and new Middle East conflict. Our priority must be to avoid another costly war.’
Trump’s allies rushed to his defense, however, including Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican.
‘Soleimani was one of the most ruthless and vicious members of the Ayatollah’s regime. He had American blood on his hands,’ said Graham in a tweet.
‘If Iranian aggression continues and I worked at an Iranian oil refinery, I would think about a new career,’ he continued ominously.
Trump’ campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in an interview with Fox News that the killing of Soleimani is the ‘greatest foreign policy accomplishment, I would say, of the decade, if not our lifetime’.
The Pentagon said Thursday that the U.S. military has killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, at the direction of President Donald Trump
Still images from bystander video show the burning wreckage after the airstike
Experts say that the killing of Soleimani will be viewed by Iran as a massive military provocation. ‘The pressure to retaliate will be immense,’ tweeted Middle East scholar and John Hopkins professor Vali Nasr.
‘Soleimani had cult hero status within IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) and among Shia militias in the region, and was personally the most popular regime figure in Iran,’ said Nasr.
The U.S. missiles landed near the air cargo terminal, burning two vehicles, killing at least seven and injuring several people.
PMF officials said five of their members and two ‘guests’ were killed in the airstrike on their vehicles inside Baghdad International Airport.
The vehicles were reportedly receiving passengers from an airplane that had just landed in Baghdad after a flight from Syria.
The PMF official said the dead also included its 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.
An official with the PMF quickly blamed the U.S. military for the strike. ‘The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani,’ said Ahmed al-Assadi, a PMF spokesman.
A PMF official said the dead also included its airport protocol officer, identifying him as Mohammed Reda (above)
The aftermath of the rocket attack is seen above at Baghdad International Airport
The airport is seen in a file photo. The rocket attack targeted two cars carrying passengers from a plane that had just arrived from Syria
Qassem Soleimani headed Iran’s external military arm whose reach extended throughout Middle East
Qassem Soleimani headed the Quds Force, the external arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards that conducted operations outside of Iran
Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed Friday in a US strike, was one of the most popular figures in Iran and seen as a deadly adversary by America and its allies.
As the head of the Quds, or Jersualem, Force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, Soleimani led all of its expeditionary forces.
Quds Force members have deployed into Syria’s long war to support President Bashar Assad, as well as into Iraq in the wake of the 2003 US invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, a longtime foe of Tehran.
Soleimani rose to prominence by advising forces fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and in Syria on behalf of the embattled Bashar Assad.
US officials say the Guard under Soleimani taught Iraqi militants how to manufacture and use especially deadly roadside bombs against US troops after the invasion of Iraq.
Iran has denied that.
Soleimani himself remains popular among 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 airplane crash that killed other military officials in northwestern Iran and following a 2012 bombing in Damascus that killed top aides of Assad.
Rumors circulated in November 2015 that Soleimani was killed or seriously wounded leading forces loyal to Assad as they fought around Syria’s Aleppo.
Soleimani has been in and out of Baghdad in recent years.
Last month, he tried to broker agreements as Iraqi parties struggled to form a new government.
Where once he kept to the shadows, Soleimani has in recent years become an unlikely celebrity in Iran – replete with a huge following on Instagram.
His profile rose suddenly when he was pushed forward as the public face of Iran’s intervention in the Syrian conflict from 2013, appearing in battlefield photos, documentaries – and even being featured in a music video and animated film.
Soleimani was considered the man mostly responsible for exerting Iranian influence on the Middle East, including countries like Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen
In a rare interview aired on Iranian state television in October, he said he was in Lebanon during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war to oversee the conflict.
To his fans and enemies alike, Soleimani was the key architect of Iran’s regional influence, leading the fight against jihadist forces and extending Iran’s diplomatic heft in Iraq, Syria and beyond.
‘To Middle Eastern Shiites, he is James Bond, Erwin Rommel and Lady Gaga rolled into one,’ wrote former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack in a profile for Time’s 100 most influential people in 2017.
‘To the West, he is… responsible for exporting Iran’s Islamic revolution, supporting terrorists, subverting pro-Western governments and waging Iran’s foreign wars,’ Pollack added.
With Iran roiled by protests and economic problems at home, and the US once again mounting pressure from the outside, some Iranians had even called for Soleimani to enter domestic politics.
While he has dismissed rumors he might one day run for president, the general has played a decisive role in the politics of Iran’s neighbor, Iraq.
As well as talks on forming a government, he was pivotal in pressuring Iraq’s Kurds to abandon their plans for independence after an ill-judged referendum last September.
His influence has deep roots, since Soleimani was already leading the Quds Force when the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001.
‘My Iranian interlocutors on Afghanistan made clear that while they kept the foreign ministry informed, ultimately it was General Soleimani that would make the decisions,’ former US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker told the BBC in 2013.
Relatively unknown in Iran until the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Soleimani’s popularity and mystique grew out American officials calling for his killing.
By the time it came a decade and a half later, Soleimani had become Iran’s most recognizable battlefield commander, ignoring calls to enter politics but becoming as powerful, if not more, than its civilian leadership.
‘The warfront is mankind’s lost paradise,’ Soleimani recounted in a 2009 interview.
‘One type of paradise that is portrayed for mankind is streams, beautiful nymphs and greeneries.
‘But there is another kind of paradise. … The warfront was the lost paradise of the human beings, indeed.’
His firm but quiet presence play perfectly to the Iranian penchant for dignified humility.
‘He sits over there on the other side of room, by himself, in a very quiet way. Doesn’t speak, doesn’t comment, just sits and listens. And so of course everyone is thinking only about him,’ a senior Iraqi official told the New Yorker for a long profile of Soleimani.
This image posted on the website of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (seen far left), shows Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (center) and Soleimani at a ceremony commemorating the death of the Shiite prophet Hussein in September
A survey published in 2018 by IranPoll and the University of Maryland – one of the few considered reliable by analysts – found Soleimani had a popularity rating of 83 percent, beating President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Western leaders saw him as central to Iran’s ties with militia groups including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas.
Soleimani is also thought to have been the point man for Iran’s foreign policy in places like Afghanistan and the Caucasus region.
Part of his appeal was the suggestion he might bridge Iran’s bitter social divides on issues such as its strict ‘hijab’ clothing rules.
‘If we constantly use terms such as “bad hijab” and “good hijab”, reformist or conservative… then who is left?’ Soleimani said in a speech to mark World Mosque Day in 2017.
‘They are all people. Are all your children religious? Is everybody the same? No, but the father attracts all of them.’
While Soleimani rose in the ranks to be one of the most powerful figures in the Islamic Republic, he was not known to be a religious man.
He never received a religious education. Instead, he rose through the ranks of the military after the Islamic Revolution.
A father of five, the 61-year-old Soleimani rarely gave media interviews.
But there are a few details about his life that are public knowledge.
Born March 11, 1957, Soleimani was said in his homeland to have grown up near the mountainous and the historic Iranian town of Rabor, famous for its forests, its apricot, walnut and peach harvests and its brave soldiers.
The State Department has said he was born in the Iranian religious capital of Qom.
Little is known about his childhood, though Iranian accounts suggest Soleimani’s father was a peasant who received a piece of land under the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, but later became encumbered by debts.
By the time he was 13, Soleimani began working in construction, later as an employee of the Kerman Water Organization.
Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution swept the shah from power and Soleimani joined the Revolutionary Guard in its wake.
He deployed to Iran’s northwest with forces that put down Kurdish unrest following the revolution.
Soon after, Iraq invaded Iran and began the two countries long, bloody eight-year war.
Soleimani is seen above in February 2016 during an annual rally commemorating the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Tehran
The fighting killed more than 1 million people and saw Iran send waves of lightly armed troops into minefields and the fire of Iraqi forces, including teenage soldiers.
Solemani’s unit and others came under attack by Iraqi chemical weapons as well.
Amid the carnage, Soleimani became known for his opposition to ‘meaningless deaths’ on the battlefield, while still weeping at times with fervor when exhorting his men into combat, embracing each individually.
It is not known if he participated in the mass demonstrations that eventually led to the ouster of the shah in 1979.
After the Islamic Republic came to be, Soleimani joined the Iranian Revolutionary Guards – a military force separate from the army.
Soleimani’s charisma propelled him to the senior officer ranks. In 1998, he was named commander of the Quds Force.
‘Quds’ is the Persian word for Jerusalem, which the Iranians have vowed to liberate.
It was first established during the Iran-Iraq conflict with the goal of helping the Kurds in their struggle against Saddam Hussein.
Another key function of the Quds Force was to spread the Islamic regime’s message to the Iranian military – a necessity at the time given that there were fears the army would turn against the government.
The Quds Force eventually started to train military outfits outside of Iran, like Hezbollah in Lebanon.
In secret US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, US officials openly discussed Iraqi efforts to reach out to Soleimani to stop rocket attacks on the highly secured Green Zone in Baghdad in 2009.
Soleimani fought in the bloody, eight-year Iran-Iraq war. The image above from 1980 shows an Iranian Revolutionary Guard weeping by the body of his brother in Kermanshah Province
Another cable in 2007 outlines then-Iraqi President Jalal Talabani offering a US official a message from Soleimani acknowledging having ‘hundreds’ of agents in the country while pledging, ‘I swear on the grave of (the late Ayatollah Ruhollah) Khomeini I haven´t authorized a bullet against the US.’
US officials at the time dismissed Soleimani’s claim as they saw Iran as both an arsonist and a fireman in Iraq, controlling some Shiite militias while simultaneously stirring dissent and launching attacks.
US forces would blame the Quds Force for an attack in Karbala that killed five American troops, as well as for training and supplying the bomb makers whose improvised explosive devices made IED – improvised explosive device – a dreaded acronym among soldiers.
In a 2010 speech, US General David Petreaus recounted a message from Soleimani he said explained the scope of Iranian’s powers.
‘He said, “General Petreaus, you should know that I, Qassem Soleimani, control the policy for Iran with respect to Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan”,’ Petraeus said.
The US and the United Nations put Soleimani on sanctions lists in 2007, though his travels continued.
In 2011, US officials also named him as a defendant in an outlandish Quds Force plot to allegedly hire a purported Mexican drug cartel assassin to kill a Saudi diplomat.
But his greatest notoriety would arise from the Syrian civil war and the rapid expansion of the Islamic State group.
Iran, a major backer of Assad, sent Soleimani into Syria several times to lead attacks against IS and others opposing Assad’s rule.
While a US-led coalition focused on airstrikes, several ground victories for Iraqi forces came with photographs emerging of Soleimani leading, never wearing a flak jacket.
‘Soleimani has taught us that death is the beginning of life, not the end of life,’ one Iraqi militia commander said.
Sources: Associated Press, AFP, Haaretz
Earlier, Iraq’s Security Media Cell, which releases information regarding Iraqi security, incorrectly said Katyusha rockets landed near the airport’s cargo hall, killing several people and setting two cars on fire. Katyusha multiple-rocket launchers are ground-based Soviet-era weapons used by multiple local factions.
The security official said the bodies of those killed in the airport attack Friday were burned and difficult to identify.
The official added that Reda may have been at the airport to pick up a group of ‘high-level’ visitors who had arrived from a neighboring country. He declined to provide more information.
The attack came amid tensions with the United States after a New Year’s Eve attack by Iran-backed militias on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
The two-day embassy attack which ended Wednesday prompted Trump to order about 750 U.S. soldiers immediately deployed to the Middle East, with thousands more put on alert for imminent deployment.
Secretary Pomepeo called al-Muhandis, who was killed in the strike, a terrorist who was responsible for the attack on the US embassy in Baghdad
A security guard’s hut window has been badly damaged by the rioters as smoke spews from fires set around the compound on Tuesday, with protesters waving flags of the militias part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Many are supported by Iran.
US Marines with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines reinforce the Baghdad Embassy Compound in Iraq on Thursday after violent attacks by pro-Iran forces
The breach at the embassy followed U.S. airstrikes on Sunday that killed 25 fighters of the Iran-backed militia in Iraq, the Kataeb Hezbollah.
The U.S. military said the strikes were in retaliation for last week’s killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that the U.S. blamed on the militia.
U.S. officials have suggested they were prepared to engage 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 rocket attack on December 27 that killed one American – will be met with U.S. military force.
He said the Iraqi government has fallen short of its obligation to defend its American partner in the attack on the U.S. embassy.
The developments also represent a major downturn in Iraq-U.S. relations that could further undermine U.S. influence in the region and American troops in Iraq and weaken Washington´s hand in its pressure campaign against Iran.
Timeline of escalating tensions between US and Iran
May 2018: Trump withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal which was drawn up in 2015 under President Obama.
August 2018: The Trump Administration imposes first round of sanctions, prohibit trade with a number of business sectors
November 2018: The Trump Administrations imposes a second round of sanctions which target oil and banking industries. The sanctions have a crippling effect on the Iranian economy
April 2019: Trump designates one arm of the Iranian military as a ‘terrorist group’ – an inflammatory move that prompts the Iran to hit back and call the US a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’
May 2019: Four tankers – including two belonging to US ally Saudi Arabia – are struck and damaged in the Gulf of Oman. The US blames Iran for the attack
May 2019: A rocket lands near the US embassy in Baghdad, prompting Trump to tweet ‘If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!’
June 2019: Iran shoots down a US surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz. An enraged Trump who considers launching airstrikes in retaliation
July 2019: Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said that if any more American drones violated Iranian airspace ‘then they will receive the same response’ as the one that was blasted out of the sky the previous month
July 2019: Additional troops and fighter jets are put in place in the Middle East ‘to defend American forces and interests’ amid escalating tension
September 2019: Iran is blamed for an attack on two Saudi oil fields responsible for five percent of the global oil supply – or about 5.7 million barrels per day. Secretary of State Pompeo described the attack as ‘an act of war’
September 2019: US national security officials reportedly presented President Trump with a ‘menu’ of options that include military strikes and cyber attacks
November 2019: Rocket attacks increase on Iraqi military bases which are hosting American service personnel. Intelligence officials believe Hezbollah is behind the attacks
December 27, 2019: US blames pro-Iran militias for a rocket attack on a military base in Iraq that killed an American contractor
December 31, 2019: Pro-Iran militiamen lead an attack on the US embassy in Baghdad, which US officials say was orchestrated by Iran.
January 3, 2019: US airstrike kills Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani, the powerful head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, at Baghdad International Airport.
Source: Daily Mail