US strike kills Qasim Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis
WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – Late on Thursday, a US drone strike on a convoy near the Baghdad airport killed Qasim Soleimani, long-time head of the Quds Force, the paramilitary arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the head of the Iranian-backed Shiite militia, Kata’ib Hizbollah, which was responsible for killing a US contractor last Friday in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base near Kirkuk.
Apparently, Muhandis had gone to the airport to greet Soleimani, who was flying into Baghdad.
Both Soleimani and Mohandis had been designated by the US as individual terrorists, while the organizations they headed—the Quds Force and Kata’ib Hizbollah—had been designated as terrorist groups.
Soleimani “was developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the US Defense Department said in a statement issued several hours after the attack.
The statement also explained that Soleimani and the Quds Force had played a major role in attacking US forces a decade ago, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
They “were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more,” the Pentagon stated. It also charged that Soleimani “had orchestrated the attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months,” as well as the assault earlier this week on the US embassy in Baghdad.
On Thursday morning, just hours before the US attack, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper issued a statement directed to “Iran and its proxy militias.”
Esper’s statement warned, “We will not accept continued attacks against our personnel and forces in the region,” and “attacks against us will be met with responses in the time, manner, and place of our choosing.”
Speaking to journalists subsequently, Esper explained, “There are some indications” that the Iranians “may be planning additional attacks.” And “if that happens, then we will act.”
“We will take preemptive action to protect American forces” and American lives,” he continued. “So the game has changed.”
“The Game has Changed”
Col. Norvell DeAtkine (US Army, retired), speaking to Kurdistan 24, welcomed the US military operation, as well as Esper’s forceful statements.
DeAtkine, formerly Director of Middle East Studies at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, said, “That is how the US should be dealing with aggressive, hostile action from a country like Iran.”
“You don’t respond tit for tat,” DeAtkine explained. “They strike our camps, so we strike theirs,” as happened on Sunday, when the US hit five Kata’ib Hizbollah positions in retaliation for Friday’s attack on the K-1 military base.
Read More: US strikes Kata’ib Hizbollah in Iraq and Syria
“We are much more powerful than they are, and we need to demonstrate it,” DeAtkine continued, “So we need to attack a significant and meaningful target, just as Esper said we would.”
“But, honestly, I’m a bit surprised that it came so quickly,” he concluded. “I hope the Iranians draw the appropriate lessons.”
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, speaking alongside Esper on Thursday morning, detailed recent Iranian attacks on Iraqi bases hosting US forces. Describing those attacks as a “sustained campaign since at least October,” Milley also noted that “the campaign has increased in tempo and intensity.”
“In October, there were four attacks. In November, there were four to five,” he said. In December, up until the 27th” of the month, “there were six attacks.”
Milley also emphasized that the strike last Friday on K-1 was intended to be lethal. Some 100 soldiers were at the compound, he explained, and “thirty-one rockets aren’t designed as a warning shot. That’s designed to inflict damage and kill.”
“So this has been a sustained campaign” Milley affirmed, by Kata’ib Hizbollah, which “is under the influence, command, control, support, training, advice, et. cetera, of Iranian special operations forces.”
Iran has threatened retaliation for Soleimani’s assassination. But, almost certainly, US officials anticipated such a response.
Just what Iran will do remains to be seen, but as Milley noted, even absent a US military response, there had been an escalating campaign, directed by Iran, against US forces. And, as Esper noted, it seemed, even before Thursday’s assault, that Iran was planning yet more attacks.
Editing by John J. Catherine