A U.S. missile strike killed Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani late Thursday, dramatically altering the escalating standoff between Washington and Tehran. U.S. officials said President Donald Trump signed off on the attack that was reportedly carried out by a drone that struck a two-car convoy on an access road near Baghdad International Airport, killing Soleimani and six others. Iraqi officials and the country’s state TV channel said top Iraqi militia leader Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi—best known by his nom de guerre, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis—was also killed in the strike.
The strike comes after Iran and the U.S. had been trading military reprisals in an escalating tit for tat that resulted in a U.S. contractor being killed last week. “Thursday’s airstrike appears to have been set in motion by a Dec. 27 rocket attack that killed a U.S. contractor on a base in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk, an assault the Pentagon blamed on Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi militia closely associated with Iran,” the Washington Post reports. “After the attack, Trump authorized airstrikes on militia targets in Iraq and Syria, which in turn prompted militiamen to attempt to breach the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.”
“General Soleimani was the architect of nearly every significant operation by Iranian intelligence and military forces over the past two decades, and his death was a staggering blow for Iran at a time of sweeping geopolitical conflict,” the New York Times reports. “American officials accuse General Soleimani of causing the deaths of hundreds of soldiers during the Iraq war, when he provided Iraqi insurgents with advanced bomb-making equipment and training. They also say he has masterminded destabilizing Iranian activities that continue throughout the Middle East and are aimed at the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia.”
“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.” Iranian leaders, including Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who once described Soleimani as a “living martyr of the revolution,” condemned the act. “The final victory will make life more bitter for the murderers and criminals,” Khamenei said of the U.S. strike.