Head of Iran Quds Force Qassem Soleimani Killed in Baghdad Strike

Drone strikes also reported

 

 

BY MELANIE SUN AND MIMI NGUYEN LY

The Iranian regime’s top military, Qassem Soleimani, has been killed following reports at least three Katyusha rocket strikes on Iraqi military base and drone strikes near Baghdad International Airport early Friday morning.

Iraqi TV and three Iraqi officials officials confirmed that Soleimani, who is the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force or Jerusalem force, has been killed by an airstrike.

The officials said the strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iraq’s Iran-backed Shi’ite militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).

It was not immediately clear who fired the rockets or drones, or who was targeted. There was no immediate comment from the United States.

A video circulating on Twitter shows two vehicles ablaze near Baghdad International Airport and a base that houses American and Iraqi counter-terrorism forces.

Sources from PMF said that five of their members and two “guests” were killed in airstrikes on their vehicles near Baghdad International Airport.

In addition to al-Mohandis (also known as Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi), the group’s director of public relations in the United States, Mohammad Reza Al-Jabri, was among those killed in the strikes.

Al-Mohandis is a former leader of the Iranian-backed Kataib Hizbollah (Kata’ib Hezbollah) militia whose headquarters was targeted by what the United States called “defensive strikes” over the weekend. He and has a long history of terrorist and subversive activities. In 1983, he led terrorist attacks against the U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait, and his group has since been accused of extrajudicial killings in western Iraq.

Unconfirmed reports have said that Lebanese Hezbollah leader Muhammad al-Kawtharani may have been one of the guests. It is unclear how many have been wounded.

The PMF claimed the attack was a “cowardly U.S. bombing,” without providing further details.

Soleimani

Soleimani is considered the architect behind the Iranian regime’s foreign influence activities in the Middle East as head of the Quds force, an elite unit within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps that is tasked with Iran’s extra-territorial military operations. These including activities to expand Iranian influence in Syria and rocket attacks on Israel.

He 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 embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad. More recently, rumors circulated in November 2015 that Soleimani was killed or seriously wounded leading forces loyal to Assad as they fought around Syria’s Aleppo.

The senior politician said Soleimani’s body was identified by the ring he wore.

Iraq’s Militia

The PMF are a 140,000 member umbrella of dozens of militia groups outside of state control formed in 2014. While the majority of militias receive funding from the Iraqi state, some militias like the Iranian-backed Kataib Hizbollah (Kata’ib Hezbollah) receive funding from foreign groups like Iran’s Quds force.

Widespread protests in Iraq since October have seen local Iraqis decrying the Iranian regime’s growing influence in Iraqi state affairs through these militia groups. Wall Street Journal reported that these militias hold 47 parliamentary seats, giving them significant influence in the Iraqi government.

The latest attack comes two days after multiple Iranian-backed militia groups lead violent protests at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad in response to what the United States said was “defensive strikes” on the headquarters of Kata’ib Hezbollah and other targets.

The strikes were in response to a missile attack by the group that left one American dead at an Iraqi base.

No one has claimed responsibility for the latest attack.

Isabel van Brugen, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Mimi on Twitter: @MimiNguyenLy

Republished with Permission The Epoch Times    SUBSCRIBE


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