This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has defended a U.S. drone strike that killed top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in Iraq early this year, after a UN expert deemed it as “unlawful.”
In a statement on July 9, Pompeo rejected the conclusions of Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, as “spurious.”
He said the United States had been “transparent” regarding the international law basis for the strike, citing a letter it sent to the UN Security Council explaining that “the strike was undertaken in the exercise of the United States’ inherent right of self-defense.”
Callamard presented her findings earlier on July 9 to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, in which she said the January 3 drone strike near Baghdad’s airport that killed Soleimani constituted an “arbitrary killing” for which the United States is responsible under international human rights law.
She said the United States had provided no specific evidence that showed Soleimani was planning an imminent attack against U.S. interests, particularly in Iraq, for which immediate action was necessary and would have been justified.
But Pompeo said the strike that killed Soleimani “was in response to an escalating series of armed attacks in the preceding months” by Iran.
He also said it was conducted to deter Iran from launching or supporting further attacks against the United States or U.S. interests and was carried out to degrade the capabilities of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
According to the United States, Soleimani was responsible for orchestrating attacks on U.S. forces for years and in the process of planning further attacks on Americans and U.S. allies in the region.
In retaliation for the assassination of Soleimani, who headed the Quds Force, an Iranian ballistic-missile strike on January 8 targeted U.S. bases in Iraq housing U.S. forces, leaving some 110 U.S. troops suffering from traumatic brain injuries.
According to Callamard, Iran’s retaliatory strikes also were unlawful.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of the Iran-backed Kataib Hizbullah militia and deputy head of Iraq’s state-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Units, was also killed in the January strike that targeted Soleimani.
Kataib Hizbullah and affiliated Iran-backed militia have been linked to multiple rocket attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, including one in late December that killed a U.S. defense contractor and wounded several U.S. and Iraqi soldiers at a military base in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
As the head of the Quds Force, Soleimani was a key figure in supplying weapons and explosive devices to Iraqi insurgents that killed or wounded U.S. soldiers in Iraq following the ouster of Saddam Hussein. He was also the main figure running Iran’s policy in Syria and support for the Lebanese militant group Hizballah.