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Khamenei Vows 'Harsh Vengeance' For Fatal Attack On Soleimani

IRAQ -- a destroyed vehicle on fire following a US strike on January 3, 2020

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khjamenei has vowed "harsh vengeance" for the U.S. air strike that killed Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani late Thursday night January 2, local Iraq time.

A U.S. air strike targeted a convoy carrying Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis late Thursday, near Baghdad airport.

A statement issued by the U.S. Department of Defense said: "At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization."

According to the statement, General Soleimani was "actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region."

The Pentagon added "General Soleimani and his Qods (Quda) Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more. He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months - including the attack on December 27th - culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel. General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week."

Khamenei said in a statement issued Friday morning, "harsh vengeance awaits the criminals that killed Soleimani and other martyrs in last night's attack."

He called Soleimani "an international resistance figure" and declared three days of mourning in Iran.

President Hassan Rouhani said in a statement on Friday that "the Iranian nation and other freedom-loving nations will take revenge for Soleimani's blood."

Reactions from Iraq have also been strong with the caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdel-Mahdi condemning the U.S. attack saying "the assassination of an Iraqi military commander is an aggression on Iraq as a state, government and people," Abdel-al-Mahdi says in a statement."

Abdel-Mahdi who resigned on December 1 but is still in office until a new Prime Minister is elected asserted that the attack was a violation of Iraq's sovereignty adding, "Carrying out physical liquidation operations against leading Iraqi figures or from a brotherly country on the Iraqi lands is a flagrant violation of Iraq's sovereignty and a dangerous escalation that triggers a destructive war in Iraq, the region and the world."

Additionally the prominent Iraqi political player Muqtada al-Sadr sent his condolences on twitter saying, ""I console myself and the Islamic Republic of Iran -- the [religious] authority, leader, people, and government -- over the martyrdom of mujahid al-Hajj Qasem Soleimani and those believers who were with him."

Al-Sadr continued by condemning the United States saying "It is well known that his targeting by global arrogance is targeting of jihad, the opposition, and the international revolutionary spirit. But they will not undermine our resolve and our struggle."

In an initial reaction from Tehran, former IRGC Commander Mohsen Rezai (Rezaee) threatened to take revenge on the United States for killing Soleimani.

The 62-year-old Soleimani was the target of an armed American drone, according to a U.S. official. His vehicle was struck on an access road near the Baghdad airport.

A senior Iraqi security official said the airstrike took place near the cargo area after Soleimani left his plane and joined al-Muhandis and others in a car. The official said the plane had arrived from either Lebanon or Syria.

At least three other militia commanders are also said to have been killed in the attack.

Former IRGC air force commander Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf wrote an emotional tweet praising Soleimani.

Presidential adviser Hesamoddin Ashena wrote that the United States has crossed Iran's red line" by attacking Soleimani.

Former President Mohammad Khatami and several reformist figures also tweeted their condolences to the nation on the "martyrdom" of Soleimani.

Meanwhile Iran's Press TV has reported that a "strong protest" has been logged with the Swiss charge d'affaires who was summoned to Iran's foreign ministry.

Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Iran because of no formal ties between the two countries.

Soleimani led the IRGC's elite extra-territorial Qods Force since 1998 but became famous after the start of the civil war in Syria in 2011. He was also active in combat zones in Iraq and Yemen furthering Tehran's regional military ambitions.

Iran's Fars news agency affiliated with IRGC quoted a spokesman for the country's top security body as saying its members would meet to discuss the "criminal attack" on Soleimani and the others.

IRAN -- The head of the Revolutionary Guard's foreign wing, or Quds Force, Gen. Qassim Soleimani attends a meeting of a group of the Guard members with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Tehran, October 2, 2019
IRAN -- The head of the Revolutionary Guard's foreign wing, or Quds Force, Gen. Qassim Soleimani attends a meeting of a group of the Guard members with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Tehran, October 2, 2019

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in a tweet that the U.S. "act of international terrorism, targeting & assassinating General Soleimani—THE most effective force fighting Daesh [Islamic State], Al Nusrah, Al Qaeda et al—is extremely dangerous & a foolish escalation. The U.S. bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism."

The Qods force Soleimani headed has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) by the United States.

In July 2018, Soleimani said his forces were ready to confront the U.S. military should President Donald Trump act on his warning that Tehran will "suffer consequences" if it threatens the United States.

"Mr. Trump, how dare you threaten us?" Soleimani was quoted as saying at the time.

The attack come at a time of raised tensions between Washington and Tehran over actions in Iraq.

On December 31, thousands of supporters of the Shi'ite PMU militia broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in central Baghdad.

While U.S. Republicans hailed Trump's decision, many Democrats criticized the attack, in saying it would put U.S. forces in danger.

Joe Biden, a leading Democratic challenger to Trump in the 2020 election, said that "no American will mourn" the passing of the Qods Force leader.

But he added that "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."

Prior to reports of the air strikes in Baghdad, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Iran or its proxy forces may be planning further strikes on American interests in the Middle East, adding the United States will take action -- preemptively, if it has sufficient warning.