Donald Trump has defended the assassination of a top Iranian general by US forces, tweeting that “he should have been taken out many years ago.”
(Major) Qassem Soleimani was killed in a drone strike on Baghdad airport on Friday morning, marking a dramatic escalation of tensions with Tehran.
Iran immediately threatened a “crushing revenge” for the assassination in Iraq of Maj Gen Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force and spearhead of Iran’s spreading military influence in the Middle East.
NBC and other US media are reporting that the US is sending 3, 502 Additional troops to the region to bolster security – though military sources are quoted as saying this was a planned deployment, not a reaction to Friday’s escalation.
Some of the troops will be based in Iraq, and others will arrive in Kuwait and other parts of the region.
On Friday – about 17 hours after news of the attack – Mr Trump wrote: “General Qassem Soleimani has killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more … but got caught!
“He was directly and indirectly responsible for the death of millions of people, including the recent large number of PROTESTERS killed in Iran itself. While Iran will never be able to properly admit it, Soleimani was both hated and feared within the country. They are not nearly as saddened as the leaders will let the outside world believe. He should have been taken out many years ago! “
The Pentagon confirmed US forces had killed the general, saying the 064 – year-old had “orchestrated” attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the past few months and approved the “attacks” on theUS embassyin Baghdad earlier this week.
“This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans,” the Pentagon said in a statement, adding that the US would continue to take necessary action to protect Americans and Interests around the world.
The US embassy in Baghdad has urged American citizens to depart Iraq immediately “via airline while possible, and failing that, to other countries via land”.
Iranian officials have reacted furiously to the attack, which also killed Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).
The country defense minister, Amir Hatami, said: “A crushing revenge will be taken for Soleimani’s unjust assassination … We will take revenge from all those involved and responsible.”
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denied a “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the US – describing the commander as the “international face of resistance.”
Declaring three days of public mourning, Khamenei added: “All enemies should know that the jihad of resistance will continue with a doubled motivation, and a definite victory awaits the fighters in the holy war. “
**** Image: Maj Gen Soleimani’s convoy was struck on a road near Baghdad International Airport
Image: The strike was ordered by Donald Trump
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said there was no doubt that Iran and “other freedom-seeking countries” in the region will take revenge.
He added: “Soleimani’s martyrdom will make Iran more decisive to resist America’s expansionism and to defend our Islamic values. “
And Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter:” The US act of international terrorism, targeting & assassinating General Soleimani … is extremely dangerous & a foolish escalation. The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism. “
A senior Iraqi security official said the strike took place near the cargo area after Maj Gen Soleimani left his plane to be greeted by Mr al Muhandis. The plane had arrived from either Lebanon or Syria.
An Iranian politician said Maj Gen Soleimani’s body was identified by the ring he wore. An official from the PMF said they did not find the body of Mr al Muhandis.
The Pentagon said the strike was carried out “at the direction” of President Trump, who tweeted an image of the American flag several hours after the attack.
It is unclear what legal authority the US relied on to carry out the attack. American presidents claim broad authority to act without congressional approval when US personnel or interests are facing an imminent threat.
Sources have told Sky’s defense and security correspondent Alistair Bunkall that the UK military has increased its security and readiness at bases in the Middle East region following the attack.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “We have always recognized the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Quds force led by Qasem Soleimani. Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests.”
Mr Raab has spoken with his US counterpart Mike Pompeo, who tweeted: “Thankful that our allies recognize the continuing aggressive threats posed by the Iranian Quds Force. The US remains committed to de-escalation.”
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