Iran's top Army official Gen Soleimani killed in Baghdad's airport strike
Iran's top Army official Gen Soleimani killed in Baghdad's airport strike
Photo credits: Qanta Ahmed/Twitter

Baghdad: Gen Qassim Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds Force, was killed in an air strike at Baghdad's international airport Friday, Iraqi television and three Iraqi officials said.

The strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF, the officials said.

Their deaths are a potential turning point in the Middle East and are expected to draw severe retaliation from Iran and the forces it backs in the Middle East against Israel and American interests.

The PMF blamed the United States for an attack at Baghdad International Airport Friday. There was no immediate comment from the US or Iran.

A senior Iraqi politician and a high-level security official confirmed to the Associated Press that Soleimani and al-Muhandis were among those killed in the attack.

Two militia leaders loyal to Iran also confirmed the deaths, including an official with the Kataeb Hezbollah, which was involved in the attack on the US Embassy this week.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said al-Muhandis had arrived to the airport in a convoy to receive Soleimani whose plane had arrived from either Lebanon or Syria. The airstrike occurred as soon as he descended from the plane to be greeted by al-Muhandis and his companions, killing them all.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject and because they were not authorized to give official statements.

The senior politician said Soleimani's body was identified by the ring he wore.

Soleimani had been rumoured dead several times, including in a 2006 airplane crash that killed other military officials in northwestern Iran and following a 2012 bombing in Damascus that killed top aides of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad.

More recently, rumours circulated in November 2015 that Soleimani was killed or seriously wounded leading forces loyal to Assad as they fought around Syria's Aleppo.

Earlier, Iraq's Security Media Cell, which releases information regarding Iraqi security, said Katyusha rockets landed near the airport's cargo hall, killing several people and setting two cars on fire.

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