Trump says Iranian general 'should have been taken out many years ago'

President TrumpDonald John TrumpWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far MORE on Friday said Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the powerful Iranian military leader killed in a U.S. airstrike on Thursday, “should have been taken out many years ago” and that he was “directly and indirectly responsible for the death of millions of people.”

Trump addressed the decision to launch air strikes that killed Iran's top military commander in a series of tweets that marked his first public comments on authorizing the action.

“General Qassem Soleimani has killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more...but got caught! He was directly and indirectly responsible for the death of millions of people, including the recent large number of PROTESTERS killed in Iran itself,” Trump tweeted Friday morning. 

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“While Iran will never be able to properly admit it, Soleimani was both hated and feared within the country. They are not nearly as saddened as the leaders will let the outside world believe. He should have been taken out many years ago!” the president wrote. 

The president later tied the precarious situation in Iraq to the fallout from the strike targeting Soleimani, raising further questions about stability in the region.

"The United States has paid Iraq Billions of Dollars a year, for many years. That is on top of all else we have done for them," Trump tweeted. "The people of Iraq don’t want to be dominated & controlled by Iran, but ultimately, that is their choice.

"Over the last 15 years, Iran has gained more and more control over Iraq, and the people of Iraq are not happy with that," Trump added. "It will never end well!"

Soleimani is believed to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. soldiers over the years, and the airstrike at Baghdad's airport won applause from Republicans. But it has left much of the world on edge, and Iran has vowed revenge.

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The State Department on Friday urged U.S. citizens to leave Iraq immediately and said that American citizens “should not approach” the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. 

The Pentagon confirmed late Thursday that the president had ordered a strike against Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' elite Quds Force. It described the decision as a “decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad.”

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: More closures possible at US bases in Europe as coronavirus spreads | Pompeo says Afghan 'reduction in violence is working' | Man accused of trying to blow up vehicle at Pentagon Pompeo: Afghanistan 'reduction of violence is working' Pompeo accuses China and Iran of hiding coronavirus outbreak MORE said in television appearances Friday morning that the move “saved American lives.”

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, called Soleimani’s death “bitter” but vowed life would be “more bitter for the murderers and criminals.” Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called the strike against Soleimani an “act of international terrorism” and a “foolish escalation.”

The move marked a significant escalation in Trump’s widening confrontation with Iran and stoked fears about the potential for destabilizing consequences in the region. In a sign of the immediate ramifications, the U.S. Embassy in Iraq urged Americans to immediately leave the country.

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Democrats have criticized Trump for not giving Congress proper notification of the strike and warned of the potential for significant and debilitating consequences. 

The White House and Trump, who is at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., had been relatively quiet about the decision until Friday. Late Thursday shortly before the Pentagon statement was issued, the president tweeted an image of an American flag without any text. 

Earlier Friday, Trump also retweeted a number of accounts referencing the strike and wrote cryptically that Iran “never won a war, but never lost a negotiation.”