Hours after Iranian Revolutionary Guard Maj. General Qasem Soleimani was killed in an airstrike on the Baghdad International Airport following US President Donald Trump’s order, Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei said ‘a harsh retaliation is waiting’. Following this, Soleimani’s deputy Brigadier Esmail Ghaani was named the new chief of Iran’s Quds Force.
“All Enemies should know that the jihad of resistance will continue with a doubled motivation, and a definite victory awaits the fighters in the holy war,” Khamenei said in a statement carried by TV, Reuters reported. He also declared three days of mourning in the country.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also said the move by the US was “an extremely dangerous and foolish escalation.”
Issuing a statement on the airstrike, the US Department of Defense 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.”
Confirming the same, the White House tweeted, “At the direction of the President, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.”
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 Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) January 3, 2020
Responding to this, Zarif posted on the micro-blogging site: “The US’ act of international terrorism, targeting and assassinating General Soleimani—THE most effective force fighting Daesh (ISIS), Al Nusrah, Al Qaeda et al—is extremely dangerous & a foolish escalation. The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.”
The US’ act of international terrorism, targeting & assassinating General Soleimani—THE most effective force fighting Daesh (ISIS), Al Nusrah, Al Qaeda et al—is extremely dangerous & a foolish escalation.
The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 3, 2020
US President Donald Trump, in a series of tweets, claimed that although Iran would not admit it, Soleimani was both hated and feared within the country, and hence Iran’s people were not as saddened as the leaders wanted the outside world to believe. “While Iran will never be able to properly admit it, Soleimani was both hated and feared within the country. They are not nearly as saddened as the leaders will let the outside world believe. He should have been taken out many years ago!” Trump wrote on Friday.
He added, “General Qassem Soleimani has killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more… but got caught! He was, directly and indirectly, responsible for the death of millions of people, including the recent large number of protesters killed in Iran itself.”
The killing of Soleimani could further strain ties between Iran and US and escalate President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against the former, which began with economic sanctions but has steadily moved into the military arena.
The strike also comes a day after Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper warned that the United States military would pre-emptively strike Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria if there were signs the paramilitary groups were planning more attacks against U.S. bases and personnel in the region.
“If we get word of attacks, we will take pre-emptive action as well to protect American forces, protect American lives,” Esper said, adding, “The game has changed.”
Besides Soleimani, the strike also killed five people, including the pro-Iranian chief of an umbrella group for Iraqi militias, Iraqi television reported and militia officials confirmed. The militia chief, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was a strongly pro-Iranian figure.
Mohammed Ridha Jabri, the public relations chief for the umbrella group, the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, was also killed in the incident.
Two other people were killed in the strike, according to an officer at the Baghdad joint command.
According to a general with the Iraqi Joint Command, Soleimani and Ridha, the militia public relations official arrived by plane from Syria at the Baghdad airport when two cars stopped at the bottom of the airplane steps and picked them up. Al-Muhandis was in one of the cars.
As the two cars left the airport, they were bombed, the general said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The strike was the second attack at the airport within hours. An earlier attack, late Thursday, involved three rockets that did not appear to have caused any injuries.
On Tuesday, thousands of pro-Iranian demonstrators ended a siege that had trapped US diplomats in the embassy compound overnight. The demonstrators had swarmed outside the embassy, chanting “Death to America!” Read: ‘Death to America’: What happened in Tehran on November 4, 1979?
Some tried to scale the compound’s walls and others clambered onto the roof of the reception building they had burned the day before.
Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, said while Soleimani was “an enemy of the United States,” the killing could put more Americans at risk. “One reason we don’t generally (assassinate) foreign political officials is the belief that such action will get more, not less, Americans killed,” Murphy said on Twitter. “That should be our real, pressing and grave worry tonight.”
Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley 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.”
Iraq’s Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi termed the killing of Soleimani a “violation of international agreements”. “Yesterday’s targeting of a military commander in Iraq’s armed forces near Baghdad international airport is a flagrant breach of sovereignty and violation of international agreements,” he said in a statement. “Iraq must avoid becoming a battlefield or a side in any regional or international conflict.”
Iran’s President vows revenge on US
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran and the “free nations of the region” will take revenge on the United States for killing Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani. “There is no doubt that the great nation of Iran and the other free nations of the region will take revenge for this gruesome crime from criminal America,” Rouhani said, referring to Iran’s allies across the Middle East.
Also, populist Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr mourned the killing of Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leaders and said his militias were ready to defend Iraq. “As the patron of the patriotic Iraqi resistance I give the order for all mujahideen, especially the Mehdi Army, Promised Day Brigade, and all patriotic and disciplined groups to be ready to protect Iraq,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Iraqi Prime Minister terms airstrike on Baghdad an ‘act of aggression’
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi termed the airstrike by the US on Baghdad airport was an “act of aggression”. “The airstrike on Baghdad airport is an act of aggression on Iraq and a breach of its sovereignty that will lead to war in Iraq, the region, and the world,” news agency Reuters quoted Abdul Mahdi as saying in a statement. The strike also violated the conditions of US military presence in Iraq and should be met with legislation that safeguards Iraq’s security and sovereignty, he added.
US embassy in Baghdad urges citizens to ‘depart Iraq immediately’
Meanwhile, the US embassy in Baghdad urged American citizens in Iraq to “depart immediately”, for fear of fallout from the US strike. “US citizens should depart via airline while possible, and failing that, to other countries via land,” the embassy said in a statement. Following this, Iraq’s Oil Ministry confirmed that some US citizens working in foreign oil companies in the city of Basra have started leaving.
Pompeo says US ‘committed to de-escalation’
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US was “committed to de-escalation” after the killing of Soleimani in in the airstrike. He tweeted that he had spoken with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, and Chinese Politburo member Yang Jiechi adding that they recognised the aggressive threats posed
by the Quds Force. “Thankful that our allies recognize the continuing aggressive threats posed by the Iranian Quds Force,” he wrote. “The US remains committed to de-escalation.”
Noting the increase in tension across the world following the killing of Soleimani, India said peace and security in the region are of utmost importance to India. “We’ve noted that a senior Iranian leader has been killed by US. Increase in tension has alarmed the world. Peace and security in this region is of utmost importance to India. It’s vital that the situation doesn’t escalate. India has consistently advocated restraint and continues to do so,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.
(With inputs from agencies)
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines