U.S. says it kills top Iranian commander Soleimani in air strike

FILE PHOTO: Combination photo of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Qassem Soleimani (L) and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a commander in the Popular Mobilization Forces. REUTERS/Stringer/Thaier al-Sudani

The United States killed Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force and spearhead of Iran’s spreading military influence in the Middle East, on Friday in an air strike at Baghdad airport, the Pentagon and Iran said.

Top Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an adviser to Soleimani, was also killed in the attack, a militia spokesman said.

The high-profile assassinations are likely to be a massive blow to Iran, which has been locked in a long conflict with the United States that escalated sharply last week with the storming of the US embassy in Iraq by pro-Iranian militiamen following a US air raid on the Kataib Hezbollah militia, founded by Muhandis.

“At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qassem Soleimani,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

“This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans,” it added.

U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Soleimani had been killed in a drone strike.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards confirmed in a statement that Soleimani was killed. “Honoured supreme commander of Islam, Haj Qassim Soleimani, was martyred this morning after a life of struggle in an attack by American helicopters,” the Revolutionary Guards said in a statement read on state TV.

Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), the umbrella grouping of Iran-backed militias, blamed the United States and Israel.

“The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani,” he said.

Iraqi paramilitary groups said on Friday that three rockets hit Baghdad International Airport, killing five members of Iraqi paramilitary groups and two “guests”.

The rockets landed near the air cargo terminal, burning two vehicles, killing and injuring several people. 

Local militia commander Abu Muntathar al-Hussaini told Reuters:

“Haj Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were riding in one vehicle when it was struck by two successive guided missiles launched from an American helicopter while they were on their way from the arrivals hall on the road that leads out of Baghdad Airport.”

He said the second vehicle was carrying bodyguards from the PMF and was hit by one rocket.

“The American criminals had detailed information on the convoy’s movements.”

Oil prices were up $3 on the news.