(WASHINGTON) — In his first comments on his decision to authorize the killing of Iran’s top general, President Donald Trump blamed Qassem Soleimani for the killing or wounding of thousands of Americans, tweeting Friday morning he “was plotting to kill many more … but got caught!” Shortly before, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave extensive interviews to Fox and Friends and CNN, claiming Soleimani’s death disrupted an “imminent attack” on American targets in the Middle East.But there are heightened fears now of an even greater threat to Americans and American interests after Iran vowed to retaliate for the death of the Quds Force commander, hailed as a hero and now a martyr in Tehran.The assassination of perhaps the second most important Iranian official marked a major escalation in months of tension between the U.S. and Iran. While Trump, Pompeo and others said the strike came after months of warning to Tehran, killing a senior commander will have dramatic repercussions, especially on the ground in Iraq, whose prime minister denounced it as a violation of their sovereignty. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad warned American citizens Friday to “depart Iraq immediately … via airline while possible, and failing that, to other countries via land.” Pompeo declined to offer many specifics, but called it an “imminent attack that [Soleimani] was working actively … using proxy forces in the region” and “that would have put hundreds of lives at risk.” He said that Soleimani himself, who had just arrived in Baghdad when his motorcade was bombed by the U.S. late Thursday night, described it as “a big action” — an indication of how strong U.S. intelligence around him was.”The President’s decision to remove Soleimani from the battlefield saved American lives,” Pompeo told CNN Friday. The Pentagon confirmed late Thursday that Trump had ordered the airstrike, but made no mention of an “imminent attack.” Soleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the Defense Department said in a statement.Trump briefed GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham on plans to conduct the strike earlier this week, Graham told Fox News Friday. The two men were spotted playing golf together on Monday at the president’s Florida resort Mar-a-Lago. Pressed for details on the intelligence, Pompeo said the administration would consider releasing some information to show the attack was imminent: “We want the world to understand that there was an imminent attack taking place,” he said.Several U.S. embassies in the region issued alerts to U.S. citizens, warning of unrest or demonstrations. Pompeo wouldn’t say whether the U.S. would evacuate the embassy in Baghdad, just two days after pro-Iranian Shiite militias assaulted the compound to protest U.S. airstrikes against one militia’s fighters Sunday.Those strikes, which killed 25 members of Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH), were themselves a response to the killing of a U.S. civilian contractor at an Iraqi base near Kirkuk, Iraq, last Friday. While the U.S. “remains committed to de-escalation,” according to State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus, it seems all but certain that Iran will retaliate, either directly, deploying the unconventional attacks of the Quds Force around the world, or through proxy forces, like KH in Iraq or Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria, or elsewhere. An additional 750 troops deployed to the Middle East Wednesday, while 100 Marines stationed in Kuwait were moved to reinforce security at the embassy in Baghdad. Additional troops have been placed on alert for possible deployment, according to the Pentagon.Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
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