Soleimani — the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force unit — and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis — the deputy head of the Iran-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) — were among those killed in the attack early Friday morning local time, according to a statement from the PMF, which said the pair “were martyred by an American strike.”
The Green Zone in Baghdad was completely locked down by Iraqi security forces to prevent any emergency following the strike, two Iraqi Security sources told CNN.
Soleimani was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” according to the Pentagon, which cited the threat to US lives as justification for killing one of Iran’s top-ranking military officials.
News of the strike prompted an immediate reaction from Iranian officials who condemned the killing.
“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,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted. “The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.”
Formed in 2014 to fight ISIS, the PMF is a Shia paramilitary force made up of former militias with close ties to Iran. It was recognized under a 2016 Iraqi law as an independent military force that answers directly to the prime minister.
Feisal Istrabadi, the founding director of the Indiana University Center for the Study of the Middle East, told CNN that the Iraqi government would be considerably weakened by the fact the strike happened on its soil.
“There will be an opportunity for the destabilization of the country,” he said. “This is a huge deal throughout the Middle East. The fact that it was done over the territory of Iraq means that Iraq will become what I feared it would become from the beginning: the battleground between Iran and the United States.”
CNN’s Arwa Damon and Kareem Khadder reported from Baghdad. CNN’s Hamdi Alkhshali reported and wrote in Atlanta. CNN’s Steve Almasy contributed to this report.