Top Iranian Commander Killed in U.S. Airstrike at Baghdad Airport

Qasem Soleimani, leader of Iran's Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, the leader of Kata'ib Hezbollah (KH), an Iranian-sponsored Shiite militia, were killed Friday in airstrikes on Baghdad International Airport. The Pentagon confirmed that President Donald Trump ordered the airstrike. Both U.S. and Israeli forces were put on high alert after the attack, in preparation for any Iranian retaliation.

"The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani," Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) umbrella grouping of Iran-backed militias, said in a statement, Reuters reported.

The Pentagon confirmed early reports that the U.S. was behind the airstrike. President Donald Trump gave the order.

"At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization," the Pentagon statement read.

"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," the statement continued. "He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months - including the attack on December 27th - culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel."

That rocket attack, which the U.S. blamed on Kata'ib Hezbollah, killed a U.S. contractor. America responded with airstrikes on Sunday that killed 25 members of the militia.

The Pentagon's statement also alleged that Soleimani "approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week." Iran-backed Iraqi militias stormed the embassy on Tuesday before U.S. Marines sent them packing on Wednesday.

"This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world," the Pentagon statement concluded.

Pentagon sources told Newsweek's James LaPorta that Trump authorized the airstrike under 10 U.S. Code section 127e, support of special operations to combat terrorism.

President Trump tweeted an image of an American flag as news of the airstrikes broke, perhaps tipping his hand and revealing the U.S. was responsible for the strikes that killed Soleimani.

Iraqi militia forces said on Friday that three rockets hit Baghdad International Airport, killing five Iraqi militiamen and two "guests." The rockets burned two vehicles, killing and injuring several people.

Soleimani led the Quds Force, the branch of Iran's military tasked with carrying out operations behind the Islamic Republic's borders. The Quds Force shored up support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad when he seemed close to defeat in the Syrian Civil War. The force also helped militiamen defeat the Islamic State in Iraq.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) praised the airstrike in a statement.

"This is very simple: General Soleimani is dead because he was an evil bastard who murdered Americans," Sasse said. "The President made the brave and right call, and Americans should be proud of our service members who got the job done. Tehran is on edge - the mullahs have already slaughtered at least a thousand innocent Iranians - and before they lash out further they should know that the U.S. military can bring any and all of these IRGC butchers to their knees."

Maajid Nawaz, founder of the anti-terror group Quilliam Foundation, said the strikes could presage either the end of Iran's foreign malfeasance in the Middle East or war with the Islamic Republic.

"If confirmed, Iranian Revolutinary Guard commander Qasim Soleimani’s killing either aborts decades of Iranian malfeasance across the Middle East in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon & Palestinian Territories & paves the way to peace with Israel, or we just took a step towards war," Nawaz tweeted.

This story is developing and will be updated.

Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.