'Dynamite into a tinderbox': Democratic presidential hopefuls weigh in on Soleimani killing

The killing of a top Iranian military commander via a U.S.-ordered airstrike has been met with resounding criticism by the Democratic presidential hopefuls aiming to prevent the man who ordered the operation from winning a second term.

The drone strike on Baghdad's international airport Thursday killed Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran's elite Quds Force and architect of Iran's operations across the Middle East. Iranian state TV reports that nine others were killed in the attack.

Contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination largely came out against the operation, suggesting the move will escalate tensions in the region and put U.S. citizens and interests at risk.

Front-runner and former U.S. vice-president Joe Biden criticized the "hugely escalatory move in an already dangerous region" in a statement posted to Twitter.

"The administration's statement says that its goal is to deter future attacks by Iran, but this action almost certainly will have the opposite effect," Biden wrote. 

Mukhtar Khan/The Associated Press

"President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox, and he owes the American people an explanation of the strategy and plan to keep safe our troops and embassy personnel, our people and our interests, both here at home and abroad, and our partners throughout the region and beyond."

He said he hopes the administration has thought through the potential consequences, including Iran's response.

"I fear this administration has not demonstrated at any turn the discipline or long-term vision necessary — and the stakes could not be higher."

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has vowed that a "harsh retaliation is waiting" for the U.S., but there was no indication Friday what that might entail.

Elizabeth Warren, another top Democratic contender, called Soleimani "a murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans.

"But this reckless move escalates the situation with Iran and increases the likelihood of more deaths and new Middle East conflict," Warren said on Twitter.

"Our priority must be to avoid another costly war."

In another tweet, Warren criticized Trump for walking away from a nuclear deal reached with Iran and other world powers and accused him of "repeatedly" escalating tensions.

"He's been marching toward war with Iran since his first days in office — but the American people won't stand for it."

In a video clip from a campaign rally posted to Twitter, Pete Buttigieg said Soleimani was "not a good guy. He has blood on his hands from countless operations against American interests, American allies and American citizens."

But if the world has learned anything from the last 20 years of Middle East policy, he said, "is that taking out a bad guy is not a good idea unless you're ready for what comes next."

He said the "extremely provocative act" spurred many questions, including whether preparations are being made for "secondary effects," and whether Congress or American allies were consulted, "because the last time I checked, the power to go to war in the United States of America rests with Congress."

Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, also took to Twitter to criticize Trump for his campaign vow to "end endless wars.

"But this action puts us on the path to another one," he said.

"We must do more than just stop war with Iran. We must firmly commit to ending U.S. military presence in the Middle East in an orderly manner."

Tulsi Gabbard, who was deployed to Iraq as a member of Hawaii's Army National Guard, also posted a video to Twitter calling the airstrike "an act of war, with no authorization or a declaration of war from Congress. 

"He has put us in a state of war with Iran and has seriously escalated this tit-for-tat conflict, pushing us deeper into an endless quagmire."

She questioned the administration's end goal, and said Trump's policies are "short-sighted, damaging and undermining our national security."

She called for U.S. troops to be pulled out of Syria and Iraq.