Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani was the head of the elite Quds Force in the Revolutionary Guard of Iran. He built Iran-friendly militias in countries across the Middle East, and directed operations against U.S. allies as well as against U.S. positions in the region. He was also suspected of leading the attacks against the U.S. embassy in Iraq earlier this week.
News of the strikes came after U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Thursday there were indications Iran or forces it backs may be planning additional attacks after Iranian-backed demonstrated hurled rocks at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad following American strikes on Sunday against bases of the Tehran-backed Kataib Hezbollah group.
Esper warned that the “game has changed” and it was possible the United States might have to take preemptive action to protect American lives.
Iranian state-controlled television has been running stories depicting Soleimani as a hero. Hessameddin Ashena, an advisor to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, wrote on social media:
“Trump through his gamble has dragged the US into the most dangerous situation in the region. Whoever put his foot beyond the red line should be ready to face its consequences.”
The stock markets look poised to give up about 1% on the news, while oil prices climbed 4%.
The big question is what happens next. Iran holds sway in Iraq, where a majority of the population share the same Shiite religion with Iran.
The U.S. state department has warned all U.S. citizens to leave Iraq immediately.