The Pentagon on Thursday confirmed the killing of Qassim Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite Qods Force, in Iraq.
The killing of one of Iran’s top military commanders means the elimination of a dangerous U.S. foe — but it also represents a risky escalation in a volatile feud that could backfire on U.S. personnel and allies in the Middle East and beyond.
The Pentagon confirmed Thursday that Qassim Soleimani, who leads Iran’s elite Quds force, was killed in what it termed a “defensive action.” Iraqi and other media said Soleimani died in an airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport. Some media accounts described the airstrike as coming from a U.S. drone, but the Pentagon did not specify.
“General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the Pentagon statement said. It blamed him for recent attacks on U.S. troops and the American embassy in Baghdad.“
Even the possibility that the U.S. directly targeted Soleimani – especially on Iraqi soil – sent shockwaves around the globe, spiking oil prices and leading to instant assessments of the potential fallout. U.S. officials have long depicted Soleimani as a paramilitary and terrorist mastermind, deemed responsible for attacks on American troops in Iraq and against U.S. interests all over the world.
Some current and former U.S. officials, as well as veteran Iran observers, said the killing was an escalatory move far beyond what they’d expected.
“There’s no chance in hell Iran won’t respond,” said Afshon Ostovar, an expert on Soleimani and author of “Vanguard of the Imam” a book about Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The strike, which also reportedly killed Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was traveling in the same convoy as Soleimani, even astonished some members of the Trump administration who said killing the Iranian general had never been seriously considered.
“I can’t believe it,” one U.S. official said. “The immediate concern for me is: What’s the next step from Iran? Is this the beginning of a regional conflagration?”
A former U.S. official who dealt with the Middle East said the strike was especially notable because it targeted the leader of a state apparatus, as opposed to a non-state actor.
“We need to be prepared that we’re now at war,” he said.
A second Middle Eastern official said that a retaliation by Iran – known for its own assassinations abroad – could occur anywhere.
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