(CNN) – US President Donald Trump ordered an air strike at Baghdad International Airport that killed Qasem Soleimani, a key Iranian military commander, in a "decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad" He intended to deter "future Iranian attack plans," the Pentagon confirmed Thursday.
Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, an elite body of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard of Iran (IRGC), and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) backed by Iran, they were among those killed in the attack at Baghdad International Airport on Friday morning, local time, according to a PMF statement, which said they were both "martyred for a US attack."
The Iraqi Army said three rockets were fired at the airport, and the total number of dead people is unclear.RELATED
Formed in 2014 to fight ISIS, PMFs are a Shiite paramilitary force made up of former militias with close ties to Iran. They were recognized under an Iraqi law of 2016 as an independent military force that responds directly to the prime minister.
Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of coalition and US service members, and for the injuries of thousands more, the Pentagon added. The Pentagon also blamed Soleimani for organizing attacks on military coalition bases in Iraq in recent months, including an attack on December 27, which also culminated in the death of an American contractor and Iraqi personnel.
Soleimani was revered in Iran, where three days of national mourning have been declared. In a message posted on its official website, the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, promised revenge for death, saying that "a strong revenge awaits the criminals" involved.
Khamenei warned that the fight would continue and added that for years it had been Soleimani's wish to become a martyr.
"His pure blood was shed in the hands of the most depraved human beings," Khamenei said.
In a tweet, Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif described the US attack as an "act of international terrorism," adding that it was an "extremely dangerous and silly escalation." The United States is responsible for all the consequences of its mischievous adventure. ”
“Goal of opportunity”
The death of Soleimani, one of the most powerful men in Iran and the region in general, is a bold and unexpected movement that marks a major escalation in tensions between Washington and Tehran that goes back to Trump's decision to withdraw from the nuclear agreement with Iran.
It also comes a few hours after the Pentagon issued a strong warning to militias backed by Iran amid concerns that they may carry out more provocations against the US. after his attempt to storm the US embassy in Baghdad. According to the Pentagon, Soleimani also approved that attack.
Soleimani was "actively developing plans to attack US diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region," according to the Pentagon, who cited the threat to American lives as a rationale for killing one of the highest military officers Iran range.
But an American official told CNN that the attack on Soleimani was a "target of opportunity."
The attack had presidential authorization and the United States opted for a preventive option after the previous maximum pressure movements did not change the Iranian behavior pattern, the official said.
The so-called Green Zone in Baghdad was completely closed by Iraqi security forces to avoid any emergency after the attack, two Iraqi security sources told CNN.
Feisal Istrabadi, founding director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East at the University of Indiana, told CNN that the Iraqi government would be considerably weakened by the fact that the attack occurred on its territory.
"It will be an opportunity for the destabilization of the country," he said. “This is a big problem throughout the Middle East. The fact that it has been done on the territory of Iraq means that Iraq will become what it feared it would be from the beginning: the battlefield between Iran and the United States. ”
U.S. lawmakers react
The news of Soleimani's death generated markedly different reactions along partisan lines, with Republicans praising Trump and Democrats expressing concern about the legality and consequences of the attack.
Republicans reacted with almost uniform praise for Trump.
"I appreciate the bold action of President @realDonaldTrump against Iranian aggression," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a fierce ally of Trump, wrote in a tweet on Thursday. "For the Iranian government: if they want more, they will get more."
Two sources told CNN that the key members of the Senate in the relevant National Security and Appropriations committees, along with the legislative leadership, will be informed Friday afternoon at a location classified by administration officials.
Some key members of Congress, such as the minority leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, a Democrat representing New York, who is a member of the leaders of the so-called Band of Eight of Congress, who receives information on classified matters, do not They had been informed in advance of the attack. It is not clear how many other legislators had prior notice of the attack.
Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, said in a press release that "General Soleimani is dead because he was an evil bastard who murdered Americans" and "the president made a brave and correct decision, and Americans should be proud of our military who did the job. ”
Sasse added: "Tehran is nervous: the mullahs have already killed at least one thousand innocent Iranians, and before they lash out even more, they should know that the US Army can bring each and every one of these IRGC butchers to their knees."
His comments echoed with Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, who said in a statement that Soleimani "devised the reign of terror in Iran for decades, including the deaths of hundreds of Americans."
"Tonight, he got what he deserved, and all the American soldiers who died by his hand also got what they deserved: justice," said Cotton. "The United States is safer now after Soleimani's death."
Democrats rejected Republican feelings about the attack, emphasizing the possible consequences and criticizing the decision to carry out the attack without authorization from Congress.
Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut emphasized that Soleimani "was an enemy of the United States," in a tweet before declaring: "The question is this: as the reports suggest, did the United States simply murder, without any authorization from Congress, to the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly unleashing a potential and massive regional war? ”
In a more explicit statement, Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico said: "President Trump is taking our nation to the brink of an illegal war with Iran without any approval from Congress, as required by the United States Constitution."
He added: “Such an imprudent escalation of hostilities is probably a violation of the war authority of Congress, as well as our grassroots agreement with Iraq, endangering US forces and citizens and very possibly sinking into another disastrous war in the Middle East that the American people do not ask for and do not support. ”
CNN's Kareem Khadder reported from Baghdad. Hamdi Alkhshali of CNN reported and wrote in Atlanta. Steve Almasy, Nick Paton Walsh, Paul LeBlanc and Nic Robertson of CNN contributed to this report.