Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned Friday morning that a “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the US after an American airstrike on a pair of cars at Baghdad’s airport killed Qassem Soleimani, the powerful head of Iran’s elite Quds Force.
Iranian state TV carried a statement by Khamenei also calling Soleimani “the international face of resistance.” Khamenei declared three days of public mourning for the general’s death.
“Martyrdom was the reward for his ceaseless efforts all these years,” Khamenei said on his Farsi-language Twitter account in reference to Soleimani.
“With him gone, God willing, his work and his path will not be stopped, but severe revenge awaits the criminals who bloodied their foul hands with his blood and other martyrs in last night’s incident.”
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps confirmed Soleimani had been killed by US forces in Baghdad, with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denouncing it as a “dangerous escalation.”
“The Revolutionary Guards announces that the glorious commander of Islam, haj Qasem Soleimani, following a life of servitude, was martyred in an attack by America on Baghdad airport this morning,” said a Guards statement read out on state television.
The channel said the attack was carried out by US helicopters.
“Two vehicles were attacked with missiles by US forces” and all 10 passengers, including Soleimani, were “martyred,” Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Iraj Masjedi, told state television.
President Hasan Rouhani said Iran and the “free nations of the region” would take revenge on the United States for the killing.
“There is no doubt that the great nation of Iran and the other free nations of the region will take revenge for this gruesome crime from criminal America,” Rouhani said in a statement posted on the Iranian government website.
An adviser to Rouhani warned US President Donald Trump of retaliation from Tehran. “Trump through his gamble has dragged the US into the most dangerous situation in the region,” Hessameddin Ashena wrote on the social media app Telegram. “Whoever put his foot beyond the red line should be ready to face its consequences.”
Other senior members of the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militia in Iraq were also killed in the overnight strike.
Iranian state television interrupted its regular programming to detail the commander’s achievements in the region, pointing to many times he “foiled” US plans.
In a commentary, sate television called Trump’s order to kill Soleimani “the greatest miscalculation by the US” in the years since World War II. “The people of the region will no longer allow Americans to stay,” the TV said.
A black ribbon was displayed on the screen and a photo montage was shown with images of Soleimani smiling and praying.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif tweeted that targeting Soleimani was a “foolish escalation.”
“The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism,” he wrote.
The US' act of international terrorism, targeting & assassinating General Soleimani—THE most effective force fighting Daesh (ISIS), Al Nusrah, Al Qaeda et al—is extremely dangerous & a foolish escalation.
The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 3, 2020
In a statement, the foreign ministry said the United States would pay for the “atrocity.”
“The malice and stupidity of America’s terrorist forces in assassinating General Soleimani, this hero martyr and the leader of combating terrorism and extremism, will certainly further empower the tree of resistance in the region and the world,” it said. The ministry said it would “use all its political legal and international capacities to enact the decisions of the Supreme National Security Council to make the murderous and terrorist regime of America answer for this clear atrocity.”
The foreign ministry also summoned an official from the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which represents US interests in Iran, to “strongly protest” the killing, according to a tweet by ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi.
Mohsen Rezaei, a former head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which the Quds force is part of, threatened Friday that Tehran would take “vigorous revenge” on the US for the attack.
Iraq’s caretaker prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi slammed the US strike as an “aggression” that would “spark a devastating war.”
“The assassination of an Iraqi military commander in an official post is an aggression against the country of Iraq, its state, its government and its people,” Abdel Mahdi said in a statement.
Washington confirmed that it had carried out the strike. The Pentagon said was executed at the direction of US President Donald Trump.
“At the direction of the President, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani,” a statement said.
“General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more,” the Department of Defense added.
Iran’s top security body called an urgent meeting Friday over the “martyrdom” of Soleimani, semi-official news agency ISNA reported.
“In a few hours, an extraordinary meeting of the Supreme National Security Council will be held to review the murderous attack on the vehicle of General Soleimani in Baghdad that lead to his martyrdom,” ISNA quoted its secretariat spokesman Keyvan Khosravi as saying.
Tehran-based analyst Mohammad Marandi said the US had “declared war” against Iran and Iraq, and “it’s best for westerners to evacuate countries like United Arab Emirates and Iraq immediately.”
Israeli officials have previously expressed concerns that Iran or its proxies in Syria may fire missiles at Israel as a form of exacting revenge on the US amid simmering tensions. On Friday the military ordered the closure of the Mount Hermon ski resort in the Golan Heights, near the Syria border. Soleimani was a major player in placing Iranian troops and pro-Iran proxies in Syria.