Qasem Soleimani, the popular head of the Revolutionary Guards' foreign operations arm, was killed in a US drone strike outside Baghdad airport. (Photo Credit: File Photo)
Two rockets crashed late Wednesday into the Iraqi capital's Green Zone, the high-security enclave where foreign embassies including the US mission are based. The attack came nearly 24 hours after Tehran launched ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing American and other coalition forces in retaliation for the US killing top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.
Qasem Soleimani, the popular head of the Revolutionary Guards' foreign operations arm, was killed in a US drone strike outside Baghdad airport on Friday, ratcheting up tensions between the arch-foes.
This attack comes amid President Trump offering to embrace peace with the Iranian leadership, in a significant move to de-escalate spiralling tensions in the Middle East.
In a direct message to the Iranian leaders and the people, Trump said the United States was “ready to embrace peace with all who seek it”.
“To the people and leaders of Iran, we want you to have a future and a great future, one that you deserve,” the president said.
Trump said Iran appeared to be standing down, which was a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.
“For far too long, all the way back to 1979 to be exact, nations have tolerated Iran’s destructive and destabilising behaviour in the Middle East and beyond. Those days are over,” he said, adding that peace and stability cannot prevail in the Middle East as long as Iran continues to foment terrorism.
Trump also asked NATO “to become much more involved in the Middle East process.”
He vowed that he will never allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.
“As long as I’m President of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon,” Trump said.
Soleimani was one of the most popular figures in Iran and seen as a deadly adversary by America and its allies. General Soleimani, who headed the external operations Quds Force for the Guards, had wielded his regional clout publicly since 2018 when it was revealed that he had direct involvement in top-level talks over the formation of Iraq's government. It was no surprise at the time for a man who has been at the centre of power-broking in the region for two decades.
Soleimani has been in and out of Baghdad ever since, most recently last month as parties sought to form a new government. Where once he kept to the shadows, Soleimani has in recent years become an unlikely celebrity in Iran -- replete with a huge following on Instagram.
His profile rose suddenly when he was pushed forward as the public face of Iran's intervention in the Syrian conflict from 2013, appearing in battlefield photos, documentaries -- and even being featured in a music video and animated film. In a rare interview aired on Iranian state television in October, he said he was in Lebanon during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war to oversee the conflict.
To his fans and enemies alike, Soleimani was the key architect of Iran's regional influence, leading the fight against jihadist forces and extending Iran's diplomatic heft in Iraq, Syria and beyond. "To Middle Eastern Shiites, he is James Bond, Erwin Rommel and Lady Gaga rolled into one," wrote former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack in a profile for Time's 100 most influential people in 2017.