‘Bitter’ Plane Tragedy Should Not Cloud Soleimani’s ‘Sacrifice,’ Says Khamenei

A handout picture released by the official website of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei 
STRINGER / Iranian Supreme Leader’s Website / AFP

 

Iran’s supreme leader called the accidental downing of a Ukrainian airliner a “bitter” tragedy Friday but said it should not overshadow the “sacrifice” of a top commander killed in a US drone strike.

“The plane crash was a bitter accident, it burned through our heart,” Khamenei said. “But some tried to… portray it in a way to forget the great martyrdom and sacrifice” of Major General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

“Our enemies were as happy about the plane crash as we were sad … happy that they found something to question the Guards, the armed forces, the system.”

Iran admitted last week it accidentally downed a Ukrainian airliner when it was high alert after strikes against US targets in Iraq in retaliation for Soleimani’s killing.

The tragedy killed 176 people, most of them Iranians and Canadians.

The accidental downing triggered scattered protests in Tehran and other cities.

Praising Soleimani, Khamenei said his actions beyond Iran’s borders were in the service of the “security” of the nation and that the people are in favour of “firmness” and “resistance” in the face of enemies.

“The few hundred who insulted the picture of General Soleimani, are they the people of Iran? Or this million-strong crowd in the streets?” he said in an apparent reference to reported tearing down of a portrait of the dead commander by protesters in Tehran a few days after hundreds of thousands turned out for his funeral.

Khameini accused the US of “lying” in its expressions of support for the Iranian people.

He said that even if they were with the people, “it is to stab them with their poison dagger”.

AFP

Rockets Hit Baghdad Green Zone Housing US Embassy In Iraq

 

Two rockets crashed late Wednesday into the Iraqi capital’s Green Zone, the high-security enclave where foreign embassies including the US mission are based, security sources told AFP.

The attack came nearly 24 hours after Tehran launched ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing American and other coalition forces in retaliation for the US killing top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.

Just before midnight, AFP’s correspondents in Baghdad heard two loud blasts followed by the wailing security sirens of the Green Zone.

The strikes were in retaliation for a US drone strike that killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis last week.

Muhandis had been the deputy head of the Hashed al-Shaabi, a web of armed groups incorporated into the Iraqi state but which also have close ties to Tehran.

The United States had accused Hashed groups of being behind a string of rocket attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad and bases hosting American troops across the country.

On Wednesday, the Hashed’s hardline factions vowed they, too, would take revenge for the US raid.

Paramilitary chief Qais al-Khazali — blacklisted as a “terrorist” by the US — said Iraq’s response to the US “will be no less than the size of the Iranian response.”

Harakat al-Nujaba, a hardline Hashed faction, vowed to avenge Muhandis.

“To American soldiers: Do not close your eyes. Revenge for the martyr Muhandis is coming at the hands of Iraqis — until the last soldier among you leaves,” it said.

AFP

Mourners Killed In Stampede At Iran General’s Funeral

Iranian mourners gather around a vehicle carrying the coffin of slain top general Qasem Soleimani during the final stage of funeral processions, in his hometown Kerman on January 7, 2020.  AFP

 

A stampede broke out Tuesday at the funeral of a top Iranian general killed in a US drone strike, leaving more than 30 people dead as huge crowds of mourners packed his hometown.

The crush in the southeastern city of Kerman came as Iran prepared to bury Revolutionary Guards commander Qasem Soleimani, a hugely popular figure in the Islamic republic.

“Unfortunately because of overcrowding 32 of our citizens lost their lives in the procession… and 190 were injured,” the head of the country’s emergency services, Pirhossein Koolivand, told state television.

The injured were immediately transferred to hospital, he added.

AFP correspondents in Kerman said the streets were packed with mourners, while others took refuge on hillsides around the city.

Soleimani, the head of the Guards’ Quds Force foreign operations arm, was assassinated on Friday in a US strike near Baghdad international airport, an operation that shocked Iran.

“The enemy killed him unjustly,” the Revolutionary Guards’ top commander, Major General Hossein Salami said, adding the process of “expelling the United States from the region has begun”.

“Our will is firm. We also tell our enemies that we will take revenge, and that if they (strike again) we will set fire to what they love,” he told the sea of black-clad mourners.

“They themselves know well what places I am talking about.”

Schoolgirls joined chants of “Death to Trump” from the crowd, an AFP correspondent reported.

Tuesday’s funeral comes after days of processions through the southwestern city of Ahvaz and the shrine cities of Qom and Mashhad as well as the capital Tehran.

The assassination of Soleimani set off an escalating war of words between Iran and the United States.

In Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani on Monday warned Trump to “never threaten” Iran, after the US leader issued a US strike list of 52 targets in the Islamic republic.

On Tuesday, Iranian lawmakers voted to designate all US forces around the world “terrorists” over Soleimani’s killing.

Parliament also agreed to bolster the coffers of the Quds Force, which Soleimani led, by $244 million (200 million euros).

‘Boils the blood’ 

In Kerman, people converged from afar on Azadi Square where two flag-draped coffins were on display, with the second one reportedly containing the remains of Soleimani’s closest aide, Brigadier General Hossein Pourjafari.

“We’re here today to pay respects to the great commander of the holy defence,” said one of the mourners who came from the southern city of Shiraz to attend the funeral in Kerman.

“Haj Qasem was not only loved in Kerman, or Iran, but also the whole world,” Hemmat Dehghan told AFP.

“The security of the whole world, Muslims, Shiites, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and especially Iran, all owe it to him,” said the 56-year-old war veteran.

Another mourner said Soleimani’s assassination “boils the blood of the Iranian people”.

“He was seen as a great man who was ready to serve his people both then in the war and now. He must certainly be avenged,” said Sara Khaksar, an 18-year-old student.

Friday’s assassination of the 62-year-old Soleimani heightened international concern about a new war in the volatile Middle East.

Iraq’s parliament has demanded the government expel the 5,200 American troops stationed in the country in response to the drone attack which also killed top Iraqi military figure Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Baghdad requested in a letter to the UN — seen by AFP — that the Security Council condemn the US strike so that “the law of the jungle” is not allowed to prevail.

The operation represented “a dangerous escalation that could lead to a devastating war in Iraq, the region and the world,” wrote Iraq’s UN ambassador Mohammed Hussein Bahr-Aluloom.

 Markets on edge 

On Sunday night, the US mistakenly notified the Iraq of an imminent troop pullout in a letter that sparked confusion in Washington.

“We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure,” said the letter, whose authenticity was confirmed to AFP by both Iraqi and US defence officials.

In the letter, US Brigadier General William Seely said the US-led coalition would “be repositioning forces”.

But Pentagon Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley said the letter was a mere “draft” that was sent by mistake.

Germany said Tuesday it was withdrawing some of its troops deployed as the anti-IS coalition in Iraq.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned on Monday that Iran must avoid “further violence and provocations”.

The European Union, whose foreign ministers will hold emergency talks on the crisis Friday, said it was in both Iran and Iraq’s interests to “take the path of sobriety and not the path of escalation”.

Saudi Arabia — an oil-rich US ally seen as vulnerable to Iranian counter strikes — also appealed for calm after a “very dangerous” escalation.

World financial markets have been on edge over the crisis.

“The new year has started with a bang in so far as volatility is concerned,” said Fawad Razaqzada at Forex.com.

“This is mainly due to the escalation of tensions between the US and Iran after Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani.”

Soleimani is expected to be buried at the martyrs’ cemetery in Kerman between 2:00 and 4:00 pm (1030 and 1230 GMT).

AFP

Iranians Flock To Soleimani’s Hometown For Burial

Iranian mourners gather around a vehicle carrying the coffin of slain top general Qasem Soleimani during the final stage of funeral processions, in his hometown Kerman on January 7, 2020.   AFP

 

Iranians gathered in Kerman for the burial Tuesday of top general Qasem Soleimani in the final stage of funeral processions after he was killed in a US strike in Iraq.

The massive number of mourners in the hometown of the slain commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ foreign operations arm appeared to match the huge turnout seen in the cities of Tehran, Qom, Mashhad and Ahvaz.

A hugely popular figure in the Islamic republic, Soleimani was killed outside Baghdad airport on Friday in a drone strike ordered by US President Donald Trump, ratcheting up tensions with arch-enemy Iran which has vowed “severe revenge”.

“The enemy killed him unjustly,” the Revolutionary Guards’ top commander, Major General Hossein Salami said, adding the process of “expelling the United States from the region has begun”.

“Our will is firm. We also tell our enemies that we will take revenge, and that if they (strike again) we will set fire to what they love,” he told the sea of black-clad mourners.

“They themselves know well what places I am talking about.”

Schoolgirls joined chants of “Death to Trump” from the crowd, an AFP correspondent reported.

The assassination of Soleimani set off an escalating war of words between Iran and the United States.

In Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani on Monday warned Trump to “never threaten” Iran, after the US leader issued a US strike list of 52 targets in the Islamic republic.

On Tuesday, Iranian lawmakers voted to designate all US forces around the world “terrorists” over Soleimani’s killing.

Parliament also agreed to bolster the coffers of the Quds Force, which Soleimani led, by $244 million (200 million euros).

 ‘Boils the blood’ 

In Kerman, people converged from afar on Azadi Square where two flag-draped coffins were on display, with the second one reportedly containing the remains of Soleimani’s closest aide, Brigadier General Hossein Pourjafari.

“We’re here today to pay respects to the great commander of the holy defence,” said one of the mourners who came from the southern city of Shiraz to attend the funeral in Kerman.

“Haj Qasem was not only loved in Kerman, or Iran, but also the whole world,” Hemmat Dehghan told AFP.

“The security of the whole world, Muslims, Shiites, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and especially Iran, all owe it to him,” said the 56-year-old war veteran.

Another mourner said Soleimi’s assassination “boils the blood of the Iranian people”.

“He was seen as a great man who was ready to serve his people both then in the war and now. He must certainly be avenged,” said Sara Khaksar, an 18-year-old student.

Friday’s assassination of the 62-year-old Soleimani heightened international concern about a new war in the volatile Middle East.

Iraq’s parliament has demanded the government expel the 5,200 American troops stationed in the country in response to the drone attack which also killed top Iraqi military figure Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Baghdad requested in a letter to the UN — seen by AFP — that the Security Council condemn the US strike so that “the law of the jungle” is not allowed to prevail.

The operation represented “a dangerous escalation that could lead to a devastating war in Iraq, the region and the world,” wrote Iraq’s UN ambassador Mohammed Hussein Bahr-Aluloom.

 Markets on edge 

On Sunday night, the US mistakenly notified the Iraq of an imminent troop pullout in a letter that sparked confusion in Washington.

“We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure,” said the letter, whose authenticity was confirmed to AFP by both Iraqi and US defence officials.

In the letter, US Brigadier General William Seely said the US-led coalition would “be repositioning forces”.

But Pentagon Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley said the letter was a mere “draft” that was sent by mistake.

Germany said Tuesday it was withdrawing some of its troops deployed as the anti-IS coalition in Iraq.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned on Monday that Iran must avoid “further violence and provocations”.

The European Union, whose foreign ministers will hold emergency talks on the crisis Friday, said it was in both Iran and Iraq’s interests to “take the path of sobriety and not the path of escalation”.

Saudi Arabia — an oil-rich US ally seen as vulnerable to Iranian counter strikes — also appealed for calm after a “very dangerous” escalation.

World financial markets have been on edge over the crisis.

“The new year has started with a bang in so far as volatility is concerned,” said Fawad Razaqzada at Forex.com.

“This is mainly due to the escalation of tensions between the US and Iran after Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani.”

Soleimani is expected to be buried at the martyrs’ cemetery in Kerman between 2:00 and 4:00 pm (1030 and 1230 GMT).

AFP

Soleimani Killing: Iran Designates US Forces ‘Terrorists’

Slain Iranian General, Qasem Soleimani/AFP

 

Iran’s parliament passed a bill on Tuesday designating all US forces “terrorists” over the killing of a top Iranian military commander in a US strike last week.

Qasem Soleimani, the popular head of the Revolutionary Guards’ foreign operations arm, was killed in a US drone strike outside Baghdad airport on Friday, ratcheting up tensions between the arch-foes.

Under the newly adopted bill, all US forces and employees of the Pentagon and affiliated organisations, agents and commanders and those who ordered the “martyrdom” of Soleimani were designated as “terrorists”.

“Any aid to these forces, including military, intelligence, financial, technical, service or logistical, will be considered as cooperation in a terrorist act,” parliament said.

Lawmakers also voted to bolster by 200 million euros the coffers of the Quds Force — the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards that was headed by Soleimani.

The bill was an amended version of a law adopted in April last year that declared the United States a “state sponsor of terrorism” and its forces in the region “terror groups”.

Iran’s top security body, the Supreme National Security Council, said that blackisting came after the US designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a “terrorist organisation”.

AFP

Trump Warns Iran Of ‘Major Retaliation,’ Threatens Sanctions On Iraq

 

US President Donald Trump threatened “major retaliation” Sunday if Iran avenges the killing of a key military commander and he warned of massive economic sanctions against ally Iraq if the country expels US troops based there.

The twin threats came as Iran announced it was further reducing compliance with a tattered international nuclear accord, ending limitations on numbers of centrifuges used to enrich uranium.

The latest blow to the accord, which was meant to ensure Iran did not develop a nuclear weapon under cover of its nuclear industry, deepened the regional crisis set off by Friday’s killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad.

Trump ordered a US drone to fire a missile at Soleimani, one of the most influential people in Iran’s government, when he was near the Iraqi capital’s international airport.

Angry, black-clad mourners thronged the streets of Iran’s second city Mashhad on Sunday to pay last respects to the remains of Soleimani and chant “death to America.”

Trump bluntly warned Iran against taking vengeance, repeating his insistence that US bombing targets could include Iran’s cultural heritage sites. Critics say that would qualify as a war crime under international law.

“If they do anything there will be major retaliation,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One, as he flew back to Washington — and a looming Senate impeachment trial — from vacation in Florida.

Trump had already threatened bombing of 52 unspecified targets in Iran if Tehran attacks US troops and interests in the region.

In his latest comments, he was adamant that targets could include places of cultural significance in a country boasting an ancient heritage and two dozen UNESCO-listed sites.

“They’re allowed to kill our people,” a defiant Trump said. “They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site? It doesn’t work that way.”

 Iraq tensions also soar 

The situation in neighboring Iraq, a US ally, also deteriorated, with the future of some 5,200 American soldiers there in doubt.

Many Iraqis have expressed outrage over the killing of Soleimani, who masterminded deep Iranian influence in the country. A top Iraqi military figure Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was killed in the same US strike.

In Baghdad, unidentified attackers launched a pair of rockets Sunday, hitting near the US embassy in the high-security Green Zone for the second night in a row. That was just hours after Iraq’s foreign ministry summoned the American ambassador over the drone strike.

And Iraq’s parliament voted to request the government end an agreement with a US-led international coalition to fight the hardline Islamist group IS in the region.

If the government agreed, that would effectively require the departure of US soldiers supporting the local troops in the anti-IS fight.

Caretaker prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, who called the US drone strike a “political assassination,” indicated he would back the troops’ ouster. He said the choices were immediate expulsion or withdrawal under a timeframe.

Trump told reporters that a forced departure of US troops would prompt sanctions even worse than those already imposed, to devastating effect, on Iran’s economy.

“If they do ask us to leave — if we don’t do it in a very friendly basis — we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before,” Trump said.

“It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”

Trump said the main US base in Iraq was “very extraordinarily expensive.”

“We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it,” he said.

Earlier, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sounded a softer note, saying “the Iraqi people want the United States to continue to be there to fight the counterterror campaign.”

 Threats and revenge calls 

Soleimani was one of Iran’s most popular public figures, seen as a hero of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

He was also the key figure behind Iran’s effective network of proxy militias and alliances across a region where Iran is in often deadly rivalry with US allies Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has vowed “severe revenge.”

What that will look like is the subject of heated speculation in the Pentagon and the White House. Analysts say Iran may be limited in its room for maneuver if it wants to avoid full war with the far more powerful United States.

But a former head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards threatened on Sunday to turn the Israeli cities of Haifa and Tel Aviv “to dust” if the US attacks targets in Iran.

And Khamenei’s military adviser, Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan, told CNN that Iran’s response to the assassination “for sure will be military and against military sites.”

The crisis comes as Trump is embroiled in his own domestic political turmoil. He was impeached by the House of Representatives for abuse of office and obstruction of Congress.

The Senate, where his Republican party has a commanding majority, is wrangling over when and how a trial will take place, as the clock ticks down on the November presidential elections.

AFP

Soleimani Killing: Crude, Gold Extend Gains As Stocks Sink

Indigenous Firms Plan To Increase Oil Output
File photo

 

Oil prices surged, gold hit a more than six-year high and most equities tumbled Monday after the US assassination last week of a top Iranian general fanned fears of a major conflict in the Middle East.

Donald Trump warned of a “major retaliation” against Tehran after it threatened revenge for the killing Friday of commander Qasem Soleimani, which shocked world markets and sparked a sell-off in stocks and a spike in crude.

Iran announced on Sunday a further rollback of its commitments to its nuclear accord, while Iraq’s parliament demanded the departure of American troops from the country as fallout from the attack spread.

The crisis has jolted investors, who had been in an upbeat mood as China and the US prepare to sign their mini trade deal next week, while data indicate a slight improvement in the global economy.

Both main crude contracts were up more than two percent in early Asian trade, with Brent above $70 for the first time since September when attacks on two Saudi Arabian facilities briefly halved output by the world’s top producer.

White facing criticism for the action and calls to dial down the tension, the US president was in combative mood, saying the White House had dozens of sites lined up for strikes in case of retaliation by Iran — adding that he did not need Congressional approval, even for a “disproportionate” hit.

“Geopolitical tensions look like remaining elevated in coming days, so lending support to oil prices and keeping risk asset markets on the defensive,” said Ray Attrill at National Australia Bank.

Safe-haven assets popular in times of turmoil were also on the rise, with gold at highs not seen since mid-2013, while the Japanese yen was at a three-month high against the dollar.

‘Safe harbours’ 

“The nasty wake-up calls that no-one wanted to start the year has roused the global stock market as investors had assumed smooth sailing after the phase one trade deal was announced,” said AxiTrader’s Stephen Innes. “Now they’re scrambling to seek out safe harbours.”

Equity markets tracked losses on Wall Street, where the three main indexes fell from record highs, while all seven bourses in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states finished sharply down, with some fearing Iranian revenge attacks on US assets or troops.

Some of the GCC members, including Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, are home to major US military bases, while there are also hundreds of troops in Saudi Arabia.

The losses on equity markets extended into Asia, with Tokyo down almost two percent as dealers returned for the first time since the new year break. Hong Kong lost 1.1 percent.

Singapore fell 0.7 percent, Seoul shed one percent, Taipei and Mumbai each lost more than one percent and Manila dived 0.9 percent, with Jakarta down 0.7 percent.

Shanghai ended flat as investors cheered a pledge by authorities at the weekend to support China’s troubled banking sector and small businesses in the face of a growing debt mountain.

Friday’s attack sent shockwaves through global markets, which had been enjoying a healthy run of gains in the wake of the China-US trade deal, which eased tensions between the economic powers.

Looser central bank monetary policy, improving economic data and easing concerns about a possible no-deal Brexit had also lent support.

“Everyone got comfortable in that fact that the truce in the trade war had come through and the outlook for 2020 looked a little bit better and then we had another geopolitical reminder come through,” Peter Dragicevich, a market strategist at Suncorp Group Financial, said.

Key figures around 0720 GMT 

Brent Crude: UP 2.3 percent at $70.15 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 2.0 percent at $64.29

Gold: UP 1.4 percent at $1,574 per ounce

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.9 percent at 23,204.86 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 1.1 percent at 28,137.76

Shanghai – Composite: FLAT at 3083.41 (close)

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 107.99 yen from 108.11 yen at 2200 GMT Friday

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3083 from $1.3074

Euro/pound: UP at 85.31 pence from 85.29 pence

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1160 from $1.1155

New York – Dow: DOWN 0.8 percent at 28,634.88 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.2 percent at 7,622.40 (close)

— Bloomberg News contributed to this story —

AFP

NATO Ambassadors To Meet On Iran Crisis

(File photo) The commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, Gen. Qasem Soleimani, receives condolences following the death of his mother in Tehran.  AFP

 

NATO ambassadors will hold an extraordinary meeting at their Brussels headquarters on Monday as Middle East tensions mounted after US forces killed a top Iranian general. 

“The North Atlantic Council will address the situation in the region,” a NATO official said.

“The secretary general decided to convene the meeting of NATO ambassadors following consultations with allies.”

Last week’s killing of Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport surprised many of Washington’s allies and triggered calls for de-escalation.

But Tehran has vowed to avenge the commander, and US President Donald Trump has threatened “major retaliation” if any American targets are hit.

The situation has also deteriorated in Iraq, where lawmakers have called for the 5,200 US soldiers deployed there to leave.

NATO maintains a training mission in Iraq, preparing local forces to take on Islamic State group extremists, but this would be in doubt if coalition forces pull out.

On Saturday, a NATO spokesman said the mission, which involves several hundred allied personnel, was continuing “but training activities are currently suspended.”

He also confirmed that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had spoken by telephone with US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper since Friday’s strike.

AFP

France Asks Iran To Honour Nuclear Accord After Soleimani’s Killing

A combination of file photos of slain Iranian General, Qasem Soleimani, and US President, Donald Trump. AFP

 

France urged Tehran Saturday to stick with a landmark nuclear accord at risk of falling apart, the day after Washington killed a top Iranian commander in Baghdad.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he had discussed the issue with his Chinese and German colleagues, hoping to avoid escalation of an already intense stand-off between Iran and the United States.

“France fully shares with Germany the central objective of de-escalation and preservation of the Vienna (nuclear) accord,” Le Drian said in a statement.

With China, “we in particular noted our agreement… to urge  Iran to avoid any new violation of the Vienna accord,” he added.

The 2015 agreement negotiated between Iran and the UN Security Council permanent members — Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States — plus Germany offered Tehran relief from stinging sanctions in return for curbs to prevent it acquiring nuclear weapons.

US President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal last year and reimposed even more sanctions on Iran, which in turn has progressively dropped key commitments in the accord, including limits on uranium stock and enrichment levels.

Tehran recently announced that it would take a further step away from the accord in early January and this was widely expected to be announced on Monday.

The European Union, which helped broker the 2015 deal, has been trying to keep the accord alive despite the US withdrawal, but analysts say that now looks increasingly unlikely after the US killed Major General Qasem Soleimani, a key Iranian figure.

AFP

NATO Suspends Training Missions In Iraq After Soleimani Killing

FILES) A file handout picture released by the office of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on October 1, 2019, shows Qasem Soleimani, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Major General and commander of the Quds Force, speaking during an interview with members of the Iranian leader’s bureau in Tehran. A US strike killed top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani and the deputy head of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi military force at Baghdad’s airport early on January 3, 2020, the Hashed announced.
Handout / KHAMENEI.IR / AFP

 

NATO has suspended its training missions in Iraq, a spokesman for the alliance said Saturday, following the US killing of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani.

The NATO mission in Iraq, which consists of several hundred personnel, trains the country’s security forces at the request of the Baghdad government to prevent the return of the Islamic State jihadist group.

“NATO’s mission is continuing, but training activities are currently suspended,” said the spokesman, Dylan White.

He also confirmed that NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg had spoken by telephone with US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper “following recent developments.”

A US defence official told AFP earlier Saturday that US-led forces helping Iraqi troops fight jihadists have scaled back operations.

Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force foreign operations arm, was killed in a US drone attack in Baghdad on Friday.

The strike also killed the deputy head of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi, a network of mostly Shiite factions close to Iran and incorporated into the Baghdad government’s security forces.

The attack shocked the Islamic republic and sparked fears of a new war in the Middle East.

Fury, Tears As Thousands Mourn Iran Commander Killed By US

 

Thousands of Iraqis chanting “Death to America” on Saturday mourned an Iranian commander and others killed in a US drone attack that sparked fears of a regional proxy war between Washington and Tehran.

The killing of Iran’s Major General Qasem Soleimani on Friday was the most dramatic escalation yet in spiralling tensions between Iran and the United States, which pledged to send thousands more troops to the region.

 

 

Iraqi political leaders and clerics attended the mass ceremony to honour 62-year-old Soleimani and the other nine victim of the pre-dawn attack on Baghdad international airport, including Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

US President Donald Trump said Friday he had decided to “terminate” Iran’s military mastermind to prevent an “imminent” attack on US diplomats and troops.

“We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war,” he insisted.

 

But the strike – which killed four more Iranian Guards and five members of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary network — infuriated Iran, whose ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht Ravanchi, called it an “act of war” by its arch-enemy.

On Saturday, the Hashed said a new strike had hit a convoy of their forces north of Baghdad, with Iraqi state media blaming the US.

But US-led coalition spokesman Myles Caggins denied involvement, telling AFP: “There was no American or coalition strike.”

Mourning Procession

Mass ceremonies started in Baghdad Saturday for Soleimani — a veteran military figure revered as a hero by many in Iran and the region — and the other victims of Friday’s attack.

 

 

Iraq’s caretaker premier Adel Abdel Mahdi joined Muhandis associate Hadi al-Ameri, Shiite cleric Ammar al-Hakim, former PM Nuri al-Maliki and other pro-Iran figures in large crowds accompanying the coffins.

The coffins were first brought to a revered Shiite shrine in northern Baghdad, where thousands of mourners chanted “Death to America!”

Dressed in black, they waved white Hashed flags and massive portraits of Iranian and Iraqi leaders, furiously calling for “revenge”.

The crowds headed south to a point near the Green Zone, the high-security district home to government offices and foreign embassies, including America’s.

The remains will later be taken to the Shiite holy city of Najaf to the south, and the remains of the Guards will then be flown to Iran, which has declared three days of mourning.

As head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ foreign operations arm, Soleimani was a powerful figure domestically and oversaw wide-ranging Iranian involvement in regional power struggles.

Soleimani had long been considered a lethal foe by Washington, with Trump saying he should have been killed “many years ago”.

Tehran has already named Soleimani’s deputy, Esmail Qaani, to replace him.

His first order of business was made clear Friday when Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promised “severe revenge” for Soleimani’s death.

US Scales Back OPS

Iraqi paramilitary figures including US-blacklisted Qais al-Khazaali and militiaman-turned-politician Moqtada Sadr have called on their fighters to “be ready”.

Hashed al-Shaabi Media / AFP

 

And, elsewhere in the region, Lebanon’s Tehran-backed Shiite movement Hezbollah threatened “punishment for these criminal assassins”.

Amid the tensions, the Pentagon said up to 3,500 additional US troops would be dispatched to Iraq’s southern neighbour Kuwait, to boost some 14,000 reinforcements already deployed to the region last year.

There are approximately 5,200 US troops stationed across Iraq to train Iraqis to fight jihadists.

They have faced a spate of rocket attacks that the US has blamed on pro-Iran factions and which last month killed an American contractor.

On Saturday, a US official told AFP the US-led forces were scaling back operations and refocusing surveillance to watch for new rocket attacks.

“Our first priority is protecting coalition personnel,” the official said, saying there would be only “limited” training and anti-jihadist operations for now.

US citizens were meanwhile urged to leave Iraq immediately and American staff were being evacuated from oil fields in the south.

Abdel Mahdi warned Friday that the US strike would “spark a devastating war in Iraq”, while President Barham Saleh pleaded for “voices of reason” to prevail.

Pro-Iran factions in Iraq have seized on Soleimani’s death to push parliament to revoke the security agreement allowing for the deployment of US forces on Iraqi soil.

Iraqi lawmakers were to convene in emergency session on Sunday and expected to hold a vote.

Analysts said the US strike, which sent world oil prices soaring, would be a game-changer.

Phillip Smyth, a US-based specialist on Shiite armed groups, described the killing as “the most major decapitation strike that the US has ever pulled off.”

He expected “bigger” ramifications than either the 2011 operation that killed Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden or the 2019 raid that killed IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

British Govt Advises Nationals To Avoid Travelling To Iraq, Iran

A handout picture released by Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force shows a scene from the funeral procession for slain Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (portrait) just outside Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone on January 4, 2020. Thousands of Iraqis chanting “Death to America” joined the funeral procession of the two men both killed in a US airstrike the previous day.
Hashed al-Shaabi Media / AFP

 

The British government on Saturday advised UK nationals to avoid travelling to Iraq and Iran in face of heightened tensions in the Middle East following the US killing of a top Iranian commander in Baghdad.

“Following the death of Qasem Soleimani and heightened tensions in the region… We now advise British nationals against all travel to Iraq (and) we now advise against all but essential travel to Iran,” Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement.

“The first job of any government is to keep British people safe,” the statement said.

“Given heightened tensions in the region, (we) now advise people not to travel to Iraq, with the exception of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and to consider carefully whether it’s essential to travel to Iran. We will keep this under review.”

On Friday, the US military killed Soleimani in an air strike outside Baghdad international airport that shocked the Islamic republic and sparked fears of a new war in the Middle East.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps confirmed the death of the commander of its Quds Force foreign operations arm, and Tehran’s clerical leadership promised “severe vengeance… in the right place and time”.

In its statement, the British Foreign Office urged UK nationals in the region to “remain vigilant and monitor the media carefully.”

On Friday, foreign minister Dominic Raab had said that while London had “always recognised the aggressive threat” posed by Soleimani and his Quds Force, “following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests.”