According to the top American diplomat, Qasem Soleimani was the "orchestrator, the primary motivator" for the recent US embassy attack in Baghdad. (Photo Credit: Reuters)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday defended the killing of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani saying he was making efforts for an attack on Americans in the region. General Soleimani, the powerful commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, was killed when a drone fired missiles into a convoy that was leaving the Baghdad International Airport early on Friday.
In an interview with Fox and Friends news show, Pompeo said: “He's a military commander. He's a military commander who was actively engaged in plotting to kill Americans in the region. We had an important set of underlying reasons to take this strike. It was wholly lawful. We're confident that we not only got it right legally but we got it right strategically.”
The strike also killed the deputy chief of Iraq's powerful Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and some local Iran-backed militias.
“He (Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis) was the primary contact for Qasem Soleimani when it came to Shia militia forces acting in Iraq. He was a bad guy,” Pompeo said.
“I can only confirm that General Soleimani is dead; but if Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis has passed away as well, again, less risk in the Middle East, more freedom for Iraqis, more opportunity for Iraqi people to stand up and get an independent, free, sovereign Iraq built. It's what America has been there for,” Pompeo said.
According to the top American diplomat, Soleimani was the "orchestrator, the primary motivator" for the recent US embassy attack in Baghdad.
“He's got hundreds of American lives' blood on his hands,” he told Fox News.
“But what was sitting before us was his travels throughout the region and his efforts to make a significant strike against Americans. There would have been many Muslims killed as well -? Iraqis, people in other countries as well. It was a strike that was aimed at both disrupting that plot, deterring further aggression, and we hope setting the conditions for de-escalation as well,” he said.
Responding to a question, Pompeo said that the Iranian leadership understands that Trump will take action.
“We've made this clear for months. When I was the CIA director, we made very clear that these responses would be swift and decisive. We've now demonstrated that,” he said.
Pompeo hoped that the Iranian leadership will see American resolve and that their decision will be to de-escalate, to take actions consistent with what normal nations do.
“And in the event that they do not, in the event they go the other direction, I know that President Trump and the entire United States government is prepared to respond appropriately,” he asserted.
The absence of Qasem Soleimani, he said, is “a boon” to this region.
It was very clear that we did so and we will continue to take actions to reduce risk and to protect Americans.
The US will continue to fight ISIS in the region, he asserted.
Pompeo said that the risk of doing nothing was enormous in the short term in terms of the imminent attack that Qasem Soleimani was plotting, but also highly risky as doing nothing in this region shows weakness.
It emboldens Iran, he noted.
It's what's happened under the previous administration for eight years where the Iranians felt free to conduct hundreds of attacks, he alleged.
"We know that this didn't work. President Trump has taken a fundamentally different approach, and we're confident that our strategy that we've developed, not only the economic pressure but building out coalition forces in the Straits of Hormuz, working to reinforce our Saudi and Emirati partners -- all of the things that we have done to create the conditions for a more stable and peaceful and prosperous Middle East, we think this is a part of," the top American diplomat said.
US Secretary of State Mike Mike Pompeo spoke over phone with several world leaders, including President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan and Pakistan's Chief of Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, to discuss with them the situation in the region.
“Secretary of State Michael Pompeo spoke today to Pakistani Chief of Staff General (Qamar Javed) Bajwa to discuss President Trump's recent decision to take defensive action by killing Qassem Soleimani in response to imminent threats to American lives,” State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a readout of the call.
During the telephonic conversation, Pompeo underscored the Iranian regime's destabilising actions through the region and the Trump administration's resolve in protecting American interests, personnel, facilities and partners, Ortagus said.
Earlier in the day, Pompeo had said the US was looking to de-escalate tension in the Persian Gulf.
He had also shared a video on Twitter showing Iraqi nationals "dancing" after Soleimani was killed.
“Iraqis - Iraqis - dancing in the street for freedom; thankful that General Soleimani is no more,” Pompeo said.