Intel: Trump touts eliminating Soleimani, Baghdadi at State of the Union

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President Donald Trump touted his removal of Iran’s Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from the Iraqi and Syrian battlefields during his State of the Union address on Tuesday. 

“Soleimani was the Iranian regime’s most ruthless butcher, a monster who murdered or wounded thousands of American service members in Iraq,” said Trump. “As the world’s top terrorist, Soleimani orchestrated the deaths of countless men, women and children.”

Trump invited the wife and son of Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Hake — who was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad in 2008 — as his guests at the annual address. The president alleged that Soleimani had “provided the deadly roadside bomb that took Chris’ life.” He also outlined broad conditions for Iran to meet for the United States to lift sanctions, calling on Tehran to “abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons, stop spreading terror, death and destruction and start working for the good of its own people,” while deriding Iranian leaders as “too proud or too foolish to ask” for US help.

The president also invited the parents of Kayla Mueller, a humanitarian aid worker executed in Syria by the Islamic State in 2013. Trump touted the territorial defeat of the IS caliphate, noting, “The bloodthirsty killer known as al-Baghdadi is dead.” 

Why it matters: The White House has sought to rebuff Democratic attacks on the legality of the Soleimani strike by noting his role in providing roadside bombs to Iraqi militias as the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. Still, Trump doubled down on his claim that Soleimani was “actively planning new attacks when we hit him very hard.” While most Republicans have defended the strike as an act of self-defense, Democrats say they have not seen compelling evidence to indicate that Soleimani was planning an imminent attack. 

And while Trump did not face much pushback on the Baghdadi raid, the Pentagon released a report on Tuesday indicating that the IS leader’s death did not disrupt the terrorist group’s command structure and operations.

What’s next: Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., has said that he has enough votes to pass an Iran war powers resolution that would limit Trump’s authority to attack Iran except in cases of self-defense. Still, it remains a largely partisan endeavor and Kaine likely does not have enough votes to override Trump’s inevitable veto.

Know more: Trump did not mention Saudi Arabia in his address, but Democrats still want to keep the heat on him for shielding Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Congressional correspondent Bryant Harris has the back story on how Khashoggi’s fianceé, Hatice Cengiz, ended up at the State of the Union.

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Found in: state of the union, us-iran escalation, assassination, abu bakr al-baghdadi, donald trump, qasem soleimani

Bryant Harris is Al-Monitor's congressional correspondent. He was previously the White House assistant correspondent for Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest newspaper. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al Jazeera English and IPS News. Prior to his stint in DC, he spent two years as a US Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco. On Twitter: @brykharris_ALM, Email: bharris@al-monitor.com.

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