General Suleimani also “approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad,” the statement said.
Mr. Trump said on Tuesday that Iran would “be held fully responsible” for the attack on the embassy, in which protesters set fire to a reception building on the embassy compound, which covers more than 100 acres. He also blamed Tehran for directing the unrest.
Washington and Tehran appear intent on ratcheting up both their messaging and their forces, raising concerns of a larger conflict. In the past several months, Iranian-supported militias have increased rocket attacks on bases housing American troops. The Pentagon has dispatched more than 14,000 troops to the region since May.
Caught in the middle is the Iraqi government, which is too weak to establish any military authority over some of the more established Iranian-supported Shiite militias.
On Thursday, Mr. Esper said the Iraqi government was not doing enough to contain them. The Iraqis need to “stop these attacks from happening and get the Iranian influence out of the government,” Mr. Esper said.
Representative Andy Kim, Democrat of New Jersey, who served as the National Security Council’s director for Iraq under Mr. Obama, said the strike would most likely elicit “a very serious backlash” from a number of Iraqi leaders for taking the action on Iraqi soil, as well as Shia communities “that already were protesting and upset in recent days.”
“This is something that is going to make it very difficult for our diplomatic presence there, our military presence there,” Mr. Kim said in an interview.
General Suleimani was long a figure of intense interest to people in and out of Iran.
He was not only in charge of Iranian intelligence gathering and covert military operations, he was regarded as one of Iran’s most cunning and autonomous military figures. He was also believed to be very close to the country’s supreme leader, Mr. Khamenei, and was seen as a potential future leader of Iran.
The United States and Iran have long been involved in a shadow war in battlegrounds across the Middle East — from Iraq to Yemen to Syria. The tactics have generally involved using proxies to carry out the fighting, providing a buffer from a direct confrontation between Washington and Tehran that could draw America into yet other ground conflict with no discernible endgame.
The potential for a regional conflagration was a basis of the Obama administration’s push for a 2015 agreement that froze Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
Mr. Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, saying that Mr. Obama’s agreement had emboldened Iran, giving it economic breathing room to plow hundreds of millions of dollars into a campaign of violence around the region. Mr. Trump responded with a campaign of “maximum pressure” that began with punishing new economic sanctions, which began a new era of brinkmanship and uncertainly, with neither side knowing just how far the other was willing to escalate violence and risk a wider war. In recent days it has spilled into the military arena.
The killing of General Suleimani is also likely to further strain a coalition that the Trump administration had tried to build to blunt Iranian aggression. The coalition, made up primarily of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel, in recent months has begun to fracture amid concerns among the Arab nations that rising tensions might lead to more direct attacks on the Arab nations.
His presence in Iraq would not have been surprising.
General Suleimani led the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force, a special forces unit responsible for Iranian operations outside Iran’s borders. He once described himself to a senior Iraqi intelligence official as the “sole authority for Iranian actions in Iraq,” the official later told American officials in Baghdad.
In his speech denouncing Mr. Trump, he was even less discreet — and openly mocking.
“We are near you, where you can’t even imagine,” he said. “We are ready. We are the man of this arena.”
Michael Crowley reported from West Palm Beach, Fla.; Falih Hassan from Baghdad; and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Reporting was contributed by Alissa J. Rubin from Paris, Farnaz Fassihi from New York and Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Helene Cooper, Mark Mazzetti, Catie Edmondson and Edward Wong from Washington.
This content was originally published here.