General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was killed last Friday following an American air raid at Baghdad International Airport.
The White House and the Pentagon confirmed the killing of Soleimani in Iraq, stating that the attack was conducted under the direction of US President Donald Trump and was intended to deter future attacks allegedly planned by Iran.
A three-day period of national mourning was declared in Iran in honour of Soleimani.
PMF sources told Al Jazeera that the rockets destroyed two vehicles carrying “high-profile guests”, which arrived at Baghdad airport and were escorted by militia members. According to initial reports, at least ten other people were killed during the raid.
Osama Bin Javaid of Al Jazeera, reports from Baghdad that the deaths are a significant turning point in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. The region is already in turmoil after the US attack on PMF forces near the Iraq-Syria border, and protests at the US embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday.
“This is a serious blow to relations between the United States and the Iraqi government,” Bin Javaid said. “It is a very precarious situation in which this significant development is taking place.”
Why Qassem Soleimani has been killed, Iran’s reaction.
The Iranian general had already survived several assassination attempts in the last 20 years, although lately he has been credited with helping armed groups to defeat the Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS).
Tensions between the US and Iran have increased since Washington pulled itself out of a landmark nuclear agreement with Tehran last year and began reimposing punitive sanctions, but in recent weeks, these tensions have increased.
On 27 December, an American contractor was killed in a missile attack in Iraq – which the US blamed for supporting Kataib Hezbollah, a PMF militia supported by Iran. The US responded on 29 December by targeting sites belonging to Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq and Syria, killing at least 25 fighters.
With Soleimani’s death, paradoxically, the United States’ only and final guarantee of negotiation with Iran, Washington’s direct contact with Tehran’s security apparatus and, more generally, with the man who, more than anyone else, had experience and vision on a regional and global level, is lessened. He was a real celebrity in Iran and a religious man who supported the National theocracy, especially in those youth groups usually hostile to the political and military class of the country, which they consider corrupt and incapable.
The general had gained his definitive celebrity then in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq, rushing to Baghdad in 2015 at the most critical moment of the consolidation of Daesh and avoiding, thanks to his role, the fall of the capital itself into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. Thanks to the creation in a short time of well-equipped and trained militias, he was able to get the better of the forces of the Islamic State, contributing significantly to its defeat both in Syria and Iraq.
On 31 December, a rare protest took place in the perimeter of the American embassy in Baghdad, a heavily fortified area, with protesters sympathizing with the PMF or belonging to the PMF attempting to vandalize the embassy.
In a statement after the assassination, the U.S. Department of Defense stated that Soleimani was developing plans to attack U.S. diplomats and military personnel throughout the Middle East region, accusing him and the Quds Force of the death of “hundreds of members of the American service and coalition”, as well as the death of the American contractor on 27 December and the embassy’s fierce protest.
Calls for revenge are increasingly strong from Iran, Soleimani was very close to the supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei said in a media release that: “All enemies must know that the jihad (struggle) of the resistance will continue with a double motivation, and a final victory awaits the fighters in the holy war”.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted: “The great nation of Iran will take revenge for this heinous crime”.
World leaders and international groups have called for restraint. While Iraq, Syria and Russia condemned the U.S. for the killing, Turkey said that Ankara “has always been against foreign intervention, assassinations and factious conflicts in the region.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, said the U.S. has the right to defend itself by killing Soleimani.
The United Kingdom called for a de-escalation action, but said it had “always recognized the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian force Quds led by Qassem Soleimani”.
The assassination aroused great fear of a military conflict between Iran and the United States, which could occur in countries like Iraq and Syria.
The U.S. Department of Defense stated in its statement that the killing was “intended to deter future Iranian plans of attack,” warning that it would take “all necessary measures” to protect Americans and the country’s interests around the world.
A report quoting anonymous U.S. officials said the U.S. would send an additional 3,000 troops to the region at very short notice, while Tehran made it clear that it would seek revenge.