Members of Congress reacted with both praise and apprehension at the news of the death of Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani in an airstrike inside Iraq late Thursday night, a move likely to heighten tensions in the region.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirmed that the attack was launched by U.S. military personnel. He said Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, was actively developing plans to attack U.S. troops and diplomats in the region.
Several others were killed in the strike, including Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces.
The strike comes after days of protests and attacks on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, and the deployment of 750 more American troops to the region to secure that compound and American personnel there.
The assassination drew praise for President Donald Trump and the Pentagon from many conservatives on Capitol Hill, who called it a decisive response to Iranian aggression.
"This is very simple: General Soleimani is dead because he was an evil bastard who murdered Americans,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb. “The president made the brave and right call, and Americans should be proud of our servicemembers who got the job done.”
He added that the strike sends the message to Iran that “before they lash out further they should know that the U.S. military can bring any and all of these (Iranian) butchers to their knees.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in response to the attacks that “the price of killing and injuring Americans has just gone up drastically.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Army in the early 2000s, said that Soleimani “got what he richly deserved, and all those American soldiers who died by his hand also got what they deserved: justice.”
Democrats in Congress condemned Soleimani as a murderer and criminal, but also questioned whether the airstrike represented a run towards war without any consultation from the legislative branch.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement that the president owes lawmakers “a full explanation of airstrike reports” and “all the facts” of the reasoning behind it.
“The present authorizations for use of military force in no way cover starting a possible new war,” he said. “This step could bring the most consequential military confrontation in decades”
Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., who four combat tours in Iraq with the Marine Corps in the early 2000s, called Soleimani “an enemy of the United States with American blood on his hands.” But he said his death bring with it serious concerns for U.S. leaders.
“But the question we've grappled with for years in Iraq was how to kill more terrorists than we create,” he said. “That’s an open question tonight as we await Iran’s reaction to Donald Trump’s escalation, which could ignite a regional war, with still no strategy from the administration.”
Similarly, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., accused Trump of “bringing our nation to the brink of an illegal war with Iran without any congressional approval as required under the Constitution of the United States.
“Such a reckless escalation of hostilities is likely a violation of Congress’ war making authority — as well as our basing agreement with Iraq — putting U.S. forces and citizens in danger and very possibly sinking us into another disastrous war in the Middle East that the American people are not asking for and do not support.”
Lawmakers are expected to return to Capitol Hill from their holiday break early next week. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., has said that he wants to review the president’s war power authorizations as part of the committee’s work for this year.
The White House has not yet offered any comment on the attack.
Reporter Joe Gould contributed to this story.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.