US-Iran tensions after Soleimani killing: All the latest updates

Calls for revenge grow louder as hundreds of thousands of people gather in Iranian capital to pay respects to Soleimani.

Tens of thousands of mourners attended Soleimani's funeral in Ahvaz, southwestern Iran [Alireza Mohammadi/ISNA via AP]
Tens of thousands of mourners attended Soleimani's funeral in Ahvaz, southwestern Iran [Alireza Mohammadi/ISNA via AP]

Funeral processions to honour Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian military commander who was assassinated last week in an air raid by the United States in Baghdad, are underway in Iran.

Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was killed along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi), an Iran-backed umbrella organisation comprising several militias. Several other people were also killed in Friday’s attack.

The move by the US has drawn condemnation from international leaders and officials who fear that tensions in the region could escalate drastically. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei warned that “a harsh retaliation is waiting”.

On Saturday, US President Donald Trump threatened to hit 52 Iranian sites “very hard” if Iran attacked US citizens or assets.

Here are the latest updates:

Monday, January 6

Iraq calls on UN to condemn US raid that killed Soleimani

Iraq’s United Nations Ambassador Mohammed Hussein Bahr Aluloom called on the UN Security Council to condemn the US raid that killed Soleimani and the PMF leader.

He urged the council in a letter on Monday to hold accountable “those who have committed such violations.”

Bahr Aluloom also called on the Security Council to ensure “that Iraq is not dragged into international and regional crises,” and to prevent “the law of the jungle” from prevailing.

The US is almost certain to veto any Security Council action sought by Iraq against the Trump administration.

A US official told Reuters news agency that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had been denied a visa to attend a UN Security Council meeting on Thursday [File: Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters]

US denies Iran’s Zarif a visa to attend UN meeting – US official

The US has denied a visa to Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that would have allowed him to attend a United Nations Security Council meeting in New York on Thursday, according to a US official who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity. 

UN chief warns global tensions at ‘highest this century’

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned of the risk of any miscalculation amid global tensions “at their highest level this century.”

The UN chief says the tensions are “leading more and more countries to take unpredicted decisions with unpredictable consequences.”

He did not mention any countries by name. 

Esper: US military will not break law of war

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper suggested that the US military would not violate the laws of armed conflict by striking Iranian cultural sites, a move threatened by Trump.

Asked whether he was willing to target cultural sites, Esper told Pentagon reporters: “We will follow the laws of armed conflict.”

Pressed on whether he would then not target such sites, because that would be a war crime, Esper said: “That’s the laws of armed conflict.” 

Pence to lay out Iran policy in speech: report

US Vice President Mike Pence will give a speech laying out the government’s policy on Iran, a White House official said.

Pence will make the remarks at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ National Security Summit in Washington, and is expected to focus on differences between the Iranian people and their government, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

US Vice President Mike Pence speaking to US troops at a military facility at Erbil International Airport in Iraq [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters] 

Saudi deputy defence minister meets Pompeo

Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Defence Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman, said in a tweet that he met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and discussed events in the region, along with efforts to maintain regional and international peace and stability.

‘It’s a Kerfuffle’

The US wanted to explain to the Iraqi military that there had been increased movement of aircraft, including transporting forces between bases in Iraq and also moving them into Iraq from Kuwait, US Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told a group of reporters.

“It (the draft letter) was sent over to some key Iraqi military guys in order to get things coordinated for air movements, etc. Then it went from that guy’s hands to another guy’s hands and then it went to your hands. Now, it’s a kerfuffle,” Milley said.

Milley said the unsigned draft document was sent around to get input from Iraqi officials, the kind of thing he said he does regularly.

“I send drafts all over Washington, DC, that aren’t signed to get people’s input and feedback,” Milley said.

“The long and short of it is: It’s an honest mistake by people trying to do the right things in highly dynamic situations, etc. It should not have been sent.”

Top US general: Letter to Iraq was a poorly worded draft 

A top US general told reporters that a letter from the US military to Iraq that created impressions of an imminent US withdrawal was instead a poorly worded draft document meant to only underscore increased movement of forces.

“Poorly worded, implies withdrawal. That’s not what’s happening,” US Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a group of reporters, stressing there was no withdrawal being planned.

US defence secretary: US military has no plans to leave Iraq

The US has no plans to pull out militarily from Iraq, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Pentagon reporters, following reports by Reuters and other media of a US military letter about a withdrawal.

“There’s been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq,” Esper said, when asked about the letter, adding there had also been no plans issued to prepare to leave.

“I don’t know what that letter is … We’re trying to find out where that’s coming from, what that is. But there’s been no decision made to leave Iraq. Period.”

Esper added the US was still committed to countering ISIL in Iraq, alongside America’s allies and partners.

McConnell urges lawmakers to wait for facts 

US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said US legislators should wait for the facts before criticising Donald Trump’s decision.

“We can and we should learn more about the intelligence and thinking that led to this operation and the plan to defend American personnel and interests in the wake of it,” McConnell said at the US Capitol after legislators returned from winter break.

“Unfortunately, in this toxic political environment, some of our colleagues rushed to blame our own government before even knowing the facts. Rushed to split hairs about intelligence before being briefed on it.”

Senator Mitch McConnell hugs US President Donald Trump at a Keep America Great Rally in Lexington, Kentucky [File: Yuri Gripas/Reuters] 

Kuwait foreign minister affirms importance of de-escalation

Kuwait’s foreign minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah received a phone call from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Kuwait’s state news agency (KUNA) said.

KUNA reported that the leaders discussed the latest developments in the region and affirmed the importance of de-escalation and dealing with these developments in a spirit of wisdom and self-restraint in order to achieve its security and stability.

US-led coalition tells Iraq it is preparing to ‘move out’

The head of the US military’s Task Force Iraq, Brigadier General William Seely, sent a letter to the head of Iraq’s joint operations command, Reuters and the AFP reported.

The letter said troops would “be repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement.”

The letter reportedly added: “We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure.”

A US defence official and an Iraqi defence official confirmed the letter was real and had been delivered, the AFP reported.

Read more here.

Rouhani warns Trump: ‘Never threaten Iran’

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani warned his US counterpart Donald Trump to “never threaten the Iranian nation” after Trump issued a US strike list of 52 targets in the Islamic Republic.

“Those who refer to the number 52 should also remember the number 290. #IR655 Never threaten the Iranian nation,” Rouhani tweeted, referring to 290 lives lost in July 1988 when a US warship shot down passenger plane Iran Air 655 in the Gulf.

Trump warned Saturday that Washington had lined up 52 targets in Iran if it attacked US personnel or assets in retaliation for a US drone strike in Baghdad that killed Iran’s top commander Qassem Soleimani.

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

NATO stands with US after Soleimani assassination, warns Iran

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg briefs media after a meeting in Brussels of the alliance’s ambassadors over the security situation in the Middle East [Francois Lenoir/Reuters]

All members of the Atlantic alliance stood behind the US in the Middle East after it briefed NATO on its drone strike that killed Soleimani, NATO’s secretary-general said.

Speaking after a rare NATO meeting on Iran and Iraq in which the US briefed its allies about last Friday’s drone strike, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also called for a de-escalation of tensions, echoing the statements of some European leaders.

Read more here.

EU foreign ministers to hold emergency Iran talks

EU foreign ministers will hold emergency talks on the Iran crisis on Friday, diplomats told the AFP news agency.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, tweeted that the 2015 nuclear deal, which has been teetering on the brink of collapse since President Trump withdrew support, was “now more important than ever”.

Borrell will lead a meeting of foreign ministers at 13:00 GMT on Friday, three diplomats said. The ministers are slated to discuss the fallout from the Soleimani killing and the future of the nuclear deal.

UNESCO: US signed treaties not to harm cultural heritage

The ancient city of Persepolis is a major draw for tourists [Delbars/Getty Images]

UN cultural body UNESCO reminded the US it has signed treaties committing to not harming cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict, after President Donald Trump threatened to target Iranian cultural sites.

UNESCO director general Audrey Azoulay said at a meeting with the Iranian ambassador to the organisation that both Tehran and Washington had signed a 1972 convention obliging states not to undertake “any deliberate measures which might damage directly or indirectly the cultural and natural heritage” of other states.

Read more here.

Iran FM: End of US presence in West Asia ‘has begun’

Iran’s foreign minister reiterated his country’s stance that the US military should be expelled from the Middle East.

Mohammad Javad Zarif urged US President Donald Trump to distance himself from his advisers who seek confrontation with Iran.

“Do you still want to listen to the clowns advising you on our region?” he wrote on his Twitter page. “And do you still imagine you can break the will of this great nation?”

UK and Iraqi PMs agree on need to de-escalate regional tensions 

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed with Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on the need to de-escalate tensions in the region when they spoke by phone on Monday, according to a UK statement.

“The leaders discussed the need to de-escalate tensions in the region following the death of Qassem Soleimani and agreed to work together to find a diplomatic way forward,” a statement from Johnson’s office said.

“The Prime Minister underlined the UK’s unwavering commitment to Iraq’s stability and sovereignty and emphasised the importance of the continued fight against the shared threat from Daesh,” the statement said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIL.

Saudi Arabia appeals for calm 

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said the kingdom did not want to see further escalation of tensions in the region at a “very dangerous moment”.

Mourners flood Tehran as calls for revenge over Soleimani grow

“We are very keen that the situation in the region doesn’t escalate any further. It’s certainly a very dangerous moment and we have to be conscious of the risks and dangers not just to the region but to wider global security,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan told a news briefing in Riyadh.

“We hope that all actors take all the steps necessary to prevent any further escalation and any provocation.”

Iraqi leaders receive condolences

Iraq’s top leadership gathered to receive condolences for Iraqi paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis who was killed along with Soleimani on Friday. 

Outgoing Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi thanked all the mourners who attended the condolences at his office in Baghdad, calling al-Muhandis a “heroic leader” with a “pure soul”.

NATO to review Iraq mission 

NATO’s ruling committee will meet on Monday to discuss the future of the organisation’s training mission in Iraq.

“The North Atlantic Council will address the situation in the region,” a NATO official said, according to the AFP news agency.

“The secretary-general decided to convene the meeting of NATO ambassadors following consultations with allies.”

Ambassadors from the 29 allies will gather in Brussels at 3pm (14:00 GMT), with Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg expected to brief journalists afterwards.

UK alarmed by nuclear deal announcement 

Iran’s announcement that it will abandon limitations on enriching uranium is concerning and Britain is urgently speaking to parties about the next steps to take, a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

The spokesman also said there were international conventions in place to prevent the destruction of cultural heritage after Trump threatened to hit 52 Iranian sites, including targets important to Iranian culture, if Tehran attacks US citizens or assets.

Pakistan does not want to be part of regional conflict 

Pakistan’s foreign minister said his country will not let its soil be used against any other state and that Islamabad will not be part of any regional conflict. 

Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s comments followed his contacts with the foreign ministers of Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Turkey. He called for restraint and de-escalation as tensions rise over the US killing of Soleimani. 

Qureshi in a Twitter post on Monday added that Pakistan’s position was very clear in standing for peace and stability and that “violence must be avoided”.

Pakistan has been a key ally of the US in its war on terror since the September 11 attacks. It is also closely allied with Saudi Arabia but tries to maintain a diplomatic balancing act between Riyadh and Tehran.

Merkel, Putin to discuss Middle East crisis in Moscow

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Russia on January 11 to discuss the Middle East crisis with President Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader’s press service said.

The Kremlin said Merkel will head to Russia at Putin’s invitation and that the two leaders also plan to discuss the situation in Syria.

France: Middle East tensions could reinvigorate ISIL

France’s finance minister said that currenty tensions in the region could affect global economic growth and reinvigorate ISIL.

“You must always ask who is served by and who profits from this instability,” Bruno Le Maire told France-Inter radio. “The instability in the Middle East today benefits only one organisation: The Islamic State group,” he said referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIS.

Le Maire added that the “[instability] will increase the terrorist threat over France and Europe”. 

Mourners flood the streets as Khamenei leads funeral prayers

Hundreds of thousands of people turned out in the capital to pay their final respects to Soleimani, as the multi-city ceremony for the slain commander continued in Iran.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei led prayers at the Tehran funeral, weeping at one point during the traditional Muslim prayers for the dead.

Read more here.

Mourners at the Enqelab-e-Eslami (Islamic Revolution) Square in Tehran [Ebrahim Noroozi/AP]

Hamas chief attends funeral

Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, in an address to Iranian mourners in Tehran described Soleimani as “the martyr of Jerusalem”.

Haniyeh vowed that Palestinian groups will walk Soleimani’s way “to confront the Zionist project and the American influence”.

Haniyeh’s visit to Iran comes after Egypt allowed him to travel for his first regional tour since his 2017 election into the Hamas leadership on the condition that he not visit Iran, according to Arab and Israeli media reports.

In pictures: Tears, cries of vengeance as Tehran bids farewell to Soleimani

A sea of men wearing black and women in black chadors waited for the arrival of Soleimani’s remains, as loudspeakers blared mourning hymns throughout central Tehran. 

A traffic jam formed in the intersections leading to the unfinished grand mosque, named after the late Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, where Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei led the prayers for Soleimani.

Soleimani’s remains will be brought to his hometown of Kerman on Tuesday for final rites before his burial.

Go here to view pictures from the funeral procession in Tehran

NATO ambassadors to meet on Iran crisis: Official

NATO ambassadors will meet at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels on Monday amid mounting tensions following the killing of Soleimani.

“The North Atlantic Council will address the situation in the region,” a NATO official was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

“The secretary general decided to convene the meeting of NATO ambassadors following consultations with allies.”

Germany’s Maas: Sanctions threat against Iraq ‘not very helpful’

Germany’s foreign minister said threatening Iraq with sanctions is “not very helpful” after US President Donald Trump warned that Baghdad could be hit by sanctions “like they’ve never seen before” if US forces were forced to leave.

“I don’t think it works to convince Iraq with threats but with arguments,” Heiko Maas told Deutschlandfunk public radio.

He added that Germany, Britain and France would discuss the Iran nuclear deal on Monday and would react this week to Tehran’s recent announcement that it would further roll back its commitments to the 2015 landmark agreement.

“We will definitely talk to Iran again. What has been announced is, however, not consistent with the agreement,” Maas said.

“[The situation] has not got easier, and this could be the first step to the end of this agreement, which would be a big loss so we will weigh this up very, very responsibly now.”

China criticises US interventionism, urges restraint

China criticised the US for aggravating tensions in the Middle East through its military interventionism over the standoff between Washington and Tehran and urged all parties to exercise restraint to ensure peace and stability.

“Power politics are neither popular nor sustainable,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily briefing. “The US’s risky military behaviour in recent days goes against the basic norms of international relations.”

“We call on the US not to abuse its force, and appeal to relevant parties to exercise restraint to avoid the situation worsening,” he said, adding that China is “highly concerned” about the standoff between Iran and the US.

South Africa’s ANC party condemns US strike

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party condemned the US airstrike that killed Iran’s Soleimani as an “act of international terrorism”.

The statement appeared in a Facebook post over the weekend and was issued by party secretary-general Ace Magashule.

South Africa’s foreign ministry released a more measured statement on Friday supporting Iraq’s sovereignty and calling for dialogue and calm.

In its statement, the former liberation movement, once led by Nelson Mandela, called the “raw aggression” an attack on Iran’s sovereignty and it called for maximum restraint.

Soleimani’s killing poses ‘serious risk for peace’: Turkey

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the “killing of Soleimani is a serious risk for peace in the region”.

“We will work with other countries to reduce tensions between the US and Iran,” Cavusoglu told reporters at the Directorate for EU affairs in the capital Ankara.

US and Israel face ‘dark day’: Soleimani’s daughter

Zeinab Soleimani, daughter of the slain general, told crowds at her father’s funeral procession in Tehran that the US and Israel faced a “dark day” for his death.

“Crazy Trump, don’t think that everything is over with my father’s martyrdom,” she said in an address broadcast on state television.

New Quds Force chief says he aims to remove US from region

Brigadier General Esmail Qaani, the new commander of the Quds Force, said he aimed to expel the US from the region in the wake of Soleimani’s killing.

“We promise to continue martyr Soleimani’s path with the same force … and the only compensation for us would be to remove America from the region,” Qaani was quoted as saying by state radio.

Sunday, January 5

House to vote on resolution to limit Trump’s war prerogatives: Pelosi

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will introduce and vote on a war powers resolution this week to limit President Trump’s military actions regarding Iran.

“This resolution is similar to the resolution introduced by Senator Tim Kaine in the Senate,” Pelosi said in a statement late on Sunday.

“It reasserts Congress’s long-established oversight responsibilities by mandating that if no further congressional action is taken, the administration’s military hostilities with regard to Iran cease within 30 days.”

Trump reiterates threat against Iran cultural sites

Trump insisted on Sunday that Iranian cultural sites were fair game for the US military, dismissing concerns within his own administration that doing so would constitute a war crime under international law.

The president first raised the prospect of targeting Iranian cultural sites in a tweet on Saturday where he said the US had 52 targets in its sights.

Speaking to reporters as he returned to Washington, DC, from a holiday in Florida, he repeated the threat.

“They’re allowed to kill our people,” Trump said. “They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn’t work that way.”

Trump threatens Iraq sanctions after legislators call on US troops to leave

Trump threatened sanctions against Baghdad on Sunday after Iraq’s parliament called on US troops to leave the country.

Speaking on Air Force One, Trump said if Iraq asked US forces to leave and it was not done on a friendly basis, “we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”

He also said Iraq would have to pay for the cost of an airbase the US has helped develop in the country.

“We have a very extraordinarily expensive airbase that’s there,” he said. “It cost billions of dollars to build, long before my time. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it.”

Nader Hashemi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, told Al Jazeera Trump’s comments were cause for concern.

“This is someone who is completely surrounded by war hawks, is driven by his ego and is in a re-election campaign,” Hashemi said. “I think he’s calculating that this type of tough rhetoric plays well with his domestic base.” 

France, UK, Germany: Iran must refrain from violence and respect nuclear deal

France, Germany and the United Kingdom called on Iran to refrain from any violent action and respect arrangements laid out in the JCPOA 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The three countries also highlighted the importance of de-escalating tensions in Iraq and Iran, and reaffirmed their determination to fight the ISIL (ISIS) group.

“We reaffirm our commitment to continuing the fight against Islamic State, which remains a priority. It is essential that we keep the coalition, in this regard. We call on the Iraqi authorities to continue to supply the necessary support to the coalition,” the three said in a statement.

“We are ready to continue talks with all parties in order to contribute to de-escalating tensions and re-establishing stability in the region.”

The office of French President Emmanuel Macron said he was expected to hold talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the coming days.

Read earlier updates here.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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