SHAFAQNA – Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei warned on Friday “harsh revenge is waiting” for the “criminals” who martyred IRGC Quds Force Commander Lieutenant General Qasem Soleimani in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.
The US assassination of Gen. Soleimani, marks a major escalation in the standoff between the US and Iran, which has careened from one crisis to another since President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions.
In a statement, Ayatollah Khamenei said the “cruelest people on earth” martyred the “honorable” commander who “courageously fought for years against the evils and bandits of the world.”
Soleimani’s martyrdom will not stop his mission, but the criminals who have his blood and other martyrs of the attack on their hands must await a harsh revenge, the Leader said. He said the terror incident would double resistance against the United States and Israel. “Martyr Soleimani is an international figure of the resistance, and all the devotees of resistance are now his avengers,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.
“All the friends and foes must know that the path of Jihad of the resistance will continue with double motivation, and a definite victory awaits those who fight in this auspicious path,” the Leader said. “The loss of our selfless and dear general is bitter, but the continued fight and achievement of the final victory will make life bitterer for the murderers and criminals,” he added. The Leader declared three days of public mourning and appointed Maj. Gen. Ismaiel Ghaani, Soleimani’s deputy, to replace him as head of the Quds Force.
The Pentagon said: US President Donald Trump had ordered Soleimani’s assassination after Iraqi protesters this week attacked the US Embassy in the Iraqi capital. Early on Friday, a volley of missiles struck a convoy at Baghdad’s international airport belonging to Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces known as the Hashed al-Sha’abi. Hours later, Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps announced Soleimani “was martyred in an attack by America”.
The US Defense Department said it targeted the 62-year-old Soleimani because he “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” It also accused Soleimani of approving the orchestrated protests at the US Embassy, but provided no evidence. The targeted strike, on an access road near Baghdad’s airport, was carried out Friday by a US drone, according to a US official.
Soleimani had just disembarked from a plane arriving from either Syria or Lebanon, a senior Iraqi security official said. The strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the Hashed al-Sha’abi. A senior politician said Soleimani’s body was identified by the ring he wore. Iran’s Ambassador to Baghdad Iraj Masjedi explained that the US missiles hit two cars transferring General Soleimani, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and 10 companions and bodyguards from Baghdad Airport to the city at 1 a.m. (local time).
According to Masjedi, all the passengers were killed, and arrangements are being made for their return to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran’s TV said Friday a total of 10 people were killed in the airstrike, including five IRGC members and Soleimani’s son-in-law. Soleimani became head of the force in 1998, after which he quietly strengthened Iran’s ties with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria’s government and some groups in Iraq.
As the head of the Quds Force, he led all of its soldiers and frequently shuttled between Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. Soleimani rose to even greater prominence by advising forces fighting the Daesh terror group in Iraq and in Syria. He had survived several assassination attempts by Western, Israeli and Arab agencies over the past two decades.
Sign of ‘US desperation’
President Hassan Rouhani strongly condemned the attack, and said the US assassination will make Iran and other free nations more determined to stand against Washington. “The martyrdom of the great commander of Islam and Iran… by the aggressive and criminal US broke the heart of the entire nation of Iran and regional nations,” Rouhani said in a statement on Friday.
The assassination “doubled the determination of the great nation of Iran and other free nations to stand against and resist the excessive demands of the US and to defend the Islamic values,” he added.“There is no doubt that this cowardly and evil move is another sign of the US desperation, inability and failure in the region, and the hatred felt by the regional nations toward this criminal regime,” Rouhani noted.
“The great nation of Iran and other free nations of the region will take revenge for this heinous crime against the criminal US,” he warned. Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami also vowed that revenge will be taken against all those behind the assassination.
“Undoubtedly, this heinous crime which is a strong proof of the evil nature of the Big Satan, the arrogant US and it’s all-out support for terrorism in the region and Iraq, will be responded to in a crushing way,” the defense minister warned.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif the US strike will strengthen the resistance movement across the world. “The malice and stupidity of the terrorist American forces in assassinating General Soleimani, the hero and commander of fight against terrorism and extremism, will undoubtedly make stronger the tree of resistance in the region and the world,” Zarif said in a Friday statement.
The top diplomat said the Foreign Ministry will use its political, legal, and international capacities to implement decisions made by Iran’s Supreme National Security Council in order to hold the criminal and terrorism regime of the US accountable for this blatant crime. Zarif had earlier tweeted that “the US’ act of international terrorism, targeting & assassinating General Soleimani— THE most effective force fighting Daesh (ISIS), Al Nusrah, Al Qaeda et al—is extremely dangerous & a foolish escalation.” “The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism,” Zarif warned.
Call for vengeance
Tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets to condemn the assassination, chanting “Death to deceitful America” and calling for revenge. In capital Tehran, worshipers attending Friday prayers held a rally after the event, carrying signs that warned the United States, Israel and their regional allies of harsh consequences. Leading the prayers this week was Ayatollah Seyyed Ahmad Khatami, who said the attack means “Americans around the world will never experience calm again.”
He said Soleimani was the mastermind of the battle against Daesh and the Trump administration will pay the price for assassinating him. “The Americans should beware that they did not achieve victory here and rather took one more step towards annihilation,” Ayatollah Khatami said. “Today, the world and the resistance movements in Syria, Lebanon and other places are mourning Gen. Soleimani and want to avenge his blood.” Thousands of people gathered at Soleimani’s house in the provincial capital of Kerman to express their sorrow.
‘Aggression against Iraq’
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi condemned the strike as an act of “aggression against Iraq” that breached its sovereignty and would lead to war. He said that with Friday’s attack Washington had violated a deal for keeping US troops in his country. Iraqi President Barham Saleh called for “restraint” – an appeal echoed by alarmed foreign governments. Iraqi Deputy Speaker Hassan al-Kaabi, said the emergency session would take “decisions that put an end to the US presence in Iraq.”
A leading Hashed member, Hadi al-Ameri, said the attack would “only make us more determined.” Iraq’s Parliament is set to hold an emergency meeting on the strike on Saturday. Ameri urged lawmakers “to take a bold decision to oust foreign troops from Iraq, because their presence has become a threat for Iraqis.” Iraq’s top Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has condemned the US assassination, calling them the “heroes of fight against Daesh” terrorist group.
In a message delivered by his representative during a sermon in the holy city of Karbala on Friday, Ayatollah al-Sistani denounced as “cruel” the overnight attack. He described the attack as a violation of Iraq’s national sovereignty and international charters, and called those assassinated the “heroes of the battles for victory against Daesh terrorists.” Iraq’s senior Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr put all his forces on alert.
He condemned the targeted assassination as an attempt by Washington to stifle anti-US sentiments in Iraq and the nation’s resolve to uproot foreign-backed terrorism. The cleric also ordered all his forces to maintain readiness to defend the Arab country against further violations by American forces. “As the patron of the patriotic Iraqi resistance I give the order for all fighters, especially the Mehdi Army, Promised Day Brigade, and all patriotic and disciplined groups to be ready to protect Iraq,” he said in a statement.
He also called on all sides to behave with “wisdom and shrewdness.” The attack comes at the start of a year in which Trump faces both a Senate trial following his impeachment by Congress and a re-election campaign. It marks a potential turning point in the Middle East and represents a drastic change for American policy toward Iran after months of tensions.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the strike aimed to disrupt an “imminent attack” that would have endangered Americans in the Middle East. Democratic critics said the Republican president had raised the risk of more violence in a dangerous region. Pompeo, in interviews on Fox News and CNN, declined to discuss many details of the alleged threat but said it was “an intelligence based assessment” that drove the decision to target Soleimani.
US officials have suggested they are prepared to engage in further retaliatory attacks in Iraq.“The game has changed,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Thursday. The US Embassy in Baghdad urged all American citizens to depart Iraq immediately. Dozens of US citizens working for foreign oil companies in the southern city of Basra were leaving the country. Oil prices jumped more than $3 a barrel over concern about disruption to Middle East supplies.
‘Dynamite in tinderbox’
Trump critics called the operation reckless. “President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox,” said former vice president Joe Biden, a contender in this year’s US presidential election. Biden said the strike could leave the US “on the brink of a major conflict across the Middle East.” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders released a statement saying, “Trump’s dangerous escalation brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars.”
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Trump’s “reckless move escalates the situation with Iran and increases the likelihood of more deaths and new Middle East conflict.” Entrepreneur Andrew Yang tweeted: “War with Iran is the last thing we need and is not the will of the American people. We should be acting to deescalate tensions and protect our people in the region.”
The attack also drew criticism from Democrats who aren’t running for president. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the administration conducted the airstrike without consultation of Congress or an authorization for use of military force against Iran. She said it “risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence.” American actress Rose McGowan apologized to Iran after General Soleimani was killed, saying the United States is “held hostage by terrorist regime.”
“Dear #Iran, The USA has disrespected your country, your flag, your people. 52% of us humbly apologize. We want peace with your nation. We are being held hostage by a terrorist regime. We do not know how to escape. Please do not kill us. #Soleimani,” she wrote on Twitter on Friday.
American actor John Cusack said Trump has started a war.
“He’s so idiotic he doesn’t know he just attacked Iran. And that’s not like anywhere else,” John Cusack twitted.
The potential for a spiraling escalation alarmed US allies and rivals alike.
Russia condemned the killing, as a “short-sighted adventurist step” that will increase tensions throughout the region.”
“Soleimani served the cause of protecting Iran’s national interests with devotion. We express our sincere condolences to the Iranian people,” said Russia’s Foreign Ministry said.
China called on “the relevant sides, especially the United States, to remain calm and exercise restraint to avoid further escalating tensions.”
“China has always opposed the use of force in international relations,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang.
France said the killing has made the world “more dangerous.”
France’s Europe minister, Amelie de Montchalin, said on Friday, “We have woken up to a more dangerous world.”
“In such operations, when we can see an escalation is underway, but what we want above all is stability and de-escalation,” Montchalin added.
According to her, President Emmanuel Macron would soon consult with “players in the region.”
“All of France’s efforts… in all parts of the world aim to ensure that we are creating the conditions for peace or at least stability,” she added.
The leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, urged the UK to “stand up to the belligerent actions and rhetoric coming from the United States.”
British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab called on all parties to de-escalate.
“Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests,” he said in an emailed statement.
In the United Arab Emirates, a key US ally in the Persian Gulf, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, called for “rational engagement” and a “calm approach.”
In Lebanon, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, warned of “punishment for these criminal assassins”, although the Shia movement denied any of its commanders were killed.