United States military kills Qasem Soleimani

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Sunday, January 5, 2020

Thursday, United States military forces killed Qasem Soleimani, head of Iran's Quds Force, in an airstrike. The United States called its actions defensive in nature, pointing to the December 31 attack on the United States Embassy in Baghdad as an example of the attacks on U.S. citizens that Soleimani took part in.

Soleimani in 2019

The United States carried out the airstrike at Baghdad International Airport, where Soleimani was arriving by plane. He was being met by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was also killed in the airstrike. al-Muhandis was the deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an Iranian-backed militia. Other victims included a Kataeb Hezbollah official and Mohammed Reda, an airport protocol officer. The Daily Telegraph, citing local paramilitary groups, reported that the attack consisted of three rockets launched from helicopters.

In a statement released after the attack, the United States Department of Defense justified the strike, which was approved by President Donald Trump, as "defensive" in nature: "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 Islamic 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 military strike follows rocket attacks on the United States Embassy in Iraq; Business Insider reported that the rocket strikes were carried out by sympathizers of the PMF. In a statement following the attack, Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for the PMF, blamed both Israel and the United States for the attack. As of January 3, no evidence of Israeli involvement has been reported.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which includes the Quds Force, declared that Soleimani was "martyred" by the airstrike. Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, ordered three days of public mourning after the strike. In his message, he appreciated Soleimani's lifepath: "He was a stellar example of those educated and nurtured in Islam and the school of Imam Khomeini (ra). He spent his entire life engaging in jihad in the path of God. Martyrdom was his reward for years of implacable efforts [...] Shahid Soleymani is the international face of the resistance and all who have a heart-felt connection to the resistance seek his blood revenge."

In his statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu found the air strike justified and called Trump's order swift, forceful and decisive.

The United States Embassy in Iraq had suspended operations, and advised U.S. citizens to leave the country immediately in its January 3 security alert. The office asked U.S. citizens not approach the Embassy, and if in need for travel documents, to use the consulate in Erbil.

Adil Abdul-Mahdi, the acting Prime Minister of Iraq, spoke out against the attack, calling it "an aggression on Iraq as a state, government and people" as well as a violation of the rules relating to the presence of United States troops in Iraq.

In 2007, the United States government labeled Soleimani as a terrorist and levied sanctions against him. He was further sanctioned in 2011 in relation to a plot to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States. Last April, the United States Department of State also designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization. The United States had also levied individual sanctions against al-Muhandis.

This story has updates
See Iraqi Parliament votes for expulsion of United States troops, January 6, 2020,
Stampede during funeral procession of Qasem Soleimani causes deaths, delays burial, January 9, 2020