BAGHDAD, Iraq (ABC News) — Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was killed late Thursday in an airstrike that targeted a convoy near the airport in Baghdad.
Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis also died in the airstrike, Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces umbrella grouping of Iran-backed militias, confirmed to ABC News.
“The proud commander of Islam, Haj Qassim Suleimani, was killed in the attack on American helicopters today after a long day of mourning,” the Revolutionary Guards said in a statement.
The Department of Defense took responsibility, saying the airstrike was carried out at the direction of President Donald Trump.
The following statement was issued Thursday night:
At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.
General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. 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. He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months – including the attack on December 27th – culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel. General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week.
This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world.
Following the strike, the U.S. State Department issued an alert early Friday morning urging U.S. citizens to leave Iraq and to avoid the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
“Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, we urge U.S. citizens to depart Iraq immediately,” the alert said. “Due to Iranian-backed militia attacks at the U.S. Embassy compound, all consular operations are suspended. U.S. citizens should not approach the Embassy.”
Soleimani and the Quds Force “were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more,” said the Department of Defense statement explaining the strike. “He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months — including the attack on December 27th — culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel.”
One U.S. civilian contractor was killed and several service members were wounded in the Dec. 27 rocket attack on the K1 military base used by U.S. and coalition forces in northern Iraq. The attack led to retaliatory U.S. military strikes in Iraq and Syria Sunday against the Iranian-backed militia the U.S. blamed for the Dec. 27 attack, which in turn led hundreds of pro-Iranian protesters to attempt to storm the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on New Year’s Eve.
Thursday’s strike against Soleimani “was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans,” the U.S. statement continued. “The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world.”
Trump tweeted an American flag after the strike. It went viral within seconds.
On Friday morning, he Tweeted, “Iran never won a war, but never lost a negotiation!”
Connecticut leaders quickly criticized and questioned the decision.
Senator Chris Murphy reacted to the news on Twitter, saying: “Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. That’s not a question. 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?”
Senator Murphy also released a statement Friday morning saying,
“No matter how good it may feel that Qasem Soleimani is no longer alive, he likely will end up being more dangerous to the United States, our troops, and our allies, as a martyr than as a living, breathing military adversary. There will be reprisals, and Iran will likely target American troops and even our own political and military leaders. This is why the United States does not assassinate leaders of foreign nations-in the end such action risks getting more, not less, Americans killed in the long run.
“President Trump’s disastrous approach to Iran has, from the beginning, been all tactics and no strategy. They make it up day by day. The assassination of Soleimani fits this pattern. I hope I am wrong, but I suspect this White House is totally unprepared for the cascade of consequences that will follow last night’s actions. I pray for the Americans who, today, are in harm’s way.
“Now, it is up to Congress to press the president to disclose his legal basis for this action and the plan for how our nation manages the fallout. I doubt there is congressional authority for this strike, and I doubt the president has a plan for what comes next. But these are questions Congress must now ask.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal also questioned the action’s consequences of a possible war.
Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) released a statement Friday morning saying,
“The unilateral decision by President Trump to strike down a bad actor such as Soleimani unfortunately does not close the book on the threat Iran poses to America. Not consulting with the American people, Congressional leadership and our allies before taking this escalatory action in a part of the world where we have been entangled for eighteen long years is the wrong way to isolate Iranian bad behavior and wind down our involvement in the Middle East.”