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
‘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