03 January 2020

Iran in mourning, vows revenge for Qassem Soleimani's killing

Iran in mourning, vows revenge for Qassem Soleimani's killing:AL JAZEERA


Iran is transformed after its second-most powerful figure was killed in a US attack, seen as a dramatic escalation.

Tehran, Iran - The assassination of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in air raids by the United States has triggered a wave of emotions and garnered a response of solidarity and retribution across the otherwise divided Iranian political spectrum.
Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' (IRGC) Quds Force and mastermind of its regional influence, was killed early on Friday near Baghdad's international airport in an air strike ordered by US President Donald Trump.


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Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei paid tribute to him as a "martyr" and promised to exact "harsh revenge".
He announced three days of national mourning in honour of Soleimani, who was widely believed to be the second-most powerful figure in Iran.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani echoed the threat of revenge and vowed that there would be consequences. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemned the killing as an "act of state terrorism" in a statement.

"The pure blood of Qassem Soleimani will surely strengthen the tree of resistance, unite the Iranian people, and make US policies in the region less effective by the day," he said.
Iran's National Security Council has convened an emergency meeting to decide Iran's reaction to the killing. Reports say Khamenei has participated in the meeting for the first time ever, denoting the gravity of the situation.
Iran's supreme leader appointed Esmail Qaani as the new head of the IRGC's foreign operations on Friday.
"Following the martyrdom of the glorious General Haj Qasem Soleimani, I name Brigadier General Esmail Qaani as the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a statement posted on his official website.
Several local news sources have reported that a number of Iranian fighter jets are patrolling the western parts of the country, which border Iraq.
The US air strike was a dramatic escalation of tensions with Iran, which have been continuously growing since Trump unilaterally withdrew from Iran's nuclear deal with world powers in May last year and imposed crippling sanctions.

'Hero' remembered

IRGC officials, clerics, ministers, members of parliament, and the business community reacted in unison and hailed the commander as a fallen hero.
Gatherings are being organised in Tehran and across the country after Friday prayers to commemorate Soleimani and denounce the US and Israel.
State broadcaster IRIB and radio channels were allotting almost their entire broadcast time to news of Soleimani's assassination and programmes commemorating him. All television presenters wore black and a black strip adorned the top corner of the screens.

An IRIB presenter, who was interviewing IRGC spokesman Ramezan Sharif, kissed his uniform and embraced him as they broke down in tears.
All comedy films slated to be showed in cinemas were postponed and all music concerts were temporarily suspended.
A major passageway in Tehran, which has yet to be announced, will be named after Soleimani, officials said.
"The assassination of Qassem Soleimani has definitely enraged a majority of Iranians, irrespective of political beliefs," said Ali Akbar Dareini, an expert on Iran-US affairs at the Center for Strategic Studies in Tehran.
Soleimani was the most popular political figure in Iran, according to several local and external polls. The latest, a poll commissioned by the Center of International and Security Studies at Maryland University, found that Soleimani had increased his influence, with eight in 10 respondents saying they view him favourably.

'Declaration of war'

"The unilateral US sanctions were a declaration of economic war and this reckless move is obviously a major escalation and a declaration of war against Iran," Dareini told Al Jazeera.
The White House and Pentagon said the attack on Soleimani was carried out with the aim of deterring future attacks allegedly being planned by Iran.
The Pentagon said Trump had ordered Soleimani's "killing" after pro-Iran protesters this week stormed the US Embassy in Baghdad.

But Dareini believes the attack will lead to more insecurity and violence across the Middle East "exactly contrary to what the Americans claim".

"This is also a gift to Daesh and all terrorists in the region," the political analyst said.
Soleimani, along with Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a key figure in Iraq's Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) who was also killed in the air strikes, were instrumental to the two countries' fight against ISIL (ISIS).
"After him [Soleimani], the political, security and military red lines of the region will be transformed," tweeted Hesammodin Ashna, a top adviser to President Rouhani. "The deserts, mountains and valleys know him better than the streets, palaces and towers".
How much influence does Iran wield in Iraq?
How much influence does Iran wield in Iraq?
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World reacts to US killing of Iran's Qassem Soleimani in Iraq

Leaders across the world warn that US's targeted killing of Iranian top general could ignite conflict in region.
A number of international leaders have called for restraint and de-escalation following the targeted killing of Iran's top general, ordered by US President Donald Trump, as Iran's allies warned that the killing could lead to conflict.
Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, was killed in a US pre-dawn air raid at Baghdad's international airport on Friday.


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At least six others were killed, including Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an adviser to Soleimani.
The high-profile killings come amid a sharp escalation in Iran-United States tensions. 
Regional and world leaders have largely reacted with alarm, concerned that the US killing of Soleimani could ignite a serious escalation in the region and possibly lead to war.


Following the attack, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned the US of "harsh retaliation".
Javed Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, tweeted his response, saying: "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."


Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi condemned the attack, calling it an "aggression" on  Iraq that would "spark a devastating war".
"The assassination of an Iraqi military commander is an aggression on Iraq as a state, government and people," Abdul Mahdi said in a statement.
"Carrying out physical liquidation operations against leading Iraqi figures or from a brotherly country on the Iraqi lands is a flagrant violation of Iraq's sovereignty and a dangerous escalation that triggers a destructive war in Iraq, the region and the world," Abdul Mahdi said.
He added that the attack was also a "flagrant violation of the conditions authorising the presence of US troops" on Iraqi soil.


The Syrian government accused Washington of trying to fuel conflict in the Middle East.
Syria is "certain that this cowardly US aggression ... will only strengthen determination to follow in the path of the resistance's martyred leaders," a foreign ministry official was quoted as saying by the state news agency SANA.
The official described the killings as "a serious escalation of the situation" in the region and accused the US of resorting to "the methods of criminal gangs".


The Turkish foreign ministry said that the killing of Soleimani will increase insecurity and instability in the region.
In a written statement, the ministry said it was deeply concerned by the rising tensions between the US and Iran, and that turning Iraq into an area of conflict will harm peace and stability in the region. 
"Turkey has always been against foreign interventions, assassinations and sectarian conflicts in the region," the ministry said.


Moscow warned that the US killing of Soleimani would increase tensions across the Middle East.
"The killing of Soleimani ... was an adventurist step that will increase tensions throughout the region," news agencies RIA Novosti and TASS quoted the foreign ministry as saying.
"Soleimani served the cause of protecting Iran's national interests with devotion. We express our sincere condolences to the Iranian people."

United Nations

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is deeply concerned by the recent rise in tensions in the Middle East, his spokesperson said in a statement.
"The secretary-general has consistently advocated for de-escalation in the Gulf," Farhan Haq said. "This is a moment in which leaders must exercise maximum restraint. The world cannot afford another war in the Gulf."


China appealed for restraint from all sides, "especially the United States".
"We urge the relevant sides, especially the United States, to remain calm and exercise restraint to avoid further escalating tensions," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily news briefing.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the US had the right to defend itself by killing Soleimani.
"Just as Israel has the right of self-defence, the United States has exactly the same right," Netanyahu said in a statement issued by his office on Friday
"Qassem Soleimani is responsible for the death of American citizens and many other innocent people. He was planning more such attacks."


Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah called for the death of Soleimani to be avenged.
"Meting out the appropriate punishment to these criminal assassins ... will be the responsibility and task of all resistance fighters worldwide," Hassan Nasrallah said in a statement.
"We who stayed by his side will follow in his footsteps and strive day and night to accomplish his goals," Nasrallah said.


Hamas, the Palestinian group which administers the besieged Gaza Strip, issued a statement saying "Soleimani was one of the leading Iranian army officials who had an important role in supporting the Palestinian resistance".
"We condemn these continued American crimes sowing tensions in the region in service of the Israeli enemy," it said.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad group offered its condolences to the Iraqi people for the death of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, describing him as one of the symbols of Iraqi liberation from the US occupation.
"This Iraq, which will always remain disobedient to American hegemony and control, will always remain Arab with its fighters and greater than the occupation," a PIJ statement said.

Who was Qassem Soleimani, Iran's Revolutionary Guards leader? (2:15)


The NATO military alliance said it is monitoring the situation in Iraq closely with an eye on the safety of its training mission there.
"NATO is monitoring the situation in the region very closely. We remain in close and regular contact with the US authorities," spokesman Dylan White told AFP. 
"At the request of the Iraqi government, NATO's training mission in the country is helping to strengthen the Iraqi forces and prevent the return of ISIS," he said.
"The safety of our personnel in Iraq is paramount. We continue to take all precautions necessary."


Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer urged restraint and de-escalation.
"We are at a dangerous point of escalation. It is now important through prudence and restraint to contribute to de-escalation," Demmer said.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the aim now was to prevent further escalation across the Middle East.
"We are making use of our diplomatic channels to Iran and to other states in the region," he said. "Since this morning we have been in close contact with our British and French partners and with other European countries on how we can best work to calm the situation."

Qassem Soleimani killing: Is Trump ready to withdraw troops from Iraq? (6:48)
British foreign minister Dominic Raab urged all parties to de-escalate.
"We have always recognised the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Quds force led by Qassem Soleimani. Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests," Raab said in a statement.


France's priority is to stabilise the Middle East, French Secretary of State for European Affairs Amelie de Montchalin told RTL radio.
"What is happening is what we feared: tensions between the United States and Iran are increasing," Montchalin said. "The priority is to stabilise the region."
"We have woken up to a more dangerous world," Montchalin added, saying French President Emmanuel Macron would consult soon with "players in the region".

Top Iranian general killed in US attack
How much influence does Iran wield in Iraq?
How much influence does Iran wield in Iraq?
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Hashd deputy Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis: Iran's man in Baghdad

Al-Muhandis was deputy leader of Hashd al-Shaabi, an Iraqi paramilitary group with close ties to Iran.
Known for his anti-US rhetoric during the US-led occupation in Iraq, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis also built up close ties to Iran over decades [File: Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters]
Known for his anti-US rhetoric during the US-led occupation in Iraq, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis also built up close ties to Iran over decades [File: Thaier al-Sudani/Reuters]
Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, killed early on Friday in a US air strike in Baghdad, was seen as Tehran's man in Iraq and a sworn enemy of the United States.
The US strike on Baghdad's international airport also killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' (IRGC) Quds Force and a friend of al-Muhandis.
The men died in an air strike on a convoy belonging to Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Forces) an Iraqi paramilitary force with close ties to Iran, whose deputy chief was al-Muhandis.


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It came just days after Hashd members and supporters attempted to storm the US embassy in Baghdad after the US launched air attacks against Kataib Hezbollah positions in Iraq and Syria.
Al-Muhandis - the widely-used nom-de-guerre for Jamal Jaafar al-Ibrahimi - was among the crowds of PMF members and supporters that protested at the embassy on Tuesday.
Known for his strong anti-US rhetoric during the US-led occupation of Iraq, al-Muhandis, 56, also built up close ties to Iran over decades.
"Muhandis was demonstrative of how Iran built its network of proxies in Iraq," said Phillip Smyth, a US-based researcher focused on Shia armed groups, as cited by AFP news agency.
"He has history with basically every major network Iran had in Iraq. You would not have found a stronger ideal" of Iran's influence in the country, he said.
Born in 1953 in Iraq's southern Basra, al-Muhandis held both Iraqi and Iranian citizenship.
He started his political life with the Dawa party, a Shia group that was crushed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the 1970s. Like others in the party, including the future Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, al-Muhandis fled abroad and joined forces with Iran.
In the 1980s, he became commander of the Badr Corps, a unit of Iraqi fighters founded in Iran in opposition to then-president Hussein.
He was sentenced to death in Kuwait for involvement in the 1983 bomb attacks on US and French embassies there but fled the country.

'Inveterate opponent of US'

After Hussein's removal in the US-led invasion in 2003, al-Muhandis briefly served as a member of parliament in Iraq following the 2005 elections.
He then helped found Kataib Hezbollah - an Iran-backed paramilitary group that has targeted US troops. The US targeted three Kataib positions in Iraq and two in Syria on Sunday in response to a rocket attack in northern Iraq last week that the US blamed on the group - and which killed a US contractor.
In 2009, the US sanctioned both al-Muhandis and Kataib Hezbollah as "terrorist" entities.
Washington said he ran "weapons smuggling networks and participated in bombings of Western embassies and attempted assassinations in the region."
Michael Knights, an expert at the Washington Institute, described al-Muhandis as "the most inveterate opponent of the United States" among Iraq's Shia armed groups.
He was later appointed deputy head of the Hashd, founded as a loose network of Shia-majority factions fighting the ISIL (ISIS) group in Iraq.
It was later absorbed into Iraq's formal security forces, but critics say that some of the factions, including Kataib Hezbollah, still operate independently of Baghdad.
"Muhandis worked assiduously to develop the Hashd into an organisation that was neither subject to full prime ministerial command nor subordinate to the conventional security forces," said Knights, as cited by AFP news agency.
Although he worked under Faleh al-Fayyadh, also Iraq's national security adviser, al-Muhandis was widely recognised as the Hashd's "real" leader, observers said. 
He had both the utmost loyalty of its forces on the ground and control over its financial resources.
That made him "the central nervous system" of the IRGC's Quds Force in Iraq, Knights wrote last year.
He was a personal adviser to Soleimani, with the two pictured on multiple occasions in warm embraces. 
Like the Iranian commander, al-Muhandis sported a white beard and kept his white hair swept into a neat coiffe.
Despite his high-profile position within the Hashd, al-Muhandis rarely appeared in public or delved into politics.
He broke his usual silence last year to blame the US and Israel for a string of mysterious blasts on Hashd bases.
It remains unclear who could replace him, Smyth said, as it would be challenging to find someone with such a close ideological and personal relationship to Iran.

Top Iranian general killed in US attack
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Iraq braces for 'difficult days' after Soleimani's killing

Protesters and observers say uncertainty awaits Iraq as Iran vows to retaliate against US air strike.
by Arwa Ibrahim
Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has called on parliament to convene an extraordinary session to 'take legislative steps and necessary provisions to safeguard Iraq's dignity, security and sovereignty' [File: Anadolu]
Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has called on parliament to convene an extraordinary session to 'take legislative steps and necessary provisions to safeguard Iraq's dignity, security and sovereignty' [File: Anadolu]
Iraq is poised for a period of uncertainty as top Shia leaders warned of repercussions following the killing of top Iran general Qassem Soleimani by a United States air strike in Baghdad on Friday.
Iraqi protesters have also called on Tehran and Washington to take their battle elsewhere after Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' (IRGC) Quds Force and mastermind of its regional influence, was killed along with Iraqi paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.


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"Iraq is bracing for some of the most difficult days," Baghdad-based analyst Jassim Moussavi told Al Jazeera.
"We expect the announcement of war at any moment. If Iran decides to confront the US, Iraq will be the scene for that battle. Several Shia paramilitary forces have started to prepare themselves for ground zero."
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed revenge on the "criminals" who killed Soleimani. Iraq's prominent Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr called on his militias (Army of Imam Mahdi) and "other national and disciplined" armed groups to be prepared to protect Iraq, adding that the killing of Soleimani will not weaken Iraq's resolve.
Qays al-Khazali, head of Asaib Ahl al-Haq armed faction, which is part of the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Forces or PMF) in Iraq backed by Iran, said "all fighters should be on high alert for upcoming battle and great victory".
"An end to Israel-US presence in the region will result from the assassination of Soleimani and Muhandis," al-Khazali said in a statement published by Iraqi media. 
Iraq's top Shia leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani condemned the US attack and called on all parties to practice restraint, his office said in a statement for the Friday sermon from the city of Karbala.
"The vicious attack ... is an insolent breach of Iraqi sovereignty and international agreements. It led to the killing of several commanders who defeated Islamic State terrorists," Sistani's office said.
"These events and more indicate the country is heading towards very difficult times. We call on all concerned parties to behave with self-restraint and act wisely," he said.

'Take your battle elsewhere'

There were small celebrations by Iraqi protesters in Tahrir Square, the hub of the protest movement in the capital Baghdad, before the call for restraint was reiterated.
"We condemn the spilling of Iraqi blood regardless of who is behind this attack, but we equally reject the struggle between Iran and US from taking place on Iraqi soil," 33-year-old protester Borhan told Al Jazeera.
"There were small groups that started dancing after the announcement, but the majority of us have called for restraint in the face of these developments.

Analysis: Did the US just 'declare war' on Iran?
"We will remain steadfast in the face of any challenges and continue to call for the change we want, away from these proxy wars."
Later on Friday, tens of university students gathered in Tahrir Square to renounce any foriegn intervention in Iraq. 
"We reject the idea of making Iraq the scene of a US-Iran war," 24-year-old student Haydar Farazdak told Al Jazeera.
"The Hashd and the US can take their battle elsehwere," he added. 
Thousands of Iraqis have taken to the streets since early October to call for a complete overhaul of a political system they see as sectarian, corrupt and denying them their basic rights.
The protests movement has condemned armed groups and their Iranian patrons that support the government.
In November, embattled Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi stepped down due to the protests, but he remains in office in a caretaker capacity.
At least 470 people have been killed in the unrest, some which was driven by anger at Iranian influence in Iraq.
"Although there were some scenes of celebration in Tahrir Square, the majority of protesters are very concerned about the implications of these developments," Renad Mansour, head of the Iraq Initiative at London's Chatham House, told Al Jazeera.
"This is a dangerous time for Iraq as it moves into a period of greater instability and uncertainty. Iraqi protesters have been chanting against Soleimani and Muhandis but they also reject any sort of US intervention.
"This killing will lead to distract away from the protests as a focus on anti-American and ethno-sectarian politics take centre stage," Mansour added.

Iraq's muted response

Although Iraq's caretaker government, which has Iran's backing, issued a muted response to the events, Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi said the killings on Friday were "a dangerous escalation that will light the fuse of a destructive war in Iraq, the region, and the world".
"The assassination of an Iraqi military commander who holds an official position is considered aggression on Iraq ... and the liquidation of leading Iraqi figures or those from a brotherly country on Iraqi soil is a massive breach of sovereignty," he said before adding that the US strike violated the terms of the US military presence in Iraq.
Abdul Mahdi said that US troops were in Iraq to train Iraqi security forces and fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (the ISIS or ISIL group). Some officials and parliamentarians have already called for the expulsion of US troops from Iraq following the attack.
Chatham House's Mansour said Iraq would witness changes in the coming days. 
"The Iraqi parliament will most likely ask US forces to leave Iraq, while the US may become antagonist vis-a-vis the Baghdad," explained Mansour.
Iraq's parliament has representation from Tehran-backed armed groups, including Iraq's PMF, a grouping of mostly Iran-backed Shia militias that is led by al-Muhandis and that helped security forces retake a third of Iraq from ISIL.
The groups' troops were later incorporated into Iraq's official armed forces.

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