The head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, has been killed in a strike near the Baghdad International Airport, along with senior leaders of the Iraqi Shia militia, the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps has confirmed.
The news of the commander’s demise was carried by Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency, citing The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani,” said Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces, as cited by Reuters.
Al-Muhandis is the deputy chief of the Popular Mobilization Forces, the umbrella group of Shia militias integrated into the Iraq’s armed forces, which was blamed for the siege of the US embassy in Baghdad earlier this week.
— Baxtiyar Goran (@BaxtiyarGoran) January 3, 2020
Al-Muhandis and Soleimani were apparently in a convoy traveling near the Baghdad airport when it was struck by multiple missiles. The PMF earlier confirmed the deaths of five of its members and two “guests.”
Reuters reported that the Pentagon has claimed responsibility for the strike, citing an unnamed US official.
US Marines also reportedly captured two other influential Iraqi militia figures around the time of the strikes – Qais Khazali, head of the paramilitary group Asaib Ahl al-Haq, and Badr Organization leader Hadi al-Amiri – in a neighborhood of Baghdad, according to Al Arabiya.
While still lacking official confirmation that Washington was behind the assassinations, some US lawmakers have already challenged the legality of the supposed American raid, as Congress was apparently left in the dark about the mission. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) weighed in with a tweet later on Thursday, sounding alarm that the unauthorized operation could kick off a “massive regional war,” even though Soleimani was an “enemy of the United States.”
The high-profile assassinations come as tensions soar between Tehran and Washington over recent events in Iraq. An American air raid on an Iraqi Shia militia last weekend triggered a heated protest at the US embassy complex in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone on Tuesday, where demonstrators smashed windows, set fires and chanted “death to America.” Washington claimed the raid was in retaliation for a militia rocket attack on a US base in Kirkuk, and that Iran provided backing for the assault, though offered no evidence.