Trump: We took ac­tion to stop, not start, a war

Pres­i­dent ac­cused of ‘ig­nit­ing a tin­der­box’ as em­bassies around the world bol­ster se­cu­rity after drone strike against gen­eral

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Josie En­sor in Beirut, Nick Allen in Wash­ing­ton and Gor­don Rayner

‘They were about to un­leash holy hell on our peo­ple in the re­gion and our pres­i­dent took de­ci­sive ac­tion’

DON­ALD TRUMP last night said he was not seek­ing war or “regime change” in Iran after as­sas­si­nat­ing its top gen­eral in an au­da­cious drone strike.

The US pres­i­dent said he had acted to pre­vent an “im­mi­nent and sin­is­ter” plot against Amer­ica by Qas­sim Soleimani, whom he called a “sick monster”.

He said: “We took ac­tion last night to stop a war, we did not take ac­tion to start a war. Soleimani con­tributed to ter­ror plots as far away as New Delhi and Lon­don. His reign of ter­ror is over.”

The US strike took place at Bagh­dad air­port, and Iraq promised to ex­pel all Amer­i­can troops from its soil as a re­sult, which would end a 16-year US in­ter­ven­tion there.

Iran vowed “crush­ing re­venge” and ten­sions were ris­ing across the Mid­dle East. An ex­tra 3,500 US troops were ordered to Kuwait, on top of 750 who ar­rived there ear­lier this week.

The Pen­tagon said the troops from the 82nd Air­borne Di­vi­sion were a “pre­cau­tion”. Amer­ica has sent 14,000 additional troops to the Mid­dle East since last May.

US of­fi­cials were brac­ing for po­ten­tial cy­ber at­tacks from Iran, and ex­tra se­cu­rity mea­sures were be­ing taken at its em­bassies around the world.

Crit­ics ac­cused Mr Trump of “shoot­ing from the hip” and “ig­nit­ing a tin­der­box”, but sup­port­ers praised him for show­ing strength.

Mr Trump kept his al­lies, in­clud­ing

Boris John­son, in the dark be­fore the strike. The Royal Navy said it was ready to “re­act ac­cord­ingly”.

A Min­istry of De­fence spokesman said: “There are presently con­ver­sa­tions tak­ing place about how best to pre­pare, and how to pro­tect our peo­ple and our as­sets.”

World lead­ers of­fered cau­tion, with Saudi Ara­bia, Iran’s prin­ci­pal foe in the re­gion, call­ing for “self-re­straint” to avoid “un­bear­able con­se­quences”.

Em­manuel Macron called for “re­straint”, while An­gela Merkel said: “We are at a dan­ger­ous point of es­ca­la­tion.”

Vladimir Putin warned the US had “se­ri­ously ag­gra­vated the sit­u­a­tion”. But Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, the Is­raeli leader, praised Mr Trump for “act­ing swiftly, force­fully and de­ci­sively”.

Oil prices spiked amid the un­cer­tainty, lead­ing to fears of higher prices at fore­courts across the UK.

Lind­sey Gra­ham, a US se­na­tor who is a close ally of Mr Trump, said the US would not hes­i­tate to bomb Ira­nian oil­fields in the case of a re­tal­i­a­tion.

Dozens of US work­ers were quickly evac­u­ated from the oil­fields.

Mr Gra­ham, who dis­cussed the at­tack with the pres­i­dent be­fore­hand, said: “They [Iran] were about to un­leash holy hell on our peo­ple in the re­gion and our pres­i­dent took de­ci­sive ac­tion. If Ira­nian ag­gres­sion con­tin­ues and I worked at an Ira­nian oil re­fin­ery, I would think about a new ca­reer.”

Mike Pom­peo, the US sec­re­tary of state, said Soleimani had been plot­ting an “im­mi­nent” and “sig­nif­i­cant strike” on US tar­gets that had the po­ten­tial to kill “hun­dreds”. He said the US strike was “wholly law­ful”, adding: “There would’ve been Mus­lims killed as well.”

Robert O’brien, the US na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, said Soleimani ar­rived in Bagh­dad from Da­m­as­cus.

The gen­eral com­manded the Ira­nian Quds Force and was re­spon­si­ble for spread­ing Ira­nian in­flu­ence abroad.

Has­san Karim al-kaabi, the deputy speaker of Iraq’s par­lia­ment, said Bagh­dad would make “de­ci­sions that put an end to the US’S pres­ence in Iraq”. He added: “The time has come to put an end to US reck­less­ness and ar­ro­gance.”

Adel Ab­dul Mahdi, Iraq’s care­taker prime min­is­ter, said the US strikes on its soil vi­o­lated terms of Amer­i­can mil­i­tary pres­ence. The US has about 5,000 troops in Iraq, who have fought along­side the coun­try’s forces against the Is­lamic State of Iraq and the Le­vant.

A with­drawal of US troops would prob­a­bly see the UK, which has about 400 ser­vice­men in the coun­try, fol­low.

Bri­tain was left scram­bling to pro­tect its in­ter­ests in the Mid­dle East. Gov­ern­ment sources told The Daily Tele­graph that the at­tack caught Down­ing Street and White­hall “by sur­prise”, rais­ing ques­tions about US-UK re­la­tions. It left Mr John­son, who is on hol­i­day in Mus­tique, open to at­tack from crit­ics who ac­cused him of “work­ing on his tan” in­stead of tak­ing steps to avoid “World War III”.

MOD and For­eign Of­fice of­fi­cials have be­gun re­view­ing mea­sures to pro­tect as­sets in Iraq, as well as Bri­tish cit­i­zens and diplo­mats. UK bases in the Mid­dle East have been put on a state of height­ened alert.

MATT is away

Demon­stra­tors in Tehran burn US and Bri­tish flags in protest at the as­sas­si­na­tion of Qas­sim Soleimani

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