A top Iranian military commander, General Qasem Soleimani, was killed on Friday in Iraq during an airstrike ordered by US President Donald Trump.
Soleimani, 62, was the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, spearheading the Iranian operations in the region, including bolstering Lebanon’s Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian groups, expanding Iranian military presence in Iraq and Syria and masterminding Syria’s fight against rebel groups.
The U.S. drone attack took place close to Baghdad International Airport and also killed Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Soleimani and Muhandis were “huge symbols of the victory” against the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group, which was defeated in late 2017, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said.
Abdul-Mahdi formally resigned last month following months of protests demanding his resignation and governmental change. Even though hundreds of people died in the protests in Iraq’s capital and elsewhere, he still remains in office in a caretaker capacity with Iranian support.
The assassination followed a turbulent week in Baghdad, where Iraqi militia and their supporters had repeatedly attempted to storm the U.S. Embassy.
The U.S. administration claims the attacks on the embassy were led in part by Soleimani, claiming that he was planing for a “wider, systematic assault” on American diplomats.
“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. He should have been taken out many years ago!” Trump tweeted on Friday.
Trump’s Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani similarly responded through Twitter, saying, “the great nation of Iran will take revenge for this heinous crime.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also mentioned “harsh retaliation” during a televised statement.
“To condemn attacks on their embassies, countries normally turn to the [United Nations] Security Council with a draft statement by the president. Washington has made no such appeal, which means it isn’t interested in the world reaction. What it is interested in is the balance of power in the region,” Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson of the Russian foreign ministry, said in a statement.
Moscow backs Baghdad in its military operations against ISIS in Syria.
Israel, a long-time enemy of the Iranian regime, echoed the US arguments, vowing that it “was standing with the US in its just struggle for peace, security, and self-defense.”
“Just as Israel has the right of self-defense, the US has exactly the same right. Soleimani is responsible for the death of American citizens and many other innocent people. He was planning more such attacks. Trump deserves all the credit for acting swiftly, forcefully and decisively,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
In the U.S., Democrats expressed their reservations about how Trump decided on the airstrike without the consent of the U.S. Congress.
“He has the ability to prevent an imminent attack against the US without coming to Congress. I think we need to see the fact that that is, in fact, true. [However,] He does not have any other standing authorization to take out a strike against a country that we have not declared war against,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy told NPR on Friday.
Following the US attack, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called a security meeting to discuss the latest developments in the region.
Earlier on Friday, the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement that Turkey had always opposed foreign interventions, assassinations and sectarian conflicts in the region and called on both sides to prioritize diplomatic efforts.
Fatih Yildiz, Turkey’s ambassador to Iraq, voiced the same, calling for “common sense, restraint, and diplomacy” for the solution.
However, Aydin Selcen, the former Turkish Consul-General of Erbil, criticized the Turkish remarks, referring to an act of foreign intervention by Turkey.
“Mr. Ambassador, are you sharing your opinions as the representative of a country which has had military forces in Iraq since the 1990s, and just today carried out a drone assassination in Sinjar?” Selcen asked.
Many countries have harshly criticized Turkey’s strongman for his unilateral decisions in the foreign policy, such as Turkey’s military incursion into Syria in October, exploring oil and gas in disputed waters in the Mediterranean, and planning to deploy military troops in Libya.
Iran’s Quds Force is a secretive subset of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that operates outside the country.
In April, Trump had unexpectedly labeled the IRGC as a terrorist organization.
Khamenei said in a statement on Friday that he appointed General Esmail Ghaani to succeed Soleimani, adding that Ghaani would continue Soleimani’s work with undiminished force.