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WORLD | 04-01-2020 08:23

Trump hails Iranian general’s killing, Tehran warns of ‘harsh retaliation’

US president declares “reign of terror is over” as Iran vows to take revenge for death of general killed in a US airstrike.

Thousands more US troops were ordered to the Middle East on Fri- day after the United States assassi- nated Iran’s military mastermind and Tehran promised “severe revenge.”

US President Donald Trump said top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani was “terminated” when he was on the ver- ge of attacking US diplomats but he insisted that Washington is not seeking to topple Iran’s government.

“Soleimani was plotting immi- nent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and mili- tary personnel, but we caught him in the act,” Trump said in Florida.

While referring to the key Iranian figu- re, killed in a US airstrike earlier Friday in Iraq’s capital Baghdad, as “sick,” Trump attempted to lower tensions by insisting that he does not want war with Iran.

“We did not take action to start a war,” he said, adding: “We do not seek regime change.”

Iran, smarting from the loss of arguably the second most important leader in the country, erupted.

As head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps’ foreign operations arm, Soleimani was a powerful figure domestically and pointman for sophisticated and wide-ranging Iranian involvement in regional power struggles – and anti-US forces.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei swiftly promised “severe revenge” and tens of thousands of protesters in Tehran torched US flags and chanted “death to America.”

US officials said Suleimani, 62, was killed by a missile fired from a drone when he was near Baghdad’s international airport.

Speaking from Florida, Trump declared yesterday that

Soleimani’s “reign of terror is over” as the Pentagon scrambled to reinforce the American military presence in the Middle East in preparation for reprisals. Soleimani “made the death of innocent people his sick passion,” Trump said from his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, adding “a lot of lives would have been saved” if he’d been hunted down years ago.

The US is sending nearly 3,000 more Army troops to the Mideast in the volatile aftermath of the killing ordered by Trump, US defence officials said.

Also Friday, the Pentagon placed an Army brigade in Italy on alert to fly into Lebanon if needed to protect the US Embassy there, part of a series of military moves to protect its interests in the Middle East.

Reinforcements were ordered as US officials said they had compelling intelligence that Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force who was killed in the airstrike, was planning a significant campaign of violence against the United States. Trump said of Soleimani: “We take comfort in knowing that his reign of terror is over.” But the dispatching of extra troops reflects concern about potential Iranian retaliatory action for the killing. It also runs counter to

Trump’s repeated push to extract the US from Middle East conflicts.

The reinforcements took shape as Trump gave his first comments on the strike, declaring that he ordered the killing of Soleimani because he had killed and wounded many US citizens over the years and was plotting to kill many more. “He should have been taken out many years ago,” he added.

MAJOR ESCALATION

The strike marked a major escalation in the conflict between Washington and Iran, as Iran vowed “harsh retaliation” for the killing of the senior military leader. The two nations have faced repeated crises since Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and imposed crippling sanctions.

The US urged its citizens to leave Iraq “immediately” as fears mounted that the strike and any retaliation by Iran could ignite a conflict that engulfs the region.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the strike as “wholly lawful,” saying that Soleimani posed an “imminent” threat against the US and its interests in the region.

“There was an imminent attack,” Pompeo told Fox News. “The orchestrator, the primary motivator for the attack, was Qassem Soleimani.”

For Iranians whose icons since the Islamic Revolution have been stern-faced clergy, Soleimani was a popular figure of national resilience. For the US and Israel, he was a shadowy figure in command of Iran’s proxy forces, responsible for fighters in Syria backing President Bashar al-Assad and for the deaths of American troops in Iraq.

Soleimani survived the horror of Iran’s long war in the 1980s with Iraq to take control of the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force, responsible for the Islamic Republic’s campaigns abroad.

Relatively unknown in Iran until the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, his popularity and mystique grew after US officials called for his killing. A decade and a half later, Soleimani had become Iran’s most recognisable battlefield commander, ignoring calls to enter politics but growing as powerful, if not more, than its civilian leadership.

“The warfront is mankind’s lost paradise,” Soleimani said in a 2009 interview. “One type of paradise that is portrayed for mankind is streams, beautiful nymphs and greeneries. But there is another kind of paradise. The warfront was the lost paradise of the human beings, indeed.”

Iranian officials quickly vowed to retaliate. While Soleimani was the Guard’s most prominent general, many others in its ranks have experience in waging the asymmetrical, proxy attacks for which Iran has become known.

“Trump through his gamble has dragged the US into the most dangerous situation in the region,” Hessameddin Ashena, an adviser to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, wrote on the social media app Telegram. “Whoever put his foot beyond the red line should be ready to face its consequences.”

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