US assassinates top Iranian general, Tehran vows ‘severe revenge’ | Pakistan Today

US assassinates top Iranian general, Tehran vows ‘severe revenge’

–US drone targets Al-Quds Force Commander Maj Gen Qasem Soleimani, Iraqi militia leader al-Muhandis in Baghdad drone strike

–Trump says Soleimani should have been killed ‘many years ago’

–Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei says ‘martyrdom was reward for Soleimani’s ceaseless efforts in all these years’

–US officials do not rule out additional troops or military assets going to the region

BAGHDAD/TEHRAN/WASHINGTON: Top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani was killed on Friday in a US strike on Baghdad’s international airport in a dramatic escalation of tensions between the two countries.

The Pentagon said US President Donald Trump ordered Soleimani’s “killing”, after a pro-Iran mob this week laid siege to the US embassy.

In his first substantial comments on the operation, carried out earlier on Friday at Baghdad’s international airport, Trump tweeted that Soleimani “should have been taken out many years ago!” 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!” Trump said.

His only earlier comments on the dramatic news included a tweet featuring a picture of a US flag and another, cryptic tweet stating that “Iran never won a war, but never lost a negotiation!”

Meanwhile, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed to exact “severe revenge” for Soleimani’s death.

In the wake of the assassination, the US embassy in Baghdad urged all citizens to depart Iraq immediately.

“Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, the US embassy urges American citizens to heed the January 2020 travel advisory and depart Iraq immediately.”

“US citizens should depart via airline while possible, and failing that, to other countries via land,” it said in a statement.

IRAN VOWS SEVERE REVENGE:

“Martyrdom was the reward for his ceaseless efforts in all these years,” Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei said on his Twitter account in reference to Soleimani, also declaring three days of mourning.

“With him gone, God willing, his work and his path will not be stopped, but severe revenge awaits the criminals who bloodied their foul hands with his blood and other martyrs’ in last night’s incident,“ he added.

The pre-dawn developments mark the most major escalation yet in a feared proxy war between Iran and the US on Iraqi soil.

Early on Friday, a volley of missiles hit Baghdad’s international airport, striking a convoy belonging to the Hashed al-Shaabi, an Iraqi paramilitary force with close ties to Iran.

Just a few hours later, Iranian state television carried a statement by the Revolutionary Guard Corps saying Soleimani “was martyred in an attack by America on Baghdad airport this morning”.

The Hashed confirmed that both Soleimani and its deputy chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were killed in what it said was a “US strike”. “The deputy head of the Hashed, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and head of the Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, were killed in a US strike that targeted their car on the Baghdad International Airport road,” it said.

The Hashed is a network of mostly-Shia armed units, many of whom have close ties to Tehran but which have been officially incorporated into Iraq’s state security forces.

The units joined forces to fight the militant Islamic State group in 2014, after many of them built up years of fighting experience during Iraq’s war years, including against the US.

According to AP, Iraqi officials said five others were also killed.

‘FOOLISH ESCALATION’:

Iran’s foreign minister slammed Soleimani’s killing as a dangerous escalation and warned the United States would bear responsibility for the consequences.

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

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

Iran’s top security body called an urgent meeting on Friday over the “martyrdom” of Qasem Soleimani by the United States in Baghdad, semi-official news agency ISNA reported.

“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.

‘ENEMY OF US’:

US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Soleimani had been killed in a drone strike in Baghdad.

The official said it was aware of the possibility of an Iranian response and US military officials were ready to defend themselves. The official did not rule out additional US troops or military assets going to the region.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said while Soleimani was “an enemy of the United States”, the killing could put more Americans at risk.

“One reason we don’t generally (assassinate) foreign political officials is the belief that such action will get more, not less, Americans killed,” Murphy said on Twitter.

“That should be our real, pressing and grave worry tonight,” he said.

Former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said that Soleimani’s death “should be applauded by all who seek peace and justice”.

‘MAJOR CAPITATION STRIKE’:

Muhandis was the Hashed’s deputy chief but widely recognised as the real shot-caller within the group.

Soleimani headed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force and also served as Iran’s pointman on Iraq, visiting the country in times of turmoil.

Both were sanctioned by the United States.

The Pentagon said Soleimani had been “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region”.

It said it took “decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani,” but did not specify how.

Phillip Smyth, a US-based specialist in Shia armed groups, told AFP the strike would have “bigger” ramifications than the 2011 US operation that killed Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and the 2019 American raid that killed militant Islamic State group Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

“In terms of a decapitation strike, what just happened is the most major decapitation strike that the US has ever pulled off,” said Smyth.

“There is no comparison,” he added.

The developments come after an unprecedented attack on the US mission in Baghdad.

A mob of Hashed supporters surrounded the US embassy on Tuesday in outrage over American air strikes that killed 25 fighters from the network’s hardline Kataeb Hezbollah faction, which is backed by Iran.

The US had acted in response to a rocket attack days earlier that had killed an American contractor working in Iraq. Trump had blamed Iran for a spate of rocket attacks targeting US forces as well as the siege at the embassy, saying: “They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat.”

On Thursday, US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper told reporters there could be more attacks from Iran-backed groups but vowed American forces would respond.

“We are prepared to exercise self-defence, and we are prepared to deter further bad behaviour from these groups, all of which are sponsored, directed and resourced by Iran,” he said.



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