U.S. forces carried out an airstrike that reportedly killed one Iran's most powerful figures, the Pentagon confirmed Thursday.
The air raids occurred near Baghdad's international airport, just days after Iranian-backed militias besieged the U.S. embassy in the Iraqi capital. Among those killed in the strike was Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, who is considered the second-most powerful figure in Iran behind Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region," the Pentagon said in a statement published by The New York Times. "General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more."
The Defense Department also accused Soleimani of planning a number of attacks on U.S. facilities, including the U.S. embassy in Baghdad this week as well as the Dec. 27 rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that killed an American contractor and injured four U.S. troops. The American military retaliated Sunday by launching five airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, killing 24 people and injuring dozens.
"[Thursday's] strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans," the DoD said in the statement. "The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world."
The U.S. reportedly carried out the airstrike at the direction of Donald Trump, who is currently vacationing in Palm Beach. Shortly after the attack, POTUS tweeted the American flag without any comment.
Iraqi officials say a total of seven people were killed in the airstrike, including Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis—the deputy commander of the Iran-backed umbrella paramilitary group Popular Mobilization Forces.
News of the attack arrives just hours after Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced the U.S. would "take preemptive action to defend our personnel and our interests and our partners in the region."
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif condemned the airstrike, calling it an "act of international terrorism."
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei strongly condemned the attack and called for three days of mourning.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei says Qassim Soleimani's killing will double the motivation of resistance against US & Israel. Harsh revenge awaits 'criminals' who killed Qassim Soleimani pic.twitter.com/urp2AkUAZS— CNBC-TV18 (@CNBCTV18Live) January 3, 2020
Shortly after the Pentagon's confirmation, oil prices increased by more than 4 percent. Per CNBC: "Brent crude was up 2.88% to $68.14 per barrel, while U.S. crude rose 2.70% to $62.82 per barrel." The surge was due to concerns about growing tensions in the Middle East and their effect on oil supply.
On Friday night, "WWIII" was trending on Twitter, with many convinced that retaliation was imminent. You can read some of the reactions to the attack below.
Soleimani was a murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans. But this reckless move escalates the situation with Iran and increases the likelihood of more deaths and new Middle East conflict. Our priority must be to avoid another costly war.— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) January 3, 2020
I don’t want & have not pushed for war with #Iran— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 3, 2020
But when an adversary decides to use force to attack our Armed Forces @potus has an affirmative duty to defend against & if possible prevent such attacks.
Qassem Soleimani was a depraved terrorist who had the blood of hundreds of American servicemen and women on his hands, and who was doubtlessly planning operations to further harm our citizens and allies.— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) January 3, 2020
Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. That’s not a question.— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) January 3, 2020
The question is this - as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?
Some people online pointed out the similarities between the current situation and Clinton's presidency as he launched an airstrike in Iraq while he was nearing impeachment.
On the other hand, Donald Trump finds himself in a similar position as Bill Clinton, facing an impeachment and decided to get into a military conflict with Iraq. A perfect distraction from his challenges in the White House. pic.twitter.com/AHIm36uDiE— Godfrey Simiyu (@Simiyuhiphoree) January 3, 2020