General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, has been killed by US forces in Iraq.
The Pentagon confirmed he was killed “at the direction of the president”.
It comes after reports of a strike at Baghdad’s international airport, which is said to have killed a number of people.
The death marks a huge escalation, which analysts fear could lead to an Iranian response.
Gen Soleimani was a major figure in the Iranian regime. His Quds Force reported directly to the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and he was hailed as a heroic national figure.
US President Donald Trump tweeted an image of the American flag after the news broke.
Global oil prices meanwhile soared more than 4% in the wake of the strike.
What has happened?
“At the direction of the President, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani,” a Pentagon statement said.
“This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world.”
The strike comes days after protesters attacked the US embassy in Baghdad, clashing with US forces at the scene. The Pentagon said Gen Soleimani approved the attacks on the embassy.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis had also been killed in the US attack, blaming an attack by US helicopters.
Reports also suggest that a number of Iraq militia heads have been detained by US forces in Baghdad, although this is unconfirmed.
Who was Qasem Soleimani?
Since 1998, Maj Gen Qasem Soleimani led Iran’s Quds Force – an elite unit in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, which handles clandestine operations abroad.
Iran has acknowledged the role of the Quds Force in the conflicts in Syria, where it has advised forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and armed thousands of Shia Muslim militiamen fighting alongside them, and in Iraq, where it has backed a Shia-dominated paramilitary force that helped tackle IS.
These conflicts turned the once-reclusive Gen Soleimani into a something of celebrity in Iran.
The Trump administration has alleged that the Quds Force is “Iran’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting” US-designated terrorist groups across the Middle East – including Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and Palestinian Islamic Jihad – by providing funding, training, weapons and equipment.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and its Quds Force as a foreign terrorist organisation in April.