BEIJING, Jan. 4 (Xinhua) -- Tensions soared in the Middle East after a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad International Airport on Friday killed an Iranian top commander, with Iran vowing to take "tough revenge," and the Pentagon saying it planned to send thousands more troops to the region.
The drone strike killed Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran's elite Quds Force, along with an Iraqi militia commander, triggering a harsh revenge threat from Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
After the deadly attack, the U.S. media reported that the United States will deploy some 3,500 more troops to the region as early as this weekend.
The additional troops from the 82nd Airborne Division will be deployed to Iraq, Kuwait and other parts of the region, reported NBC News, citing multiple U.S. defense and military officials.
Tensions have risen since Hashd Shaabi, an Iraqi state-sponsored umbrella organization formed by Iraq's Shi'ite-led paramilitary Kata'ib Hezbollah (KH), said that U.S. drones bombarded its military bases, which led supporters of the militia to storm the perimeter of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
The bombardment came two days after a rocket barrage hit a U.S. military camp, killing a U.S. contractor and wounding others, which the United States blamed on the KH, a militia allegedly backed by Iran, the long-time foe of the United States.
U.S. President Donald Trump said in a tweet on Tuesday that Iran is responsible for the death of the U.S. contractor, and "is orchestrating an attack" at the U.S. embassy, which "they will be held fully responsible (for)." Iran has denied involvement in the recent deadly attacks on the U.S. forces in Iraq.
The most recent attack, according to the Pentagon, was conducted at Trump's direction as a "defensive action" against Soleimani, who it said had "approved" the attacks on the embassy, and was planning further attacks on American diplomats and service members in Iraq.
The world is bracing for the ramped-up conflict between Washington and Tehran, and it remains unknown how far the two sides will push the rivalry.
"I think the Iranian government is angry, and would like to strike back," David Pollock, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Xinhua.
Darrell West, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution, said that Trump's attack represents a clear escalation of the current conflict, and that could be dangerous for Americans. "The risk is such a conflict could get out of hand and embroil the region in much more active hostilities," the expert added.
Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson, also chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said Friday in a statement that Trump's "reckless actions in the Middle East have made us less secure and risk serious consequences for the security of the homeland by escalating an already volatile situation."
CALLING FOR RESTRAINT
Following the most recent attack, the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Friday urged relevant parties, especially the United States, to remain calm and restrained to avoid further escalating the current tensions in the Gulf area.
"China has always opposed the use of force in international relations, and insisted all parties should abide by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the basic norms governing international relations," said the ministry's spokesperson Geng Shuang.
"Further escalation, which could set the whole region on fire, must be prevented," said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, adding that Germany is in close consultations with Britain and France -- signatories to the Iran nuclear deal -- on how to help calm the situation.
Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne echoed Maas by saying that "we call on all sides to exercise restraint and pursue de-escalation. Our goal is and remains a united and stable Iraq."
The Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry said that the international community should bear its responsibilities in maintaining security and stability of the region, calling for utmost restraint and de-escalation of actions.
(Xinhua reporter Matthew Rusling in Washington D.C. also contributed to the story.)