‘Revenge, Revenge’: Black-Clad Iranians Mourn General Killed By US

 

 

Black-clad mourners packed Iran’s second city Mashhad on Sunday as the remains of top general Qasem Soleimani were paraded through the streets after he was killed in a US strike.

“Iran’s wearing black, revenge, revenge,” they chanted as darkness fell and they followed a truck carrying Soleimani’s coffin towards the floodlit Imam Reza shrine.

The mourners threw scarves onto the roof of the truck so that they could be blessed by the “blood of the martyr”.

Soleimani, who spearheaded Iran’s Middle East operations as commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, was killed in a US drone strike Friday near Baghdad airport. He was 62.

The attack was ordered by President Donald Trump, who said the Quds commander had been planning an “imminent” attack on US diplomats and forces in Iraq.

Soleimani’s remains had been returned before dawn to the southwestern city of Ahvaz, where the air resonated with Shiite chants and shouts of “Death to America” during a procession.

People held aloft portraits of Soleimani, one of the country’s most popular public figures who is seen as a hero of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

The “million-man” turnout in Mashhad, northeastern Iran, forced the cancellation of a Sunday night ceremony in Tehran, said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who urged citizens instead to attend a memorial Monday at Tehran University.

In the face of growing Iraqi anger over the strike, the country’s parliament Sunday urged the government to oust the roughly 5,200 American troops in Iraq.

Soleimani’s assassination ratcheted up tensions between arch-enemies Tehran and Washington and sparked fears of a new Middle East war.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed “severe revenge” and declared three days of mourning.

Late Saturday Trump warned that America would target 52 sites “important to Iran & Iranian culture” and hit them “very fast and very hard” if American personnel or assets were attacked.

‘Terrorist in a suit’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that “targeting cultural sites is a WAR CRIME”.

Iran’s army chief said Trump’s threat was an attempt to distract the world from Soleimani’s “unjustifiable” assassination.

“I doubt they have the courage to initiate” a conflict, said Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi.

Iran’s communications minister, Mohammad Javad Jahromi, branded Trump a “terrorist in a suit” in a Twitter post.

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”.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo admitted there was a “real likelihood” of an Iranian attack on US soldiers, warning however “it would be a big mistake”.

In Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, the head of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, insisted the “price” for Soleimani’s killing would be attacks on “US military bases, US warships, each and every officer and soldier in the region”.

US-Iran tensions escalated in 2018 when Trump unilaterally withdrew from a landmark accord that gave Tehran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

A year on, Iran began hitting back by reducing its nuclear commitments with a series of steps every 60 days, the most recent deadline passing on Saturday.

Foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Tehran would finalise the fifth step in a meeting on Sunday night, noting the nature of its move was altered by Soleimani’s killing.

In Tehran, deputies chanted “Death to America” for a few minutes during a regular session of parliament.

“Trump, this is the voice of the Iranian nation, listen,” said speaker Ali Larijani.

Soleimani’s remains and those of five other Iranians — all Guards members — killed in the US drone strike had arrived at Ahvaz airport before dawn, semi-official news agency ISNA said.

With them were the remains of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iraq’s powerful Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary umbrella group, who was also killed in the strike.

Soleimani’s remains are due to be flown to the capital, where Khamenei is expected to pray over them at Tehran University on Monday before a procession to Azadi Square.

They will then be taken to the holy city of Qom for a ceremony at Masumeh shrine, ahead of a funeral Tuesday in his hometown Kerman.

Cyber attack

In neighbouring Iraq, pro-Iran factions ramped up pressure on US installations with missiles and warnings to Iraq’s troops late Saturday.

In the first hints of a possible retaliatory response, two mortar rounds struck Saturday near the US embassy in Baghdad, security sources said.

Almost simultaneously, two rockets slammed into the Al-Balad airbase where American troops are deployed.

Iraq said there were no casualties. The US military also said no coalition troops were hurt.

In another possible act of retaliation, hackers claiming to be from Iran breached the website of a little-known US government agency and threatened more cyber attacks.

Iran Cancels Soleimani Ceremony In Tehran After Huge Turnout In Second City

 

Iran has cancelled a Tehran ceremony on Sunday night to honour slain general Qasem Soleimani due to an overwhelming turnout by mourners in second city Mashhad, the Revolutionary Guards said.

“Considering the glorious, intense and million-man presence of the revolutionary people of Mashhad in the ceremony to bid farewell to Islam and Iran’s great general Qasem Soleimani and since the program is still continuing… it is not possible to hold the event in Tehran,” the Guards said.

The statement called on people to attend a ceremony scheduled to take place at Tehran University on Monday.

Come In From The Cold, Do The Right Thing, Britain Urges Iran

 

Britain on Sunday urged Iran to “do the right thing” and seize the opportunity to come in from the cold by de-escalating tensions with the United States.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the war was in no one’s interest as he described Iran’s assassinated top general Qasem Soleimani as a “regional menace”.

Britain is preparing to deploy the Royal Navy to escort UK-flagged commercial shipping through the Strait of Hormuz.

The US on Friday killed Soleimani in a drone strike near Baghdad international airport that raised fears of a new war in the Middle East.

READ ALSO: EU Invites Iranian Foreign Minister Amid Rising Regional Tensions

“The US will take their own operational judgement call but they’ve got the right of self-defence,” Raab told Sky News television.

Raab said he spoke to Iraq’s President Barham Saleh on Saturday and Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi on Sunday.

“We want to see de-escalation, we’re going to do everything we can to protect the UK diplomatic missions and we’re going about that business,” he said.

Raab said there needed to be “a route through this which allows Iran to come in from the international cold — and that opportunity is there for them if they do the right thing”.

Raab also confirmed that he has a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo next week.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence said late Saturday that the frigate HMS Montrose and HMS Defender, a destroyer, “will resume accompaniments of UK-flagged commercial vessels” in the strait.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “I have instructed preparations for HMS Montrose and HMS Defender to return to accompanying duties of Red Ensign shipping. The government will take all necessary steps to protect our ships and citizens at this time.”

The practice of escorting ships in the Strait of Hormuz was stood down in November, after being used during the fall-out from the seizure of the British-flagged Stena Impero tanker by Iran in July.

In a statement on Twitter, Wallace said he spoke with his US counterpart Mark Esper on Friday.

Wallace said US forces had been “repeatedly attacked by Iranian-backed militia” in Iraq during “the last few months”.

“General Soleimani has been at the heart of the use of proxies to undermine neighbouring sovereign nations and target Iran’s enemies,” he said.

“Under international law, the United States is entitled to defend itself against those posing an imminent threat to its citizens.”

The British government on Saturday advised UK nationals to avoid travelling to Iraq and Iran.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was due home from his Christmas break in the Caribbean on Sunday and Raab defended him for not returning earlier following Friday’s assassination of Soleimani.

AFP

US Lacks ‘Courage’ To Strike 52 Iranian sites – Army Chief

US President Donald Trump speaks during a ‘Evangelicals for Trump’ campaign event held at the King Jesus International Ministry on January 03, 2020 in Miami, Florida.
JIM WATSON / AFP

 

Iran’s army chief said Sunday that Washington lacked the “courage” to initiate a conflict after US President Donald Trump threatened to hit dozens of targets inside the Islamic republic.

“I doubt they have the courage to initiate” a conflict in which the Americans threatened to strike 52 targets, Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi said, quoted by state news agency IRNA.

Trump warned Saturday night that the US would hit Iran harder than ever before if it retaliates over the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force foreign operations arm.

READ ALSO: Saudi Says US Did ‘Not Consult’ Over Drone Strike That Killed Soleimani

Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike Friday near Baghdad international airport ordered by Trump, who accused the general of planning an imminent attack on American diplomats and troops in Iraq.

“Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans or American assets, we have… targeted 52 Iranian sites… some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture,” Trump tweeted.

The targets “WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!” he added.

But Iran’s army chief dismissed the threats as an attempt to distract the global opinion “from the heinous and unjustifiable act they have done”.

AFP

Saudi Says US Did ‘Not Consult’ Over Drone Strike That Killed Soleimani

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

 

Saudi Arabia was not consulted by Washington over a US drone strike that killed a top Iranian general, an official said Sunday, as the kingdom sought to defuse soaring regional tensions.

Saudi Arabia is vulnerable to possible Iranian reprisals after Tehran vowed “revenge” following the strike on Friday that killed powerful commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad.

“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia was not consulted regarding the US strike,” a Saudi official told AFP, requesting anonymity.

“In light of the rapid developments, the kingdom stresses the importance of exercising restraint to guard against all acts that may lead to escalation, with severe consequences,” the official added.

READ ALSO: Mourners Pack Iran City As Soleimani’s Remains Return

Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry echoed a similar call for restraint at the weekend and King Salman emphasised the need for measures to calm tensions in a phone call on Saturday with Iraqi President Barham Saleh.

In a separate phone call with Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman stressed “the need to make efforts to calm the situation and de-escalate tensions”, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

The crown prince has instructed Prince Khalid bin Salman, his younger brother and deputy defence minister, to travel to Washington and London in the next few days to urge restraint, the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat newspaper reported.

Prince Khalid will meet White House and US defence officials, the paper said, citing unnamed sources.

The killing of Soleimani, seen as the second most powerful man in Iran, is the most dramatic escalation yet in spiralling tensions between Washington and Tehran and has prompted fears of a major conflagration in the Middle East.

US President Donald Trump, who ordered the drone strike, has warned that Washington will hit Iran “very fast and very hard” if the Islamic republic attacks American personnel or assets.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both allies of Washington, are also vulnerable to Iranian counter strikes, analysts say.

A string of attacks attributed to Iran has caused anxiety in recent months as Riyadh and Washington deliberated over how to react.

In particular, devastating strikes against Saudi oil installations last September led Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to adopt a more conciliatory approach aimed at avoiding confrontation with Tehran.

Analysts warn that pro-Iran groups have the capacity to carry out attacks on US bases in Gulf states as well as against shipping in the Strait of Hormuz — the strategic waterway that Tehran could close at will.

AFP

Mourners Pack Iran City As Soleimani’s Remains Return

People carry the casket of Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis upon arrival at Ahvaz International Airport in southwestern Iran on January 5, 2020. 
HOSSEIN MERSADI / fars news / AFP

 

A tide of mourners wept and beat their chests in the Iranian city of Ahvaz Sunday, paying homage to top general Qasem Soleimani, after he was killed in a US strike in Baghdad.

“Death to America,” they chanted at a mass gathering in the southwestern city, where Soleimani’s remains arrived from Iraq before dawn, according to semi-official news agency ISNA.

Packing the streets as Shiite chants resonated in the air, mourners held up portraits of Soleimani, seen as a hero of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and for spearheading Iran’s Middle East operations as commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force.

Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike Friday near Baghdad international airport, shocking the Islamic republic. He was 62.

The airstrike was ordered by President Donald Trump, who said the Iranian general had been planning an “imminent” attack on US diplomats and the roughly 5,200 American troops deployed in Baghdad.

READ ALSO: Soleimani: Trump Threatens To Hit Iran’s 52 Sites If They Retaliate

Soleimani’s assassination ratcheted up tensions between the arch-enemies and sparked fears of a new war in the Middle East.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei swiftly vowed “severe revenge” and declared three days of mourning.

But Trump warned Saturday that America was targeting 52 sites in Iran and would hit them “very fast and very hard” if the Islamic republic attacks American personnel or assets.

In a sabre-rattling tweet, Trump said: “If they attack again, which I would strongly advise them not to do, we will hit them harder than they have ever been hit before!”

Trump said the choice of 52 targets represented the number of Americans held hostage at the US embassy in Tehran for more than a year starting in late 1979.

US-Iran tensions escalated last year when Trump unilaterally withdrew from a landmark accord that gave Tehran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

‘Glorious Crowd’

On Sunday, thousands of mourners dressed in black were seen gathered in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz in a live broadcast on state television.

The channel showed crowds gathered in Mollavi Square with flags in green, white and red — depicting the blood of “martyrs”.

Aerial footage showed a tide of mourners crammed into the square and the surrounding streets of downtown Ahvaz, a city of 1.3 million people.

“A glorious crowd is at the ceremony,” said state television.

“The presence of children, teenagers, relatives, veterans, families of martyrs of (the Iran-Iraq war) and defenders of Haram (those martyred in Syria) is a glimpse of the glory of this ceremony,” it added.

In Tehran, members of parliament chanted “Death to America” for a few minutes during a regular session, ISNA reported.

“Trump, this is the voice of the Iranian nation, listen,” speaker Ali Larijani was quoted as saying.

Soleimani’s remains and those of five other Iranians — all Guards members — killed in the US drone strike had arrived at Ahvaz airport before dawn, ISNA said.

With them were the remains of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iraq’s powerful Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary umbrella group, who was also killed in the US strike.

They are expected to be flown to Tehran for more tributes on Sunday evening.

On Monday, Khamenei is expected to pray over Soleimani’s remains at Tehran University before a procession to Azadi Square.

His remains are then due to be taken to the holy city of Qom for a ceremony at Masumeh shrine, ahead of a funeral in his hometown Kerman on Tuesday.

Cyber Attack

In neighbouring Iraq, pro-Iran factions ramped up pressure on US installations with missiles and warnings to Iraqi troops — part of an outburst of fury over the killing of Soleimani.

In the first hints of a possible retaliatory response, two mortar rounds struck an area near the US embassy in Baghdad on Saturday, security sources told AFP.

Almost simultaneously, two rockets slammed into the Al-Balad airbase where American troops are deployed, security sources said.

The Iraqi military confirmed the missile attacks in Baghdad and on Al-Balad and said there were no casualties. The US military also said no coalition troops were hurt.

There was no claim of responsibility by a specific group.

In another possible act of retaliation, hackers claiming to be from Iran breached the website of a little-known US government agency and threatened more cyber attacks.

The website of the Federal Depository Library Program was replaced with a page titled “Iranian Hackers!” that displayed images of Khamenei and the Iranian flag.

“Martyrdom was (Soleimani’s)… reward for years of implacable efforts,” read a graphic depicting Trump being punched by a first emanating from Iran as missiles fly by.

“This is only (a) small part of Iran’s cyber ability !” another caption on the page read in white text on a black background.

AFP

Soleimani: Trump Threatens To Hit Iran’s 52 Sites If They Retaliate

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 3, 2020, US President Donald Trump makes a statement on Iran at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach Florida. President Donald Trump warned on January 4, 2020 that the US is targeting 52 sites in Iran and will hit them “very fast and very hard” if the Islamic republic attacks American personnel or assets. In a sabre-rattling tweet that defended Friday’s US drone strike assassination of a powerful Iranian general in Iraq, Trump said 52 represents the number of Americans held hostage at the US embassy in Tehran for more than a year starting in late 1979.
JIM WATSON / AFP

 

President Donald Trump warned Saturday that the US is targeting 52 sites in Iran and will hit them “very fast and very hard” if the Islamic republic attacks American personnel or assets.

In a saber-rattling tweet that defended Friday’s US drone strike assassination of a powerful Iranian general in Iraq, Trump said 52 represents the number of Americans held hostage at the US embassy in Tehran for more than a year starting in late 1979.

Trump said some of these sites are “at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!”

Late Saturday night, the president tweeted again, this time warning Iran that the US will hit Iran “harder than they have ever been hit before!”


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

Trump followed up with another tweet, saying the US would use its “brand new beautiful” military equipment “without hesitation” if the Iranians retaliate.

Trump spoke out after pro-Iran factions ramped up pressure on US installations across Iraq with missiles and warnings to Iraqi troops — part of an outburst of fury over the killing of Qasem Soleimani, described as the second-most-powerful man in Iran.

With the Islamic republic promising revenge, his killing was the most dramatic escalation yet in spiraling tensions between Washington and Tehran and has prompted fears of a major conflagration in the Middle East.

In the first hints of possible retaliatory response, two mortar rounds hit an area near the US embassy in Baghdad on Saturday, security sources told AFP.

Almost simultaneously, two rockets slammed into the Al-Balad airbase where American troops are deployed north of Baghdad, security sources said.

The Iraqi military confirmed the missile attacks in Baghdad and on al-Balad and said there were no casualties. The US military also said no coalition troops were hurt.

With Americans wondering fearfully if, how and where Iran will hit back for the assassination, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin that said: “at this time there is no specific, credible threat against the homeland.”

However, on Saturday the website of the Federal Depository Library Program, a little-known US government agency, was breached by a group claiming to be linked to Iran, who posted graphics displaying the Iranian flag and vowing revenge for Soleimani’s death.

Separately, US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that information is given to Congress by Trump, a Republican, “prompts serious and urgent questions about the timing, manner, and justification of” the strike.

“The Trump Administration’s provocative, escalatory and disproportionate military engagement continues to put service members, diplomats, and citizens of America and our allies in danger,” said Pelosi, a Democrat.

Another prominent Democrat, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, called the president a “monster”, for “threatening to target and kill innocent families, women, and children”.

In a tweet, she said: “This is a war crime.”

‘Direct War’

While no one claimed Saturday’s attacks in Baghdad, a hardline pro-Iran faction in Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi military network shortly after urged Iraqis to move away from US forces by Sunday at 5:00 pm local time (1400 GMT).

The deadline would coincide with a parliament session that the Hashed has insisted should see a vote on the ouster of US troops.

Washington has blamed the vehemently anti-American group for a series of rocket attacks in recent weeks targeting US diplomats and troops stationed across Iraq.

Many fear the US strike that killed Iran’s military mastermind Soleimani would set off a wider conflict with Iran and have braced for more attacks.

“This is no longer a proxy war,” said Erica Gaston, a non-resident fellow at the New America Foundation.

“What you have is America attacking an Iranian general directly, and groups are now openly fighting for Iran to avenge him. This is a direct war,” she told AFP.

The US strike on Baghdad international airport early Friday killed a total of five Iranian Revolutionary Guards and five members of Iraq’s Hashed.

Among the dead was Hashed’s deputy head Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a top adviser and personal friend to Soleimani.

As head of the Guards’ foreign operations arm, the Quds Force, Soleimani was a powerful figure domestically and oversaw Iran’s wide-ranging interventions in regional power struggles.

Trump has said Soleimani was planning an “imminent” attack on US personnel in Baghdad and should have been killed “many years ago”.

‘Act Of War’

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promised “severe revenge” for Soleimani’s death and Tehran named Soleimani’s deputy, Esmail Qaani, to succeed him.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis, including Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, political leaders and clerics attended a mass ceremony on Saturday to honor Soleimani and the other victims.

Tehran has slammed the strike as an “act of war” and Abdel Mahdi said it could bring “devastating” violence to Iraq.

The attacks on Saturday evening appeared to be precisely the reaction Iraqis had long feared: tit-for-tat strikes between the Hashed and the US on Iraqi soil.

Earlier, the Hashed claimed a new strike hit their convoy north of Baghdad, with Iraqi state media blaming the US.

But the US-led coalition denied involvement, telling AFP: “There was no American or coalition strike” on Saturday.

AFP