Tensions between the United States and Iran escalated on Friday after a US air strike killed Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF.
The Pentagon confirmed the strike, saying it came “at the direction of the president”.
Soleimani and al-Muhandis’s deaths are a potential turning point in the Middle East and are expected to draw severe retaliation from Iran and the forces it backs in the region against Israel and US interests.
Here are all the latest updates amid the heightened tensions as of Friday, January 3:
US urges citizens to leave Iraq ‘immediately’
The United States is urging US citizens to leave Iraq “immediately”, citing “heightened tensions in Iraq and the region”.
A State Department statement added that “due to Iranian-backed militia attacks at the US Embassy compound, all consular operations are suspended. US citizens should not approach the Embassy.”
That comes after a crowd attempted to storm the embassy in Baghdad earlier this week to protest US air strikes against a militia supported by Iran.
Hezbollah to continue path of Soleimani after US strike – TV
Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said his group would continue the path of Soleimani after his death, broadcaster Al Manar reported.
Nasrallah said the US would not be able to achieve its goals with this “big crime” and just punishment was the responsibility of all fighters, Al Manar reported.
Israel’s military on high alert
Israel’s military had gone on heightened alert amid fears that Iran could strike through its regional allies such as Hezbollah to the north, or through Palestinian group Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.
Israel’s foreign ministry and defence officials announced a high-security alert at Israel’s oversea delegations, fearing retaliation by Iran following the death of Soleimani.
Israel’s defence minister summoned the country’s military and security chiefs to Tel Aviv in the wake of the killing. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly cut short his trip to Greece.
Syria condemns killing of Soleimani – state news agency
Syria strongly condemns the “treacherous, criminal American aggression” that led to the killing of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, state news agency SANA cited a foreign ministry source as saying.
The source said the attack constituted a “serious escalation” and reaffirmed U.S. responsibility for instability in Iraq, according to SANA.
Iraq’s Sadr mourns Soleimani, reactivates Mahdi army
Iraq’s prominent Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said the killing of Soleimani was targeting Iraq’s opposition and Jihad, adding that it will not weaken its resolve.
In a statement, Al-Sadr called on his militias (Army of Imam Mahdi) and “other national and disciplined” armed groups to be prepared to protect Iraq. He also sent his condolences to Iran.
Qays al-Khazali, the head of Asaib Ahl al-Haq armed faction, said “all fighters should be on high alert for upcoming battle and great victory”.
“The end of Israel and removal of the US from the region will be the result of the assassination of Soleimani and Muhandis,” he said in a statement published by Iraqi media.
Pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar: ‘It is war’
Lebanese pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar is leading with a comment by its contributor Hassan Alaiq on the killing of Soleimani.
The Arabic article has a simple headline: The martyrdom of Soleimani: It is war
في «الأخبار» اليوم:
— جريدة الأخبار – Al-Akhbar (@AlakhbarNews) January 3, 2020
Who was Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s IRGC leader?
Soleimani acquired celebrity status at home and abroad as the leader of the foreign arm of Iran’s elite forces Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and for his key role in fighting in Syria and Iraq.
He survived several assassination attempts against him by Western, Israeli and Arab agencies over the past 20 years. Read more here.
Al Jazeera’s Charlotte Bellis reports on the life of Iran’s most important general.
Former top Iranian commander: ‘We will take vigorous revenge’
“He joined his martyred brothers, but we will take vigorous revenge on America,” Mohsen Rezaei, a former commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) who is now the secretary of a powerful state body, said in a post on Twitter.
Khamenei warns of harsh revenge
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for three days of mourning, saying Major General Soleimani’s killing will double the motivation of the resistance against the US and Israel.
According to Iranian state television, Khamenei said harsh revenge awaits “criminals” who killed Soleimani.
Top House Democrats: Strikes not authorised by Congress
US Democratic congressional leaders issued statements condemning President Donald Trump’s ordered strikes that killed Soleimani, saying the president did not obtain the congressional approval.
“American leaders’ highest priority is to protect American lives and interests. But we cannot put the lives of American servicemembers, diplomats and others further at risk by engaging in provocative and disproportionate actions,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“Tonight’s air strike risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence. America – and the world – cannot afford to have tensions escalate to the point of no return,” she added. “The Administration has conducted tonight’s strikes in Iraq targeting high-level Iranian military officials and killing Iranian Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani without an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iran. Further, this action was taken without the consultation of the Congress.”
She called for a briefing on the situation.
Another top Democrat, Adam Schiff, took to Twitter, saying the “American people don’t want a war with Iran”.
Soleimani was responsible for unthinkable violence and world is better off without him.
But Congress didn’t authorize and American people don’t want a war with Iran.
All steps must now be taken to protect our forces against the almost inevitable escalation and increased risk. https://t.co/Z4HTnScFg7
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) January 3, 2020
Oil prices surge after Soleimani’s killing
Oil prices jumped more than 4 percent on Friday after news of Soleimani’s death.
Brent crude futures were up by nearly $3 at $69.16 per barrel, their highest since September 17, as markets feared Iran could retaliate against the killing of its top militiamen by attacking assets of the US and their allies in the Middle East.
Read more here.
Biden: Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite in a tinderbox
Former Vice President and Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden said while Soleimani deserved to be brought to justice, Trump “just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox”.
Biden posted the statement on Twitter.
“The Administration’s statement says that its goal is to deter future attacks by Iran, but this action will almost certainly have the opposite effect,” he said. “President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox, and he owes the American people an explanation of the strategy and plan to keep safe our troops and embassy personnel, our people and our interests, both here at home and abroad, and our partners throughout the region and beyond.”
My statement on the killing of Qassem Soleimani. pic.twitter.com/4Q9tlLAYFB
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) January 3, 2020
Pompeo tweets video he says is of Iraqis dancing in the streets
“Iraqis – Iraqis – dancing in the street for freedom; thankful that General Soleimani is no more,” Pompeo tweeted along with a video.
Iraqis — Iraqis — dancing in the street for freedom; thankful that General Soleimani is no more. pic.twitter.com/huFcae3ap4
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 3, 2020
More members of US Congress react to US strikes in Iraq
Several members of Congress took to Twitter to react to Trump-ordered raids that killed Soleimani. Republicans praised the move, while many Democrats questioned the US president’s ability to order such an attack.
Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren 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.”
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.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) January 3, 2020
Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said: “Soleimani was a terrorist. President Trump and our brave servicemembers just reminded Iran – and the world – that we will not let attacks against Americans go unpunished.”
Soleimani was a terrorist. President Trump and our brave servicemembers just reminded Iran—and the world—that we will not let attacks against Americans go unpunished.
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) January 3, 2020
Independent Representative Justin Amash said: “There’s a reason our Constitution grants Congress the power to declare war: Every American may be intimately affected by a violent conflict. Soleimani was evil. But our system demands consent for war from the people, acting through their representatives and senators in Congress.”
There’s a reason our Constitution grants Congress the power to declare war: Every American may be intimately affected by a violent conflict. Soleimani was evil. But our system demands consent for war from the people, acting through their representatives and senators in Congress.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) January 3, 2020
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted: “Thank you, Mr. President, for standing up for America.”
Thank you, Mr. President, for standing up for America.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 3, 2020
Democratic Senator Ed Markey said on Twitter: “Trump’s apparent assassination of Soleimani is a massive, deliberate, and dangerous escalation of conflict with Iran. The President just put the lives of every person in the region – U.S. service members and civilians – at immediate risk. We need de-escalation now.”
Trump’s apparent assassination of Soleimani is a massive, deliberate, and dangerous escalation of conflict with Iran. The President just put the lives of every person in the region – U.S. service members and civilians – at immediate risk.
We need de-escalation now. https://t.co/oAenBUsvFl
— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) January 3, 2020
Iran’s Zarif: US ‘act of terrorism … is foolish escalation’
Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif warned on Twitter that the US “bears responsibility or all consequences” of its attack killing Soleimani.
“The US’ act of international terrorism, targeting & assassinating General Soleimani – THE most effective force fighting Daesh (ISIS), Al Nusrah, Al Qaeda et al – is extremely dangerous & a foolish escalation,” Zarif tweeted. “The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.”
The US’ act of international terrorism, targeting & assassinating General Soleimani—THE most effective force fighting Daesh (ISIS), Al Nusrah, Al Qaeda et al—is extremely dangerous & a foolish escalation.
The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 3, 2020
PMF spokesman: ‘US and Israeli enemy responsible’
Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for the PMF blamed the US and Israel for Friday’s strikes.
“The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani,” he was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.
Iran state broadcaster confirms Soleimani was ‘martyred’
Citing a Revolutionary Guard statement, Iranian state television said Soleimani was “martyred” in an attack by US helicopters near the airport, without elaborating.
Pentagon confirms Soleimani killed at ‘direction of the president’
The Pentagon confirmed in a statement that Soleimani was killed “at the direction” of President Trump.
“At the direction of the President, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani,” a Pentagon statement said.
“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.”
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 US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) January 3, 2020
Trump tweets image of American flag
President Trump did not comment on the US raids, but shortly after reports surfaced, he tweeted a picture of an American flag.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2020
Senator Murphy: Did Trump set off a potential massive regional war?
US Democratic Senator Chris Murphy questioned whether Trump needed congressional approval to target Soleimani.
“Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. That’s not a question,” Murphy tweeted. “The question is this – as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?”
Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. That’s not a question.
The question is this – as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) January 3, 2020
Senator Rubio: Quds Force chose the path of escalation
US Republican Senator Marco Rubio tweeted that Iran’s “Quds Force chose the path of escalation”.
“Facing repeated #IRGC attacks the U.S. & @potus exercised admirable restraint while setting clear red lines & the consequences for crossing them
“#Iran’s Quds Force chose the path of escalation They are entirely to blame for bringing about the dangerous moment now before us.”
The defensive actions the U.S. has taken against #Iran & its proxies are consistent with clear warnings they have received
They chose to ignore these warnings because they believed @POTUS was constrained from acting by our domestic political divisions
They badly miscalculated
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 3, 2020
Former Pentagon official: ‘No doubt’ US wanted to target Soleimani
Speaking to Al Jazeera, US Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb said “there is no doubt” that the US wanted to target Soleimani “for a while”.
Soleimani killed in US raid at Baghdad airport
Major General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was reported killed alongside six others following an air raid at Baghdad’s international airport.
Iraqi officials and the state television reported that aside from Soleimani, Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed in the attack.
Read more here.
Read more about recent events that led to the heightened tensions
Iraq: Anti-government protesters denounce pro-Iran crowds
Iran may be planning attacks on US interests: Pentagon chief
Pro-Iran protesters leave US embassy compound in Baghdad
‘Iran is not afraid’: Why Tehran dismisses US threats over Iraq
US caught off guard as protesters storm Baghdad embassy: Analysts