Burning debris from the US drone strike on the convoy of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, near Baghdad International Airport, Iraq, January 3, 2020
Rumours spread on Friday of another US strike on an Iran-backed Iraqi militia, hours after top Iranian commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani was assassinated by the American military.
Soleimani was killed when a missile from a MQ-9 Reaper drone struck his convoy outside Baghdad International Airport. The leader of the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and its head of public relations were also among the slain.
Soleimani was head of the Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guards branch for operations outside Iran. He was the face of Tehran’s military interventions in Syria and Iraq, and a a key political actor for almost 20 years in the Middle East.
On Saturday another convoy of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units was struck near Taji Stadium in Baghdad.
There was confusion over the victims and who carried out the attack, which killed six people and critically wounded three, according to an Iraqi army officer.
Initial reports said leaders of the PMU, of which Kata’ib Hezbollah is a key faction, were the target. But the PMU insisted that the convoy was of medics.
Iraqi State TV said the US was responsible, but the American military denied its warplanes were in the area.
The Popular Mobilization Units were formed after the Islamic State took 1/3 of Iraqi territory in 2014 and are now linked with the Iraqi armed forces. Soleimani was instrumental in the PMU’s formation and direction.
Regime Names Replacement
The Supreme Leader quickly announced the successor to Soleimani as head of the Qods Force, amid three days of mourning for the slain general.
Brigadier General Qa’ani has been appointed new Commander of IRGC Quds Force. The strategy of the Quds Force will be identical to that during the time of Martyr General Soleimani pic.twitter.com/a2zjhp90QP
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) January 3, 2020
Like Soleimani, Qa’ani is a veteran of the 1980s Iran-Iraq War, leading both infantry and armored brigades. He became deputy head of the Quds Force in 1997, when Soleimani was named commander, and like his precedessor is on a US sanctions blacklist.
The regime maintained the Supreme Leader’s rhetoric of “crushing revenge” on the US throughout the day.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif derided “the cowardly act of state terrorism” and said it will lead to the “elimination” of the US from the Middle East: “People [in the region] will put the reality of the situation in Iraq on display, and will show America that this is the beginning of the end of its presence in Iraq.”
He declared that Tehran would exercise its legal right” to respond to the assassination “in the right place, at the right time, and in the manner that it sees fit”.
Ambassador to the UN Majid Takht-e Ravanchi told CNN, “[This] was an act of war on the part of the United States against the Iranian people…a new chapter, which is tantamount to opening a war against Iran.”
Zarif pointed to the UN’s condemnation of the assassinations, through its head of human rights Agnes Callamard, as “most likely unlawful and violate international human rights law”.
Vladimir Putin criticised the US attack, but the German Government said, “The American action was a reaction to a series of military provocations for which Iran is responsible.”
That brought a rebuke from the Iranian Foreign Ministry: “Such comments indicate Berlin is not aware of realities on the ground in the region, and will, intentionally or unintentionally, align this country [Germany] with the United States’ state terrorism.”