Tension Mounts in Middle East as US Kills Iranian Military Chief
- Says killed Soleimani threat to Americans; to send thousands of additional troops to region
- Iran’s Supreme Leader, Khamenei promises harsh revenge
- Oil prices jump more than $3; Israel, Saudi Arabia on the on high alert
The United States is set to deploy thousands of additional troops to the Middle East as tensions with Iran mount following the airstrike yesterday that killed Iran’s military chief, Qasem Soleimani.
Soleimani, a 62-year-old general who headed the elite Quds Force, was regarded as the second most powerful figure in Iran after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Yesterday, the US confirmed the killing of Soleimani, the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), in a drone strike on Baghdad International airport, as ordered by President Donald Trump, saying he is a threat to Americans.
In a swift reaction, the Iranian government promised a “harsh revenge” against the Americans for the killing of Soleimani.
The additional troops the US is sending to the Middle East will come from the Immediate Response Force of the 82nd Airborne Division. These forces had been placed on prepare-to deploy orders and would be sent to the region if the situation merited it.
Following the disturbance at the US Embassy in Baghdad earlier this week, the US deployed 750 troops from the same unit and said that additional deployments were possible.
The new deployment will encompass the rest of the brigade, typically about 3,000 soldiers.
Soleimani was killed in a drone strike on Baghdad International airport.
“Intelligence showed Soleimani was in Baghdad following Tuesday’s embassy attack to plan future hits on US targets with Iranian proxy forces,” a senior US administration official said. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN yesterday that the strike was carried out to disrupt an “imminent” attack in the region.
Iran Promises Vengeance
Meanwhile, Iran has promised vengeance after the U.S. air strike that killed Soleimani, Tehran’s most prominent military commander and the architect of its growing influence in the Middle East.
The overnight attack was a dramatic escalation in a “shadow war” in the Middle East between Iran and the United States and its allies, principally Israel and Saudi Arabia.
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.
In a tweet, Trump said Soleimani had “killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more”, but did not elaborate.
The attack also killed top Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an adviser to Soleimani.
Their deaths divided Iraqi opinion. Many condemned the attacks, seeing Soleimani as a hero for his role in defeating Islamic State. Others voiced approval, saying Soleimani and Muhandis had backed the use of deadly force against unarmed anti-government protesters last year and put in place the militias they blame for many of Iraq’s social and economic woes.
However, many Iraqis criticized Washington for killing the men on Iraqi soil and possibly plunging the country into a war.
The attack followed a sharp increase in U.S.-Iranian hostilities last week when pro-Iranian militiamen attacked the U.S. embassy in Iraq following a U.S. air raid on the Kataib Hezbollah militia, founded by Muhandis.
Iraq’s prime minister said with the attack yesterday, Washington had violated a deal for keeping U.S. troops in his country.
Khamenei said harsh revenge awaited the “criminals” who killed Soleimani and said his death would redouble resistance against the United States and Israel. He called for three days of national mourning and appointed Soleimani’s deputy, Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani, as Quds new Force head.
Israel has put its army on high alert and U.S. allies in Europe, including Britain, France and Germany, voiced concerns about an escalation in tensions.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “maximum restraint”.
The U.S. embassy in Baghdad urged American citizens to leave Iraq immediately. Dozens of U.S. citizens working for foreign oil companies in the southern city of Basra were leaving the country. Iraqi officials said the evacuations would not affect output and exports.
Oil prices jumped more than $3 a barrel over concern about disruption to Middle East supplies.
In Beirut, the U.S. embassy urged Americans in Lebanon to be highly vigilant, a security alert on its website said.
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 U.S. presidential election.
Chas Freeman, a retired U.S. ambassador, said he could think of no other example of the United States openly killing a senior foreign government official during peacetime. “In times of peace? Never. This is unprecedented,” Freeman said.
As leader of the Quds Force, the foreign arm of the Revolutionary Guards, Soleimani had a key role in fighting in Syria and Iraq.
Over two decades, he was at the forefront of projecting the Islamic Republic’s military influence across the Middle East, acquiring celebrity status at home and abroad.
President Hassan Rouhani said the assassination would stiffen Iranian resistance to the United States, while the Revolutionary Guards said anti-U.S. forces would exact revenge across the Muslim world.
Hundreds of Iranians marched toward Khamenei’s compound in Tehran to convey their condolences.
“I am not a pro-regime person but I liked Soleimani. He was brave and he loved Iran, I am very sorry for our loss,” said housewife Mina Khosrozadeh in Tehran.