In Brief

Iran general killed in drone strike ordered by Donald Trump

Pentagon says ‘decisive defensive action’ taken to prevent further US deaths

The head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds Force has been killed by US forces in Iraq.

In a military attack described as “game-changing” by Fox News, General Qasem Soleimani was targeted with a drone strike while being driven from Baghdad airport by local allies.

The strike comes days after protesters attacked the US embassy in Baghdad, clashing with US forces at the scene. The Pentagon, which claims Soleimani approved the attacks on the embassy, says he was killed “at the direction of the president”.

Donald Trump ordered the airstrike as a “decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad” that was intended to deter “future Iranian attack plans,” the Pentagon added.

However, Iran's Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, described the move as “an act of international terrorism” and an “extremely dangerous and a foolish escalation”.

Soleimani has led Iran's Quds Force – a unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guards – since 1998. Washington claims that the Force is “Iran's primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting” US-designated terrorist groups in the Middle East. According to CNN, Soleimani “has the blood of many Americans on his hands”.

Many consider Suleimani to have been “the second most powerful person in Iran”, behind the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, The Guardian says, and “arguably ahead of President Hassan Rouhani”.

“He was more important than the president, spoke to all factions in Iran, had a direct line to the supreme leader and was in charge of Iran’s regional policy,” explains Dina Esfandiary, a fellow at the Century Foundation think tank, in a profile. Last year, Prospect described him as a “canny, ruthless military leader” and “Iran's greatest defender”.

Therefore, attention now turns to how Tehran responds. The BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet says: “Escalation is expected and retaliation seems certain, setting an already volatile region on an even more dangerous course.”

Mohsen Rezaei, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said Iran would take “vigorous revenge on America”. 

A spokesman for the Iranian government added that the nation’s top security body would meet in a few hours to discuss the "criminal act of attack".

Politicians and commentators in the US are already pointing to the Pentagon’s claim that the assassination was made to prevent further US deaths.

“One reason we don’t generally assassinate foreign political officials is the belief that such action will get more, not less, Americans killed,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy wrote on Twitter. “That should be our real, pressing and grave worry tonight.”

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