Iraqi TV reported Thursday night that Qasem Soleimani, the leader of a special unit in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, has been killed. Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also reportedly killed.
While it was initially unclear whether the reports were true and who was to blame, the Pentagon eventually confirmed that, at the direction of President Donald Trump, it had carried out the strike. It said Soleimani had been planning attacks on U.S. diplomats and service members. Trump himself tweeted out simply an image of an American flag before the killing had been reported by the Pentagon, which many observers had interpreted as confirmation of the United States’ role.
“At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization,” the Pentagon statement said.
Ahmed al-Assadi, an Iraqi militia spokesman, told Reuters: “The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani.”
“The gloves are off,” warned Karim Emile Bitar, a professor of international relations, said on Twitter. “This could trigger a major escalation in the entire region, the consequences could be devastating.”
“Senior Iraqi politician tells me ‘apparently’ Soleimani is dead,” tweeted Robin Wright, a joint fellow at U.S. Institute of Peace “This is an astounding escalation between the US and Iran — which will ripple across the entire Middle East.”
Tensions have been rising between the United States and Iran in recent days, as hundreds of Iran-supporting protesters assaulted the American embassy in Iraq following a U.S. strike.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) offered an early comment on the news from Congress:
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a close ally of Trump and a foreign policy hawk, told Banco: “We need to get ready for a major pushback. Our people in Iraq and the Middle East are going to be targeted. We need to be ready to defend our people in the Middle East. I think we need to be ready for a big counterpunch.”
IMAGE: Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Qassem Soleimani (L) stands at the frontline during offensive operations against Islamic State militants in the town of Tal Ksaiba in Salahuddin province March 8, 2015. Picture taken March 8, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer