The Pentagon admitted Thursday to having killed a senior Iranian commander, Gen. Qassem Suleimani, a staggering move made without congressional authority that has left Democrats angry and concerned about the United States’ fragile relationship with Iran.
The U.S. launched strikes against targets linked to Iran, officials told Reuters. The strike at the Baghdad International Airport in Iraq killed five people, including Soleimani and Abu Mahdi-Muhandis, a pro-Iranian militia leader who was a senior official in Iraq’s government-linked Popular Mobilization Forces, according to The New York Times.
“The strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans,” the Pentagon said in a statement on the death of Soleimani, a giant force of influence in the Middle East. “The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interest wherever they are around the world.”
Though nearly all Democrats agreed that Soleimani was a feared and ruthless military commander, they also stressed concern about the lack of transparency regarding the strikes, as well as about the long-term consequences for the U.S. and whether the move will result in war.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that the airstrike “risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence” and that Congress must be immediately briefed on the administration’s next steps, according to NBC News.
“The Administration has conducted tonight’s strikes in Iraq targeting high-level Iranian military officials ... without an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iran,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Further, this action was taken without the consultation of Congress.”
“This strike went forward with no notification or consultation with Congress,” committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said in a statement Thursday. “Even if this strike was in self-defense, no current congressional authorization covered it and the President needs to notify Congress within 48 hours pursuant to the War Powers Resolution. The law requires notification so the President can’t plunge the United States into ill-considered wars.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer, the upper chamber’s top Democrat, was not given any advance notice of the airstrike, according to an aide.
Several other senators, specifically Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee, spoke out Thursday night. A spokesperson for the committee’s top Democrat, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, declined to immediately comment but told HuffPost that the senator will deliver a statement on the airstrikes Friday morning.
“Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. That’s not a question,” committee member Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) wrote on Twitter. “The question is this ― as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?”
Murphy added: “The justification for the assassination is to ‘deter future Iranian attacks.’ One reason we don’t generally assasinate foreign political officials is the belief that such action will get more, not less, Americans killed. That should be our real, pressing and grave worry tonight.”
Other Democrats on the committee, such as Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, said that Trump is bringing the U.S. “to the brink of an illegal war with Iran.”
“Passing our bipartisan amendment to prevent unconstitutional war with Iran is urgent,” Udall tweeted. “Congress needs to step in immediately.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a member of the committee and a 2020 presidential candidate, was more hesitant in his response Thursday, telling CNN that Suleimani had “American blood on his hands” but that he’s concerned about Trump’s lack of foreign policy strategy in Iran and the Middle East in general.
Other 2020 candidates, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), former Vice President Joe Biden and businessman Andrew Yang, also spoke out Thursday against the decision to kill Suleimani.
“When I voted against the war in Iraq in 2002, I feared it would lead to greater destabilization of the region. That fear unfortunately turned out to be true. The U.S. has lost approximately 4,500 brave troops, tens of thousands have been wounded, and we’ve spent trillions,” Sanders tweeted.
“Trump’s dangerous escalation brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars,” he added. “Trump promised to end endless wars, but this action puts us on the path to another one.”
Not every 2020 Democratic candidate had an immediate response to the reports, though. Spokespeople for Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg ― candidates who both served in the military ― did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.