By Mike Murphy
U.S. Marine Corps via Reuters
Crude oil prices skyrocketed and U.S. stock market futures fell on Thursday night following news that a top Iranian general and an Iraqi militia’s deputy commander were killed in a U.S. airstrike at Baghdad’s airport.
The Associated Press reported an airstrike killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds Force and architect of its regional security apparatus. Also killed was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF, and at least five other people.
Late Thursday night, the Pentagon said President Donald Trump had approved the attack, and said Soleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”
Earlier this week vowed Iran would be held “fully responsible” for the recent attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad by Iranian-backed militias.
Their deaths are a potential turning point in the Middle East represent a drastic change for American policy toward Iran after months of tensions.
Thursday’s airstrike set off immediate speculation of serious military reprisals — and potentially all-out war — against U.S. targets around the Persian Gulf by Iran and Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.
“Equity futures are tanking, gold futures are surging — as the geopolitical risk Index rockets higher,” Stephen Innes, chief Asia market strategist for AxiTrader, wrote in a note. “This is more than just bloodying Iran’s nose. This is an aggressive show of force and an outright provocation that could trigger another Middle East war. Indeed we are waking up to a less safe world than it was only hours ago.”
West Texas Intermediate crude for February delivery and the global benchmark, Brent crude for March delivery , each surged immediately following the news.
If those increases hold up for Friday’s trading sessions, it would be near crude’s highest prices since mid-September, after a missile attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities.
U.S. stock market futures took a hit as well, with Dow Jones Industrial Average futures /zigman2/quotes/210407078/delayed YM00 -0.64% and S&P 500 futures /zigman2/quotes/209948968/delayed ES00 -0.92% and Nasdaq Composite futures /zigman2/quotes/210219788/delayed NQ00 -1.76% all falling, indicating likely losses in Friday’s trading session.
Stocks in Europe also fell, with the Stoxx Europe 600 /zigman2/quotes/210599654/delayed XX:SXXP -0.49% losing ground as airline stocks including Deutsche Lufthansa /zigman2/quotes/205496028/delayed DE:LHA -1.79% and Air France-KLM /zigman2/quotes/205396176/delayed FR:AF -3.30% plunged. But oil producers such as BP /zigman2/quotes/202286639/delayed UK:BP -2.71% gained ground.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.