President Trump accused Iranian military general Qassem Soleimani of planning “imminent and sinister attacks” in his first televised remarks since the deadly airstrike that killed the general in Baghdad.
“We took action last night to stop a war,” Trump said during brief remarks at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. “We did not take action to start a war.”
Without divulging details about what led to the early morning airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport that killed Soleimani and nine others, the president said the United States “caught” the general “in the act and terminated him.”
“Soleimani made the death of … people his sick passion,” he added.
The killing of Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, marks a major escalation in the standoff between Washington and Iran, which has careened from one crisis to another since Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and imposed crippling sanctions.
Iran has vowed “harsh retaliation” for the U.S. airstrike near Baghdad’s airport that killed Soleimani.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the U.S. after the airstrike, calling Soleimani the “international face of resistance.” Khamenei declared three days of public mourning and appointed Maj. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s deputy, to replace him as head of the Quds Force.
The United States said Friday it was sending nearly 3,000 more Army troops to the Middle East and urged American citizens to leave Iraq “immediately.” The State Department said the embassy in Baghdad, which was attacked by Iran-backed militiamen and their supporters earlier this week, is closed and all consular services have been suspended.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.