Early on Friday (January 3), President Donald Trump authorized a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport in Iraq that killed Corps Major General Qassim Soleimani, Iran’s senior commander in the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, the New York Times reported.
The strike comes after an attack killed an American contractor in December, the Times reported; it wasn’t immediately clear who was culpable, but Trump accused an Iranian-backed militia, Kataib Hezbollah. In the following days, the U.S. and Iran began trading deadly attacks and threats: The U.S. killed 24 Iranian-backed militia members in Iraq and Syria; Iraqi militia broke into the U.S. embassy and set fires; Trump deployed additional American troops to the Middle East; and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, sparred with Trump on Twitter. The two nations have an already-contentious relationship, particularly since 2018, when Trump pulled out of a nuclear deal Obama established with Iran; the president has also reintroduced sanctions against the country and designated its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization.
The reasoning behind this strike, which also killed several other Iranian officials, slightly differs depending on who you ask: The Pentagon said it was a preemptive move meant to deter future Iranian attacks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it was because “there was an imminent attack taking place,” and Trump tweeted that Soleimani was “plotting to kill many more” Americans and “got caught.”
The strike still came unexpectedly, and caused many to worry this could lead to a new war — former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush both refused to kill Soleimani on the grounds of avoiding that very outcome, according to the New York Times.
Soleimani was behind most of the Iranian intelligence and military forces over the past 20 years, the Times reported. His death has reverberated across the country; Khamenei declared three days of national mourning. He also called for retaliation, and said that “vengeance is in store for the criminals who stained their unclean hands with his blood and that of other martyrs in the incident last night,” according to Politico. He later added: “His blood was shed by the most barbaric of men.”
In response, the State Department is urging Americans to leave “Iraq and the region” immediately due to “heightened tensions.” Per a CNN report, the U.S. is also deploying the Immediate Response Force of the 82nd Airborne Division to the region; they had previously deployed 750 soldiers from the unit following the militia attack on the Baghdad embassy.
Republican lawmakers have applauded Trump’s actions, justifying the attack on the grounds that Soleimani was culpable for the deaths of hundreds of Americans. But Democrats have called the strike a dangerous move that will inevitably lead to more attacks — and say the move didn’t go through the right channels. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in a statement that the action, which “was taken without the consultation of the Congress” risks “provoking further dangerous escalation of violence.”
“America – and the world – cannot afford to have tensions escalate to the point of no return,” she said, adding later: “The full Congress must be immediately briefed on this serious situation and on the next steps under consideration by the Administration, including the significant escalation of the deployment of additional troops to the region.” A top White House official told CBS News White House correspondent Paula Reid that those conversations are set to take place Friday (January 3).
This isn’t the first time Trump has acted without briefing top congressional Democrats — he kept those leaders in the dark in October when the U.S. took out ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as well, USA Today reported. Conversely, when President Obama took out al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011, he briefed the eight most powerful Democrats and Republicans in Congress, according to the Congressional Research Service.
This is a developing story. MTV News will update it as we learn more.