Utahns in Congress support killing of Qassem Soleimani but want to know what’s next

(Vahid Salemi | AP) Protesters demonstrate over the U.S. airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Tehran, Iran, Friday Jan. 3, 2020. Iran has vowed "harsh retaliation" for the U.S. airstrike near Baghdad's airport that killed Tehran's top general and the architect of its interventions across the Middle East, as tensions soared in the wake of the targeted killing.

Sen. Mitt Romney — who heads a Senate foreign relations subcommittee on the Middle East — praised the U.S. strike Friday that killed a top Iranian general but also called on the Trump administration to articulate “a coherent strategy for protecting our security interests” there.

Meanwhile, Utah’s only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Ben McAdams, said he, too, wants to see a coherent strategy and vowed, "I will not put American soldiers in harm’s way without a clear plan and unless the risk is warranted.”

Romney, R-Utah, said, “Qassem Soleimani was a depraved terrorist who had the blood of hundreds of American servicemen and women on his hands, and who was doubtlessly planning operations to further harm our citizens and allies. We remember and honor the sacrifice of those servicemen and women, and we commend our brave troops and intel officers who carried out this successful mission."

Soleimani was commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and was the architect of its interventions across the Middle East. He was killed in a drone strike early Friday that was approved by President Donald Trump, the Pentagon said.

Romney also said that in a time of increasing tension in the region, the United States must take necessary steps to protect its interests and personnel there.

(Patrick Semansky | AP file photo) Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks to reporters last May after a classified members-only briefing on Iran.

“With ever-increasing challenges confronting us in the Middle East, it is imperative that the U.S. and our allies articulate and pursue a coherent strategy for protecting our security interests in the region,” Romney said. “I will be pressing the administration for additional details in the days ahead.”

McAdams gave a mixture of praise and concern in his statement.

“A terrorist who plotted against and killed Americans has received justice,” he said. “I share Utahns’ concerns today about what this action means for our men and women in the military who put their lives on the line to defend America and our freedom. Our reaction as a country must be to come together, not as Republicans and Democrats, but as Americans.”

He added that he will be analyzing the information and intelligence regarding the evolving situation and asking questions about the strategy. “We must ensure there is a coherent and long-term strategy to protect the United States and to protect freedom abroad,” he said. "I will not put American soldiers in harm’s way without a clear plan and unless the risk is warranted.”

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, issued a short statement. “The death of Qassem Soleimani is a big victory for the safety of the American people. As always, I am anxious to learn about the legal justification for this action, and look forward to being briefed by the Pentagon and the White House.”

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted out support for the strike, and also issued a warning for Iran to be careful in its next steps.

“I want to thank @POTUS for his decisive leadership as well as the brilliance of our intelligence & military forces,” Stewart tweeted. “Soleimani was a terrorist who was responsible for hundreds of American deaths & creating chaos & instability in the region. The world is a safer place without him.”

Stewart also issued this warning in a tweet: “Iran needs to be careful in their next step, for we will continue to be committed to defending American lives in the region.”

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also praised the strike but sought more information from the administration.

“Qassem Soleimani was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans in Iraq and elsewhere; the State Department puts the official figure at 603. With reports of Soleimani actively plotting more attacks against the United States, the president acted decisively to protect countless lives including our service members, diplomats, and everyday citizens," he said in a statement. "I expect someone from the administration to brief myself and my colleagues on the House Foreign Affairs Committee as soon as possible.”

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A drone killed Soleimani as he was leaving Baghdad International Airport. It was launched after pro-Iranian demonstrators earlier this week marched on the U.S. Embassy, trapping personnel inside and destroying a reception area.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Matthew Tueller, who is from Utah, was out of the country on personal leave at the time of the embassy protests, according to the State Department.

Tueller is a career diplomat who previously served as ambassador to Yemen and to Kuwait. A graduate of Brigham Young University and Harvard, he speaks fluent Arabic.

During confirmation hearings last March, he talked about the pivotal role of Iraq in the region.

“Our relationship with Iraq remains a critical one for the national security interests of the United States," he testified. “However, let me stress from the outset that there will be no greater priority for me than the safety and security of all Americans residing in Iraq.”

Nationally, the strike sharply divided congressional leaders along party lines.

According to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the strike was carried out “without the consultation of Congress.”

“American leaders’ highest priority is to protect American lives and interests,” Pelosi said in a statement. “But we cannot put the lives of American service members, diplomats and others further at risk by engaging in provocative and disproportionate actions. Tonight’s airstrike risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence.”

Another Democrat, Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, accused Trump of bringing the nation “to the brink of an illegal war with Iran.”

The New York Times also reported that the decision to kill Soleimani was one that Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama had rejected, fearing it would lead to war.