US President Donald Trump authorized a US military strike near Baghdad’s airport which resulted in the death of Iran’s Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, the Pentagon confirmed in a statement on Thursday.
“At the direction of the president, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
“This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and interests wherever they are around the world.”
The Pentagon said that the assassination was a response to “attacks on coalition bases in Iraq,” accusing Soleimani of being the mastermind behind a recent spate of missile attacks on joint US and Iraqi military installations. In particular, the Pentagon blamed Soleimani for orchestrating the December 27 rocket strike at a US base in Kirkuk that killed one American contractor. It also alleged that he “approved” a siege of the US Embassy in Baghdad that almost ended up in the compound being taken over by protesters, who were furious over US strikes that killed 25 members of Kataib Hezbollah, part of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), over the weekend.
Washington has pinned the blame for the attacks on its embassy in Baghdad squarely on Tehran, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accusing “terrorists” and “Iranian proxies” of instigating the unrest.
Tehran, meanwhile, has vehemently denied the accusations that it was somehow complicit in the storming of US diplomatic quarters in the heavily fortified Green Zone, taking aim at Washington’s “audacity” to blame it for the outrage sparked by American airstrikes.
The strikes, which the US military framed as a tit-for-tat response for the Kirkuk attack, drew ire not only from the Iran-backed Iraqi militias, but also from the authorities in Baghdad, which denounced the sorties as an “unacceptable vicious assault.”
The protests saw scores of Iraqi Shia militia members swarming the area in front of the embassy, chanting “Death to America” and setting the entrance checkpoints on fire.
Earlier, the news of Soleimani’s demise was confirmed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. The influential commander was killed when Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces’ convoy traveling near the Baghdad airport was targeted in a US missile strike on Thursday.
At least seven people were killed in the raid, including the deputy chief of the Popular Mobilization Forces.