Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were killed early on Friday in an air strike on their convoy at Baghdad airport, an Iraqi militia spokesman told Reuters.
“The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani,” said Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces umbrella grouping of Iran-backed militias.
The Pentagon has confirmed it killed Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful general in Iraq, on the orders of Donald Trump.
Within an hour of news breaking that the head of Tehran’s elite Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, had been killed in an airstrike at Baghdad Airport, the US military said it had carried out the operation and claimed it acted to deter “future Iranian attack plans”.
“At the direction of the president, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani,” a Pentagon statement said.
“This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.”
It claimed that Soleimani, 62, who was the architect of Tehran’s proxy wars in the Middle East, had “orchestrated” attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the past few months and approved the attacks” on the US embassy in Baghdad earlier this week.
President Trump, who is currently at his Florida estate at Mar-a-Lago, did not immediately comment but tweeted an image of a US flag. The White House, meanwhile, shared the Pentagon’s statement.
Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, shared a video he said was of “Iraqis dancing in the street for freedom; thankful that General Soleimani is no more.”
The department of defence said: “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.”
Officials said the strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces.
A security official confirmed that seven people were killed in the attack on the airport, describing it as an airstrike. Earlier, Iraq’s Security Media Cell, which releases information regarding Iraqi security, said Katyusha rockets landed near the airport’s cargo hall, killing several people and setting two cars on fire.
The security official said the bodies of those killed in the airport attack Friday were burned and difficult to identify. The official added that Reda may have been at the airport to pick up a group of “high-level” visitors who had arrived from a neighboring country. He declined to provide more information.
The attack came amid tensions with the United States after a New Year’s Eve attack by Iran-backed militias on the US Embassy in Baghdad. The two-day embassy attack which ended Wednesday prompted Trump to order about 750 US soldiers deployed to the Middle East.
The breach at the embassy followed US airstrikes on Sunday that killed 25 fighters of the Iran-backed militia in Iraq, the Kataeb Hezbollah. The US military said the strikes were in retaliation for last week’s killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that the US blamed on the militia.
US officials had earlier suggested they were prepared to engage in further retaliatory attacks in Iraq.