update2: It’s official — unbelievable as it is — Iraqi state TV moments ago announced the death of Iran’s most senior elite military commander, IRGC Quds Force chief Qasem Suleimani:
ALSO KILLED HEAD OF KATAIB HEZBOLLAH ABU MEHDI MUHANDIS https://t.co/K0cJn9rMIc
— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) January 3, 2020
This is the spark that could set the whole region on fire, given Suleimani is Iran’s most important, visible and powerful military leader.
— Baxtiyar Goran (@BaxtiyarGoran) January 3, 2020
Journalists are circulating graphic photos of the blast aftermath, seeking on the ground confirmation of Suleimani’s identity:
— Steven nabil (@thestevennabil) January 3, 2020
It appears Iranian officials have begun circulating condolences, acknowledging his death.
At the beginning of the last decade, when Gen. Suleimani began becoming a more visible and powerful face of incfluence in Iran and across the Middle East, one former CIA officer cited in a New Yorker biographical piece on him, referred to the IRGC commander as the “most powerful operative in the Middle East today.”
— Farnaz Fassihi (@farnazfassihi) January 3, 2020
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update: It appears the ‘mystery’ strike which took out vehicles along the perimeter of Baghdad International Airport in the early morning hours of Friday was actually a US targeted assassination.
— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) January 2, 2020
There are even significant but as yet completely unconfirmed rumors, some coming from of a well-known BBC Iran reporter and other regional sources, that Iran’s most senior military commander, the IRGC’s Quds Force chief Qasem Suleimani was taken out in the hit, which appears to have been an airstrike.
— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) January 3, 2020
According to Stars and Stripes:
An early-morning strike hit the Baghdad International Airport perimeter, near the air cargo terminal, the Iraqi government said Friday.
The attack, which set two cars ablaze, apparently occurred at about 1 a.m. Social media users posted hearing the explosions, then the sounds of military aircraft.
The Iraqi defense ministry’s security information cell confirmed the strike about 45 minutes later, posting photos of the burning vehicles on its Facebook page and attributing the damage to a rocket attack.
Later, security sources told local media a strike hit two vehicles, killing Mohammed Redha, a senior member of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units — an umbrella group that includes Iran-backed Shiite militias with close ties to Iran and other militias that have fought the Islamic State group since 2014. Other PMU members and “guests” were also killed, the PMU said.
Just who those “guests” were remains the major question as huge rumors of Qasem Suleimani’s death continue to spread, however unlikely.
It true this could be the spark that ignites WWIII in the region, given Suleimani is Iran’s most important and powerful military leader.
Sources at the #Baghdad international airport tell me that “the main targets were #PMF leader Abu Mahdi Mohandis & #Iran‘s Qassem Soleimani as they were at the airport tonight”
They weren’t sure if these two got in the convoy or not.#Iraq
Can’t still confirm it 100%
— Nafiseh Kohnavard (@nafisehkBBC) January 3, 2020
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At a moment tensions are on edge after pro-Iran militia protesters attacked and set fire to the outside of the US embassy compound in Baghdad’s Green Zone earlier this week, another major incident is developing overnight.
Reuters and Al Jazeera are reporting that at least three missiles struck on or near a base that houses American and Iraqi counter-terrorism forces in the early Friday morning hours at Baghdad International Airport.
— Barzan Sadiq (@BarzanSadiq) January 2, 2020
All civilian flights have been canceled as US military helicopters were also seen patrolling the skies in the immediate aftermath.
Al Jazeera has cited Iraqi security sources to say that though the rocket attacks appeared to have targeted a joint US-Iraqi training base within the sprawling airport perimeter. At lease one of the projectiles landed near a passenger terminal, causing an immediate shutdown of the civilian side of the airport.
It is the second such rocket attack on the airport in under a month, after on Dec.9 four projectiles were launched on the facility, targeting the US-Iraqi base on the property.
— Baxtiyar Goran (@BaxtiyarGoran) January 2, 2020
Vehicles at the airport were filmed exploding as a result of the attack, and there are conflicting reports of possible civilian casualties.
Kurdistan24 journalist Barzan Sadiq has said at least one civilian was killed in the attack with more injured, as well as multiple Iraqi military personnel among the wounded.
3 Katyusha rockets in the vicinity of Baghdad International Airport near the sleeve of advisory units of the International Alliance, which is located in the vicinity of Baghdad Airport.
Civilians burn cars pic.twitter.com/GruQFI1Rva
— سيف صلاح الهيتي (@saifsalahalhety) January 2, 2020
While details are as yet unclear and unconfirmed at this point, Reuters did confirm the following per local security authorities:
Three Katyusha rockets fell on Baghdad International Airport, the military-run Security Media Cell said in a statement on early Friday.
The rockets landed near the air cargo terminal, burning two vehicles and injuring several citizens, Security Media Cell added.
Earlier in the day Defense Secretary Mark Esper put Iran and its proxies on notice, saying the US is prepared to launch “pre-emptive action” if American troops and interests come under threat.