The US embassy in Baghdad urged American citizens in Iraq on Friday to “depart immediately” for fear of fallout from a US strike that killed top Iranian and Iraqi commanders.
An American airstrike overnight on a pair of cars at Baghdad’s airport killed Qassem Soleimani, the powerful head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, as well as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a commander in the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Force militia.
“US citizens should depart via airline while possible, and failing that, to other countries via land,” the US embassy said in a statement.
The State Department said the embassy in Baghdad, which was attacked by Iran-backed militiamen and other protesters earlier this week, is closed and all consular services have been suspended.
Meanwhile the NATO military alliance said it was monitoring the situation in Iraq closely with an eye to the safety of its training mission there.
“The safety of our personnel in Iraq is paramount. We continue to take all precautions necessary.”
The US strike hit outside Baghdad airport early Friday but security sources told AFP it was still open to flights.
Around 5,200 American troops are based in Iraq, where they mainly train Iraqi forces and help to combat Islamic State jihadists.
Soleimani’s death will likely mark a major escalation in a simmering conflict between the US and Iran that recently boiled over in Iraq with the storming of the US embassy by pro-Iranian militiamen following a US strike on a Tehran-backed militia.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned earlier that a “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the US.
“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.”
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.
Soleimani has for years been seen as the architect of much of Iran’s malign activities in the Middle East, including attempts to place a foothold in Syria and rocket attacks on Israel, making him one of Israel and the US’s most sought-after targets.