Donald Trump says that Iran general Qassem Soleimani was "caught" as he was "plotting to kill" many Americans, after years of anti-US military actions that have left thousands "killed or badly wounded".
The president ordered the airstrike on Soleimani, the leader of the elite Quds Force, on Friday morning, raising concerns of unrest and destabilisation in the region as US-Iran tensions reached new highs.
"General Qassem Soleimani has killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more...but got caught! He was directly and indirectly responsible for the death of millions of people, including the recent large number of PROTESTERS killed in Iran itself," Mr Trump tweeted.
He continued: "While Iran will never be able to properly admit it, Soleimani was both hated and feared within the country. They are not nearly as saddened as the leaders will let the outside world believe. He should have been taken out many years ago!"
The attack has left behind an unclear and potentially hazardous scenario on the ground in Iraq, and the region more broadly. Shortly after the attack was confirmed, as Mr Trump tweeted an American flag and US officials claimed the region was safer after the killing, the State Department sent out a security alert urging American citizens to leave Iraq "immediately", noting that Americans should also stay away from the embassy.
The Quds Force, which Soleimani led, is thought to have been responsible for the deaths of around 600 US soldiers during the Iraq War, mostly through the use of lethal roadside bombs it manufactured and flooded the country with. It also backed a number of Shia militias to fight against the US throughout the war.
It’s unclear who the “millions” of dead Trump is referring to. But many credit Soleimani as being a major driving force behind the Syrian government’s violent crackdown on the uprising against Bashar al-Assad — a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands.
Trump also mentions the killing of protesters in Iraq. Iran-backed militias are thought to have been responsible for a violent crackdown on anti-government protests in Iraq. Hundreds are thought to have been killed by militia fighters since the protests began.
The White House has provided little evidence for the justification that the attack that killed Soleimani was in response to an "imminent threat", as secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed repeatedly on Friday morning in the hours after the airstrike.
"The world's a much safer place today and I can assure you that Americans in the region are much safer today after the demise of Qasem Soleimani," Mr Pompeo said during an interview with CNN.
As Mr Pompeo made those claims Friday, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in the streets in Iran, carrying anti-Trump and anti-America signs and chanting against the actions of Washington. On Iranian state television, the killing was described as "the biggest miscalculation by the US" since the Second World War. "The people of the region will no longer allow Americans to stay," they said.
"Harsh vengeance awaits the criminals that got his and other martyrs' blood on their evil hands in last night's incident," said Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.
The attack has been met with mixed response from major international powers. UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab issued a delicate statement, saying that Britain "recognised the aggressive threat" posed by the dead Iranian, but that "further conflict is in none of our interests." A German spokesperson also issued a statement of qualified understanding of the actions, saying that the airstrike was "a reaction to a whole series of military provocations for which Iran bears responsibility."
Meanwhile, China, Russia and France — a group that represents the majority of the permanent members of the UN security council, along the US and UK — said that the actions made the world more dangerous.
“We are waking up in a more dangerous world. Military escalation is always dangerous,” Amelie de Montchalin, France’s deputy minister for foreign affairs, told RTL radio. “When such actions, such operations, take place, we see that escalation is under way.”
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