The US killing of two key Iraqi and Iranian militia leaders was applauded by many US officials and commentators on Friday, but opposition democrats and analysts warned that the action could trigger a major conflict in the Middle East with unforeseen consequences.
The head of Iran’s elite Quds Forces Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilization Units, were killed in a US bombing of Baghdad airport overnight.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shared a video on Twitter of Iraqis allegedly dancing in the streets in celebration.
Iraqis — Iraqis — dancing in the street for freedom; thankful that General Soleimani is no more. pic.twitter.com/huFcae3ap4— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 3, 2020
Republican Senator Ted Cruz took to Twitter to say: “The end of Qassem Soleimani is welcome and long-overdue justice for the thousands of Americans killed or wounded by his Iranian-controlled forces across the Middle East, and for the hundreds of thousands of Syrians and Iraqi Sunnis ethnically cleansed by his militias.”
The Pentagon confirmed that strikes killed eight people, including Soleimani and al-Mohandes, and were the latest in an escalating tit-for-tat fight with Iranian proxy militias in Iraq, which killed an American in a rocket attack on an Iraqi airbase one week ago.
The US Department of Defense justified the attack saying that it “was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans”.
“General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more,” it said in a statement.
Opposition democrat Joe Biden said no American would mourn the death of Soleimani. However, he added a warning on the consequences of such a high-profile assassination.
“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, our people and our interests, both here and abroad. … We could be on the brink of major conflict in the Middle East.”
“I hope the administration has thought through the second- and third-order consequences of the path they have chosen.”
Richard N Haas, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent US think tank, wrote on Twitter: “Make no mistake: any war with Iran will not look like the 1990 Gulf war or the 2003 Iraq wars. It will be fought throughout the region with a wide range of tools vs a wide range of civilian, economic and military targets. The region (and possibly the world) will be the battlefield.”