As the world reels from the sudden assassination of one of the most powerful men in Iran by the United States - Washington is claiming the killing of Major-General Qassem Soleimani was to thrwart an impending attack in the Middle East that threatened dozens, if not hundreds of American lives.
That's according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He gave few other details to U.S. networks.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO, SAYING:
"I think you know this, the risk of doing nothing was enormous. Enormous in the short term, in terms of the imminent attack that Qassem Soleimani was planning."
General Soleimani was killed in an air strike at Baghdad's International Airport along with the leader of an Iraqi paramilitary force.
The U.S. embassy is urging all Americans to leave the country. The Iraqi government is outraged and says the strike - inside the airport, inside the capital, and without their permission - is going to lead to war.
Soleimani was the head of the Quds Force, an elite unit responsible for the Iranian military's foreign operations, and an architect of Iran's proxy wars in the Middle East.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis oversaw the coalition of Iraqi militia units supported by Iran known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, which are technically part of the Iraqi government's security apparatus.
It's understood that rockets hit two vehicles carrying the leaders.
This is a dramatic escalation, and a divisive one on the streets of Iraq.
Spontaneous celebrations broke out in Iraq's Tahrir Square on news of the killings.
Iran's influence in Iraq - especially in the security services - is part of the motive for the anti-government protests that have swept Iraq for months, in which hundreds have been killed.
But at the same time, it was the killing of members of those Iran-backed militia over the weekend by a seperate U.S. air strike that sparked the two-day siege of the American embassy by its supporters.
Protests organized by the militia - a siege that ended less than 24 hours before this latest incident.
The Pentagon said Soleimani's killing was a, quote, "defensive action" to protect government employees and soldiers abroad, and to deter future acts by Iran.
Soleimani's reach spread across the wars in Syria, Iraq, and he had strong ties to Lebanon's Hezbollah.
And the U.S. has blamed Iran for attacks on American forces in Iraq, as well as the high profile air strikes on Saudi oil facilities.
He led the Quds Force for over 20 years and survived multiple assassination attempts over that time from the West, the Israelis, and Saudis as well.
Tehran is vowing revenge.