What have you done, Donald Trump?

Updated: 04 January, 2020 08:27 IST | Agencies | Washington

Madman in White House orders murder of Iran's top general, as global powers scramble to de-escalate the situation

Iranians protest in Tehran on Friday following the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Major General Qasem Soleimani. Pic/AP
Iranians protest in Tehran on Friday following the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Major General Qasem Soleimani. Pic/AP

Washington: General Qasem Soleimani, the powerful commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq to protect American personnel abroad, the Pentagon announced on Friday, dramatically escalating hostilities between the arch-rivals and spiking tensions in the already volatile Persian Gulf region.

Gen Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite al-Quds Force and architect of its regional security apparatus, was killed when a drone fired missiles into a convoy that was leaving the Baghdad International Airport early on Friday. The strike also killed the deputy chief of Iraq's powerful Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force and some local Iran-backed militias.

Iranians tear up a US flag during a demonstration in Tehran. Pic/AFP
Iranians tear up a US flag during a demonstration in Tehran. Pic/AFP

Gen Soleimani, 62, was widely seen as the second most powerful figure in Iran behind Ayatollah Khamenei. His Quds Force, an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, reported directly to the ayatollah and he was hailed as a heroic national figure.

The Pentagon confirmed the death of Soleimani in the air strike, saying the military action was carried out at the direction of President Donald Trump. Trump, now on vacation in Florida, did not comment immediately, except for tweeting an image of the US flag.

Women weep while mourning in Tehran during a demonstration. Pic/AP
Women weep while mourning in Tehran during a demonstration. Pic/AP

The Pentagon alleged that the strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. "General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more," it said.

"General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad that took place this week," it said. "The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world," it said.

UN chief worried
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday cautioned that the world cannot afford another war in the Gulf, following the killing. Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General Farhan Haq said, "The Secretary-General has consistently advocated for de-escalation in the Gulf. He is deeply concerned with the recent escalation."

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

'Severe revenge awaits the criminals'

In Tehran, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said "severe revenge awaits the criminals" behind the attack. Khamenei on Friday appointed Deputy Commander of the Quds Force Esmail Ghaani as the head of the unit after Soleimani was killed. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Tehran to protest against American "crimes", an AFP correspondent reported, after Soleimani was killed.

Chanting "Death to America" and holding posters of the slain commander, demonstrators filled streets in central Tehran after Friday prayers. Women and men, many of them elderly, took part. "The axis of any evil is America, the motto of religion and the Koran is death to America," they said in unison. "O leader of our revolution, condolences, condolences." State news agency IRNA said there were similar demonstrations in Arak, Bojnourd, Hamedan, Hormozgan, Sanandaj, Semnan, Shiraz and Yazd.

Americans to leave

The State Department on Friday told US citizens to leave Iraq "immediately," after the strike. "We urge US citizens to depart Iraq immediately," the State Department tweeted. "Due to Iranian-backed militia attacks at the US Embassy compound, all consular operations are suspended. US citizens should not approach the Embassy." The US embassy in Baghdad urged Americans to "depart immediately".

Oil prices jump

The price of oil surged Friday as investors were gripped with uncertainty over potential repercussions. Soleimani's killing prompted expectations of Iranian retaliation against US and Israeli targets. In previous flare-ups, Iran has threatened to cut the supply of oil from the Persian Gulf to the rest of the world. The international benchmark for crude oil jumped 4.1 per cent, or $2.70, to $68.95 a barrel in London trading.

'Waking up in a more dangerous world'

Global powers on Friday urged restraint, although Britain and Germany also suggested that Iran shared blame for provoking the targeted killing that dramatically ratcheted up tensions in the Mideast. China, Russia and France, all permanent members of the UN Security Council, took a dim view of the US assassination. "Military escalation is always dangerous," France's deputy minister for foreign affairs, Amelie de Montchalin said. Russia characterised the strike as "fraught with serious consequences." German spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer described the strike as "a reaction to a series of military provocations."

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First Published: 04 January, 2020 07:55 IST

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