U.S. kills Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, man who defeated Islamic State
Topics: U.S. IRAN QASEM SOLEIMANI
Reactions poured in immediately after a statement from the U.S. Department of Defense confirmed that an airstrike on Baghdad International Airport in Iraq killed Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force.
Soleimani was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region," the statement read, justifying the killing of the general who was “responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more".
U.S. President Donald Trump’s Republican allies, who in general said his death sent a strong message to Iran, have lost no time to praise the operation.
However, some Democrats who said the assassination could further destabilize the region at the expense of U.S. troops stationed round the Middle East, were not as jubilant as the GOP figures.
"Trump's dangerous escalation brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars. Trump promised to end endless wars, but this action puts us on the path to another one," said Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the frontrunners for Democratic Party nomination for U.S. presidency, on Twitter.
The airstrike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi militant group, or Popular Mobilization Units (PMU).
Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, has also criticized the Trump administration, saying that it is a "hugely escalatory move in an already dangerous region."
He added that Trump has "just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox" and the U.S. "could be on the brink of a major conflict across the Middle East."
Elizabeth Warren, another candidate for president of the U.S. said "Soleimani was a murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans."
But, she added, "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."
Soleimani was the long-time commander of the Quds Forces, which has been a designated terror group in the U.S. since 2007. The group is estimated to have 20,000 members.
The U.S. has accused the Iranian general of managing Tehran’s proxy forces in the Middle East as well as holding him responsible for several attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.
Soleimani acquired celebrity status at home and abroad as leader of the foreign arm of the Revolutionary Guards and for his key role in fighting in Syria and Iraq.
He was instrumental in the spread of Iranian influence in the Middle East, which the United States and Tehran's regional foes Saudi Arabia and Israel have struggled to keep in check.
He survived several assassination attempts against him by Western, Israeli and Arab agencies over the past 20 years.
Soleimani's Quds Force, tasked with carrying out operations beyond Iran's borders, shored up support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad when he looked close to defeat in the civil war raging since 2011, and also helped armed groups defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).
Soleimani became head of the Quds Force in 1998 and kept a low profile for years while he strengthened Iran's ties with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria's Assad and Shia militia groups in Iraq.
In recent years, he stepped into the limelight, appearing alongside Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other Shia leaders.
Under Soleimani's leadership, the Quds Force vastly expanded its capabilities, becoming a significant influence in intelligence, financial, and political spheres beyond Iran's borders.
Soleimani comes from a humble background, born into a poor family in southeastern Iran's Kerman Province.
During Iraq's fight against ISIL, the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Forces), an Iran-backed Shia paramilitary units, some of which fell under Soleimani's control fought along the Iraqi military to defeat the armed group.
Mohammad Marandi, head of the American Studies at the University of Tehran, said that Soleimani's role in helping defeat ISIL make him a "national hero" and a "martyr" among the Iranian people and other Middle Eastern countries. ■