The Pentagon said it targeted and killed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani two days after dozens of Iran-backed protesters demonstrating against Sunday airstrikes targeting Kataib Hezbollah weapons depots stormed the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad.
Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency published a piece early Thursday quoting Soleimani addressing a gathering that day in Ahvaz. “The Iranian nation has not started war in the past incidents but it annihilates any aggressor and the U.S. is aware of this,” he said. “We are powerful and ready for defeating the U.S. several other times and we are not worried about the U.S. threats and it is them who should be worried.”
Iraqi state TV said the convoy of Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was hit by an airstrike in the pre-dawn hours Friday at Baghdad airport, killing both along with some of their militia escorts.
The IRGC, charged with zealously guarding and advancing the principles of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. in April. The IRGC includes the domestic-centered Basij militia, which has violently suppressed peaceful protests against the regime, and the Quds Force, which concentrates on operations abroad.
Soleimani, 62, had been commander of the IRGC Quds Force since 1998. Iran announced three days of national mourning in his honor.
A Pentagon statement said 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,” DoD continued. “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.”
President Trump tweeted an image of an American flag shortly after the Pentagon announcement, as “World War 3” and “WWIII” trended on Twitter.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, praised Soleimani as “an eminent example of a person trained in Islam” and vowed that “a #SevereRevenge awaits the criminals who have stained their hands with his & the other martyrs’ blood last night.”
“All friends—& enemies—know that Jihad of Resistance will continue with more motivation & definite victory awaits the fighters on this blessed path,” Khamenei added in a statement to the nation also posted on his English-language Twitter account. “The loss of our dear General is bitter. The continuing fight & ultimate victory will be more bitter for the murderers & criminals.”
“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,” tweeted Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif. “The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.”
Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr also released a statement announcing the revival of the anti-U.S. Mahdi Army, saying they needed to be ready to defend Iraq.