The killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a US airstrike Thursday night is widely being described as a "game changer"—and a major escalation in the Middle East. Gen. Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, was killed along with Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and several other officials from Iran-backed militias as they left the Baghdad airport, the BBC reports. Iran has vowed "harsh retaliation" for the killing of the popular general—and worldwide oil prices have jumped more than 4%. More:
- Congress not consulted. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday night that the strike ordered by President Trump was carried out "without the consultation" of Congress, reports the New York Times. "American leaders’ highest priority is to protect American lives and interests," she said in a statement. "But we cannot put the lives of American service members, diplomats, and others further at risk by engaging in provocative and disproportionate actions. Tonight’s airstrike risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence."
- Who was Soleimani? The general, who oversaw Iran's intelligence and security operations in the Middle East for decades, "widely represented a figure of national resilience in the face of four decades of US pressure," the AP reports. He became more widely known after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when the US blamed him for the deaths of hundreds of soldiers, and in recent years "had become Iran's most recognizable battlefield commander, ignoring calls to enter politics but becoming as powerful, if not more, than its civilian leadership
- A massive gamble. Insiders tell Politico that even some administration officials were shocked by the strike, which is expected to lead to retaliation and possible a wider regional conflict. "It is hard to overstate the significance," says retired Gen. David Petraeus. "But there will be responses in Iraq and likely Syria and the region."
- Condemnation from Iraq. Reuters reports that Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi condemned the strike as a violation of the conditions of the US presence in the country. The Iraqi military described militia leader Muhandis as a "hero martyr" who was killed "in a cowardly and treacherous attack."
- Americans ordered to leave Iraq. The US Embassy in Iraq has told all American citizens to leave the country immediately, the Guardian reports. "US citizens should depart via airline while possible, and failing that, to other countries via land," the embassy said in a statement.
- 2020 contenders speak out. Trump "just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox," Joe Biden said Thursday night. He admitted that no American will mourn the general but said that while the administration says its goal is to deter attacks from Iran, the strike is likely to have the opposite effect. Bernie Sanders also slammed the "dangerous escalation," telling the Daily Beast: "Trump promised to end endless wars, but this action puts us on the path for another one."
- A "declaration of war." Iran will see the strike as a "declaration of war" and retaliation is inevitable, analyst Shahram Akbarzadeh writes at the Sydney Morning Herald. "Even before this event, the Iranian hardliners had cornered Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for being weak in the face of US bullying," he writes. And now, "the war of words seems to be replaced with simply war."
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