By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Multiple news sources, including Iraqi state TV, are reporting that Qasem Soleimani, the ultra-powerful commander of Iran’s Quds Force, has been killed in an apparent U.S. air strike in Baghdad.
The January 3 attack on one of the most powerful people in Iran, if confirmed, would represent a dramatic escalation in hostilities between the United States and Iran and could lead to retaliatory action by Tehran.
Reuters cited U.S. officials as saying the U.S. military had carried out the attack. There was no official confirmation from U.S. or Iraqi officials.
Iraqi State television reported Soleimani’s death in a breaking news alert. It cited sources from the Shi’ite-led Hashd Shaabi militia (Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF), which is backed by Iran.
The TV network quoted PMF officials as saying said the strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the PMF.
Unconfirmed reports said at least one member of Lebanon’s Hizballah movement was also killedin the attack.
Earlier Iraqi paramilitary groups backed by Iran said that five members of their groups and two “important guests” were killed in an air strike on their vehicles inside the territory of Baghdad International Airport.
The Al Arabiya broadcaster had reported that an official with the PMF had been killed in the attack in the early morning hours, identifying him as Mohammed al-Jaberi, head of the public relations of the PMF.
Soleimani headed the Quds Force, the foreign arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The force has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States.
In July 2018, Soleimani said his forces were ready to confront the U.S. military should President Donald Trump act on his warning that Tehran will “suffer consequences” if it threatens the United States.
“Mr. Trump, how dare you threaten us?” Soleimani was quoted as saying on at the time.
Details of the attack remain sketchy have not been independently confirmed.
The reports come at a time of raised tensions between Washington and Tehran over actions in Iraq.
On December 31, thousands of supporters of the Shi’ite PMU militia broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in central Baghdad.
The embassy attackers said they were protesting recent U.S. air strikes that killed at least 25 members of an Iran-backed militant group.
On January 2, Iranian military leaders warned Washington against threatening military action after Trump said Tehran would be held responsible for recent anti-U.S. protests in Iraq, including the embassy siege.
“We are not leading the country to war, but we are not afraid of any war and we tell America to speak correctly with the Iranian nation,” Brigadier General Hossein Salami, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), said on January 2.
“We have the power to break them several times over and are not worried,” he said in a speech in the southwestern city of Ahwaz.
Meanwhile, army chief Major General Abdolrahim Musavi said Iranian armed forces were ready to confront the “enemy.”
Prior to reports of the air strikes in Baghdad, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Iran or its proxy forces may be planning further strikes on American interests in the Middle East, adding the United States will take action — preemptively, if it has sufficient warning.