Iran called it an act of ‘international terrorism’ and the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed ‘harsh revenge is waiting for the criminals’ who killed Soleimani.
Moscow warned Soleimani’s death would boost tensions across the Middle East and China urged restraint from all sides, ‘especially the United States’.
It came as European shares slipped from near record highs and oil prices rose over $2 (£1.50) a barrel as the markets reacted to ratcheted up tensions.
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The death of Soleimani (left), a figure deeply ingrained in the Iranian regime who many had assumed would be the country’s next leader, brings Iran and America to the brink of all-out war. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis had been instrumental in leading attacks on the US embassy (pictured right, outside the building)
A US airstrike on Baghdad airport has killed Soleimani, the head of Iran’s powerful Quds force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy-leader of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (pictured, the burning remains of a car that was among a convoy the men had been travelling in)
Russia’s foreign ministry said: ‘The killing of Soleimani… was an adventurist step that will increase tensions throughout the region.
‘Soleimani served the cause of protecting Iran’s national interests with devotion. We express our sincere condolences to the Iranian people.’
Russia and Iran are key allies in the Middle East, with the militaries of both countries backing President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.
Moscow is also one of the world powers that negotiated the landmark Iran nuclear deal that Washington withdrew from in 2018, leading to a surge in tensions.
Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian parliament’s upper house, said Soleimani’s killing was a mistake that would hit back at Washington.
‘Retaliatory strikes will certainly follow,’ he said in a post on his Facebook page, adding Israel was likely also worried.
He said the killing marked the end of any chance to salvage the nuclear deal.
‘The last hopes of resolving the Iranian nuclear problem have been ‘bombed’,’ he wrote.
As the sun rose over Baghdad airport, daylight revealed the twisted remains of one of the vehicles the men had been travelling in. In total, a US drone fired four missiles that struck a convoy of cars, killing the two men and their entourage
Soleimani had just arrived on a flight from Syria, and was in a car leaving the airport when missiles from a US drone killed him
This photo released by the Iraqi Prime Minister Press Office shows a burning vehicle at the Baghdad International Airport following an airstrike, in Baghdad, Iraq, early Friday
Soon after news of the strike spread, Mr Trump, who is currently at Mar-a-Lago, tweeted an image of an American flag, offering no further remarks or explanation.
The attack unfolded in a precision strike on two cars that were carrying Soleimani and Iraq-based PMF militiamen who were picking him up from the airport.
Soleimani had reportedly just arrived to Baghdad on a flight from Syria. Airport logs show a Cham Wings flight arriving from Damascus at 12.34am Friday Baghdad time, but it is unclear whether Soleimani was on that flight or a private charter.
Four precision missiles fired from a US drone struck the two cars carrying Soleimani and his entourage, according to US officials.
The cars were hit on an access road near the Baghdad airport.
Soon after news of the strike spread, Mr Trump, who is currently at Mar-a-Lago, tweeted an image of an American flag, offering no further remarks or explanation
Shortly before he was killed in the strike, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted this photo of Muhandis helping to organise protests at the American embassy in Iraq
China appealed for restraint from all sides, ‘especially the United States’, following the killing.
‘China has always opposed the use of force in international relations,’ Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily press briefing.
‘We urge the relevant sides, especially the United States, to remain calm and exercise restraint to avoid further escalating tensions,’ Geng said.
He said Iraq’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity must be respected.
China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, is a key partner of Iran and major buyer of the country’s oil.
Geng said China urged all sides to abide by the principles of the UN charter and the ‘basic norms of international relations’.
Iran, China and Russia held joint naval drills in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman last week and the Iranian foreign minister visited Beijing earlier this week.
China and Russia are also parties to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, from which Mr Trump withdrew in May last year.
The Pentagon said Thursday that the U.S. military has killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, at the direction of President Donald Trump
Two officials from the PMF said Soleimani’s body was torn to pieces in the attack, while they did not find the body of al-Muhandis.
Soleimani’s corpse was identified by a ring he wore, an Iraqi politician said.
Photos from the scene show a hand with large ring that looks identical to one Soleimani is seen wearing in old photos.
The Defense Department said the airstrike was justified to protect American lives.
Yet Iraq’s caretaker prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said the strike, which also killed an Iraqi commander, was 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,’ he said in a statement.
Abdel Mahdi said the strike was a ‘flagrant violation of the conditions authorising the presence of US troops’ on Iraqi soil.
Similarly, the Syrian government accused Washington of trying to fuel conflict in the Middle East.
Syria is ‘certain that this cowardly US aggression… will only strengthen determination to follow in the path of the resistance’s martyred leaders,’ a foreign ministry official was quoted as saying by the state news agency SANA.
But some in the Middle East were in favour of the attack.
Full Pentagon statement on strike that killed Soleimani
The Department of Defense sent the following statement to DailyMail.com:
‘At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.
‘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.
‘He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months – including the attack on December 27th – culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel.
‘General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week.
‘This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world.’
Iraqis who have demonstrated for months against a government they see as beholden to Iran broke into song and dance after the airstrike.
‘Oh Qasem Soleimani, this is a divine victory,’ they cheered in Baghdad’s iconic Tahrir Square, the epicentre of their movement.
‘This is God’s revenge for the blood of those killed,’ one added, after nearly 460 people were killed in violence that many demonstrators have blamed on Iran-backed security forces.
In the West, the reaction was more mixed.
Britain called for calm, with foreign secretary Dominic Raab saying London had ‘always recognised the aggressive threat’ posed by Soleimani and his Quds Force.
He added: ‘Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is none of our interests.’
France’s Europe Minister Amelie de Montchalin told French radio: ‘We have woken up to a more dangerous world.’
He said President Emmanuel Macron would consult soon with players in the region.
‘In such operations, when can see an escalation is under way, but what we want above all is stability and de-escalation,’ Montchalin said.
‘All of France’s efforts… in all parts of the world aim to ensure that we are creating the conditions for peace or at least stability,’ she added.
‘Our role is not to take sides, but to talk with everyone,’ Montchalin said.
US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that the killing of Soleimani risks provoking a ‘dangerous escalation of violence’.
‘America – and the world – cannot afford to have tensions escalate to the point of no return.’
‘President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox,’ former vice president Joe Biden said in a statement.
‘Iran will surely respond. We could be on the brink of a major conflict across the Middle East.’
Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic Presidential contender, said: ‘Soleimani was a murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans.
‘But this reckless move escalates the situation with Iran and increases the likelihood of more deaths and new Middle East conflict. Our priority must be to avoid another costly war.’
A senior politician said Soleimani’s body was identified by the ring (above) he often wore
Mr Trump’s allies rushed to his defence, however, including Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican.
‘Soleimani was one of the most ruthless and vicious members of the Ayatollah’s regime. He had American blood on his hands,’ said Graham in a tweet.
‘If Iranian aggression continues and I worked at an Iranian oil refinery, I would think about a new career,’ he continued ominously.
Trump’ campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in an interview with Fox News that the killing of Soleimani is the ‘greatest foreign policy accomplishment, I would say, of the decade, if not our lifetime’.
But traders were clearly spooked today.
Europe’s stock markets fell 0.5 per cent in early trading as hopes for a lengthy New Year rally vanished.
Safe havens gained, with Japan’s yen rising half a percent to the dollar to a two-month high and the Swiss franc hitting its highest against the euro since September.
The Middle East-focused oil markets saw the most dramatic moves.
Brent crude futures jumped nearly $3 to $69.16 a barrel — also the highest since September — before easing back to $68.42.
Qassem Soleimani headed Iran’s external military arm whose reach extended throughout Middle East
Qassem Soleimani headed the Quds Force, the external arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards that conducted operations outside of Iran
Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed Friday in a US strike, was one of the most popular figures in Iran and seen as a deadly adversary by America and its allies.
As the head of the Quds, or Jersualem, Force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, Soleimani led all of its expeditionary forces.
Quds Force members have deployed into Syria’s long war to support President Bashar Assad, as well as into Iraq in the wake of the 2003 US invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, a longtime foe of Tehran.
Soleimani rose to prominence by advising forces fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and in Syria on behalf of the embattled Bashar Assad.
US officials say the Guard under Soleimani taught Iraqi militants how to manufacture and use especially deadly roadside bombs against US troops after the invasion of Iraq.
Iran has denied that.
Soleimani himself remains popular among many Iranians, who see him as a selfless hero fighting Iran’s enemies abroad.
Soleimani had been rumored dead several times, including in a 2006 airplane crash that killed other military officials in northwestern Iran and following a 2012 bombing in Damascus that killed top aides of Assad.
Rumors circulated in November 2015 that Soleimani was killed or seriously wounded leading forces loyal to Assad as they fought around Syria’s Aleppo.
Soleimani has been in and out of Baghdad in recent years.
Last month, he tried to broker agreements as Iraqi parties struggled to form a new government.
Where once he kept to the shadows, Soleimani has in recent years become an unlikely celebrity in Iran – replete with a huge following on Instagram.
His profile rose suddenly when he was pushed forward as the public face of Iran’s intervention in the Syrian conflict from 2013, appearing in battlefield photos, documentaries – and even being featured in a music video and animated film.
Soleimani was considered the man mostly responsible for exerting Iranian influence on the Middle East, including countries like Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen
In a rare interview aired on Iranian state television in October, he said he was in Lebanon during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war to oversee the conflict.
To his fans and enemies alike, Soleimani was the key architect of Iran’s regional influence, leading the fight against jihadist forces and extending Iran’s diplomatic heft in Iraq, Syria and beyond.
‘To Middle Eastern Shiites, he is James Bond, Erwin Rommel and Lady Gaga rolled into one,’ wrote former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack in a profile for Time’s 100 most influential people in 2017.
‘To the West, he is… responsible for exporting Iran’s Islamic revolution, supporting terrorists, subverting pro-Western governments and waging Iran’s foreign wars,’ Pollack added.
With Iran roiled by protests and economic problems at home, and the US once again mounting pressure from the outside, some Iranians had even called for Soleimani to enter domestic politics.
While he has dismissed rumors he might one day run for president, the general has played a decisive role in the politics of Iran’s neighbor, Iraq.
As well as talks on forming a government, he was pivotal in pressuring Iraq’s Kurds to abandon their plans for independence after an ill-judged referendum last September.
His influence has deep roots, since Soleimani was already leading the Quds Force when the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001.
‘My Iranian interlocutors on Afghanistan made clear that while they kept the foreign ministry informed, ultimately it was General Soleimani that would make the decisions,’ former US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker told the BBC in 2013.
Relatively unknown in Iran until the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Soleimani’s popularity and mystique grew out American officials calling for his killing.
By the time it came a decade and a half later, Soleimani had become Iran’s most recognizable battlefield commander, ignoring calls to enter politics but becoming as powerful, if not more, than its civilian leadership.
‘The warfront is mankind’s lost paradise,’ Soleimani recounted in a 2009 interview.
‘One type of paradise that is portrayed for mankind is streams, beautiful nymphs and greeneries.
‘But there is another kind of paradise. … The warfront was the lost paradise of the human beings, indeed.’
His firm but quiet presence play perfectly to the Iranian penchant for dignified humility.
‘He sits over there on the other side of room, by himself, in a very quiet way. Doesn’t speak, doesn’t comment, just sits and listens. And so of course everyone is thinking only about him,’ a senior Iraqi official told the New Yorker for a long profile of Soleimani.
This image posted on the website of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (seen far left), shows Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (center) and Soleimani at a ceremony commemorating the death of the Shiite prophet Hussein in September
A survey published in 2018 by IranPoll and the University of Maryland – one of the few considered reliable by analysts – found Soleimani had a popularity rating of 83 percent, beating President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Western leaders saw him as central to Iran’s ties with militia groups including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas.
Soleimani is also thought to have been the point man for Iran’s foreign policy in places like Afghanistan and the Caucasus region.
Part of his appeal was the suggestion he might bridge Iran’s bitter social divides on issues such as its strict ‘hijab’ clothing rules.
‘If we constantly use terms such as “bad hijab” and “good hijab”, reformist or conservative… then who is left?’ Soleimani said in a speech to mark World Mosque Day in 2017.
‘They are all people. Are all your children religious? Is everybody the same? No, but the father attracts all of them.’
While Soleimani rose in the ranks to be one of the most powerful figures in the Islamic Republic, he was not known to be a religious man.
He never received a religious education. Instead, he rose through the ranks of the military after the Islamic Revolution.
A father of five, the 61-year-old Soleimani rarely gave media interviews.
But there are a few details about his life that are public knowledge.
Born March 11, 1957, Soleimani was said in his homeland to have grown up near the mountainous and the historic Iranian town of Rabor, famous for its forests, its apricot, walnut and peach harvests and its brave soldiers.
The State Department has said he was born in the Iranian religious capital of Qom.
Little is known about his childhood, though Iranian accounts suggest Soleimani’s father was a peasant who received a piece of land under the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, but later became encumbered by debts.
By the time he was 13, Soleimani began working in construction, later as an employee of the Kerman Water Organization.
Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution swept the shah from power and Soleimani joined the Revolutionary Guard in its wake.
He deployed to Iran’s northwest with forces that put down Kurdish unrest following the revolution.
Soon after, Iraq invaded Iran and began the two countries long, bloody eight-year war.
Soleimani is seen above in February 2016 during an annual rally commemorating the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Tehran
The fighting killed more than 1 million people and saw Iran send waves of lightly armed troops into minefields and the fire of Iraqi forces, including teenage soldiers.
Solemani’s unit and others came under attack by Iraqi chemical weapons as well.
Amid the carnage, Soleimani became known for his opposition to ‘meaningless deaths’ on the battlefield, while still weeping at times with fervor when exhorting his men into combat, embracing each individually.
It is not known if he participated in the mass demonstrations that eventually led to the ouster of the shah in 1979.
After the Islamic Republic came to be, Soleimani joined the Iranian Revolutionary Guards – a military force separate from the army.
Soleimani’s charisma propelled him to the senior officer ranks. In 1998, he was named commander of the Quds Force.
‘Quds’ is the Persian word for Jerusalem, which the Iranians have vowed to liberate.
It was first established during the Iran-Iraq conflict with the goal of helping the Kurds in their struggle against Saddam Hussein.
Another key function of the Quds Force was to spread the Islamic regime’s message to the Iranian military – a necessity at the time given that there were fears the army would turn against the government.
The Quds Force eventually started to train military outfits outside of Iran, like Hezbollah in Lebanon.
In secret US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, US officials openly discussed Iraqi efforts to reach out to Soleimani to stop rocket attacks on the highly secured Green Zone in Baghdad in 2009.
Soleimani fought in the bloody, eight-year Iran-Iraq war. The image above from 1980 shows an Iranian Revolutionary Guard weeping by the body of his brother in Kermanshah Province
Another cable in 2007 outlines then-Iraqi President Jalal Talabani offering a US official a message from Soleimani acknowledging having ‘hundreds’ of agents in the country while pledging, ‘I swear on the grave of (the late Ayatollah Ruhollah) Khomeini I haven´t authorized a bullet against the US.’
US officials at the time dismissed Soleimani’s claim as they saw Iran as both an arsonist and a fireman in Iraq, controlling some Shiite militias while simultaneously stirring dissent and launching attacks.
US forces would blame the Quds Force for an attack in Karbala that killed five American troops, as well as for training and supplying the bomb makers whose improvised explosive devices made IED – improvised explosive device – a dreaded acronym among soldiers.
In a 2010 speech, US General David Petreaus recounted a message from Soleimani he said explained the scope of Iranian’s powers.
‘He said, “General Petreaus, you should know that I, Qassem Soleimani, control the policy for Iran with respect to Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan”,’ Petraeus said.
The US and the United Nations put Soleimani on sanctions lists in 2007, though his travels continued.
In 2011, US officials also named him as a defendant in an outlandish Quds Force plot to allegedly hire a purported Mexican drug cartel assassin to kill a Saudi diplomat.
But his greatest notoriety would arise from the Syrian civil war and the rapid expansion of the Islamic State group.
Iran, a major backer of Assad, sent Soleimani into Syria several times to lead attacks against IS and others opposing Assad’s rule.
While a US-led coalition focused on airstrikes, several ground victories for Iraqi forces came with photographs emerging of Soleimani leading, never wearing a flak jacket.
‘Soleimani has taught us that death is the beginning of life, not the end of life,’ one Iraqi militia commander said.
Sources: Associated Press, AFP,