Iran hits US air base in Iraq with ballistic missiles, marking a sharp surge in the US-Iran tensions.

This aerial photo taken from a helicopter shows Ain al-Asad air base in the western Anbar desert, Iraq, Sunday, December 29, 2019.
This aerial photo taken from a helicopter shows Ain al-Asad air base in the western Anbar desert, Iraq, Sunday, December 29, 2019. (AP)

Tuesday, January 7

Iran: missiles fired at Iraqi air base housing US troops

Iran says it has launched “tens” of surface-to-surface missiles at Iraq’s Ain Assad air base housing US troops over America’s killing of a top Iranian general.

State TV described it early on Wednesday as Tehran’s revenge operation over the killing of Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Soleimani.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the White House is aware of the reports.

"The President has been briefed and is monitoring the situation closely and consulting with his national security team," she said.

Trump backs off threat to bomb Iran's cultural sites

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday backed away from his earlier insistence that he has the right to order the bombing of Iran's cultural treasures during a war.

Facing strong criticism that such attacks would be a war crime, Trump said he was "OK" with following international law. However, he repeated an earlier complaint that he found the restriction unfair.

"Think of it: they kill our people, they blow up our people and then we have to be very gentle with their cultural institutions. But I'm OK with it," Trump told reporters.

"You know what, if that's what the law is, I like to obey the law."

He added a warning that if Iran "does anything that they shouldn't be doing, they're going to be suffering the consequences and very strongly."

Iran starts burial of slain commander as stampede toll rises to 56

Iran started the burial of slain Commander Qasem Soleimani in a cemetery in his home town of Kerman on Tuesday, ISNA news agency reported, after a delay prompted by a stampede in the city in which at least 56 people were killed and over 210 wounded after tens of thousands of mourners turned up for the commander's funeral.

"A few minutes ago his body was transferred to the martyrs' section of Kerman cemetery," the agency reported, saying the burial of Soleimani –– a hugely popular figure in the Islamic republic –– was starting.

According to Reuters news agency, Soleimani's burial went ahead in the early evening in the southeastern city of Kerman, four days after his killing in a US drone strike in Iraq that plunged the region into a new crisis and raised fears of a wider Mideast war.

Pompeo defends legality of killing Soleimani

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended on Tuesday the legality of the US drone strike that killed Iranian General Soleimani and any future military action against Iran.

"I have never seen this administration engage in an activity of this nature without a thorough and complete legal review of what the basis would be if the president were to make a serious decision," Pompeo told reporters.

Asked whether lawyers were consulted ahead of the strike which killed Soleimani while he was in Baghdad on Friday, Pompeo said he did not know of the specifics.

Pompeo also accused Iran of undermining Afghanistan peace efforts.

"Iran has refused to join the regional and international consensus for peace and is, in fact, actively working to undermine the peace process by continuing its long global effort to support militant groups there," Pompeo said.

Pompeo named the Taliban as one of the militant groups he accused Iran of using to undermine Afghanistan peace efforts. He also referred to the "Tora Bora and the Mullah Dadullah Group," little-known organisations whose strengths, relevance and contacts with Iran were not immediately clear.

"The Taliban's entanglement in Iran's dirty work will only harm the Afghanistan peace process," Pompeo said.

Iraq PM receives signed US withdrawal' letter

Iraq's PM Adil Abdul Mahdi confirmed on Tuesday that he had received what the US said was a draft letter describing steps its military would take to "move out" of Iraq.

The Pentagon had said an unsigned draft version of the letter had been mistakenly sent, but the Iraqi premier said he had received signed and translated copies at 8:00 pm local time (1700 GMT) on Monday.

The letter discussed "redeploying with an aim to withdraw from the country. The expressions were very clear," the PM said.

US denies visa to Iran's FM

Iran's foreign minister said on Tuesday he has been informed by UN chief Antonio Guterres that Washington has denied him a visa for a trip to UN headquarters in New York.

"What we know is that the US State Secretary (Mike Pompeo), in a call to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, said: 'We did not have time to issue a visa for Mohammad Javad Zarif and we will not issue a visa'," Zarif said.

"The Secretary-General responded by saying that it is Iran's right to take part in this session," Tehran's top diplomat said, quoted by semi-official news agency ISNA.

Asked about Zarif's complaint, Pompeo said the State Department does not comment on visa matters.

"I will say only this –– we will always comply with our obligations under the UN requirements and the Headquarters Agreement, and we will do so in this particular instance and more broadly every day," he told reporters.

Dozens killed in stampede at Soleimani funeral

Dozens of people were killed in a stampede as crowds of mourners packed streets for the funeral of slain military Iranian commander Qasem Solemani in his hometown of Kerman, forcing his burial to be postponed, state-affiliated media reported.

Tens of thousands of people had gathered to pay tribute to Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq on Friday.

A stampede broke out amid the crush, killing at least 40 people and injuring more than 200, the semi-official Fars news agency reported, citing emergency services officials. 

Iran's ISNA news agency said the burial of Soleimani had been postponed but did not say how long any delay would last.

Iran 'ready to come back to full compliance' in nuclear deal

Iran is "ready to come back to full compliance" with its nuclear deal with world powers, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said on Tuesday, according to a tweet from the Foreign Ministry, though the post did not provide any information on possible conditions.

Iran announced on Sunday it would abandon limitations on enriching uranium, taking a further step back from commitments to a 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers, but said it would continue to cooperate with the UN nuclear watchdog.

Iran FM says US declined his visa to attend UN meeting

Iran's foreign minister said the US declined to issue him a visa to attend a United Nations meetings in New York amid the tensions sparked by an American drone strike killing a top Iranian general.

Mohammad Javad Zarif made the comment on Tuesday as the country prepared to bury Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Soleimani.

Zarif, speaking in Tehran, said, "They fear that someone comes to the US and reveals realities."

The US State Department has not commented on Zarif's visa request. 

The US, as the host of the UN headquarters, is supposed to allow foreign officials to attend such meetings.

Iran designates US forces 'terrorists' for killing general

Iran's parliament passed a bill on Tuesday, designating all US forces "terrorists" over the killing of Soleimani last week.

Soleimani, the popular head of the Revolutionary Guards' foreign operations arm, was killed in a US drone strike outside Baghdad airport on Friday, ratcheting up tensions between the arch-foes.

Revolutionary Guard issues threat to US

The leader of Iran's Revolutionary Guard has threatened to "set ablaze" places supported by the US over the killing of Soleimani, sparking cries from the crowd of "Death to Israel!"

Hossein Salami made the comments on Tuesday in the city of Kerman in front of a casket bearing the remains of Revolutionary Guard General Soleimani.

Soleimani will be buried later Tuesday in his hometown in southeastern Iran.

His killing Friday in Baghdad has drastically raised regional tensions.

Thousands gather for Soleimani's burial

Thousands of mourners prepared Tuesday to bury Soleimani in his Iranian hometown.

Mourners in Kerman dressed in black carried posters bearing the Soleimani's image, the man who Monday drew Iran's supreme leader to weep over his casket as a crowd said by police to be in the millions filled Tehran. 

Although there was no independent estimate, aerial footage and AP journalists suggested a turnout of at least 1 million, and the throngs were visible on satellite images of Tehran taken Monday.

Authorities later brought his remains and those of the others to Iran's holy city of Qom, turning out another massive crowd.

Pentagon says will not break law of war, despite Trump threat

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper strongly suggested on Monday that the US military would not violate the laws of armed conflict by striking Iranian cultural sites, a move threatened by President Donald Trump.

Asked whether he was willing to target cultural sites, Esper told Pentagon reporters: “We will follow the laws of armed conflict.” Pressed on whether he would then not target such sites because that would be a war crime, Esper said: “That’s the laws of armed conflict.” He did not elaborate.

Targeting cultural sites with military action is considered a war crime under international law, including a UN Security Council resolution supported by the Trump administration in 2017 and the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property.

UK reduces staff at Iran, Iraq embassies

Britain has reduced staff at its embassies in Iran and Iraq to a minimum level, Sky News reported on Monday, citing diplomatic sources.

The withdrawal of the diplomats is a precautionary step rather than based on specific intelligence of a threat, according to the report.

Ambassadors Rob Macaire in Tehran and Stephen Hickey in Baghdad will remain in place, Sky News said.

The Foreign Office said its embassies in Baghdad and Tehran remained open but declined to comment on operational detail.

“The safety and security of our staff is of paramount importance and we keep our security posture under regular review,” a spokesman said.

Monday, January 6

US Defense Secretary says no plan to leave Iraq

The US has no plans to pull out militarily from Iraq, Esper told Pentagon reporters, following reports of a US military letter about a withdrawal.

"There's been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq," Esper said, when asked about the letter, adding there had also been no plans issued to prepare to leave.

"I don't know what that letter is ... We're trying to find out where that's coming from, what that is. But there's been no decision made to leave Iraq. Period."

US forces gear up to leave Iraq - leaked letter

The US military informed its counterparts in Baghdad it was preparing for “movement out of Iraq,” a day after the Iraqi parliament urged the government oust foreign troops, according to AFP. 

The head of the US military’s Task Force Iraq, Brigadier General William Seely, sent a letter to the head of Iraq’s joint operations command, saying coalition force would be repositioned in coming days for onward movement. 

Some 5,200 US soldiers are stationed across Iraqi bases to support local troops preventing a resurgence of Daesh group.

They make up the bulk of the broader coalition, invited by the Iraqi government in 2014 to help combat the militants.

Rouhani responds to Trump

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday nobody should threaten his nation, responding to a tweet from US President Donald Trump in which he threatened to strike 52 sites in Iran. 

"Those who refer to the number 52 should also remember the number 290. #IR655," Rouhani tweeted, referring to the 1988 shooting down of an Iranian airline by a US warship in which 290 were killed. 

"Never threaten the Iranian nation."

Trump tweets Iran will 'never have a nuclear weapon'

US President Donald Trump on Monday repeated his insistence that Iran will not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon.

Writing in all-caps, the US leader tweeted: "IRAN WILL NEVER HAVE A NUCLEAR WEAPON!"

The tweet came a day after Tehran announced it was further winding down observance of parts of an international deal struck to ensure that the country does not secretly develop a nuclear weapon under cover of its civilian nuclear industry.

Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 deal negotiated under his predecessor Barack Obama.

NATO ambassadors to meet on Iran crisis, official says

NATO ambassadors will hold an extraordinary meeting on US-Iran tensions at their Brussels headquarters.

"The North Atlantic Council will address the situation in the region," a NATO official said.

"The secretary general decided to convene the meeting of NATO ambassadors following consultations with allies."

Iran's leader Khamenei weeps at Soleimani's funeral

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei led vast crowds in prayers in Tehran at the funeral of slain military commander Qassem Soleimani, publicly weeping for the general.

Iranians, who state media said numbered in the millions, poured on to the streets of Tehran to pay homage to Soleimani. 

Sunday, January 5

Trump threatens 'very big' sanctions on Iraq 

US President Donald Trump warned Iraq that the US would levy punishing sanctions if it expelled American troops in retaliation for killing of Soleimani. 

Speaking to reporters, he said the US expected to be paid for its military investments in Iraq before leaving the country. 

“We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build. Long before my time. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it."

“If they do ask us to leave, if we don’t do it in a very friendly basis, we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame," he said. 

“If there’s any hostility, that they do anything we think is inappropriate, we are going to put sanctions on Iraq, very big sanctions on Iraq.”

"We’re not leaving until they pay us back for it," he said. 

Iran walks away from the nuclear deal 

The blowback over the US killing of Iran's Soleimani mounted as Iran announced it will no longer abide by the limits contained in the 2015 nuclear deal. 

Iranian state television cited a statement by President Hassan Rouhani's administration saying the country would not observe limits on fuel enrichment, on the size of its enriched uranium stockpile and on its research and development activities.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran no longer faces any limitations in operations," a state TV broadcaster said.

Across the border in Iraq, PM Adil Abdul Mahdi says his officials have started work on a memo for legal and procedural steps to implement parliament's decision to expel foreign troops from the war-torn country. 

The US Statement Department responded with disdain, urging "Iraqi leaders to reconsider the importance of the ongoing economic and security relationship between the two countries and the continued presence of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS (Daesh)."

Iraq parliament urges government to oust US-led coalition

Iraq's parliament passed on Sunday a resolution telling the government to end the presence of foreign troops in Iraq and ensure they not use its land, air and waters for any reason. 

"The government commits to revoke its request for assistance from the international coalition fighting Islamic State [Daesh] due to the end of military operations in Iraq and the achievement of victory," the resolution read. 

"The Iraqi government must work to end the presence of any foreign troops on Iraqi soil and prohibit them from using its land, airspace or water for any reason." 

Parliament resolutions, unlike laws, are non-binding to the government, but Iraqi Prime Minister Mahdi had earlier called on parliament to end foreign troop presence.

Iraqi parliament holds emergency session

Iraqi PM Abdul Mahdi urged Iraq's parliament on Sunday to take urgent measures and end the foreign troop presence as soon as possible. 

"Despite the internal and external difficulties that we might face, it remains best for Iraq on principle and practically," Abdul Mahdi told parliament in a speech.

Funeral procession in Ahvaz for Iranian General Soleimani

Thousands of mourners dressed in black gathered on Sunday in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz to pay respects to Soleimani.

ISNA news agency said Soleimani's remains and those of five other Iranians – all Guards members – killed in the US drone strike had arrived at Ahvaz airport before dawn.

On Monday, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is expected to pray over his remains at Tehran University before a procession to Azadi Square.

His remains are then due to be taken to the holy city of Qom for a ceremony at Masumeh shrine, ahead of a funeral in his hometown Kerman on Tuesday.

Trump says 52 targets already lined up if Iran retaliates

President Donald Trump warned that the US is targeting 52 sites in Iran and will hit them "very fast and very hard" if Iran attacks American personnel or assets.

In a sabre-rattling tweet that defended Friday's US drone strike assassination of the powerful Iranian general, Soleimani in Iraq, Trump said 52 represents the number of Americans held hostage at the US embassy in Tehran for more than a year starting in late 1979.

Trump said some of these sites are "at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, "will be hit very fast and very hard. "

Erdogan urges against escalation in crisis

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to refrain from escalating tensions with the US.

Erdogan offered condolences to Rouhani over military commander Soleimani's assassination due to his official post and did not use ‘martyr' to describe him, a Turkish official told TRT World.

Air strike in Iraq prompts anti-war protests in US cities

Groups of protesters took to the streets in Washington and other US cities to condemn the air strike in Iraq ordered by President Trump that killed Iranian military commander Soleimani and Trump's decision to send about 3,000 more troops to the Middle East.

"No justice, no peace. US out of the Middle East," hundreds of demonstrators chanted outside the White House before marching to the Trump International Hotel a few blocks away.

Similar protests were held in New York, Chicago and other cities.

EU urges de-escalation

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stressed the "need for de-escalation" after the US assassination of a top Iranian commander in Baghdad.

After meeting Mohammad Javad Zarif in Brussels, Borrell tweeted: 

"Spoke w Iranian FM @JZarif about recent developments. Underlined need for de-escalation of tensions, to exercise restraint & avoid further escalation".

Borrell said he urged Zarif to maintain the nuclear accord negotiated between Iran and the UN Security Council permanent members, plus Germany.

Britain urged all parties to show restraint but said its closest ally was entitled to defend itself against an imminent threat.

"Under international law, the United States is entitled to defend itself against those posing an imminent threat to their citizens," Defence Minister Ben Wallace said. 

Missiles hit Green Zone and Iraq base housing US troops

In Baghdad, mortar rounds on Saturday evening hit the Green Zone, the high-security enclave where the US embassy is based, security sources said.

The Iraqi military said that one projectile hit inside the zone, while another landed close to the enclave.

Sirens rang out at the US compound, sources there told AFP.

A pair of Katyusha rockets then hit the Balad airbase north of Baghdad, where American troops are based, security sources and the Iraqi military said.

Security sources there reported blaring sirens and said surveillance drones were sent above the base to locate the source of the rockets.

The US embassy in Baghdad, as well as the 5,200 American troops stationed across the country have faced a spate of rocket attacks in recent months that Washington has blamed on Iran and its allies in Iraq.

Thousands join Baghdad funeral for slain commanders

Thousands of Iraqis chanting "Death to America" joined the funeral procession on Saturday for Iranian commander Soleimani and Iraqi paramilitary chief Muhandis, both killed in a US air strike.

The cortege set off around Kadhimiya, a Shia pilgrimage district of Baghdad, before heading to the Green Zone government and diplomatic compound where a state funeral was to be held attended by top dignitaries.

A prayer ceremony will be held at Baghdad's al Kadhimiya Mosque before Muhandis' body is sent to Najaf in the south for burial. 

Iraqi militia retract fresh air strike statement

Iraq's military denied on Saturday an air strike had taken place on a medical convoy in Taji, north of Baghdad.

Iraq's Popular Mobilisation Forces umbrella grouping of paramilitary groups had said earlier that an air strike targeting its fighters hit a convoy of medics.

However, the PMF later issued another statement saying that no medical convoys were targeted in Taji.

They said that no strike took place.

The US confirmed it had not authorised any air strike in the region overnight.

Friday, January 3

Killing of Soleimani was to prevent war, not start one - Trump

President Donald Trump said on Friday he ordered the killing of Soleimani to stop a war, not start one, saying the Iranian military commander was planning imminent attacks on Americans.

"Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel but we caught him in the act and terminated him," Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

"We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war," Trump said, adding that the United States does not seek regime change in Iran.

US deploying nearly 3,000 more troops to Mideast

The United States said on Friday it is sending nearly 3,000 more Army troops to the Mideast in the volatile aftermath of the killing of an Iranian general in a strike ordered by President Donald Trump.

Defence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a decision not yet announced by the Pentagon, said the troops are from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

They are in addition to about 700 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne who deployed to Kuwait earlier this week after the storming of the US embassy compound in Baghdad by Iran-backed militiamen and their supporters.

Iraqi parliament to hold extraordinary session

Iraq's parliament will hold an extraordinary session on Sunday to discuss the US air strike in Baghdad which killed Iran's Quds Force leader Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Muhandis, it said on Friday.

Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi called on lawmakers to hold an emergency session and address the attack, which he called a violation of sovereignty.

Iran summons Swiss envoy again to answer US message

Iran summoned a Swiss envoy for a second time on Friday to deliver its answer to a US message, Iranian state media said, hours after a Swiss diplomat delivered Washington's communication over the killing of Iranian Quds force chief Soleimani.

The Swiss envoy representing US interests in Tehran was summoned to the Foreign Ministry to receive the "proper" answer from Tehran, ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told state news agency IRNA, without giving further details.

Iranian policemen protest against the assassination of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani in front of the United Nations office in Tehran.
Iranian policemen protest against the assassination of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani in front of the United Nations office in Tehran. (Reuters)

US senators to be briefed on Iraq operation 

US Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the Trump administration would brief congressional staff on Friday about the US military strike against Iranian military commander Soleimani and that it would likely conduct a classified briefing for all senators early next week.

"This terrorist mastermind was not just a threat to the United States and Israel. For more than a decade, he masterminded Iran's malevolent and destabilising work throughout the entire Middle East," McConnell said on the Senate floor as he urged senators to withhold judgment on the operation until they had received the facts.

Iran vows to avenge commander's assassination

Iran's top security body said on Friday the United States would be held accountable for killing Iranian Quds Force commander Soleimani, saying Washington's action was its worst mistake in the region, Iranian media reported.

"The US regime will be responsible for the consequences of this criminal adventurism," the Supreme National Security Council said in a statement carried by media outlets. 

"This was the biggest US strategic blunder in the West Asia region, and America will not easily escape its consequences."

Macron calls on Iran to refrain from provocation 

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday that Iran should refrain from any provocation, speaking after a US air strike that killed a top Iranian commander in Iraq.

Macron also said in his statement that he had held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the situation in Iraq.

UN chief calls for maximum restraint

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is deeply concerned by the recent rise in tensions in the Middle East, a spokesman said.

"The Secretary-General has consistently advocated for de-escalation in the Gulf.  He is deeply concerned with the recent escalation," said his spokesman, Farhan Haq, in a statement. 

"This is a moment in which leaders must exercise maximum restraint.  The world cannot afford another war in the Gulf."

Turkey 'deeply concerned' about regional tension

The US air strike in Baghdad which killed Iranian commander Soleimani will "harm both the peace and stability of both Iraq and our region," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.

The ministry said such escalating steps that threaten stability in the region will increase the violence, "and all parties will suffer."

"Turkey has always been against foreign interventions in the region, assassinations, and sectarian conflict," it said.

Iraqi parliament speaker condemns US air strike

Iraq's Speaker of Parliament Mohammed al Halbousi condemned on the US air strike in Baghdad as a "breach of sovereignty."

"Yesterday's targeting of a military commander in Iraq's armed forces near Baghdad international airport is a flagrant breach of sovereignty and violation of international agreements," he said in a statement.

"Iraq must avoid becoming a battlefield or a side in any regional or international conflict," he added. 

Halbousi, who as speaker is Iraq's top Sunni Arab politician, called on the government to take all steps needed to stop such attacks. 

Lebanon condemns Soleimani's killing

Lebanon's Foreign Ministry on Friday called for the country and wider region to be spared any repercussions from the Quds Force commander's death.

The ministry also condemned the killing, calling it a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and a dangerous escalation against Iran.

Iran never won a war – Trump

US President Donald Trump said that Iran never won a war, in the wake of the killing of a top Iranian commander.   

"Iran never won a war but never lost a negotiation," Trump said on Twitter.  

Trump said Soleimani was plotting to kill many more Americans.

Egypt appeals against escalation in Iraq 

Egypt's Foreign Ministry said it was following developments in Iraq with great concern and appealed against any further escalation.

"The Foreign Ministry is following with great concern accelerating developments in Iraq, which augur an escalation important to avoid," the statement said.

"For this reason, Egypt calls for containing the situation and avoiding any escalation."

Tens of thousands rally in Iran to protest US 'crimes'

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Tehran to protest against US "crimes."

Chanting "Death to America" and holding up posters of the slain top Iranian commander Soleimani, the demonstrators filled streets for several blocks in central Tehran after Friday prayers.

State news agency IRNA said there were similar demonstrations in the cities of Arak, Bojnourd, Hamedan, Hormozgan, Sanandaj, Semnan, Shiraz, and Yazd.

News of the death of Soleimani, one of Iran's most popular public figures, also saw people hold impromptu gatherings in his central hometown of Kerman.

People in Tehran, Iran chant slogans during a protest against the assassination of the Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force. January 3, 2020.
People in Tehran, Iran chant slogans during a protest against the assassination of the Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force. January 3, 2020. (Reuters)

De-escalation with Iran possible - Pompeo

Washington is committed to "de-escalation" after the killing of Soleimani, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday.

Pompeo said on Twitter that he spoke to British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab and China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi about the US decision to kill Soleimani.

US has right to self-defence – Netanyahu

"Just as Israel has the right of self-defence, the United States has exactly the same right," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement issued by his office.

"Qasem Soleimani is responsible for the death of American citizens and many other innocent people. He was planning more such attacks."

Esmail Qaani new Quds chief after Soleimani killing

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Esmail Qaani as the new head of the Revolutionary Guard's foreign operations arm.

"Following the martyrdom of the glorious general haj Qasem Soleimani, I name Brigadier General Esmail Qaani as the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC)."

Act of aggression on Iraq – PM Abdul Mahdi

The air strike on Baghdad airport is an act of aggression on Iraq and a breach of its sovereignty that will lead to war in Iraq, the region, and the world, Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi said in a statement.

"Liquidation operations [assassinations] of leading Iraqi officials or from a friendly country on Iraqi soil is a brazen violation of Iraq's sovereignty and blatant attack on the nation's dignity," he said.

The strike also violated the conditions of US military presence in Iraq and should be met with legislation that safeguards Iraq's security and sovereignty, Abdul Mahdi added.

US citizens urged to depart Iraq

The US embassy in Baghdad urged all citizens to depart Iraq immediately, hours after the US killed Soleimani and Muhandis in an air strike. 

"Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, the US Embassy urges American citizens to heed the January 2020 Travel Advisory and depart Iraq immediately. US citizens should depart via airline while possible, and failing that, to other countries via land," it said in a statement.

France says world 'more dangerous'

The world is "more dangerous," France's Europe minister said, calling for efforts to de-escalate the deepening conflict in the Middle East.

"We have woken up to a more dangerous world," Amelie de Montchalin told RTL radio, saying President Emmanuel Macron would consult soon with "players in the region."

China urges 'calm and restraint'

China appealed for restraint from all sides, "especially the United States."

"China has always opposed the use of force in international relations," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily press briefing.

Moscow warns of increasing tensions

Moscow warned on Friday that Soleimani's assassination would boost tensions across the Middle East.

"The killing of Soleimani ... was an adventurist step that will increase tensions throughout the region," news agencies RIA Novosti and TASS quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying.

"Soleimani served the cause of protecting Iran's national interests with devotion. We express our sincere condolences to the Iranian people."

'A gruesome crime' - Rouhani

Iran and the "free nations of the region" will take revenge on the US for killing Soleimani, President Hasan Rouhani said.

"There is no doubt that the great nation of Iran and the other free nations of the region will take revenge for this gruesome crime from criminal America," Rouhani said, referring to Iran's allies across the Middle East.

Soleimani's "martyrdom ... by the aggressor and criminal America has saddened the heart of the nation of Iran and all the nations of the region," he said in a statement posted on the Iranian government website.

Declaring three days of mourning across the country, Iran's Khamenei vowed to take "severe revenge" for 62-year-old Soleimani's death.

Zarif slammed the US strike as "extremely dangerous and a foolish escalation."

Top official Mohsen Rezai pledged to "exact terrible vengeance upon America," and Tehran's top security council said it would hold an urgent meeting.

Sistani calls US Iraq strike 'wanton attack'

Iraq's top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani condemned the US air strike, calling it a "wanton attack" on the country.

In his weekly sermon delivered by his representative in the Shia holy city of Karbala, Sistani said the raid amounted to a "blatant violation of Iraqi sovereignty."

Iraq's Sadr mourns Soleimani

Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr mourned Soleimani's assassination, saying his militias were ready to defend Iraq.

"As the patron of the patriotic Iraqi resistance I give the order for all mujahideen, especially the Mehdi Army, Promised Day Brigade, and all patriotic and disciplined groups to be ready to protect Iraq," he said in a statement.

Sadr, who positions himself as a nationalist rejecting both US and Iranian interference in Iraq, however, called on all sides to behave with "wisdom and shrewdness."

Will Iran retaliate? Experts speculate

"In terms of a decapitation strike, what just happened is the most major decapitation strike that the US has ever pulled off," said Phillip Smyth, a US-based specialist in Shia armed groups.

He said it would have "bigger" ramifications than the 2011 US operation that killed Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and the 2019 American raid that killed Daesh leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

"There is no comparison," he added.

But others said it remains unclear how Iran could respond to the blow.

"A lot of the focus is on what is the price that the US is gonna pay and how Iran will retaliate against the US," said Fanar Haddad of the Singapore University's Middle East Institute.

US Congress not informed of Iraq strike

US lawmakers, however, were not told in advance of Friday's attack, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel said in a statement.

"Tonight’s air strike risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence. America – and the world – cannot afford to have tensions escalate to the point of no return," US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"The Administration has conducted tonight’s strikes in Iraq without an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iran. Further, this action was taken without the consultation of the Congress," Pelosi said.

Ties between the US and Iran have deteriorated since Washington pulled out of the landmark nuclear deal with Tehran in 2018.

It then reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran, aiming to choke off its oil exports.

Oil prices soar

Oil prices soared following Friday's attack, with Brent surging 4.4 percent to $69.16 and WTI jumping 4.3 percent to 63.84.

The attack threatens to destabilise Iraq, which has close political and military ties with both Tehran and Washington.

The US led the 2003 invasion against then-dictator Saddam Hussein and has worked closely with Iraqi officials since.

But its influence has waned compared with that of Tehran, which has carefully crafted personal ties with Iraqi politicians and armed factions, even during Saddam's reign.

Iraqi officials have warned in recent months that their country could be used as an arena for score-settling between Iran and the US.

What is the Hashd?

The Hashd al Shaadi is an Iraqi paramilitary force with close ties to Iran. It is also known as the Popular Mobilisation Units.

The Hashd is a network of mostly-Shia armed units, many of whom have close ties to Tehran, but which have been officially incorporated into Iraq's state security forces.

The units joined forces to fight Daesh group in 2014, after many of them built up years of fighting experience during Iraq's war years, including against the US.

Strike near Baghdad airport

Trump tweeted out a picture of the US flag without any explanation, as the pre-dawn developments marked the most major escalation yet in a feared proxy war between Iran and the US on Iraqi soil.

Early Friday, a volley of missiles hit Baghdad's international airport, striking a convoy belonging to the Hashd al Shaabi.

Just a few hours later, the IRGC announced Soleimani "was martyred in an attack by America on Baghdad airport this morning." 

The Hashd confirmed both Soleimani and Muhandis were killed in what it said was a "US strike that targeted their car on the Baghdad International Airport road."

The Pentagon said Soleimani had been "actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region."

It said it took "decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani," but did not specify how.

US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Soleimani had been killed in a drone strike in Baghdad.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that Iraqis are dancing in the street after Soleimani's death.

Iran's Qasem Soleimani killed in US strike

Soleimani was killed in a US strike on Baghdad's international airport, Iran and the US confirmed, in the most dramatic episode yet of escalating tensions between the two countries.

The Pentagon said Trump ordered Soleimani's "killing," after a pro-Iran mob this week laid siege to the US embassy in Baghdad. 

A mob of Hashd al Shaabi supporters surrounded the US embassy on Tuesday in outrage over American air strikes that killed 25 fighters from the network's hardline Kataib Hezbollah faction, which is backed by Iran.

The US had acted in response to a rocket attack days earlier that had killed an American contractor working in Iraq.

Trump had blamed Iran for a spate of rocket attacks targeting US forces as well as the siege at the embassy, saying: "They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat."

Soleimani was a top general in Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and the leader of the elite Quds Force. 

He also served as Iran's point man on Iraq, visiting the country in times of turmoil.

Hashd al Shaabi or Iraq's paramilitary Popular Militarisation Units deputy chief Abu Mahdi al Muhandis was also killed in the strike.

Muhandis was the Hashd's deputy chief but widely recognised as the real shot-caller within the group. He was also the founder of the Kataib Hezbollah.

Both were sanctioned by US.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies