Just a day after a U.S. drone attack killed Major General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force, and several others, including members of the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces, another airstrike hit two vehicles killing five militiamen. The number of casualties was confirmed in a statement by the Popular Mobilization Forces.
The airstrike took place just north of Baghdad near the American base of Camp Taji.
Two of the three vehicles in the convoy were found burned, Iraqi officials told the news media, stating that the attack took place at 1:12 a.m. local time.
However, they denied that any of their senior leaders were in the vehicles and that the vehicles were just a medical convoy. They later changed their statement to reflect that after all, it wasn’t a medical convoy that was hit.
While most assumed that it was the United States that conducted the airstrike, the U.S. forces in Iraq denied any involvement. “FACT: the coalition @cjtfoir did not conduct airstrikes near Camp Taji (north of Baghdad) in recent days,” a spokesman posted on Twitter.
There are 5,000 American troops currently in Iraq. Iranian-backed militias have been launching missiles intermittently at them for the past six months. Last week an American contractor was killed in one such attack. The attacks were conducted, American military officials say, under the orders of Soleimani.
The U.S. State Department said that Soleimani and Iran were responsible for over 600 American deaths in Iraq between 2003 and 2011 as they’ve given Iraqi insurgents improved components for IEDs that were designed to attack American armored vehicles.
This week, after the U.S. Embassy was attacked for two days by members of Iranian proxy forces, intelligence officials warned that Iran, and specifically Soleimani, was planning more attacks on Americans. That’s when they learned of his arrival to Baghdad earlier this week and decided to act.
President Trump said that the action to take out Soleimani was one of deterrence rather than escalation. “We took action last night to stop a war,” Trump said after the airstrike. “We did not take action to start a war.”
However, during the violence around the American Embassy, Marine reinforcements were lifted in from Kuwait to bolster defenses inside the Embassy grounds. The Pentagon dispatched a battalion of 750 paratroopers from Ft. Bragg, NC to Kuwait should they be needed, while an additional 3,000 paratroopers, an entire brigade of troops, is being prepared for deployment to the region.
Meanwhile, American oil-field workers were leaving Iraq from the city of Basra where they’d been working. Nonetheless, Iraqi government officials said that oil field production was continuing on a normal operating schedule.
The American Embassy has urged all American civilians to leave Iraq immediately.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed that Iran would avenge Soleimani’s killing.