Air strike that targeted Soleimani and Muhandis also killed key aides

Last week’s killing of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis also reportedly claimed the lives of eight lesser-known, but key aides. The death of these aides reaffirmed that those who serve designated terrorists may suffer the same fate as their superiors.

According to a report by Voice of America (VOA), citing Iranian and Iraqi officials, the U.S. airstrike on two cars departing Baghdad International Airport claimed the lives of five officials of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and three members of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).

One of the targets, IRGC Major General Hossein Pourjafari, served as Soleimani’s “right-hand man” and “most trusted assistant,” VOA said. He likewise played “a critical role in the formation” of the IRGC’s intelligence wing. Another target, IRGC Colonel Shahroud Mozaffari Nia, was a member of the IRGC’s intelligence unit as well.

Hadi Taremi, an IRGC lieutenant, was “one of the closest people in Soleimani’s inner circle and his No. 1 bodyguard,” and “accompanied Soleimani in most of his official visits inside Iran,” according to VOA. Vahid Zamanian, another IRGC lieutenant, served as “one of the rotating bodyguards of Soleimani and accompanied him in some unofficial international visits.” (An IRGC Quds Force statement cited by Iranian state media described Taremi and Zamanian as holding the ranks of major and captain, respectively.)

Muhammad Radha al-Jabri “was in charge of airport protocol” for the PMF, said VOA. A report by Deutsche Welle, citing the PMF, also described him as the PMF’s “head of public relations.” The remaining targets, Hassan Abdu al-Hadi, Muhammad al-Shaybani, and Haider Ali, were bodyguards affiliated with the PMF.

This complement of bodyguards – five in total – may have helped the United States pinpoint Soleimani’s location. Confident that their stature would deter U.S. action, Soleimani and Muhandis apparently made no effort to conceal their movement from the Baghdad airport, making their vehicles easy targets for a U.S. drone.

As The Times of London put it, when Soleimani “flew from Damascus to Baghdad late on Thursday night, from one of the key capitals Tehran believes it has in its pocket to another, he did not use some secret military or militia air base. He flew in his personal, Iranian-regime jet to Baghdad’s main international airport.”

This overconfidence proved his undoing.

The attack on Soleimani and Muhandis sent a message that the aides and assistants to U.S.-designated terrorists cannot count on the presence of their superiors for protection. Perhaps the staff of Esmail Qaani, Soleimani’s successor, should take note.

Tzvi Kahn is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he contributes to FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP).

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