Last week, President Trump approved a missile strike in Baghdad. The strike, carried out by an MQ-9 Reaper drone, fired missiles on a convoy of vehicles leaving Baghdad International Airport.
In that convoy, Brigadier General Qassem Soleimani and twenty-three officials from Iraqi militias supported by Tehran.
This attack, as well as those that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria, are allowed under international law, in limited situations. These include, but are not limited to, situations in which the target is preparing to launch a terror attack and no other remedy is available.
According to the Pentagon, “This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.” No details were offered in regards to when the attack was planned, or if the death of Soleimani eliminated the threat.
Hamas condemned the strike as “U.S. bullying,” and said that it served the interests of Israel. It offered condolences to Iran, stating that Soleimani had “played a major and critical role in supporting Palestinian resistance at all levels.”
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, vowed that his group would continue on the path Soleimani set and “work night and day to achieve his goals.” Nasrallah stated that it is the responsibility of all resistance fighters to seek “just retribution” against “the most evil criminals in the world,” referring to the U.S.
In Yemen, Houthi rebels condemned the strike as a “cowardly attack” that “makes clear the increasing American spite against all who are in favor of justice for the Islamic world.” In Syria, the state news agency SANA reported that a foreign ministry official condemned the “treacherous, criminal American aggression” that led to Soleimani’s killing.
The reaction from Washington D.C. was mostly split along party lines.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D – CA) condemned the "provocative and disproportionate" response to Iran's recent actions. Pelosi also chastised the White House for carrying out the strike "without the consultation of the Congress.
Representative Ilhan Omar (D – MN) called on Congress to "step in and fight" President Trump, following the strike. Representative Rashida Tlaib (D – MI) declared, “We cannot remain silent…” over the death of Soleimani.
Senator Marco Rubio (R – FL) supported the strike, tweeting that President Trump had “exercised admirable restraint” and added that the Quds Force were “entirely to blame.” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also supported the strike: "I appreciate President @realDonaldTrump's bold action against Iranian aggression. To the Iranian government: if you want more, you will get more."
Soleimani, 62, was born in 1957 and joined Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (“IRGC”) after the 1979 revolution, according to the Wall Street Journal. To many Iranians, Soleimani was a war hero, becoming a commander during the Iran-Iraq War while he was in his 20s.
In 1998, Soleimani was named Major General of the Quds Force (“IRGC-QF”), which he ran until his death. As head of the IRGC-QF, Soleimani was Iran’s top security and intelligence commander.
Reports described Soleimani as second in power to only the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The New Yorker described Soleimani as “the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today.”
The IRGC-QF, a force of approximately 20,000 personnel, has no equivalent in the U.S. military. In 2013, the New Yorker described the IRGC-QF as “analogous to a combined CIA and Special Forces.”
During the Obama administration, the Department of Treasury described the IRGC-QF as “… the Government of Iran’s primary foreign action arm for executing its policy of supporting terrorist organizations and extremist groups around the world.”
Treasury’s statement credited IRGC-QF with providing “… training, logistical assistance and material and financial support to militants and terrorist operatives, including the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.” According to the State Department, IRGC operations were responsible for 17% (603) of American casualties during Operation Iraqi Freedom (“OIF”).
During the early years of OIF, Soleimani controlled the Iraqi government from the shadows. In addition to selecting presidents and prime ministers, Soleimani staffed key positions in every government ministry with personnel loyal to Iran. He funded IRGC operations by skimming a percentage of all Iraqi foreign currency exchanges, netting close to $1 billion per month.
Soleimani provided direct support to militias in Iraq, training fighters to build explosively formed projectiles (EFPs). Between 2005 and 2011, EFPs were responsible for the death of approximately 196 Americans. An additional 900 were injured by the devices.
In 2005, Soleimani was sanctioned by Treasury for his activities, under Executive Order 13382. In 2007, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2231, which placed a travel ban on Soleimani.
In 2011, Soleimani orchestrated a plot to kill Saudi Arabian Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir. In May 2011, the Obama administration sanctioned Soleimani “… pursuant to Executive Order 13572, which targets human rights abuses in Syria, for his role as the Commander of the IRGC-QF, the primary conduit for Iran’s support to the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate (GID).”
In Syria, Soleimani was President Bashar al-Assad’s point of contact. He provided Assad with fighters from Hezbollah, the Revolutionary Guard, and other militias, in addition to mercenaries from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In the summer of 2015, Soleimani defied the UN travel ban and flew to Russia. According to Reuters, Soleimani and his Russian counterpart came to an agreement at the meeting, that allowed Russian airstrikes in Syria, as long as Iranian, Syrian and Hezbollah fighters were allowed to fight the ground war.
According to The Syria Campaign, between April and November 2019, Russian bombing in Idlib killed 1,300 civilians and displaced more than 1 million.
Most recently, Soleimani orchestrated pro-Iranian demonstrations at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Several dozen protestors managed to scale the wall, gaining entry to a reception area, which they subsequently burned.
According to officials, the attack on the embassy, while highly visible, was not what initiated the strike that killed Soleimani. The strike was approved after the December 27 rocket attack in Kirkuk, that resulted in the death of one American and injured four members of the U.S. military.