trump soleimani
© Reuters / Tom Brenner; Global Look Press / Zuma Press / Rouzbeh Fouladi
US President Donald Trump described the Iranian general who fought Islamic State as the "number one terrorist" in the world and said the decision to kill him was made "to stop a war" rather than start regime change in Tehran.

Addressing the media at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Friday, Trump said General Qassem Soleimani was "plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel" when the US "terminated" him.

"We take comfort in knowing that his reign of terror is over," he said of Soleimani, who led the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force before his assassination on Thursday night at Baghdad International airport.

"We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war," Trump argued, repeating his often-stated line about "deep respect" for the people of Iran and disdain for their rulers.

"We do not seek regime change," he added, but the Iranian "regime's aggression... must end, and must end now."

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While describing Soleimani as a sinister "terrorist," Trump also claimed credit for defeating Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) and argued that the US will target anyone - Iran in particular - who threatens Americans anywhere. However, Soleimani and his Quds Force played a key role in defeating both Al-Qaeda and IS terrorists in Syria, spoiling the Obama administration's plans for regime change in Damascus in the process.

Soleimani was traveling in a convoy of cars next to Baghdad International Airport when it was struck by multiple missiles launched by US helicopters or drones. In addition to the Iranian general, several leaders of the Iraqi Shia militia that had also fought against IS were killed and injured. Washington has blamed Iran and the militia for Tuesday's siege of the US Embassy in Baghdad - the latest in a string of incidents in Iraq for which Washington has blamed Tehran.

Fears that Soleimani's assassination might spark a war with Iran have been fueled by the news that almost 4,000 US troops were deployed to Kuwait this week, joining 14,000 sent to the region last year as the Pentagon beefs up its military presence citing the "threat" from Tehran.