Iran vows to re­spond for Soleimani killing

Antelope Valley Press - - Second Front - By QAS­SIM AB­DUL-ZAHRA and ZEINA KARAM

BAGH­DAD — Iran promised to seek re­venge for a U.S. airstrike near Bagh­dad’s air­port that killed the mas­ter­mind of its in­ter­ven­tions across the Mid­dle East, and the U.S. said Fri­day it was send­ing thou­sands more troops to the re­gion as ten­sions soared in the wake of the tar­geted killing.

The death of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, marks a ma­jor es­ca­la­tion in the stand­off be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Iran, which has ca­reened from one cri­sis to an­other since Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump with­drew from the 2015 nu­clear deal and im­posed crip­pling sanc­tions.

The tar­geted strike, and any re­tal­i­a­tion by Iran, could ig­nite a con­flict that en­gulfs the whole re­gion, en­dan­ger­ing U.S. troops in Iraq, Syria and be­yond. Over the last two decades, Soleimani had assem­bled a net­work of heav­ily armed al­lies stretch­ing all the way to South­ern Lebanon, on Is­rael’s doorstep.

“We take com­fort in know­ing that his reign of ter­ror is over,” Trump said of Soleimani.

Still, the United States said it was send­ing nearly 3,000 more Army troops to the Mid­dle East, re­flect­ing con­cern about po­ten­tial Ira­nian re­tal­i­a­tion for the killing. The U.S. also urged Amer­i­can cit­i­zens to leave Iraq “im­me­di­ately” fol­low­ing the early morn­ing airstrike at Bagh­dad’s in­ter­na­tional air­port that Iran’s state TV said killed Soleimani and nine others. The State Depart­ment said the em­bassy in Bagh­dad, which was at­tacked by Iran-backed mili­ti­a­men and their sup­port­ers ear­lier this week, is closed and all con­sular ser­vices have been sus­pended.

Around 5,200 Amer­i­can troops are based in Iraq to train Iraqi forces and help in the fight against Is­lamic State group mil­i­tants. De­fense of­fi­cials who dis­cussed the new troop move­ments spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss a de­ci­sion not yet an­nounced by the Pen­tagon. A Pen­tagon of­fi­cial who was not au­tho­rized to be iden­ti­fied said the U.S. also had placed an Army brigade on alert to fly into Lebanon to pro­tect the Amer­i­can Em­bassy. U.S. em­bassies also is­sued a se­cu­rity alert for Amer­i­cans in Bahrain, Kuwait and Nige­ria.

The U.S. an­nounce­ment about send­ing more troops came as Trump said Soleimani’s killing was not an ef­fort to be­gin a con­flict with Iran. “We took ac­tion last night to stop a war. We did not take ac­tion to start a war,” Trump said, adding that he does not seek regime change in Iran.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei vowed “harsh re­tal­i­a­tion” after the airstrike, call­ing Soleimani the “in­ter­na­tional face of re­sis­tance.” Khamenei de­clared three days of pub­lic mourn­ing and ap­pointed Maj. Gen. Es­mail Ghaani, Soleimani’s deputy, to re­place him as head of the Quds Force.

Thou­sands of wor­shipers in Tehran took to the streets after Fri­day prayers to con­demn the killing, wav­ing posters of Soleimani and chant­ing “Death to de­ceit­ful Amer­ica.”

How­ever, the at­tack could act as a de­ter­rent for Iran and its al­lies to de­lay or re­strain any po­ten­tial re­sponse. Trump said pos­si­ble tar­gets had been iden­ti­fied and the U.S. was pre­pared. Oil prices surged on news of the airstrike and mar­kets were mixed.

The killing promised to fur­ther strain re­la­tions with Iraq’s gov­ern­ment, which is al­lied with both Wash­ing­ton and Tehran and has been deeply wor­ried about be­com­ing a bat­tle­ground in their ri­valry. Iraqi politi­cians close to Iran called for the coun­try to order U.S. forces out.

The De­fense Depart­ment said it killed the 62-year-old Soleimani be­cause he “was ac­tively de­vel­op­ing plans to at­tack Amer­i­can diplo­mats and ser­vice mem­bers in Iraq and through­out the re­gion.” It also ac­cused Soleimani of ap­prov­ing or­ches­trated vi­o­lent protests at the U.S. Em­bassy in Bagh­dad.

The strike, on an ac­cess road near

Bagh­dad’s air­port, was car­ried out Fri­day by an Amer­i­can drone, ac­cord­ing to a U.S. of­fi­cial.

Soleimani had just dis­em­barked from a plane ar­riv­ing from ei­ther Syria or Lebanon, a se­nior Iraqi se­cu­rity of­fi­cial said. The blast tore his body to pieces along with that of Abu Mahdi al-Muhan­dis, deputy com­man­der of the Ira­nian-backed mili­tias in Iraq known as the Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion Forces. A se­nior politi­cian said Soleimani’s body was iden­ti­fied by the ring he wore. Iran’s state TV said Fri­day 10 peo­ple were killed, in­clud­ing five Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard mem­bers and Soleimani’s son-in-law.

As­so­ci­ated Press

In this Sept. 18, 2016, file photo pro­vided by an of­fi­cial web­site of the of­fice of the Ira­nian supreme leader, Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani (cen­ter) at­tends a meet­ing in Tehran, Iran.

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