TOLEDO (REUTERS) - United States President Donald Trump made the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani a theme of his re-election campaign on Thursday (Jan 9), drawing cheers from thousands at a rally when he said the death saved lives and delivered "American justice".
At the campaign rally in Toledo, Ohio, Mr Trump spent a lengthy part of his stump speech defending his order to kill Major-General Soleimani and rejecting criticism from Democrats who say he overstepped his authority with the US military's drone strike against the commander of Iran's military Quds force at Baghdad's airport a week ago.
He accused Maj-Gen Soleimani of organising violent protests by Iran-backed groups at the US Embassy in Baghdad earlier this month.
Mr Trump, who frequently trumpets his support of the US military, said that 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, in which the US ambassador was killed.
"Last week, the United States once again took the bold and decisive action to save American lives and deliver American justice," he said.
Mr Trump's appearance at the arena in Toledo was his first campaign rally of the 2020 election year, a sign of how critical the state is to his winning a second four-year term in office next November. He won Ohio in 2016 by eight percentage points, flipping a state that had gone for Democrat Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012.
Mr Trump and his top advisers have said Maj-Gen Soleimani was masterminding "imminent" attacks against American targets in the Middle East, but have drawn criticism for not providing more 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," Mr Trump said.
He placed Maj-Gen Soleimani's death a week ago as part of his tough-on-militants message and an example of what he said was a stronger military under his watch.
Maj-Gen Soleimani's death prompted an Iranian retaliatory missile strike on Tuesday night against two US bases in Iraq. Mr Trump said he had been ready to launch retaliatory strikes until he was told that no American casualties had resulted.
"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.
While tensions remain, a broad war between the US and Iran has not erupted and Democrats are battling to rein in Mr Trump's ability to launch a new conflict in the Middle East.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on Thursday passed a resolution to stop Mr Trump from further military action against Iran.
Mr Trump mocked Democrats who felt more information was needed on the imminent danger Maj-Gen Soleimani posed. He said he had to make a "split-section" decision and Democratic leaders would have dragged out the process and leaked to the US news media if he had given them a heads-up before the operation.
"He was a bad guy. He was a bloodthirsty 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," said Mr Trump.