Was Trump’s order to assassinate Iran’s Qassem Soleimani legal?

The US assassination of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, has prompted questions over whether President Donald Trump had the legal authority to order Friday’s killing.

Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was killed by US forces in an air raid at Baghdad International Airport. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), was also killed. Iran has threatened severe retaliation.

The Pentagon said the drone attack came “at the direction of the president”. The defence department statement sought to justify Soleimani’s killing by citing his Quds Force role in the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Trump and his top aides defended the decision as legal within the authority the president has to protect US forces from attack.

Soleimani was planning “imminent and sinister attacks”, Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort on Friday.

“But we caught him in the act and terminated him,” he added. “We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.”

Without elaborating, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said Soleimani was planning “imminent” action against American lives.

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