Iran has vowed to take revenge after the U.S. assassinated Major General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).
Soleimani was the second most powerful man in Iran after the leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.
The U.S. drone strike at Baghdad Airport last night also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU), an Iranian-backed Shia militia.
The IRGC announced in a statement on Friday morning that Major General Soleimani and al-Muhandis were “martyred” in the attack carried out by U.S. helicopters.
The Iraqi group also confirmed the incident. “The deputy head of the Hashed, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and head of the Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, were killed in a U.S. strike that targeted their car on the Baghdad International Airport road,” it said in a statement on Friday. “The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani,” said Ahmed al-Assadi, a PMU spokesman.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Defence released the following statement: “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 Organisation.
“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.”
Following the assassination, Iran’s leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said those who assassinated Major General Qassem Soleimani must await a harsh revenge.
In a statement on Friday, Ayatollah Khamenei: “The great and honourable commander of Islam became heavenly. Last night, the untainted souls of the martyrs embraced the pure soul of Qassem Soleimani. After years of sincere and courageous fight against the devils and evildoers of the world and after years of wishing for martyrdom in the path of God, alas, dear Soleimani attained this lofty position and his pure blood was spilled by the vilest of human beings.
“He was a stellar example of those educated and nurtured in Islam and the school of Imam Khomeini. He spent his entire life fighting in the path of God.
“Martyrdom was his reward for years of implacable efforts.
“With his departure and with God’s power, his work and path will not cease and harsh revenge awaits those criminals who have tainted their filthy hands with his blood and the blood of the other martyrs of last night’s incident.
“Martyr Soleimani is the international face of the resistance, and all who have a heart-felt connection to the resistance seek revenge for his blood.
“All friends – and also all foes – should know that the path of fighting and resistance continues with increased motivation and certain victory awaits the fighters on this blessed path.
“The absence of our dear and self-sacrificing commander is bitter, but the continuation of the resistance and its final victory will be bitterer for the murderers and criminals.
“The Iranian nation will cherish the name and memory of the towering martyr, Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, together with his fellow martyrs especially the great fighter of Islam the honourable Mr. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. I declare three days of public mourning in the country and I congratulate and express my condolences to his honourable wife, dear children and family.”
Next to Iran’s supreme leader, Qasem Soleimani was arguably the most powerful figure in the Islamic Republic.
As head of its military abroad known as the “Quds Force”, Soleimani was the mastermind behind the country’s activities across in the Middle East, and its real foreign minister when it came to matters of war and peace.
He was widely considered an architect of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s war against rebels in Syria, the rise of pro-Iranian paramilitaries in Iraq and the fight against ISIS.
Charismatic and often elusive, the silver-haired commander was revered by some, loathed by others, and a source of myths and social media memes.
He had emerged in recent years from a lifetime in the shadows directing covert operations to achieve fame and popularity in Iran, becoming the subject of documentaries, news reports and even pop songs.
After becoming commander of the Quds Force in 1998, Soleimani attempted to extend Iran’s influence in the Middle East by carrying out covert operations, providing arms to allies and developing networks of militias loyal to Iran.
Over the course of his career he is believed to have aided Shia and Kurdish groups in Iraq fighting against former dictator Saddam Hussein, as well as other groups in the region including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the occupied Palestinian territories.
After the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, he began directing militant groups to carry out attacks against U.S. troops and bases, killing hundreds.
He is also widely credited with finding a strategy for Bashar al-Assad to respond to the armed uprising against him that began in 2011. Iranian assistance along with Russian air support helped turn the tide against rebel forces and in the Syrian government’s favour, allowing it to recapture key cities and towns.
The assassination followed a sharp escalation between the U.S., Iran and Iran-backed groups in Iraq following the death of a U.S. military contractor in a missile attack on a U.S. base in Iraq – for which the U.S. held Iran responsible.
The U.S. responded with an air strike on the Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah. Militia supporters then attacked the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran had been rising since the U.S. pulled out of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear programme and prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. The U.S. has also reimposed sanctions on Iran, sending its economy into freefall.