Photos: AP (3); Reuters (U.S. soldiers guard Baghdad embassy)

For all the prior warnings and bluster, it's hard to think of a more precarious period of the Trump presidency than this very moment.

Why it matters: The surprise of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani's killing has left the world on edge.

  • In Tehran, the Ayatollah threatened a "forceful revenge."
  • In Baghdad, the U.S. government urged Americans to flee the country as Iraqi lawmakers worked on legislation asking U.S. troops to leave.
  • In Fort Bragg, North Carolina, roughly 3,500 members of the 82nd Airborne prepared to deploy to Kuwait.
  • In Florida, President Trump said he does not want regime change and "we did not take action to start a war."
  • And in Washington, some Democrats forcefully opposed further action, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed "dozens if not hundreds of American lives" were at "imminent" risk. He did not provide specific evidence.

Between the lines: A good deal of the tension comes from the range of possible outcomes.

  • "Iranians are the masters of striking soft targets ... In the past few years, they have honed an ability to cause low-level chaos," the N.Y. Times reports.

Among the options, per the AP:

  • Cyberattacks like the one that hit U.S. banks prior to the Iran Deal.
  • Targeting America's Gulf allies, especially Saudi Arabia.
  • Using proxies in Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
  • Nothing: Previous threats for retaliation, like after a Hezbollah commander was killed in 2008, passed without a major response.

What's next: The White House is preparing to present partners and allies with intelligence on the “imminent threat” it says prompted this attack, Kirsten Fontenrose, who served on the National Security Council earlier in the Trump administration, said on an Atlantic Council conference call.

  • The National Security Council is working to coordinate next steps, while the State Department consults with allies on what Iranian responses are acceptable, and what they’re willing to do to help the U.S. push back if necessary, Axios world editor Dave Lawler reports.

Go deeper... Trump on killing Soleimani: "We did not take action to start a war"

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