The United States has killed Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force and architect of Iran’s spreading military influence in the Middle East, in an air strike on Friday at Baghdad airport, the Pentagon and Iran say.
Top Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an adviser to Soleimani, was also killed in the attack that was authorised by US President Donald Trump.
Soleimani’s killing marks a dramatic escalation in the regional “shadow war“ between Iran and the United States and its allies, principally Israel and Saudi Arabia, which could quickly ratchet up tit-for-tat attacks.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed harsh revenge.
Iran has been locked in a long conflict with the United States that escalated sharply last week with an attack on the US embassy in Iraq by pro-Iranian militiamen following a US air raid on the Kataib Hezbollah militia, founded by Muhandis.
“At the direction of the president, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qassem Soleimani,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
“This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans,” it added.
Khamenei said harsh revenge awaited the “criminals” who killed Soleimani and his death, though bitter, would double the motivation of the resistance against the United States and Israel.