WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo posted a video on Twitter Thursday he said showed Iraqis “dancing in the street” after the United States killed top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.
“Iraqis — Iraqis — dancing in the street for freedom; thankful that General Soleimani is no more,” Pompeo wrote, alongside footage of scores of people running along a road and waving what appeared to be Iraqi flags and other banners.
President Donald Trump ordered the killing of the Iran Revolutionary Guards commander, who died Friday “in a decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad,” the Pentagon said.
President Donald Trump said Friday that Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani should have been killed long before.
In his first substantial comments on the operation, carried out earlier Friday at Baghdad's international airport, Trump tweeted that Soleimani "should have been taken out many years ago!"
Soleimani "has killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more...but got caught!" Trump said.
White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said Friday that any Iranian retaliation in response to the US killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani would be a “very poor decision.”
O’Brien, briefing reporters on the US operation in a conference call, said Soleimani was struck while traveling around the Middle East planning attacks against American military personnel and diplomats in the region.
Iran told the United Nations Security Council and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday that it reserves its right to self-defense under international law after the USattack on Soleimani.
Iranian U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi wrote in a letter that the killing of Soleimani "by any measure, is an obvious example of State terrorism and, as a criminal act, constitutes a gross violation of the fundamental principles of international law, including, in particular, those stipulated in the Charter of the United Nations."
The US Department of Defense said in a statement: “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.”
Pompeo did not provide a source for the video or offer any details about where the images were filmed.
Iraqis — Iraqis — dancing in the street for freedom; thankful that General Soleimani is no more. pic.twitter.com/huFcae3ap4
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 3, 2020
The strike at Baghdad’s international airport also killed the deputy chief of Iraq’s powerful Hashed Al-Shaabi paramilitary force.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani was planning imminent action that threatened American citizens when he was killed in the US strike.
"He was actively plotting in the region to take actions - a big action, as he described it - that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk," Pompeo told CNN.
"We know it was imminent," Pompeo said of Soleimani's plot, without going into detail about the nature of the planned operation.
"These were threats that were located in the region," Pompeo added. "Last night was the time that we needed to strike to make sure that this imminent attack ... was disrupted."
"This was an intelligence-based assessment that drove our decision-making process," Pompeo added.
Pompeo said the United States remains committed to de-escalation with Iran but will defend itself. He added that the United States has fortified its assets in the region and is prepared for any possible retaliation, including a cyberattack.
Hours after news of the attack, the US embassy in Baghdad urged American citizens in Iraq on Friday to "depart immediately", for fear of fallout from a US strike that killed top Iranian and Iraqi commanders.
"US citizens should depart via airline while possible, and failing that, to other countries via land," the embassy said in a statement.
— Sara Assaf (@SaraAssaf) January 3, 2020
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is deeply concerned by the recent rise in tensions in the Middle East, where the United States killed top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani following violent protests at its embassy in Baghdad.
"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."
The US strike hit outside Baghdad airport early Friday but security sources told AFP it was still open to flights.
A pro-Iran mob this week laid siege to the US embassy following deadly American airstrikes on a hard-line Hashed faction.
The US had called the strikes in response to a rocket attack days earlier that killed an American contractor working in Iraq.
The Pentagon said Soleimani had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the past months, including on December 27, the day the contractor was killed.
“General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the US Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week,” it said.
Republican lawmakers quickly spoke out Thursday in strong support of Trump's attack that killed Soleimani.
“In a display of resolve and strength, we struck the leader of those attacking our sovereign US territories,” top House Republican Kevin McCarthy said in a statement.
Soleimani was a terrorist. President Trump and our brave servicemembers just reminded Iran—and the world—that we will not let attacks against Americans go unpunished.
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) January 3, 2020
The sentiment was swiftly echoed by his fellow Republicans.
“Wow - the price of killing and injuring Americans has just gone up drastically,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a close confidant of Trump, wrote on Twitter.
Wow - the price of killing and injuring Americans has just gone up drastically. Major blow to Iranian regime that has American blood on its hands. Soleimani was one of the most ruthless and vicious members of the Ayatollah's regime. He had American blood on his hands.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 3, 2020
Former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley also praised the attack.
“Qassem Soleimani was an arch terrorist with American blood on his hands,” Haley said on Twitter. “his demise should be applauded by all who seek peace and justice. “proud of president trump for doing the strong and right thing.”
Qassem Soleimani was an arch terrorist with American blood on his hands. His demise should be applauded by all who seek peace and justice. Proud of President Trump for doing the strong and right thing. @realDonaldTrump
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) January 3, 2020
Trump's former advisor John Bolton always praised the killing of Soleimani and "congratulated" those involved.
Congratulations to all involved in eliminating Qassem Soleimani. Long in the making, this was a decisive blow against Iran's malign Quds Force activities worldwide. Hope this is the first step to regime change in Tehran.
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) January 3, 2020
The high praise from the right stood in stark contrast to reaction from Democrats, who severely criticized Trump's latest move in a sign of Washington's polarization ahead of this year's presidential elections.
“President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox,” said former vice president Joe Biden, who leads the pack of Democratic contenders, in a statement.
“Iran will surely respond. We could be on the brink of a major conflict across the Middle East,” Biden said.
US entrepreneur and Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang wrote on Twitter that “war with Iran is the last thing we need and is not the will of the American people.
“We should be acting to deescalate tensions and protect our people in the region.”
Democratic Vermont senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said “Trump's dangerous escalation brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars.”
It was already a topic trending in US-based think tank and diplomatic circles late Thursday.
“Make no mistake: any war with Iran will not look like the 1990 Gulf war or the 2003 Iraq war,” Richard Haass, president of the US-based Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on Twitter.
“The region (and possibly the world) will be the battlefield,” he wrote.
Bahrain said on Friday it is following the developments in Iraq and called for de-escalation after the US air strike, according to state news agency BNA.
Egypt's Foreign Ministry said on Friday 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 it is important to avoid," the statement said.
"For this reason, Egypt calls for containing the situation and avoiding any escalation."
Yemen’s government on Friday said it considered the killing of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani an important step to end conflict in the region.
The comment was posted on Twitter by Muammar Al-Iryani, Information Minister of the internationally-recognised government, after the United States carried out an air strike in Iraq that killed Soleimani, architect of Iran’s military influence in the Middle East.
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In response to the attack, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that a “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the US after the airstrike, calling Soleimani the “international face of resistance.” Khamenei declared three days of public mourning for the general’s death.
Iran also summoned the Swiss charges d'affaires, who represents US interests in Tehran, to protest the killing.
Iranian state television called Trump’s order to kill Soleimani “the biggest miscalculation by the US” since World War II. “The people of the region will no longer allow Americans to stay," it said.
Iranian-backed Houthi militia, who control Yemen's capital Sanaa, also called for "swift reprisals" for the killing of Soleimani.
"We condemn this killing and direct and swift reprisals are the answer," senior Houthi official Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi tweeted.
The US air strike in Baghdad which killed Iranian Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani will increase insecurity and instability in the region, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Friday.
In a written statement, the ministry said that it was deeply concerned by the rising tensions between the United States and Iran, and that turning Iraq into an area of conflict will harm peace and stability in the region.
Lebanon's foreign ministry on Friday called for the country and wider region to be spared any repercussions from the US air strike that killed the commander of Iran's elite Quds Force.
The ministry also condemned the killing, calling it a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and a dangerous escalation against Iran.
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on Friday sung the praise of slain Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, who played a key role in saving his regime in the nearly nine-year-old Syrian conflict.
The Syrian people "will not forget that he stuck by the side of the Syrian Arab army", Assad said in a letter of condolences sent to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Meanwhile, France’s embassy in Tehran on Friday urged its citizens in Iran to stay away from public gatherings after the killing of Soleimani.
“Three days of mourning have been declared after the death of General Soleimani. In this context, we recommend French citizens to stay away from any gatherings and to behave with prudence and discretion and abstain from taking pictures in public spaces,” it said in a statement on Twitter.
Royal Jordanian Airlines said on Friday it suspended flights to Baghdad's international airport until further notice due to the security situation.
The state carrier, which has eighteen scheduled flights every week to Baghdad, said its flights to other Iraqi cities were not affected and operating normally.