BAGHDAD(WEBDESK): Top Iranian Commander Qassem Soleimani was killed on Friday in a US strike on Baghdad´s international airport, Iran and the US confirmed, in the most dramatic episode yet of escalating tensions between the two countries.
The Pentagon said US President Donald Trump ordered Soleimani’s “killing,” after a pro-Iran mob this week laid siege to the US embassy. Declaring three days of mourning across the country, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed to take “severe revenge” for Soleimani´s death.
Trump tweeted out a picture of the US flag without any explanation, as the pre-dawn developments marked the most major escalation yet in a feared proxy war between Iran and the US on Iraqi soil.
Soleimani and officials from Iran-backed militias were leaving Baghdad airport in two cars when they were hit by a US drone strike near a cargo area.
The commander had reportedly flown in from Lebanon or Syria. Several missiles struck the convoy and at least seven people are believed to have died.
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Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was among those killed.
Muhandis commanded the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah group, which Washington blamed for a rocket attack which killed a US civilian contractor in northern Iraq last Friday.
He also effectively led the Popular Mobilisation units (PM), an umbrella of militias in Iraq dominated by groups aligned with Iran. Most of those killed in the strike belonged to the PM, the organisation said. Soleimani’s son-in-law and a member of the Lebanese Hezbollah were also among the dead, it added.
The developments come after an unprecedented attack on the US mission in Baghdad. A mob of Hashed supporters surrounded the US embassy on Tuesday in outrage over American air strikes that killed 25 fighters from the network´s hardline Kataeb Hezbollah faction, which is backed by Iran.
The US had acted in response to a rocket attack days earlier that had killed an American contractor working in Iraq. Trump had blamed Iran for a spate of rocket attacks targeting US forces as well as the siege at the embassy, saying: “They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat.”