Many of us woke to the news that a drone strike, ordered by President Trump, had killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad – an act which could hold potentially huge consequences.
General Qasem Soleimani, regarded as Iran’s most powerful military commander, was one of several people believed to have been killed after leaving Baghdad airport.
Soleimani had achieved something of a celebrity status after expanding Iran’s military presence in Iraq and Syria – and was hailed as a heroic national figure for his role as leader of Iran’s Quds Force.
The Trump administration has alleged that the Quds Force is “Iran’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting” US-designated terrorist groups across the Middle East.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and its Quds Force as foreign terrorist organisations in April.
Today, @SecPompeo announced the intent of the United States to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Read his full remarks here: https://t.co/AYsbDBqXvs pic.twitter.com/cGEQS8h2uM— Department of State (@StateDept) April 8, 2019
In a time of extremely heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran (Iran’s capital), Soleimani’s death could signal breaking point in any remaining communication between both sides.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said “severe revenge awaits the criminals” behind the attack.
However a statement from the Pentagon said the general “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region”.
“This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans,” it added.
The decision comes just days after protestors attacked the US embassy in Baghdad, which Tehran denied orchestrating despite claims from the Pentagon that Soleimani had approved their actions.
As well as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promising “severe revenge”, the country’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif took to Twitter to label the US actions as an “act of international terrorism”.
The US' act of international terrorism, targeting & assassinating General Soleimani—THE most effective force fighting Daesh (ISIS), Al Nusrah, Al Qaeda et al—is extremely dangerous & a foolish escalation.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 3, 2020
The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.
Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani, also slammed the strike as a “heinous crime”, posting on Twitter that “resistance to US excesses will continue”.
The flag of General Soleimani in defense of the country's territorial integrity and the fight against terrorism and extremism in the region will be raised, and the path of resistance to US excesses will continue. The great nation of Iran will take revenge for this heinous crime.— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) January 3, 2020
The US Embassy in Baghdad has since issued an alert, urging any US citizens to depart Iraq immediately.
A statement reads: “Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, the U.S. Embassy urges American citizens to heed the January 2020 Travel Advisory and depart Iraq immediately. U.S. citizens should depart via airline while possible, and failing that, to other countries via land. Due to Iranian-backed militia attacks at the U.S. Embassy compound, all public consular operations are suspended until further notice. U.S. citizens should not approach the Embassy. The U.S. Consulate General in Erbil is open for visa and American Citizen Services appointments, including passport issuance. U.S. citizens in Iraq or those concerned about family in Iraq should contact the Department of State at +1-202-501-4444 or toll-free in the U.S. at 1-888-407-4747.”
Chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s foreign affairs committee, Senator Kosachev warned that the latest actions will “lead to increased tension”.
In an interview with the state-run RIA Novosti News Agency, Kosachev is quoted as saying: “This is very difficult news, a harbinger of new clashes between the Americans and radical Shiites in Iraq,
“We consider the killing of Soleimani as the result of an American missile strike in the vacinity of Baghdad to be a bold step that will lead to increased tension throughout the region. Soleimani was devoted to protecting Iran’s national interests,”
Russia and Iran have been key allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout the country’s civil war.
It’s almost certain there will be some kind of retaliation from this latest development in the ongoing feud, the size of which will likely come to light in the coming hours.