By Alison Chung, news reporter
The killing of a top Iranian general during a US airstrike on Baghdad airport has been condemned by Iran as “an extremely dangerous and foolish escalation”.
The Pentagon confirmed US forces killed General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force and spearhead of Iran’s spreading military influence in the Middle East, in Iraq on Friday.
Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) and an adviser to Gen Soleimani, was also killed during the strike.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a post on Twitter: “The US’ act of international terrorism, targeting & assassinating General Soleimani… is extremely dangerous & a foolish escalation. The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also warned that a “harsh retaliation” is waiting for the US.
The Pentagon said the strike was carried out “at the direction” of President Donald Trump, who several hours after the attack tweeted an image of the American flag.
“This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans,” the Pentagon said in a statement, adding that the US would continue to take necessary action to protect Americans and interests around the world.
More from Iran
Image: The strike was ordered by Donald Trump
The Pentagon said Gen Soleimani 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.
The airstrike was conducted by an armed US drone, according to a US official. Gen Soleimani’s vehicle was struck on an access road near the Baghdad airport.
A senior Iraqi security official said the airstrike took place near the cargo area after Gen Soleimani left his plane to be greeted by al Muhandis and others. The plane had arrived from either Lebanon or Syria.
An Iranian politician said Gen Soleimani’s body was identified by the ring he wore. An official from the PMF said they did not find the body of al Muhandis.
It is unclear what legal authority the US relied on to carry out the attack. American presidents claim broad authority to act without congressional approval when US personnel or interests are facing an imminent threat.
Image: The two-day embassy attack ended on Wednesday
The attack comes amid tensions with the US after the New Year’s Eve attack by Iran-backed militias on the US Embassy in Baghdad.
The two-day embassy attack which ended on Wednesday prompted President Donald Trump to order the deployment of around 750 US soldiers 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 Sunday 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.
Gen Soleimani, who led the foreign arm of the Revolutionary Guards and had a key role in fighting in Syria and Iraq, acquired celebrity status at home and abroad.
He was instrumental in the spread of Iranian influence in the Middle East, which the US and Tehran’s regional foes Saudi Arabia and Israel have struggled to keep in check.
He had survived several assassination attempts against him by Western, Israeli and Arab agencies over the past two decades.
His Quds Force, tasked with carrying out operations beyond Iran’s borders, shored up support for Syrian President Bashar al Assad when he looked close to defeat in the civil war and also helped militias defeat Islamic State in Iraq.
Image: Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, deputy commander of the Popular Mobilisation Forces , was also killed
Former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Hayley tweeted: “Qassem Soleimani was an arch terrorist with American blood on his hands. His demise should be applauded by all who seek peace and justice.
“Proud of President Trump for doing the strong and right thing.”
Mohsen Rezaei, former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, wrote on Twitter: “He [Soleimani] joined his martyred brothers, but we will take vigorous revenge on America.”
Funerals for the two men will take place on Saturday.
More to follow…
Source : Sky News