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Qassem Soleimani's assassination timeline

January 8, 2020

US politicians rejoiced over Soleimani's assassination while Iranians mourned him as a national hero. We sum up key events in the days and moments following the attack on Iran's most powerful military general.

Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Quds Force.
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Leaders Official Website

January 3

The first hours:

  • Shortly after midnight local time, airstrikes hit Baghdad International Airport. Iraq's military-run media agency, the Security Media Cell, was the first to report the attack. In their initial statement, they said that some people were injured, and shared photos of burnt vehicles. 
Irak Bagdad Airport Luftschlag US-Streitkräfte auf General Qassem Soleimani
A picture published by the media office of the Iraqi military's joint operations forces shows a burnt vehicle following a US strike on January 3.Image: AFP/Iraqi Military
  • Air traffic around Baghdad International Airport is suspended around 2 a.m. local time. 
  • Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) issue a statement saying that "five members and two guests" were killed in the strikes. Shortly after, they say that Qassem Soleimani, as well as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the PMF, also known as Hashed al-Shaabi, and Mohammed Reza al-Jaberi, the protocol officer and the head of public relations for the group, were killed.
    Read moreAl-Hashd al-Shaabi and Hezbollah: Iran's allies in Iraq and Lebanon
  • Iraqi state TV confirms the killings. Iranian State TV follows that confirmation, citing a Revolutionary Guard statement.
  • The US Department of Defense issues a statement confirming Soleimani's death in a US drone strike.

    "At the direction of the President, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel by killing Qassem Soleimani. General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more," the statement read. 

Immediate reactions:

  • Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemns the assassination on Twitter saying that the US "bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism."
  • Populist Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr mourns Soleimani's killing and says that his militias are ready to protect Iraq. 
  • Israel's Defense Ministry raises its alert level, amid fears of retaliation strikes initiated by Hezbollah and Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
  • Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah says the group will continue to work towards Soleimani's goals, according to Lebanese broadcaster Al-Manar.
  • US State Department issues travel warning for Americans in Iraq, urging them to leave the country immediately. American workers employed by foreign oil companies in the southern Iraqi oil city of Basra begin to leave.
  • Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appoints Brigadier General Esmail Qaani to replace Soleimani. 


  • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to discuss the situation.
  • US President Donald Trump says Soleimani was behind "thousands" of deaths. 
  • The United States announces that it would send 3,000 additional troops to the Middle East amid rising tensions in the region. 

Saturday, January 4

  • Thousands gather for the funeral processionin Baghdad. The procession passed through the city's fortified Green Zone. 
  • The United Kingdom issues a travel warning for Iraq.
  • Top Hezbollah official Mohamed Raad says the US "made an error" in killing Soleimani, and that the military faction will be decisive in its response. 
  • Revolutionary Guards General Gholamali Abuhamzeh said Iran will punish Americans wherever they are within reach of the Islamic Republic, according to Tasnim news agency.

    "The Strait of Hormuz is a vital point for the West and a large number of American destroyers and warships cross there ... vital American targets in the region have been identified by Iran since long time ago ... some 35 US targets in the region as well as Tel Aviv are within our reach," he said.
    Read moreUS, Iran on precipice of unpredictable Middle East war
  • NATO suspends training missions in Iraq, citing security concerns. The Iraqi mission employs hundreds of staff members from allied nations and non-NATO countries.
  • French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi about tensions in the Middle East.
  • Wang and Zarif discuss rising tensions over the phone. Beijing subsequently publishes a press release outlining the minister's comments urging the US not to "abuse force."
  • China Mohammed Dschawad Sarif, Außenminister Iran mit Wang Yi, Außenminister
    Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Beijing, in 2018.Image: Reuters/T. Peter
  • More rockets fall in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone. 
  • The United Kingdom announces that navy warships HMS Montrose and HMS Defender will escort ships sailing under the British flag through the Strait of Hormuz.
  • The White House sends Congress formal notice of Friday's strike. The notification was sent under the 1973 War Powers Act, which stipulates that the administration formally inform Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action.
  • Trump tweets that the US has "targeted 52 Iranian sites" it could hit "very fast and very hard" in the case of retaliation from Iran.

Sunday, January 5

  • Soleimani's body is returned to Iran and sent to the city of Ahvaz, according to the state-run IRIB news agency. Thousands began gathering in the city to mourn the general.
  • Zarif hits back at Trump's threat that US retaliation could hit Iranian cultural sites, saying that would constitute a war crime.
    Read moreTrump condemned for threats to Iranian cultural sites
  • Soleimani's and al-Muhandis' remains are sent back to Iran for tests. After the tests, authorities planned to take Soleimani's body to his hometown for burial, while al Muhandis' remains were set to be brought back to Iraq to be buried in Najaf. 
  • Tens of thousands continue to gather in Ahvaz to mourn Soleimani. Authorities also planned to take his body to Tehran and the holy cities of Qom and Mashhad. 
  • Iran summons various diplomats, including those from Germany, Switzerland and the US, either over the attacks or their government's subsequent comments. 
  • European Union invites Zarif to Brussels to discuss de-escalation
  • Protests kick off at the US consulate in Turkey over Soleimani's killing
  • Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah says the assassination marks a new era for the Middle East
  • Iraq's al-Sadr calls for US and other foreign troops to leave
  • Iran announces it will continue to roll back commitments under its 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers. 

Monday, January 6

  • Iraq's United Nations Ambassador Mohammed Hussein Bahr Aluloom urges the UN to condemn Friday's attack
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson call on "all parties to exercise utmost restraint" as tensions continue to rise in the Middle East.
  • UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warns that tensions are at their "highest level this century," in an address. "The New Year has begun with our world in turmoil," he wrote on Twitter.
  • Saudi Arabia's Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meet in the US. 
  • Defense Secretary Mark Esper says the US has no plans to pull its troops out of Iraq. The statement contradicted a letter sent earlier that day from the head of the US military's Task Force Iraq outlining efforts to "reposition forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement."
  • Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi says that Pakistan won't take sides in the conflict. The country has been a key ally to the US and Saudi Arabia, while maintaining a border with Iran. 
  • Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin set a January 11 meeting to discuss the tension. 
  • Hundreds of thousands flood Tehran's streets to mourn Soleimani while Khamenei led prayers at the funeral. The leader of Hamas was also in attendance. 
  • German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas decries US sanctions threat on Iran as "not very helpful."

Tuesday, January 7

  • US denies Zarif a visa that would allow him to attend a United Nations meeting in New York on Thursday.
  • More than 50 people are reported dead, and over 200 injured after a stampede at Soleimani's funeral in his home city of Kerman. Over a million people were estimated to be in attendance, in what would be Iran's largest funeral procession since the 1989 funeral of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. 
  • Germany, Canada and NATO announce the movement and withdrawal of some of their troops stationed in Iraq, particularly those in and around the capital helping to train Iraqi security forces.
  • Soleimani's burial is postponed after the deadly stampede.

Wednesday, January 8

  • Iran launches 22 ballistic missiles at two military bases hosting US and allied troops in Iraq, in what Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described as a "slap in the face" for the killing of Soleimani.
  • Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Tehran "concluded proportionate measures in self-defense."
  • Trump confirmed there were no casualties from the attack and in a statement said "As long as I am president, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon … the United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it."
  • Trump called on Germany, the UK and France, among others, to step away from the 2015 nuclear deal and asked NATO to become more involved in the Middle East. Jürgen Hardt, foreign policy spokesman for Germany's ruling Christian Democratic Union, told DW that Europe must continue to uphold the nuclear deal.
  • Read events from Wednesday as they happened here

lc, mvb/se (Reuters, AFP, AP)