Pentagon confirms strike near Baghdad Airport killed Soleimani, top Iraqi militia leader Muhandis

Pentagon confirms strike near Baghdad Airport killed Soleimani, top Iraqi militia leader Muhandis
Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani (third from right), reportedly with Shia militia troops at Um Jaris, Iraq on or about 29 May 2017. (Image: Social media via Long War Journal)

Within the last hour, the Pentagon has confirmed earlier reporting from Iraq that an air strike against a vehicle convoy on road to Baghdad International Airport killed the chief of Iran’s paramilitary Qods Force, Qasem Soleimani.

The Pentagon statement also confirms the death of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, leader of Kataib Hezbollah.  Kataib Hezbollah was behind the attack on the U.S. embassy this week, and is implicated in the rocket attacks in Kirkuk, Iraq, which killed an American last Friday, as well as more recent rocket attacks targeting American interests in Baghdad.

The text of the Pentagon statement:

At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.

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General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.

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.

This article updates the original information from LU’s Web Crawler headline quoting the Jerusalem Post, included here.

[Ed. – It does appear there is increasingly good confirmation that Kataib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was killed in the same strike.  Iraqi media are attributing the strike to the U.S.  Nothing from the Pentagon on this.  There are claims of other PMF leaders being killed as well.]

Iraqi paramilitary groups that IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani was among those killed killed in an air strike on their vehicles inside Baghdad International Airport, militia sources reported on early Friday, after Iraq’s Security Media Cell announced that three katyusha rockets had targeted Baghdad Airport.

The militia members were hosting “important guests” at Baghdad airport who were being driven in two militia vehicles that were struck by two rockets, said the militia sources. …

Police and health sources said that at least five people were killed and nine wounded.

Iraqi state media reported that Soleimani and the deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, were both killed in the attack.

It looks like Soleimani is dead.  Assuming so, it’s hard to overstate the significance of this development.  Soleimani himself is the architect not only of the Iranian-backed guerrilla campaign against Americans in Iraq since at least 2006 (with a death toll of some 500 Americans), but the Iranian campaign to conquer territory in Iraq by “driving out ISIS,” which has been underway since late 2013.  Soleimani’s forces for both campaigns were those of Kataib Hezbollah and affiliated “popular militia” units in Iraq: units composed of Iraqis but backed by Iran, known collectively as the Hashd al-Shaabi.

The Hashd fought alongside the Iraqi National Army in driving ISIS out of Irbil, Fallujah, Ramadi, and much of western Anbar Province, but their purpose — the purpose of their Iranian backers — was to seize control of the Iraqi territory evacuated by the ISIS terror army.

The mass protests in Iraq for the last several months have been against the Iran-backed militias and the control they have established over cities, communities, provincial politics, and the national government.  There is widespread support in Iraq for breaking the power of the Iranian proxies in the country.

There is also reportedly rejoicing in Iran among the many Iranians who oppose the repression and brutal excesses of the radical regime.  Soleimani has been touted for years as a popular face of that regime to the people.

Iraqis are reportedly celebrating as well.

Soleimani’s demise, as well as that of the PMF leaders, is unalloyed good news.  Of course, one of the most important aspects of this is the response of Donald Trump to Iranian provocations — very different from the typical response of the previous administration.  Twitter isn’t sparing the voices of the Obama administration (or the media) tweeting angry criticism of Trump tonight.

Beyond the demonstration of will by Trump, whose impact should not be minimized, there is the operational-analytical point that the Soleimani meeting in Baghdad had to be about something big.  Not only was Soleimani there in person, but there were reportedly at least four top PMF leaders, and possibly a leader from Lebanese Hezbollah as well.  The latter is unconfirmed, but if he was there his presence indicates an intent to widen the retaliatory campaign beyond attacking Americans in Iraq to attacking Israel, and probably Americans in Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Update 2:  As to the scope of the “something big,” these tweets suggest possibilities.  As indicated, they are not far-fetched in the current circumstances, with Iraqi protests making Iran’s hold on Iraq more tenuous over the last several months,

Is the Iraqi national government prepared to deal with the political earthquake ensuing from the death of Soleimani?  It is if we are working with it, and it is smart enough to work with us.  The U.S. has to be prepared: not to do the work for the Iraqis, but to bolster them against the inevitable backlash and pressure from Tehran.  The good news is we can assume Trump knows that.

Defense Secretary Esper said this evening, “The game has changed.” Manifestly so.

I’ll conclude with something I emailed earlier (because why duplicate the work):

We’ve already had at least 16 years of justification for taking these guys out (more, depending on how you calculate it).  Justification-wise, there was no political need to wait and see what Soleimani was doing, meeting with Kataib Hezbollah and Lebanese Hezbollah in Baghdad.  In terms of operational effectiveness, the impact will be preventing highly coordinated near-term retaliation against the US in the Middle East and against Israel (and Saudi Arabia, for that matter).

Longer term, more will need to be done.  (Preemption has to be carried through with alertness and a plan to reset conditions, so that it doesn’t all just revert to what it was before, but with more resentment.)

But if we got Soleimani, that’s “yuuge.”

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.