The United States killed Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force and architect of Iran’s spreading military influence in the Middle East, in an air strike on Friday at Baghdad airport, the Pentagon and Iran said.
Top Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an adviser to Soleimani, was also killed in the attack that was authorised by U.S. President Donald Trump.
Soleimani’s killing marks a dramatic escalation in the regional “shadow war” between Iran and the United States and its allies, principally Israel and Saudi Arabia, which could quickly ratchet up tit-for-tat attacks.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed harsh revenge.
Iran has been locked in a long conflict with the United States that escalated sharply last week with an attack on the U.S. embassy in Iraq by pro-Iranian militiamen following a U.S. air raid on the Kataib Hezbollah militia, founded by Muhandis.
“At the direction of the president, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qassem Soleimani,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
“This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans,” it added.
U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Soleimani had been killed in a drone strike. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said he was killed in an attack by American helicopters.
Pictures showed burning debris on a road near the airport.