Yesterday, 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 recent attacks on the United States Embassy in Baghdad as an example of the attacks on Americans that Soleimani took part in.
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.
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.
– United States Department of Defense
The military strike follows rocket attacks on the United States Embassy in Iran; 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) declared that Soleimani was “martyred” by the airstrike. The Daily Telegraph, citing local paramilitary groups, reported that the attack consisted of three rockets launched from helicopters.
Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, ordered a three day long 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.
– Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei
The United States Embassy in Iraq had suspended operations, and advised American citizens to leave the country immediately in its January 3 security alert. The office asked Americans not approach the embassy, and if in need for travel documents, use the consulate in Erbin.
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, which includes the Quds Force, a terrorist organization. The United States had also levied individual sanctions against al-Muhandis.