General Suleimani was the head of the powerful Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the architect of nearly every significant operation by Iranian intelligence and military forces over the past two decades.
His death is a considerable blow to Tehran, and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for retaliation on Friday and for three days of national mourning.
“His departure to God does not end his path or his mission, but a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands,” the supreme leader said in a statement.
The general’s prominent role meant that his death could have a ripple effect in any number of countries across the Middle East where Iran and the United States compete for influence.
Suleimani was in
a vehicle struck
by two missiles as
his convoy exited the airport.
Suleimani was in a vehicle struck by two missiles as his convoy exited the airport.
Suleimani was in a vehicle struck by two missiles as his convoy exited the airport.
The strike was carried out by an MQ-9 Reaper drone that fired missiles on a convoy of vehicles leaving the airport. Several other officials from Iraqi militias backed by Tehran were also killed.
“This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans,” the Pentagon said in a statement. The United States has long been at odds with Iran over its nuclear program and influence in Iraq and other countries in the region. Those tensions have surged under Mr. Trump since he abruptly pulled the United States out of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal and reintroduced punishing sanctions against Tehran.
The strike on Friday was the latest escalation between the two nations after a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base, believed to have been carried out by an Iran-backed militia, killed an American contractor in December.
Oil prices jumped on Friday after the news of the general’s death: The price of Brent oil, the international benchmark, surged in the early hours of Hong Kong trading to nearly $70 a barrel — an increase of $3.
The immediate increase in the price of oil was among the largest since an attack on a critical Saudi oil installation in September that temporarily knocked out 5 percent of the world’s oil supply.
By 11 a.m. in London, the price of Brent crude oil was at a three-month high of $69.20 a barrel. International oil companies based in the southeastern Iraqi city of Basra have begun evacuating American employees, according to Al Arabiya news outlet.
The Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 each opened about 1 percent lower on Friday, while oil company shares rose, with Exxon Mobil up 1.3 percent and Chevron up 1.2 percent in premarket trading.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had spoken to top diplomats in Britain, China and Germany on Friday about what the State Department described as President Trump’s recent decision “to take defensive action to eliminate Qassim Suleimani in response to imminent threats to American lives.”
Mr. Pompeo also told his foreign counterparts that the United States was committed to de-escalation, according to the State Department. Mr. Pompeo posted several statements and a video on Twitter that he said showed Iraqis “dancing in the street” at the news of General Suleimani’s killing.
Mr. Pompeo said the American strike on General Suleimani was a proactive measure to stave off what American intelligence officials saw as an “imminent attack” in the region.
“This was a man who has put American lives at risk for an awfully long time,” Mr. Pompeo said on Friday on CNN. “Last night was the time that we needed to strike to make sure that this imminent attack that he was working actively was disrupted.”
He declined to provide more details about the looming attack.
One American official familiar with the internal discussions about the drone strike said the administration was still trying to figure out what would come next and how to be prepared for it.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the backlash over General Suleimani’s death could be even more fraught than the tensions after an American raid in 2011 that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, who was part of a stateless group and had no international support.
“What was sitting before us was his travels throughout the region, his efforts to make a significant strike against Americans,” Mr. Pompeo told Fox News on Friday morning. “It was a strike that was aimed at both disrupting that plot, deterring further aggression.”
The Swiss Foreign Ministry said in a statement that diplomat from Switzerland, which represents American interests in Iran to maintain communication, had delivered a message from the United States to the Iranian foreign ministry in Tehran on Friday concerning the death of General Suleimani. It did not elaborate.
“Given the latest events in the region, Switzerland invites both parties to avoid any escalation,” the ministry said.
As the leader of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which leads Iran’s operations abroad, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, who was 62, was the country’s top security and intelligence commander.
A senior military figure with considerable powers, General Suleimani was behind nearly all military and intelligence operations orchestrated by Iran in the past two decades. He directed Iran-backed militias in the fight against the Islamic State.
American officials had also accused him of causing the deaths of hundreds of soldiers during the Iraq war and he was believed to have played a central role in orchestrating Iran’s support for the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
In Iran, General Suleimani was a respected political figure among hard-liners and was close to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He was described by some officials as the country’s de facto second foreign minister.
To many Iranians, he was also a war hero, after becoming a commander while he was only in his 20s during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
In a speech in 2018, he warned Mr. Trump not to take any military action against Iran.
“We are near you, where you can’t even imagine,” the general said at the time, according to Iranian news agencies. “Come. We are ready. If you begin the war, we will end the war.”
The general’s deputy succeeded him within hours, according to Iranian news agencies. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appointed Brig. Gen. Ismail Qaani as the new leader for the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps on Friday.
General Qaani, 62, was promoted from deputy commander of the Quds Force, a role he had held since in 1997, according to Reuters.
The United States Treasury Department put General Qaani on a blacklist in 2012 for what it called “financial disbursements” to various terrorist groups, including Hezbollah.
In 2017, General Qaani was reported as warning that Iran had “buried many” like President Trump. “We are not a warmongering country,” he said at the time, according to the semiofficial news agency Tasnim. “But any military action against Iran will be regretted.”
Large crowds gathered for Friday Prayer in Iran and filled public squares with mass protests, while officials met privately to plot strategy and leaders vowed to avenge General Suleimani’s death.
Images broadcast on Iranian state television showed hundreds of supporters of General Suleimani gathered in mourning outside his house in the southeastern town of Kerman, and later footage shows thousands gathered on the streets.
“The great nation of Iran will take revenge for this heinous crime,” President Hassan Rouhani wrote on Twitter.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif called the strike an “act of international terrorism.”
Iran was working with Iraqi officials to repatriate the general’s body for a funeral service, perhaps as soon as Saturday, a number of Iranian journalists reported.
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council also held an emergency meeting. According to two people with knowledge of the discussion, council members received a written order from Mr. Khamenei that ordered that Iran “strike America directly and in exact proportion to the attack.”
In Iraq, the strike appeared likely to accelerate calls for the departure of American troops. Along with General Suleimani, it killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of a powerful militia that is backed by Iran but technically under the umbrella of the Iraqi military.
Mr. al-Muhandis was one of the most powerful figures in this coalition of militia but also is a senior military figure in the Iraqi armed forces, according to IISS, an international research institute. He was also designated a terrorist by the United States for his role in an Iran-sponsored 1983 attack targeting American forces in Kuwait.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi of Iraq praised Mr. al-Muhandis and General Suleimani as heroes in the fight against the Islamic State and condemned their killing as “a brazen violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and a blatant attack on the nation’s dignity.”
Iraq’s Parliament plans to convene an emergency session on Saturday to address the strike, which could accelerate calls to push United States forces from the country.
Iranian allies across the Arab world condemned the United States, reflecting the strength of the regional network General Suleimani spent much of his life building, including links to the government of Syria and militant groups in Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen and elsewhere.
The leader of Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group and political party that General Suleimani helped build over three decades into the country’s top military forces and a grave threat to Israel, vowed in a statement that his group would continue on the path the general set and “work night and day to achieve his goals.”
It was the responsibility of all resistance fighters to seek “just retribution” against “the most evil criminals in the world,” the leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said, meaning the United States.
In Yemen, the administration run by the Houthi rebels, who have received support from Iran in their war against Saudi Arabia, condemned the United States strike as a “cowardly attack” that “makes clear the increasing American spite against all who are in favor of justice for the Islamic world.”
The killing of General Suleimani “most likely” violated international law, Agnes Callamard, the United Nations expert on extrajudicial executions, said in a post on Twitter.
“Use of lethal force is only justified to protect against an imminent threat to life, Ms. Callamard wrote. An individual’s past involvement in “terrorist” acts “is not sufficient to take his targeting for killing legal,” she said. Use of drones for targeted killings outside active hostilities was “almost never likely to be legal,” she added.
Many experts also said on Friday that the strike probably ended any prospect of negotiations to save the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the landmark nuclear agreement Iran signed in 2015 with the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany. The recent escalation in tensions between the United States and Iran began with the 2018 decision by President Trump to withdraw from the deal.
The Russian Foreign Ministry called the killing of General Suleimani “an adventurist step that will increase tensions throughout the region,” according to local news agencies.
“Suleimani served the cause of protecting Iran’s national interests with devotion,” the ministry added.
A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry called for restraint on all sides, “especially the United States.”
“China has always opposed the use of force in international relations,” the spokesman, Geng Shuang, said at a daily news briefing, according to news agencies.
Britain’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, called on Friday for a de-escalation in tensions and said that further conflict in the region was not in his country’s interest.
“We have always recognized the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Quds force led by Qassim Suleimani,” Mr. Raab said in a statement. “Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate.”
Charles Michel, president of the European Council, said in a statement, “The cycle of violence, provocations and retaliations which we have witnessed In Iraq over the past few weeks has to stop. Further escalation must be avoided at all cost.”
Federica Mogherini, the European high representative for foreign and security policy, said on Twitter that the general’s killing was “an extremely dangerous escalation.”
In France, President Emmanuel Macron had yet to react, but the country’s junior minister for European affairs, Amélie de Montchalin, said that she would soon consult with countries in the region.
“We have woken up to a more dangerous world,” Ms. de Montchalin told French radio, calling for “stability and de-escalation.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel cut short an official visit to Greece and was returning to Israel on Friday, while his ministers mostly kept silent in an apparent effort to avoid undue Iranian attention.
Before boarding the plane, Mr. Netanyahu praised President Trump for “acting swiftly, forcefully and decisively.”
“Israel stands with the United States in its just struggle for peace, security and self-defense,” he said.
Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls the Palestinian coastal territory of Gaza, offered its condolences to Iran on the death of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, saying in a statement that he had “played a major and critical role in supporting Palestinian resistance at all levels.” Hamas condemned what it called “U.S. bullying” that it said served the interests of Israel.
Bassem Naim, a spokesman for the group, said on Twitter that the assassination “opens the doors of the region to all possibilities, except calm & stability.”
Israel’s rookie defense minister, Naftali Bennett, held consultations at military headquarters in Tel Aviv and released a photograph of the meeting attended by the military chief of staff, the Mossad chief and other security officials.
Some Israeli opposition politicians issued congratulatory messages. Moshe Yaalon, a former military chief and defense minister — and now a leader of the centrist Blue and White party — thanked the Americans for what he called a “determined and precise” operation.
“The world and the Middle East have been freed today from an arch murderer,” he said, adding, “Good riddance!”
General Suleimani, a longtime adversary of Israel, was credited with overseeing many attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets and he was linked with an attack on the Israeli embassy in Argentina in the 1990s. More recently he was behind military actions from Syria, across Israel’s northern frontier.
Israel has long been locked in hostilities with Iran, attempting to thwart its entrenchment in Syria and halt its transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah, an Israeli foe, in Lebanon. Early Friday, the Israeli military announced the closure of a ski run in the northern Golan Heights that borders Syria. Israeli embassies abroad were reportedly placed on high alert.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi demanded that the administration brief the full Congress on the strike and the next steps under consideration, noting that the move was made without lawmakers’ consultation or an authorization of military force.
Ms. Pelosi spoke with Mark T. Esper, the defense secretary, Thursday night after the attack, an aide said, but was not given advance notice.
The strike, Ms. Pelosi said in a statement late Thursday evening, “risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence. America — and the world — cannot afford to have tensions escalate to the point of no return.”
In stark contrast, Republican lawmakers — including both Iran hawks and those who have frequently clashed with Mr. Trump over his foreign policy — have uniformly praised the move.
“Will there be escalation? Yes. But the escalation is not on our part,” Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who was stationed twice in Iraq with the Air Force, told CNN. “We’re finally responding to continued provocations by Iran.”
The strike at the Baghdad airport immediately spurred debate among American lawmakers about President Trump’s war powers and left congressional leaders sharply divided along party lines.
Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, accused Mr. Trump of bringing the nation “to the brink of an illegal war with Iran.”
Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said on Twitter that Mr. Trump had “exercised admirable restraint” and added that the Quds Force were “entirely to blame.”
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said in a statement, “President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox, and he owes the American people an explanation of the strategy and plan to keep safe our troops and embassy personnel, our people and our interests, both here at home and abroad, and our partners throughout the region and beyond.”
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, also a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, condemned the strikes as a “dangerous escalation” in a post on Twitter.
“Trump promised to end endless wars, but this action puts us on the path to another one,” he wrote.
Reporting was contributed by Ben Hubbard, Farnaz Fassihi, Elian Peltier, Megan Specia, Isabel Kershner, Ronen Bergman, Lara Jakes, Eileen Sullivan, Catie Edmondson, Benjamin Mueller and Nick Cumming-Bruce.