Two military leaders, including Iran’s elite Quds force chief, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, were killed in an airstrike in Iraq on Thursday afternoon, according to Iraqi state television.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of the Shiite Iran-backed militia responsible for the assault on the US embassy in Iraq earlier this week, was reportedly also killed in the airstrike. A senior Pentagon official told Newsweek that Muhandis and Soleimani were killed in the strike, and that DNA results were pending.
It was not immediately clear who conducted the airstrike. US Central Command, the combatant command operating in the region, said it had no information available as of Thursday evening.
“The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani,” Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, the Iran-backed umbrella paramilitary group, said in a statement, according to Reuters.
PMF sympathizers orchestrated the protests at the US embassy on New Years Eve, prompting the US to send in military reinforcements to secure the site. The attacks followed a rocket barrage on December 27, which killed one American contractor. The US responded to the attack with an airstrike that reportedly killed 25 militants.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Thursday warned in a statement that the US “will not accept continued attacks against our personnel and forces in the region.”
“Attacks against us will be met with responses in the time, manner, and place of our choosing,” Esper said. “We urge the Iranian regime to end their malign activities.”
Soleimani is designated by the US as a terrorist for his ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The elite Quds force, a branch of the IRGC, provided lethal aid to the Taliban and other extremist groups.
Who was Soleimani?
Qassem Soleimani commands the Quds force, a division of the IRGC trained in unconventional warfare beyond Iran’s borders, including Syria and Iraq. His influence in the region has been met with consternation by US officials, who widely allege that his actions further destabilized the region.