Won’t mourn Qasem Soleimani’s death, says Biden but warns of retaliation
The United States military said on Thursday that it had killed Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force (IRGC), at the direction of President Donald Trump to prevent him from carrying out alleged attacks on American personnel in Iraq and the region.
Iraqi television first reported the killing of Soleimani saying he was hit near the Baghdad airport, along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an Iraqi militia commander.
Details of the airstrike were awaited at the time of reporting.
Soleimani was considered the second most powerful man in the Iranian government after the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Watch: Qasem Soleimani killed by a US air strike, all you need to know
A retaliatory response was expected from Iran, which could potentially plunge West Asia, an area already on the edge, into a military conflict with severe implications for oil prices.
“At the direction of the President, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani,” the US department of defence said in a statement late on Thursday, adding, IRGC-QF was a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organisation.
The Pentagon said Soleimani was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region”.
It went on to hold him responsible for “the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more”.
The Pentagon said Soleimani had orchestrated multiple attacks on US-led coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months — including the attack on December 27 — culminating in the death of and injuries to additional American and Iraqi personnel.
“General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the US Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week,” it said.
The US defence department said the airstrike “aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans” and warned that it will continue to “take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world”.
The United States designated IRGC a foreign terrorist organisation in April, making it the first government agency so proscribed by the US. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had declared Soleimani a terrorist shortly after, setting him up as a possible military target.
“He’s a terrorist. Qasem Soleimani has the blood of Americans on his hands, as do the forces he leads,” Pompeo told Fox news. “America is determined each time we find an organisation, institution or an individual that has taken the lives of individuals, it is our responsibility to reduce that risk.”
The Iranian general’s killing quickly became political with the president’s rivals. “No American will mourn Qassem Soleimani’s passing,” said former vice-president Joe Biden in a statement. “He deserved to be brought to justice for his crimes against American troops and thousands of innocents throughout the region. He supported terror and sowed chaos.”
But Biden, who is the top contender for the Democratic nomination to take on Trump in November, added, “None of that negates the fact that this is a hugely escalatory move in an already dangerous region.” Serious concerns were expressed by others of a retaliatory strike from Iran.
Experts were unanimous about an impending response but they were unsure about the time, place or magnitude.