BAGHDAD – Iran vowed “harsh retaliation” for a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad’s airport that killed a top Iranian general who had been the architect of its interventions across the Middle East, and the U.S. announced Friday it was sending more troops to the region as tensions soared in the wake of the targeted killing.
The killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, marks a major escalation in the standoff between Washington and Iran, which has careened from one crisis to another since President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and imposed crippling sanctions.
The United States said it was sending nearly 3,000 more Army troops to the Middle East and urged American citizens to leave Iraq “immediately" following the early morning airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport that Iran’s state TV said killed Soleimani and nine others. The State Department said the embassy in Baghdad, which was attacked by Iran-backed militiamen and their supporters earlier this week, is closed and all consular services have been suspended.
Around 5,200 American troops are based in Iraq to train Iraqi forces and help in the fight against Islamic State group militants. Defense officials who made the announced about the new troops spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a decision not yet announced by the Pentagon. U.S. embassies also issued a security alert for Americans in Lebanon, Bahrain Kuwait and Nigeria.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the U.S. after the airstrike, calling Soleimani the “international face of resistance.” Khamenei declared three days of public mourning and appointed Maj. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani's deputy, to replace him as head of the Quds Force.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the killing a “heinous crime" and vowed his country would “take revenge.” Iran twice summoned the Swiss envoy, the first time delivering a letter to pass onto the United States.
Thousands of worshippers in the Iranian capital Tehran took to the streets after Friday Muslim prayers to condemn the killing, waving posters of Soleimani and chanting “Death to deceitful America.”