Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has vowed “severe revenge” after an airstrike by the United States on a pair of cars at Baghdad International Airport killed Iranian Quds Force General Qassem Soleimani on January 3, 2020. “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 after calling for three days of national mourning following Soleimani’s death.
The US airstrikes carried out by military helicopters also killed Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of Iraq’s Hashd al-Shaabi or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) – an umbrella organization uniting primarily Iran-backed Shiite paramilitary groups. According to Iranian state media, al-Muhandis was traveling with Soleimani when the vehicles were struck.
American citizens have been urged by the US embassy in Baghdad to leave Iran immediately, following the news of Soleimani’s killing.
Motivation for the strike
The Pentagon has confirmed that Soleimani was killed alongside six others by the airstrike in Baghdad. “At the direction of the President, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad,” it said in a statement announcing the general’s death.
The Pentagon states that the airstrikes were aimed at thwarting future attacks by the Iranians and that necessary action to continue the countermeasure will be taken. “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,” said the Pentagon.
The general’s death has escalated already high tensions between Iran and the United States, and there are major concerns of retaliation from Iranian forces.
Significance of General Soleimani
Soleimani had been in control of Iran’s Quds Force for more than 20 years and was considered an icon of resilience in Iran for the last four decades. The Quds Force is an elite military unit in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a branch of the Iranian Armed Forces, founded after the Iranian Revolution on 22 April 1979. The Quds Force has been directed to carry out unconventional warfare and intelligence activities, collaborating with terrorist groups such as Hezbollah of Lebanon, Shiite militias in Iraq and Shiites in Afghanistan.
According to the Pentagon, Soleimani has been the mastermind behind the planned killings of American diplomats and has been responsible for the deaths of numerous service members. “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,” said the Pentagon.