‘We did not take action to start a war’, Trump says of Soleimani assassination

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said “severe revenge awaits the criminals” behind the attack. He also announced three days of national mourning

General Qasem Soleimani was a powerful Iranian military figure
General Qasem Soleimani was a powerful Iranian military figure

American President Donald Trump told reporters Friday that the United States had killed Qasem Soleimani, one of Iran’s top military figures, in a bid to “stop a war”.

The president, speaking at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, urged Iran not to retaliate. “We did not take action to start a war,” he said.

The targeted killing of Soleimani, a powerful figure among forces aligned with Iran throughout the Middle East, dramatically increased tensions in the region and caused U.S. outposts and personnel to brace for retaliatory attacks. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad warned Americans in Iraq to leave “immediately”.

The Pentagon said that it will deploy 3,500 additional troops to the Middle East after Iran vowed to exact “severe revenge” on the United States for the drone strike that killed Soleimani early Friday near the Baghdad airport.

The 62-year-old military general spearheaded Iranian military operations in the Middle East as head of Iran’s elite Quds Force. Under his leadership, Iran had bolstered Hezbollah in Lebanon and other pro-Iranian militant groups, expanded its military presence in Iraq and Syria and orchestrated Syria's offensive against rebel groups in the country’s long civil war.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said “severe revenge awaits the criminals” behind the attack. He also announced three days of national mourning.

Soleimani was widely seen as the second most powerful figure in Iran, behind the Ayatollah Khamenei. The Quds Force, an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, reported directly to the ayatollah and Soleimani was hailed as a heroic national figure.

While some have described the killing of Soleimani as “a declaration of war” by the United States against Iran, the key actors who might be involved in such a conflict, for example Russia and China, are not significant players in this drama, which reduces the chances of overstated claims of a new world war.

But a significant Iranian retaliation is to be expected, and this could lead to a cycle of action and reaction that could bring the two countries ever closer to an all-out conflict.

Pre-emptive self defence is never a legal justification for assassination, because the United Nations Charter defines self defence as a right to respond to an actual and significant armed attack. The use of a drone to kill Soleimani in Baghdad was not in response to an armed attack on the United States. In this case, the United States has committed an extrajudicial killing and an unlawful attack within Iraq.

Iran does not have a nuclear weapons programme as such, though it retains many of elements that could contribute to such a programme and the know-how to proceed with one.

It’s not clear what precisely the general’s business was in Iraq. But Iran supports a variety of influential Shia militia groups there and the man who was killed alongside him, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis - was the leader of Kataib Hezbollah, the group said to be responsible for recent rocket attacks on US bases, and the deputy commander of a coalition of pro-Iranian militias in Iraq.

The Iraqi government has been put in a very difficult position, especially since the attack came on its soil. It is an ally both of Iran and of the US, and US troops remain in Iraq to assist in the broader struggle against the Islamic State (IS) group.

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