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Iran’s top commander Soleimani killed in US drone strike

General Qasem Soleimani during a meeting of Quds Force officers in Tehran.

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Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force and the mastermind behind the Islamic Republic’s military and foreign policy in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, was killed following an American drone strike while travelling in a car convoy headed for Iraq’s Baghdad International Airport early on Friday morning.
The strike killed five people, including Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the pro-Iranian chief of Iraq’s Kata’ib Hezbollah, a powerful Shiite militia with close ties to Soleimani’s Quds Force.
The Department of Defense confirmed in a statement that it was responsible for the attack, saying, “At the direction of the President, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”
A spokesman for Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella grouping of Iran-trained Shia militias, also confirmed to Western news outlets that Soleimani and al-Muhandis had been killed in the airstrikes.
Also killed in the attack was the public relations chief for the Popular Mobilization Forces, Mohammed Ridha Jabri. The Iraqi Joint Command said Soleimani and Ridha had arrived by plane at Baghdad International Airport from Syria shortly before the strikes were carried out. Their two cars were then bombed as they left the airport.
The attack comes at a moment of increased tension between Washington and Tehran. In late December, the Iranian-backed Khata’ib Hezbollah fired 31 rockets into a base in Kirkuk Province that killed an American contractor and wounded several American and Iraqi soldiers. The United States responded by bombing three Khata’ib Hezbollah bases in western Iraq and two sites in Syria.
In an eerie echo of the 1979 takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran by supporters of the Islamic Revolution, members of Khata’ib Hezbollah – which receives training and funding from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as well as weapons and training from its sister terrorist organisation in Lebanon, Hezbollah – stormed the American Embassy in Baghdad on December 31.
Over the course of the next 24 hours, the Khata’ib Hezbollah militia members burned the embassy’s reception area and effectively trapped the American diplomats inside the compound.
In another nod to the 1979 hostage crisis that saw 52 American diplomats and citizens held prisoner for 444 days by Islamic Revolutionary Guard members following the takeover of the American Embassy in Iran, the Khata’ib Hezbollah members chanted “Death to America” throughout their near-two-day takeover of the Baghdad compound.
Their withdrawal came only after al-Muhandis, a dual Iranian-Iraqi national born Jamal Ali Ebrahimi and who had previously served in the Quds Force before being listed as a terrorist by the US for his role in a series of bombings in 1983 that targeted the American and French embassies in Kuwait, forced Iraq’s Tehran-supported beleaguered prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, to push through legislation in the Iraqi parliament that would force American troops to pull out of Iraq.
The storming of the Baghdad embassy had been interpreted by many Middle East experts as a demonstration of Iran’s, specifically the Soleimani-led Quds Force, to deploy Shiite militias in Iraq that can operate with impunity against even the most heavily guarded Western targets.
Since first taking command of the Quds Force – which is responsible for all military, intelligence, and asymmetrical warfare activities outside Iran – in 1997, Solemani has reshaped the Middle East’s balance of power in Tehran’s favour as a major power broker in countries where Iran is engaged in ongoing operations. In Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen Soleimani built a reputation as a feared military commander and superb combat tactician who also assassinated rivals and armed a network of fiercely loyal Shiite terrorist groups that killed hundreds of Americans in countries stretching from Afghanistan to the Eastern Mediterranean.
A division commander and decorated veteran of the brutal 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, Soleimani was known as a charismatic figure who was beloved by his troops. He had reportedly spent most of the last several months in Baghdad after anti-government protests erupted in Iraq and Lebanon. The unrest worried Tehran after the demonstrations spread to the Iraqi and Lebanese Shiite communities, both of which are regularly viewed by the Islamic Republic as being staunchly loyal to the Iranian government.
Believed to be one of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s closest allies, Soleimani was regarded as one of Iran’s most cunning military figures, a man who held unmatched sway over all of Tehran’s military and espionage activities in the Middle East, including bolstering Iran’s times to its main allies in the region, the Russia-backed Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and two of the world’s most deadly terrorist organisations – Hamas and Hezbollah, both of which have been responsible for the killing and kidnapping thousands of American, Israeli, British, and European citizens since the 1980s.

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