President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, Thursday, January 9, 2020 (AP Photo/ Jacquelyn Martin)
Donald Trump has made the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani a theme of his re-election campaign.
The president drew cheers from thousands at a rally in Toledo, Ohio on Thursday where he spent a lengthy part of his stump speech explaining that the death saved lives and delivered "American justice".
THANK YOU TOLEDO, OHIO!https://t.co/PL96KjQWat— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 10, 2020
He also strenuously rejected criticism from Democrats who say he overstepped his authority with the drone strike against the commander of Iran's military Quds force at Baghdad's airport a week ago.
Trump accused Soleimani of organising violent protests by Iran-backed groups at the US Embassy in Baghdad earlier this month.
He said if he had not sent US troops to protect the embassy the demonstrators might have broken in and killed Americans or taken them hostage, a repeat of the 2011 storming of a US diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya.
"Last week the United States once again took the bold and decisive action to save American lives and deliver American justice," he said.
Trump's appearance in Toledo was his first rally of the 2020 election year, a sign of how critical the state is to his winning a second four-year term in November.
Trump won Ohio in 2016 by eight percentage points, flipping a state that had gone for Democrat Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012.
He and his top advisers say Soleimani was masterminding "imminent" attacks against American targets in the Middle East but they have drawn criticism for not providing detail to back up the claim.
"Soleimani was actively planning new attacks and he was looking very seriously at our embassies and not just the embassy in Baghdad but we stopped him and we stopped him quickly and we stopped him cold," Trump said.
He called the action part of his tough-on-militants message and a stronger military under his watch.
Soleimani's death prompted an Iranian retaliatory missile strike on Tuesday night against two US bases in Iraq.
Trump said he had been ready to hit back until he was told there were no American casualties.
"They hit us with 16 missiles and I said: 'How many?' We were ready to go. We were ready to go. I said, 'How many?' How many died? How many were wounded? 'Sir, none.' None. Pretty good warning system. None. 'How many were hurt?' 'None, sir,'" he said.
"So we didn't do anything. We were ready. We were ready. Not that I wanted to. But we were ready. You have no idea. A lot of people got very lucky," he said.
Trump said had he not made a "split-section" on Soleimani Democratic leaders would have dragged out the process and leaked to the media if he had given them a heads-up before the operation.
"He was a bad guy. He was a blood-thirsty terror, and he's no longer a terror, he's dead. And yet now I see the radical-left Democrats have expressed outrage over the termination of this horrible terrorist," he said.
© RAW 2020