In a shocking development, General Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) elite Quds Force, was killed in a US attack ordered by President Donald Trump.

Pentagon officials confirmed that at the direction of the US President, the military had taken the decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani.

“The strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans… The US will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world,” it added.

Soleimani was among the eight people who were killed in a rocket attack by the US on Baghdad international airport. The rocket attack comes days after a pro-Iran mob laid siege to the American embassy.

The IRGC said that Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of the Hashd Shaabi or the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), was also killed along with Soleimani in the strike that targeted their vehicle on the Baghdad International Airport road, the Tehran-based Press TV reported.

Following the killing of the top Iran and Iraq commanders, President Donald Trump posted a picture of the American flag on his official Twitter handle without any comment.

The White House in a statement said that at the direction of the President, the US military took a “decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad” by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.

It added that General Soleimani was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region”.

Meanwhile, Iran has termed the US action of “international terrorism” as “extremely dangerous and a foolish escalation”.

“US’ act of international terrorism, assassinating General Soleimani — the most effective force fighting Daesh (ISIS), Al Nusrah, Al Qaeda — is extremely dangerous and foolish escalation,” Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said.

He further said that the US “bears responsibility for all consequences of rogue adventurism”.

Meanwhile, the PMF has also confirmed the incident, adding that its public relations director Mohammed Reza al-Jaberi and four other members were also killed after three Katyusha rockets struck a military base next to the Baghdad airport earlier on Friday.

It described the attack as a “cowardly US bombing”.

Since 1998, Maj Gen Soleimani led Iran’s Quds Force – the IRGC’s elite unit which handles clandestine operations abroad, said the BBC.

In that position, Gen Soleimani played a key role bolstering Bashar al-Assad’s Iranian-supported government in the Syrian Civil War, and in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq.

He was a hugely significant figure in the Iranian regime. His Quds Force reported directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

He first came to prominence in his country serving in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.

Friday’s targeted strike took place amid increased tensions between Washington and Tehran after hundreds of protesters stormed the US Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday, where they managed to breach the main gate and enter some rooms, lighting fires.

The siege was in response to an American attack on the positions of some Iraqi militia battalions in western Iraq on December 29 in which, 25 of militiamen died and more than 50 were injured according to the PMF.

The Pentagon said at the time that it had launched “defensive attacks” against Kataib Hizbollah, which operates under the umbrella of the PMF and is allegedly responsible for launching projectiles and rockets at US interests on Iraqi soil.

Earlier on Thursday, Pentagon chief Mark Esper asked Iran to stop its attacks against the US in the Middle East and said: “Attacks against us will be met with responses in the time, manner, and place of our choosing”.

(With agency inputs)