A US drone strike ordered by President Donald Trump on Baghdad airport has killed a top Iranian commander, in a major escalation in regional tensions that have pitted Tehran against Washington and its allies in the Middle East.
The Pentagon on Thursday confirmed a strike killed Qasem Soleimani, who as head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force became the architect of Tehran’s proxy conflicts in the Middle East. A US defense official told CNN the strike was carried out with a drone.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis — the deputy head of the Iran-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) — was also killed, according to a statement from the PMF, which said the pair “were martyred by an American strike.”
The Trump administration viewed Soleimani as a ruthless killer and the Pentagon on Thursday blamed him for hundreds of deaths of Americans and their allies in several attacks in recent months.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the Iran-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), left, and Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force unit, right, were killed in the US strike. Credit: CNN
“General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the Pentagon said in a statement, calling the strike “decisive defensive” action aimed at deterring future Iranian attacks.
The Pentagon blamed Soleimani and his Quds Force for attacks on coalition bases in Iraq in recent months, including the December 27 strike that culminated in the deaths of an American contractor and Iraqi personnel. He was also blamed for the December 31 US embassy attack in Baghdad, and in addition to the hundreds killed in his time as a commander, thousands more were wounded, the Pentagon said.
A US official told CNN the strike had presidential authorization and was a “target of opportunity.”
The US opted for a pre-emptive option after the previous “maximum pressure” moves didn’t change the Iranian pattern of behavior, the official said.