“The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism,” he wrote via Twitter.
In a statement the Pentagon described the attack as a “decisive defensive action” taken at the direction of US President Donald Trump designed to protect US personnel from attacks planned by the general.
“General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” read the statement. “General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.
“He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months – including the attack on December 27 – culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel.”
Trump, on holiday at his golf resort in Florida, tweeted an image of the American flag and no words.
On Friday night Australian time, the US State Department issued a statement on Twitter urging American citizens to leave Iraq “immediately”, citing “heightened tensions in Iraq and the region.”
Tensions have escalated between the US and Iran has deteriorated since May 2018 when the US abandoned an international deal that saw Iran restrict its nuclear activities, and instituted a policy of “maximum pressure” designed to force Iran back to the negotiating table.
The situation deteriorated rapidly over the past week. On December 27 rockets were fired at an Iraqi military based near Kirkuk, killing an American contractor and wounding four American and two Iraqi servicemen. American officials blamed an Iranian-backed militia, Kataib Hezbollah, which denied responsibility.
Two days later American airstrikes on Iranian-backed militia bases in Iraq and Syria killed 25 people. On December 31 pro-Iranian militia marched on the US embassy in Iraq, effectively imprisoning American diplomats for 24 hours.
Trump tweeted that Iran would “pay a very big price” for any damage or loss of life. “This is not a warning, it is a threat,” he said.
Before the missile strike the US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper announced the deployment of an infantry battalion to the region “in response to recent events in Iraq” and said “the game has changed”.
Iraq now faces the prospect of a proxy war between Iran and the US on its soil, while both Israel and the US are bracing for retaliatory attacks.
Nick O’Malley is a senior writer and a former US correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.