US official confirms drone strike killed Iran's Qassem Suleimani

Attack on convoy leaving Baghdad International Airport ordered by US President Donald Trump

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A US drone strike targeted and killed Qassem Suleimani, head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard's foreign operations branch, and Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, head of the Tehran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah, on Friday morning.

A US official confirmed to The National on Friday that a drone was used in the Baghdad attack, carried out on the orders of President Donald Trump.

Suleimani and Al Muhandis were traveling in separate cars as part of a convoy carrying at least eight other people at the Iraqi capital's airport where Suleimani had recently arrived from Lebanon, according to media reports.

The New York Times reported that an American MQ-9 Reaper drone fired missiles at the convoy as it was leaving the airport. A statement attributed to the PMF grouping of Iraqi militia, which confirmed the death of its deputy leader Al Muhandis, said a total of seven people were killed.

It also named Mohammed Reda Al Jaberi, the group's protocol officer and head of public relations, among the dead.

There is no confirmation yet on who else died along with Suleimani and Al Muhandis. Reports have mentioned that the son of the late Hezbollah leader Imad Moghniya was also killed.

A statement from the US Department of Defense issued on Friday morning said that Suleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region”.

“This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.”

It came hours after US officials warned of pre-emptive action against any further action planned by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq following this week's attack on the US embassy in Baghdad.

The American official on Friday told The National that "we are aware of a possible Iranian response" to the killing of Suleimani and the US military is adopting an appropriate "posture" to counter it.