Iran has promised to avenge the death of Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, the foreign arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who was killed Friday in a US airstrike in Baghdad. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for harsh punishment to be meted out against the “criminals” who killed Soleimani and said the US attack would double the motivation for Iranian “resistance” against the US and Israel. Khamenei appointed Brig. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, the deputy commander of the Quds Force, as Soleimani’s replacement, state media reported. The US Embassy in Baghdad has called on all American citizens to leave Iraq immediately. Soleimani was considered the second most powerful figure in Iran after Khamenei. The attack was a significant escalation in the long conflict between Iran and the US, which saw additional escalations earlier this week when the US launched airstrikes on bases of the Kata’ib Hizbullah militia, an Iraqi arms group allied with Iran, and when Kata’ib Hizbullah forces attacked the US Embassy in Baghdad. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the founder of Kata’ib Hizbullah, commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), and an adviser to Soleimani, was also killed in Friday morning’s US attack. The PMF is an Iraqi state-sponsored umbrella organization comprising some 40 militias, most of them Iran-backed Shi’ite groups but also including Sunnis, Christians, and Yazidis, that has played a key role in defeating the Islamic State group.
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