General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite al-Quds force, has been reported killed alongside six others following a US air attack 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.
Iraq's Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), which is a grouping of Iran-backed militias, has also confirmed the killing of Soleimani and Muhandis. Al Jazeera has reported that the incident appeared to be a targeted strike and according to sources the rockets destroyed two vehicles carrying "high profile guests".
Who is General Qassem Soleimani?
Born in Iran, Soleimani rose through the ranks of the Iranian military and eventually joined the covert Quds Force which has grown in significant power in the Middle East in the past decades.
Soleimani, who has led the foreign arm of the Revolutionary Guards and has had a key role in fighting in Syria and Iraq, acquired celebrity status at home and abroad. He was instrumental in the spread of Iranian influence in the Middle East, which the United States and Tehran's regional foes Saudi Arabia and Israel have struggled to keep in check.
Mark Dubowitz, chief government of the hawkish Basis for Protection of Democracies, told New York Times, “For 23 years, he has been the equal of the J.S.O.C. commander, the C.I.A. director and Iran’s actual overseas minister,” Mr. Dubowitz stated, utilizing an acronym for the US Joint Particular Operations Command. “He’s irreplaceable and indispensable” to Iran’s navy institution.
According to Reuters, Soleimani's Quds Force, tasked with carrying out operations beyond Iran's borders, shored up support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad when he looked close to defeat in the civil war raging since 2011 and also helped militiamen defeat Islamic State in Iraq.
Soleimani became head of the Quds Force in 1998, a position in which he kept a low profile for years while he strengthened Iran's ties with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and Shi’ite militia groups in Iraq.