The American drone attack near the Baghdad airport early Friday that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the powerful Iranian commander, drastically ratcheted up tensions between Washington and Tehran, threatening to tip hostilities into war.
Here’s what to know about what happened and what comes next.
Who was Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani?
General Suleimani was Iran’s most powerful security and intelligence commander. He was the longtime leader of its Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, the foreign-facing branch of the country’s powerful security apparatus.
He worked closely with Iraqi and Lebanese allies, nurturing proxy forces to form a Shiite axis of power throughout the region. His profile rose amid the fight to prop up President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and later the fight against the Islamic State.
He had long been designated as a terrorist by the United States and Israel, but many in Iran lauded him as a hero.
Other officials were also killed.
The drone strike also killed several officials from Iraqi militias backed by Iran. Among them were Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a top commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of Iraqi militias, and the group’s public relations chief, Mohammed Ridha Jabri. Mr. al-Muhandis was a lifelong ally of Iran, and he rose to prominence fighting the Islamic State. Read more about him here.
Why did the U.S. say it killed General Suleimani?
In a statement after the strike, the Pentagon accused General Suleimani of planning attacks on American diplomats and service members, including a Dec. 27 attack on an Iraqi military base that killed an American contractor. It also accused General Suleimani of approving an attack on the United States Embassy in Baghdad this week.
American officials have previously blamed General Suleimani for killing hundreds of Americans in the Iraq war by providing Iraqi insurgents with bomb-making equipment and training. They say he was the architect of destabilizing Iranian activities throughout the region aimed at the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Here’s what President Trump has said.
On Friday afternoon, the president told reporters in West Palm Beach, Fla., that the airstrike had been ordered “to stop a war.” He said the United States was not seeking regime change in Iran, but called for an immediate end to Tehran’s “aggression in the region.”
A New York Times news analysis called the strike “the riskiest move made by the United States in the Middle East since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.”
In Iran, the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for “forceful revenge” for the general’s killing, and for three days of national mourning.
Max Fisher, the Interpreter columnist for The Times, laid out some possibilities for what may come next. The general’s death, he writes, “meets virtually any definition of an act of war, a categorical difference from the shadow conflicts that the United States and Iran have engaged in for years.”
“But it remains uncertain where this attack, which follows weeks of tit-for-tat escalations between the two countries, will lead,” he added. Read his full analysis here.