International desk, Jan 03: General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds force, has been reported killed alongside six others following a US airstrike 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.
Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) umbrella grouping of Iran-backed militias, also confirmed the deaths of Soleimani and Muhandis.
Two unnamed US officials told Reuters news agency that the US carried out the targeted airstrikes.
Sources from the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) earlier told Al Jazeera that the rockets destroyed two vehicles carrying “high profile guests”, who had arrived at the airport and were being escorted by a PMF official.
Al Jazeera’s Osama bin Javaid, reporting from Baghdad, said the incident appeared to be a targeted strike.
Our correspondent said that the deaths are a major turning point in Iraq and the entire Middle East.
He said that the region has already been “on edge” since the US strike on PMF forces near Iraq’s border with Syria, and the attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday.
“This is a major blow on the relationship between the United States and the Iraqi government,” bin Javaid said. “It is a very precarious situation on which this significant development is taking place.”
In a statement on social media, US Senator Chris Murphy, an opposition member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned that the incident could set off “a potential massive regional war”.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, former US Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb said “there is no doubt” that the US wanted to target Soleimani “for a while”.
Witnesses in the area also told Al Jazeera that they could hear the sounds of sirens and helicopters in the air following the pre-dawn attack.
The area of the incident has been cordoned off, authorities told Al Jazeera, but the international airport remains in operation.
Our correspondent added that the attack took place near the base of the US-led coalition forces.
The attack occurred amid tensions with the US after an Iran-backed militia and other protesters breached the United States’s Embassy in Baghdad.
The attack at the embassy on New Year’s Eve was in response to a deadly US airstrike that killed 25 forces of the PMF, also known as the Hashd al-Shaabi group.
Source: News Agencies