The U.S. assassinated a high-ranking Iranian official in a targeted airstrike at Baghdad International Airport in Iraq early Friday, local time. The strike killed Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian general with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as at least seven other people. And now there’s concern that the killing could spark a significant military response from Iran.
President Donald Trump, who withdrew the U.S. from a peace deal with Iran in May of 2018, personally called for the assassination of Soleimani, according to multiple reports, and the strike was conducted by a U.S. drone.
Iranian TV played footage of people crying at the news of Soleimani’s death on Friday and Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, an advisor to Iran’s supreme leader, said that U.S. troops would be wiped out from the region, calling them “insidious beasts.”
“I am telling Americans, especially Trump, we will take a revenge that will change their daylight into a nighttime darkness,” Khatami said on Friday.
Below we have a round-up of news about the assassination and the international response overnight—a time when most people in the U.S. were sleeping, and the rest of the world was waking up to news of yet another American-made conflict in the Middle East.
The Pentagon confirmed late Thursday, Eastern time, that it had killed Soleimani, claiming that he was planning attacks in the region.
“Gen. Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement. “This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.”
But Iran saw the attack as an act of terrorism, with the foreign minister, Javad Zarif, saying as much on Twitter.
“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,” Zarif wrote. “The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.”
For his part, President Donald Trump just sent out a tweet of an American flag:
Update: 7:50 am ET: Donald Trump just sent out his first tweet of the morning and it doesn’t make much sense.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement overnight urging all American citizens to leave Iraq as soon as possible.
“Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, the U.S. Embassy urges American citizens to heed the January 2020 Travel Advisory and depart Iraq immediately,” the State Department said in a statement posted online.
“U.S. citizens should depart via airline while possible, and failing that, to other countries via land. Due to Iranian-backed militia attacks at the U.S. Embassy compound, all public consular operations are suspended until further notice. U.S. citizens should not approach the Embassy.”
The State Department also tweeted out a phone number that people can call if they’re concerned about family or friends in Iraq.
Oil companies with American employees in Iraq are also reportedly evacuating people from the region, according to the Lebanon Daily Star. And the Netherlands is urging its citizens to leave the region as well. More warnings from governments around the world are likely to follow.
And while the Los Angele Police Department said that it hadn’t received any “credible threat” to the city, it would keep an eye on any “intel.”
The airstrike didn’t just kill Soleimani, but also hit Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of an Iran-backed militia operating in Iraq called the Popular Mobilization Forces. Both Soleimani and al-Muhandis were reportedly mangled in the strike and Soleimani was only identified through jewelry he was wearing.
From the Associated Press:
A senior Iraqi security official said the airstrike took place near the cargo area after Soleimani had disembarked from a plane arriving from either Syria or Lebanon. [Popular Mobilization Forces] officials said the bodies of Suleimani and al-Muhandis were torn to pieces. A senior politician said Soleimani’s body was identified by the ring he wore.
The Iraqi Prime Minister’s office released photos from Baghdad International Airport on Friday, showing the aftermath of the assassination. Wreckage from vehicles can be seen but it’s difficult to make out much more than flames burning in the middle of the night.
The Telegraph also has video taken from the scene and posted to social media, including some of the protests.
The Prime Minister of Iraq resigned in late November following weeks of protest by average citizens but the caretaker PM, Adel Abdel Mahdi, considers the assassination on Iraqi soil to be a violation of its sovereignty and is speaking out today in the strongest terms.
“The assassination of an Iraqi military commander in an official post is an aggression against the country of Iraq, its state, its government and its people,” interim Prime Minister Mahdi said in a statement.
Traditional U.S. allies like France, Germany, and the United Kingdom appear unhappy with the U.S. decision to assassinate Soleimani, but the UK is choosing the most diplomatic phrasing at the moment.
“We have always recognized the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Quds force led by Qasem Soleimani. Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests,” UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement posted online.
“We are at a dangerous point of escalation. It is now important through prudence and restraint to contribute to deescalation,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesperson told the Times of Israel.
But the French were more blunt than the Germans and the British, while echoing the call for stability.
“We have woken up to a more dangerous world,” French junior foreign affairs minister Amelie de Montchalin told a French radio station on Friday.
“What is happening is what we feared: tensions between the United States and Iran are increasing,” Montchalin said. “The priority is to stabilize the region.”
It’s unclear what Iran will do, but experts seem to expect some form of retaliation. Even the Defense Department seems to know that Iran will strike back.
From the Atlantic:
Earlier yesterday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper had told reporters he fully expected Iranian retaliation for the strikes on Khataib Hezbollah, but that the U.S. might act pre-emptively and Iran wouldn’t like the results. Now, further retaliation from the Iranian side seems all but inevitable, even if it’s unclear what form it will take. And further U.S. responses may be equally inevitable.
“They will strike back. Just a question of target,” Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which advocates a hardline policy toward Iran, told us. “This ends any possibility of nuclear negotiations.”
Not great, to say the least.
China, America’s primary geopolitical foe in Asia, has urged for calm between the U.S. and Iran, trying to play the role of peacemaker, real or imagined.
“China has always opposed the use of force in international relations,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said today according to the Strait Times.
“We urge the relevant sides, especially the United States, to remain calm and exercise restraint to avoid further escalating tensions.”
Russia, a major ally of Iran, has warned that the U.S. assassination of a top Iranian official will likely lead to increased tensions in the region.
From the English-language Moscow Times:
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday that the killing of Soleimani would increase tensions in the Middle East, RIA reported.
“We consider the killing of Soleimani as the result of an American missile strike in the vacinity of Baghdad to be a bold step that will lead to increased tension throughout the region. Soleimani was devoted to protecting Iran’s national interests,” RIA quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying.
Russian Senator Konstantin Kosachev also said today the U.S. assassination is a “worst case scenario” adding that “retaliation, alas, will not take long.”
Twitter is full of different reactions to the assassination, as you might expect. But one of the most interesting things to emerge overnight was the number of people pointing out Trump’s hypocrisy on Iran.
President Trump delivered a video message on November 16, 2011 that outlined his thinking on President Barack Obama, claiming that he wanted to start a war with Iran to distract from issues at home.
The video was deleted by the Trump Organization but later re-uploaded to YouTube by archivists.
To top it all off, others on Twitter are pointing out that years ago President Trump allegedly laundered money for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, in violation of U.S. sanctions. There seems to always be a weird money-laundering angle when it comes to Trump’s real estate deals.
No one knows for certain what’s going to happen in the coming days and weeks, but one thing’s for sure: Americans like Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and former National Security Advisor John Bolton, who’ve long wanted to go to war with Iran, now see an opportunity to make that happen.