President Trump authorized a drone strike on the Baghdad International Airport in Iraq that assassinated a top Iranian official, according to multiple reports.
The U.S. State Department is now urging all U.S. citizens in Iraq to leave the country immediately as the region braces for possible retaliation from the Iranian military.
“Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, the U.S. Embassy urges American citizens to heed the January 2020 Travel Advisory and depart Iraq immediately,” the State Department said in a statement posted early Friday. “U.S. citizens should depart via airline while possible, and failing that, to other countries via land. Due to Iranian-backed militia attacks at the U.S. Embassy compound, all public consular operations are suspended until further notice. U.S. citizens should not approach the Embassy.”
The drone strike killed Qasem Soleimani, a top military official with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. According to multiple reports, Trump personally called for the attack. Late Thursday evening the Pentagon confirmed the strike had killed Soleimani. At least seven others are believed to be dead as well. According to the U.S. Secretary of Defense, the attack came in response to ongoing strikes from an Iranian-backed militia against U.S. forces in the region, including an attack last week that left one U.S. civilian dead and four American service members injured. The years-long ongoing strikes are believed to have been orchestrated by Soleimani.
Tonight, there are hundreds of American families watching news of Suleimani’s killing particularly closely. He engineered attacks in Iraq, often with sophisticated IEDs, that killed hundreds of US service-members & wounded thousands more.
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) January 3, 2020
“Gen. Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement Friday. “This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.”
Iranian officials, however, are characterizing the strike as an act of terrorism. The country’s foreign minister Javad Zarif tweeted Friday saying the move was a “foolish escalation.”
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.
The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 3, 2020
An adviser to Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei said publicly Friday that Iran would retaliate against U.S. troops in the area, whom he called “insidious beasts.”
“I am telling Americans, especially Trump, we will take a revenge that will change their daylight into a nighttime darkness,” Khamenei adviser Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said, according to multiple reports.
Trump has been at odds with Iran throughout his entire presidency, notably pulling the U.S. out of an Obama-era nuclear peace treaty with Iran in May 2018.