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Iran promises revenge, as Trump defends strike.
Iranian leaders issued strident calls on Friday for revenge against the United States after the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani in an overnight airstrike at the Baghdad airport.
His death is a considerable blow to Tehran, and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for retaliation and for three days of national mourning.
“His departure to God does not end his path or his mission, but a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands,” the supreme leader said in a statement.
Iran’s security body also pledged to avenge General Suleimani’s killing in the “right place and time,” saying it had reached a decision on how to do so.
The American strike spurred mass displays of public mourning by Iran and its network of allies across the Middle East. Iranian officials said the general’s body would be taken on a funeral procession around Baghdad, and that a funeral would be held for him in Tehran on Sunday.
General Suleimani, a powerful strategist who represented Iran’s influence across the region, was killed by an American drone at Baghdad’s airport, in an attack that had been authorized by President Trump and that ratcheted up tensions between Washington and Tehran.
The strike, regarded by analysts as perhaps the riskiest American move in the Middle East since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, threatened to tip hostilities with the United States and its partners across the region into a new war.
Iraq’s Parliament planned to hold an emergency session over the weekend to address the airstrike, which Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi called “a brazen violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and a blatant attack on the nation’s dignity.”
On Friday, Mr. Trump posted on Twitter about the strike, saying that General Suleimani “killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more … but got caught!”
General Suleimani was the head of the powerful Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the architect of nearly every significant operation by Iranian intelligence and military forces over the past two decades.
The general’s prominent role meant that his death could have a ripple effect in any number of countries across the Middle East where Iran and the United States compete for influence.
Suleimani was in
a vehicle struck
by two missiles as
his convoy exited the airport.
Suleimani was in a vehicle struck by two missiles as his convoy exited the airport.
Suleimani was in a vehicle struck by two missiles as his convoy exited the airport.
The strike was carried out by an MQ-9 Reaper drone that fired missiles on a convoy of vehicles leaving the airport. Several other officials from Iraqi militias backed by Tehran were also killed.
“This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans,” the Pentagon said in a statement. The United States has long been at odds with Iran over its nuclear program and influence in Iraq and other countries in the region. Those tensions have surged under the Trump administration.
The strike on Friday was the latest escalation between the two nations after a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base, believed to have been carried out by an Iran-backed militia, killed an American contractor in December.
The United States hit back with airstrikes on an Iranian-backed militia that killed 24 and prompted outrage among some who saw that attack as a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. Pro-Iranian demonstrators broke into the United States Embassy compound on Tuesday. The breach prompted Mr. Trump to order roughly 750 additional American troops to be deployed to the region.
Thousands of troops readied and Americans ordered to leave.
On Thursday night, around the time of the strike on General Suleimani, a Special Operations unit based in the United States boarded transport aircraft bound for the Middle East, one Defense Department official said.
The deployment of the elite Army Rangers marks the latest group of troops sent to the region. Earlier this week, the Pentagon readied 4,000 paratroopers based at Fort Bragg, N.C., for a similar security mission to Kuwait, 750 of which have already deployed.
The State Department urged American citizens to leave Iraq immediately following the strike that killed General Suleimani in Baghdad, citing “heightened tensions.”
Oil prices rise and stocks fall.
Oil prices jumped on Friday after the news of the general’s death: The price of Brent oil, the international benchmark, surged in the early hours of Hong Kong trading to nearly $70 a barrel — an increase of $3.
The immediate increase in the price of oil was among the largest since an attack on a critical Saudi oil installation in September that temporarily knocked out 5 percent of the world’s oil supply.
By 11 a.m. in London, the price of Brent crude oil was at a three-month high of $69.20 a barrel. International oil companies based in the southeastern Iraqi city of Basra have begun evacuating American employees, according to Al Arabiya news outlet.
The Dow Jones industrial average and the S & P 500 each opened about 1 percent lower on Friday, while oil company shares rose, with Exxon Mobil up 1.3 percent and Chevron up 1.2 percent in premarket trading.
Pompeo says the U.S. is committed to de-escalation.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had spoken to top diplomats in Britain, China and Germany on Friday about what the State Department described as President Trump’s recent decision to carry out the strike “in response to imminent threats to American lives.”
Mr. Pompeo also told his foreign counterparts that the United States was committed to de-escalation, according to the State Department. Mr. Pompeo posted several statements and a video on Twitter that he said showed Iraqis “dancing in the street.”.
“This was a man who has put American lives at risk for an awfully long time,” Mr. Pompeo said on Friday on CNN. “Last night was the time that we needed to strike to make sure that this imminent attack that he was working actively was disrupted.”
He declined to provide more details about the looming attack.
One American official familiar with the internal discussions about the drone strike said the administration was still trying to figure out what would come next and how to be prepared for it.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the backlash over General Suleimani’s death could be even more fraught than the tensions after an American raid in 2011 that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, who was part of a stateless group and had no international support.
“What was sitting before us was his travels throughout the region, his efforts to make a significant strike against Americans,” Mr. Pompeo told Fox News on Friday morning. “It was a strike that was aimed at both disrupting that plot, deterring further aggression.”
The Swiss Foreign Ministry said in a statement that diplomat from Switzerland, which represents American interests in Iran to maintain communication, had delivered a message from the United States to the Iranian foreign ministry in Tehran on Friday concerning the death of General Suleimani. It did not elaborate.
“Given the latest events in the region, Switzerland invites both parties to avoid any escalation,” the ministry said.
General Suleimani led 20 years of spying and proxy warfare.
As the leader of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which leads Iran’s operations abroad, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, who was 62, was the country’s top security and intelligence commander.
General Suleimani was behind nearly all military and intelligence operations orchestrated by Iran in the past two decades.
He directed Iran-backed militias in the fight against the Islamic State. American officials have also accused him of causing the deaths of hundreds of soldiers during the Iraq war and he was believed to have played a central role in orchestrating Iran’s support for the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
In Iran, General Suleimani was a respected political figure among hard-liners and was close to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He was described by some officials as the country’s de facto second foreign minister.
To many Iranians, he was also a war hero, after becoming a commander while he was only in his 20s during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
The general’s deputy succeeded him within hours, according to Iranian news agencies. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appointed Brig. Gen. Ismail Qaani as leader of the Quds Force on Friday.
General Qaani, 62, had been the force’s deputy commander since 1997, according to Reuters.
The United States Treasury Department put General Qaani on a blacklist in 2012 for what it called “financial disbursements” to various terrorist groups, including Hezbollah.
In 2017, General Qaani was reported as warning that Iran had “buried many” like President Trump. “We are not a warmongering country,” he said at the time, according to the semiofficial news agency Tasnim. “But any military action against Iran will be regretted.”
The killing prompted protests in Iran and anger in Iraq.
Large crowds gathered for Friday Prayer in Iran and filled public squares with mass protests, while officials met privately to plot strategy and leaders vowed to avenge Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani’s death.
Images broadcast on Iranian state television showed hundreds of supporters of General Suleimani gathered in mourning outside his house in the southeastern town of Kerman, and later footage shows thousands gathered on the streets.
“The great nation of Iran will take revenge for this heinous crime,” President Hassan Rouhani wrote on Twitter.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, called the strike an “act of international terrorism.”
Iran was working with Iraqi officials to repatriate the general’s body for a funeral service, perhaps as soon as Saturday, a number of Iranian journalists reported.
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council also held an emergency meeting on Friday, which the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, attended. The council issued a statement after the meeting saying it had reached a decision on how to respond to the killing, but did not say what that decision was.
“America must know the criminal attack on General Suleimani was its worst strategic mistake in the Middle East and that America will not escape the consequences easily,” the statement read. “As our supreme leader said in his message, a harsh revenge awaits the criminals who have the general’s blood on their hands. These criminals will face revenge at the right time and place.”
In Iraq, the strike appeared likely to accelerate calls for the departure of American troops. Along with General Suleimani, it killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of a powerful militia that is backed by Iran but technically under the umbrella of the Iraqi military.
Mr. al-Muhandis was one of the most powerful figures in this coalition of militia but also is a senior military figure in the Iraqi armed forces, according to IISS, an international research institute. He was also designated a terrorist by the United States for his role in an Iran-sponsored 1983 attack targeting American forces in Kuwait.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi of Iraq praised Mr. al-Muhandis and General Suleimani as heroes in the fight against the Islamic State and condemned their killing as a violation of sovereignty.
The strike also killed a prominent Iraqi general.
Friday’s strike in Baghdad also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the umbrella group that oversees Iraq’s militias, a veteran of the Iraq war and the battle against the Islamic State, and a lifelong ally to Iran.
Born Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, he was better known by his nom de guerre and gained prominence as mostly Shiite militias formed to fight the Islamic State in 2014. But he was a powerful force in Iraq for years, and his death alone would have sent shock waves through the country.
In 2009, the United States Treasury Department designated Mr. al-Muhandis a “threat to stability in Iraq” and accused him of helping smuggle rockets, sniper rifles and other weapons into the country from Iran.
Long before the Iraq war, he was accused of playing a role in the bombings of French and American Embassies in Kuwait in 1983, and the later attempt to assassinate Kuwait’s emir.
Much of Mr. al-Muhandis’s history remains murky, including his age: He would have been about 66 or 67 at the time of his death, according to the United States government, which has said he was born 1953 in Basra, Iraq.
Mr. al-Muhandis fled Iraq with the rise of Saddam Hussein and spent years in exile in Iran, cultivating close ties with Iranian officials, becoming fluent in Persian and keeping a home in Tehran, according to The Wall Street Journal.
He and many other Shiite leaders returned to Iraq in the aftermath of the American invasion in 2003, and Mr. al-Muhandis briefly served in Iraq’s Parliament before dropping out of public view.
In the midst of the Iraq war, he helped found Kataib Hezbollah, a militia that fought against the United States, and was accused of training and equipping a network of anti-American groups. The militia has continued to oppose the United States, and American officials blamed it for a rocket attack that killed an American contractor last week. The group is separate from Hezbollah in Lebanon, though both are backed by Iran and are considered terrorist groups by the State Department.
In a reflection of the chaos that has engulfed Iraq and the region in recent years, Mr. al-Muhandis found himself effectively on the same side as the United States against the Islamic State, which Iran and his militia regarded as a common enemy.
Iran’s regional allies joined in the outrage.
Iranian allies across the Arab world condemned the United States, reflecting the strength of the regional network General Suleimani spent much of his life building, including links to the government of Syria and militant groups in Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen and elsewhere.
The leader of Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group and political party that General Suleimani helped build over three decades into the country’s top military forces and a grave threat to Israel, vowed in a statement that his group would continue on the path the general set and “work night and day to achieve his goals.”
It was the responsibility of all resistance fighters to seek “just retribution” against “the most evil criminals in the world,” the leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said, meaning the United States.
In Yemen, the administration run by the Houthi rebels, who have received support from Iran in their war against Saudi Arabia, condemned the United States strike as a “cowardly attack” that “makes clear the increasing American spite against all who are in favor of justice for the Islamic world.”
In Syria, where General Suleimani oversaw a huge effort to shore up the government of President Bashar al-Assad, a foreign ministry official condemned the “treacherous, criminal American aggression” that led to his killing, the state news agency SANA reported on Friday.
But other regional powers stressed restraint. The Turkish Foreign Ministry in a statement said it was concerned by the escalating tensions.
“Turkey has always been against interventions, assassination and sectarian conflict in the region,” the statement said, calling for caution and prioritizing diplomacy.
International leaders urged ‘maximum restraint.’
Antonio Guterres, the United Nations’ secretary general, voiced his deep concern over the recent rise in tensions in the Middle East, his spokesman, Farhan Haq, said in a statement.
“The world cannot afford another war in the Gulf,” the statement read. “This is a moment in which leaders must exercise maximum restraint.”
The killing of General Suleimani “most likely” violated international law, Agnes Callamard, the United Nations expert on extrajudicial executions, said in a post on Twitter.
“Use of lethal force is only justified to protect against an imminent threat to life, Ms. Callamard wrote. An individual’s past involvement in “terrorist” acts “is not sufficient to take his targeting for killing legal,” she said. Use of drones for targeted killings outside active hostilities was “almost never likely to be legal,” she added.
Many experts also said on Friday that the strike probably ended any prospect of negotiations to save the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the landmark nuclear agreement Iran signed in 2015 with the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany. The recent escalation in tensions between the United States and Iran began with the 2018 decision by President Trump to withdraw from the deal.
The Russian Foreign Ministry called the killing of General Suleimani “an adventurist step that will increase tensions throughout the region,” according to local news agencies.
“Suleimani served the cause of protecting Iran’s national interests with devotion,” the ministry added.
A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry called for restraint on all sides, “especially the United States.”
“China has always opposed the use of force in international relations,” the spokesman, Geng Shuang, said at a daily news briefing, according to news agencies.
Britain’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, called on Friday for a de-escalation in tensions and said that further conflict in the region was not in his country’s interest.
“We have always recognized the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Quds force led by Qassim Suleimani,” Mr. Raab said in a statement. “Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate.”
Federica Mogherini, the European high representative for foreign and security policy, said on Twitter that the general’s killing was “an extremely dangerous escalation.”
In France, the country’s junior minister for European affairs, Amélie de Montchalin, said that she would soon consult with countries in the region.
“We have woken up to a more dangerous world,” Ms. de Montchalin told French radio, calling for “stability and de-escalation.”
Netanyahu praised Trump for the strikes.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel cut short an official visit to Greece to return to Israel on Friday after the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani.
Before boarding the plane, Mr. Netanyahu praised President Trump for “acting swiftly, forcefully and decisively.”
General Suleimani, a longtime adversary of Israel, was credited with overseeing many attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets and he was linked with an attack on the Israeli embassy in Argentina in the 1990s. More recently he was behind military actions from Syria, across Israel’s northern frontier.
Some Israeli opposition politicians issued congratulatory messages. Moshe Yaalon, a former military chief and defense minister — and now a leader of the centrist Blue and White party — thanked the Americans for what he called a “determined and precise” operation.
“The world and the Middle East have been freed today from an arch murderer,” he said, adding, “Good riddance!”
But Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls the Palestinian coastal territory of Gaza, condemned what it called “U.S. bullying” that it said served the interests of Israel.
It offered condolences to Iran on the death of General Suleimani, saying in a statement that he had “played a major and critical role in supporting Palestinian resistance at all levels.”
Bassem Naim, a spokesman for the group, said on Twitter that the assassination “opens the doors of the region to all possibilities, except calm & stability.”
Congress is divided over the killing.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi demanded that the administration brief the full Congress on the strike and the next steps under consideration, noting that the move was made without lawmakers’ consultation or an authorization of military force.
Ms. Pelosi spoke with Mark T. Esper, the defense secretary, Thursday night after the attack, an aide said, but was not given advance notice.
The strike, Ms. Pelosi said in a statement late Thursday evening, “risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence. America — and the world — cannot afford to have tensions escalate to the point of no return.”
In stark contrast, Republican lawmakers — including both Iran hawks and those who have frequently clashed with Mr. Trump over his foreign policy — have uniformly praised the move.
“Will there be escalation? Yes. But the escalation is not on our part,” Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who was stationed twice in Iraq with the Air Force, told CNN. “We’re finally responding to continued provocations by Iran.”
The strike at the Baghdad airport immediately spurred debate among American lawmakers about President Trump’s war powers and left congressional leaders sharply divided along party lines.
Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, accused Mr. Trump of bringing the nation “to the brink of an illegal war with Iran.”
Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said on Twitter that Mr. Trump had “exercised admirable restraint” and added that the Quds Force were “entirely to blame.”
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said in a statement, “President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox, and he owes the American people an explanation of the strategy and plan to keep safe our troops and embassy personnel, our people and our interests, both here at home and abroad, and our partners throughout the region and beyond.”
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, also a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, condemned the strikes as a “dangerous escalation” in a post on Twitter.
“Trump promised to end endless wars, but this action puts us on the path to another one,” he wrote.
Reporting was contributed by Ben Hubbard, Farnaz Fassihi, Megan Specia, Isabel Kershner, Ronen Bergman, Lara Jakes, Eileen Sullivan, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Elian Peltier, Catie Edmondson, Benjamin Mueller, Alan Yuhas and Nick Cumming-Bruce.