US airstrike kills Iranian Gen. Qassem Suleimani: what we know

A US airstrike killed a top Iranian military official, along with four others, at the Baghdad airport early Friday morning, according to a Pentagon statement. The attack represents a major escalation of simmering hostilities between the US and Iran.

The death of Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, who led Iranian covert operations and intelligence and one of the country’s most revered military leaders, was reported by Iraqi state television early Friday morning local time, according to multiple US media sources, and confirmed in a statement from the Pentagon.

“General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the Pentagon said in the statement. “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.”

The statement concluded: “This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.”

Iran has not issued an official response to the attack, but has criticized the US for its involvement in the region in recent days.

The attack comes after days of escalating tensions. An American contractor was killed near Kirkuk, Iraq, last week, and four military members were injured in an attack by Iranian-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah. A retaliatory strike by the US killed 25 members of the militia and injured more than 50. Then, on New Year’s Eve on Tuesday, militia members attacked the US Embassy in Baghdad.

This is a developing story, and some details about the attack are still unknown. Here’s what we know and don’t know as the story unfolds.

What we know

  • Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Forces, was killed in a rocket attack at Baghdad International Airport, according to US military officials and Iraqi state television.
  • The attack also killed four other people, including the deputy head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, the overarching group for Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, according to the New York Times, citing Iraqi television and sources within the paramilitary groups.
  • The two cars were bombed while leaving the airport, seemingly in an airstrike, according to the New York Times.
  • The attack came after Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned that “the game has changed” and the US would consider preemptive strikes to avert attacks.

What we don’t know

  • How the attack unfolded
  • What, if any, Iranian attacks on US forces or interests were planned
  • The identities of everyone killed
  • How Iran will respond