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Iran warns of 'severe revenge' after top general killed in US airstrike

The Pentagon described the operation as a “decisive defensive action”.

File photo. Qasem Soleimani
File photo. Qasem Soleimani
Image: PA Images

Updated Jan 3rd 2020, 10:03 AM

IRAN HAS SAID the United States bore responsibility for the consequences after killing one of its top commanders, Qasem Soleimani, in an air strike today on Baghdad airport.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned of “severe revenge” for “the criminals who bloodied their foul hands with his blood”, and vowed that “God willing, his work and his path will not be stopped”.

The US, however, has defended the attack with the Pentagon describing it as a “decisive defensive action” and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo posting a video to Twitter purporting to show Iraqis “dancing in the street” following the killing of Soleimani.

The attack resulted in a rapid rise in tensions between Iran and the United States, with the latter urging all of its citizens in Iraq to leave immediately.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to Greece, as the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon called for revenge. Israeli has tightened security in some border areas.

Sky News reports that security has also been heightened at UK military facilities in the Middle East. UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab has urged for de-escalation on all sides.

A meeting of Iran’s National Security Council was also held.

The Revolutionary Guards confirmed the commander of its Quds Force had been killed by US forces in Baghdad, with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif slamming the move as “foolish” and denouncing it as a “dangerous escalation”.

“The Revolutionary Guards announces that the glorious commander of Islam, haj Qasem Soleimani, following a life of servitude, was martyred in an attack by America on Baghdad airport this morning,” said a statement read out on state television.

The channel said the attack was carried out by US helicopters.

iraq-airport-attack A photo released by the Iraqi Prime Minister Press Office shows a burning vehicle at the Baghdad International Airport following an airstrike Source: Iraqi Prime Minister Press Office, via AP

A black ribbon was displayed on the screen and a photo montage was shown with images of Soleimani smiling and praying, as Khamenei also declared three days of mourning.

Soleimani was one of the most popular figures in Iran and seen as a deadly adversary by America and its allies.

State television interrupted its regular programming to detail the commander’s achievements in the region, pointing to many times he “foiled” US plans.

The Islamic republic’s top security body called an emergency meeting over the attack.

“In a few hours, an extraordinary meeting of the Supreme National Security Council will be held to review the murderous attack on the vehicle of General Soleimani in Baghdad that lead to his martyrdom,” ISNA quoted its secretariat spokesman Keyvan Khosravi as saying.

The foreign ministry also summoned an official from the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which represents US interests in Iran, to “strongly protest” the killing, according to a tweet by ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi.

‘Dancing in the street for freedom’

Pompeo wrote “Iraqis — dancing in the street for freedom; thankful that General Soleimani is no more” alongside footage of scores of people running along a road and waving what appeared to be Iraqi flags and other banners.

President Donald Trump ordered the killing of the Iran Revolutionary Guards commander, who died Friday “in a decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad,” the Pentagon said.

“General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the Department of Defense said in a statement.

General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more. 

Pompeo did not provide a source for the video or offer any details about where the images were filmed.

A pro-Iran mob this week laid siege to the US embassy following deadly American air strikes on a hardline Hashed faction.

The US had called the strikes in response to a rocket attack days earlier that killed an American contractor working in Iraq. 

The Pentagon said Soleimani had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the past months, including on 27 December, the day the contractor was killed.

“General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the US Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week,” it said.

Trump, meanwhile, simply tweeted an image of an American flag.

‘Foolish escalation’

The US reaction contrasted with heavy condemnation in Iran.

“The US’ act of international terrorism, targeting and assassinating General Soleimani… is extremely dangerous and a foolish escalation,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.

“The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism,” he added.

In a statement, the foreign ministry said the United States would pay for the “atrocity”.

“The malice and stupidity of America’s terrorist forces in assassinating General Soleimani, this hero martyr and the leader of combatting terrorism and extremism, will certainly further empower the tree of resistance in the region and the world,” it said.

A former head of the Guards said also revenge would be exacted on the United States for Soleimani’s death.

“Soleimani joined his martyr brothers but we will exact terrible vengeance upon America,” Mohsen Rezai, who currently heads the Expediency Council, wrote on Twitter.

Tehran-based analyst Mohammad Marandi said the US has “declared war” against Iran and Iraq, and “it’s best for westerners to evacuate countries like UAE and Iraq immediately”.

“By assassinating General Soleimani & Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, both high ranking military officials, Trump has declared war against the armed forces of both Iran & Iraq. It is best for all American citizens to leave the region immediately. US occupiers will be forced to leave Iraq.”

© AFP 2020, with additional reporting via Press Association 

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