Funeral processions to honour Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran‘s elite Quds Force who was killed in a United States air strike in Baghdad have begun in the Iranian city of Ahvaz early on Sunday, hours after his remains arrived from Iraq.
Soleimani was killed along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi), an Iran-backed umbrella organisation comprising several militias. Several other people were also killed in Friday’s attack.
The move by the US has drawn condemnation from leaders and officials who fear that tensions in the region could escalate drastically. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei warned that “a harsh retaliation is waiting”.
On Saturday, US President Donald Trump threatened to hit 52 Iranian sites “very hard” if Iran attacked US citizens or assets.
Sunday, January 5:
Ending foreign troop presence best for Iraq: PM
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi urged parliament 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 practicality,” Abdul Mahdi told parliament in a speech.
Pompeo: US intelligence assessment was clear on Soleimani
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the intelligence assessment that led to the air strike against Soleimani, saying the strikes were lawful and any future strikes would also be lawful.
“The intelligence assessment made clear that no action – allowing Soleimani to continue his plotting and his planning, his terror campaign – created more risk than taking the action that we took last week,” Pompeo said in an interview with ABC.
Pompeo would not say whether he had been in contact with Iranian officials but said there was no doubt in his mind that Iran “gets clearly the message from the American leadership”.
“We’ve told the Iranian regime: enough. You can’t get away with using proxy forces and think your homeland will be safe and secure. We’re going to respond against the actual decision-makers – the people who are causing this threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo said.
US-led coalition pauses training and support for Iraqi security forces
“Our first priority is protecting all Coalition personnel committed to the defeat of Daesh. Repeated rocket attacks over the last two months by elements of Kata’ib Hezbollah have caused the death of Iraqi Security Forces personnel and a US civilian,” it said in a statement.
“As a result we are now fully committed to protecting the Iraqi bases that host Coalition troops. This has limited our capacity to conduct training with partners and to support their operations against Daesh and we have therefore paused these activities, subject to continuous review.”
Iraq summons US envoy over ‘violation of sovereignty’: ministry
The foreign ministry said the act was “a flagrant breach of Iraq’s sovereignty and of all international laws and norms that regulate relations between countries and prohibit the use of their lands to carry out attacks on neighbouring countries.”
Hezbollah leader says Soleimani killing marks new phase for region
Referring to the date of Soleimani’s killing, Nasrallah said it was a “date separating two phases in the region … it is the start of a new phase and a new history not just for Iran or Iraq but the whole region”.
He was speaking at the stat of a rally in the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon to commemorate Soleimani.
Protests in Istanbul over Soleimani’s killing.
The protesters, some carrying “Down with America” signs and portraits of Soleimani were watched by police during the rally.
Pope calls for dialogue amid ‘air of tension’
Pope Francis called for dialogue and restraint while speaking at the Sunday Angelus prayer at the Vatican.
The pope did not mention Iranby name but spoke of a terrible air of tension that could now be felt in many parts of the world.
“I call on all sides to keep the flame of dialogue and self-restraint alight and ward off the shadow of hostility,” he said.
“War only brings death and destruction.”
Crowds gather ahead of Nasrallah speech
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from the Lebanese capital, Beirut, said a ceremony is expected to start “soon” to commemorate Soleimani – a man people in Hezbollah-controlled southern Beirut suburbs describe as a “hero”.
“Images of the architect behind Iran’s influence across the region, Qassem Soleimani, are everywhere in the streets of Beirut’s southern suburbs,” Khodr said.
Mousavi: Iran will respond to any further threats
Iran will respond to any further threats, Iranian Foreign Ministry Sokesman Abbas Mousavi said in televised remarks, hours after Trump said Washington would target Iranian sites if Tehran attacks “Americans” or US assets in retaliation for the killing of Soleimani.
“We will not remain silent against any threat,” Mousavi said, adding that Iran is not pursuing war, but is “prepared”.
“These actions were against all international laws … the international community should come together against this heinous act.”
Mousavi also said that officials in Iran planned to meet on Sunday night to discuss the next steps in exiting the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and that it would be even bigger than initially planned.
In 2018, the US unilaterally withdrew from the accord and reimposed sanctions.
EU invites Iran’s Zarif to Brussels
The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell made the offer to Mohammad Javad Zarif during a telephone call this weekend, a press release said.
Spoke w Iranian FM @JZarif about recent developments. Underlined need for de-escalation of tensions, to exercise restraint avoid further escalation. Also discussed importance of preserving #JCPOA, which remains crucial for global security. I am committed to role as coordinator.
— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) January 4, 2020
“Borrell invited the Iranian Foreign Minister to Brussels to continue their engagement on these matters,” it said.
Iran summons Swiss envoy over Trump remarks
Iran summoned the Swiss envoy representing US interests in Tehran to protest against Trump saying Washington would target Iranian sites if Tehran attacks Americans or US assets in retaliation for the killing of Soleimani.
Iran has once again summoned Swiss envoy over Trump’s threat to target 52 Iranian sites. Iran has expressed strong protest over the threatening remarks, and said such a threat reminds one of Mongols’ invasions or terrorists’ destruction of cultural heritage
— Dorsa Jabbari (@DorsaJabbari) January 5, 2020
Israeli PM says Trump ‘worthy of all appreciation’
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Trump was “worthy of all appreciation” for ordering the killing of Soleimani.
In an address to his cabinet, Netanyahu said Soleimani “initiated, planned and carried out many terror attacks” in the Middle East and beyond.
Netanyahu said Israel stood alongside the US in its current campaign against Iran.
Iraq parliament to meet in emergency session
Iraq’s parliament was set to convene an extraordinary session during which legislators would reportedly push for a vote on a resolution requiring the government to request the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
“There is no need for the presence of American forces after defeating Daesh (ISIL),” said Ammar al-Shibli, a Shia lawmaker and member of the parliamentary legal committee, according to Reuters news agency.
“We have our own armed forces which are capable of protecting the country,” he said.
Around 5,000 US troops remain in Iraq, most of them in an advisory capacity.
Despite decades of enmity between Iran and the US, Iran-backed militia and US troops fought side by side during Iraq’s 2014-2017 war against ISIL.
Remains of Soleimani, al-Muhandis sent to Iran for DNA tests
Iraq’s Iran-backed PMF said that some remains of Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader al-Muhandis were sent to Iran for DNA tests to identify their corpses.
In a statement, the PMF said the bodies were torn to pieces and mangled by the explosion following the US strike near Baghdad’s international airport on Friday.
It said the test would take a few days, after which the remains of al-Muhandis will be brought back to Iraq for burial in the holy Shia city of Najaf.
Iran’s Minister Jahromi says Trump ‘a terrorist in a suit’
Trump is “a terrorist in a suit”, Iranian Information and Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi said in a Twitter post.
“Like ISIS, Like Hitler, Like Genghis! They all hate cultures. Trump is a terrorist in a suit. He will learn history very soon that NOBODY can defeat ‘the Great Iranian Nation Culture’,” Jahromi said.
Like ISIS, like Hitler, Like Genghis!
— MJ Azari Jahromi (@azarijahromi) January 5, 2020
UK foreign secretary speaks to Iraqi leaders, urges de-escalation
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he had spoken to Iraq’s prime minister and president to urge a de-escalation of tensions in the region.
Raab, who described Soleimani as a “regional menace”, and said he was sympathetic to the situation the US found itself in, said he also planned to speak to Iran’s foreign minister.
“There is a route through, which allows Iran to come in from out of the international cold,” he told Sky News.
“We need to contain the nefarious actions of Iran but we also need to de-escalate and stabilise the situation.”
Tens of thousands mourn as Soleimani’s funeral commences
Tens of thousands of black-clad mourners have filled the streets of the Iranian city of Ahvaz to pay their respects to Soleimani.
Authorities plan to take Soleimani’s body to the holy city of Mashhad later on Sunday, as well as Tehran and the holy city of Qom on Monday for public mourning processions, then to his hometown of Kerman for burial on Tuesday.
Read more here.
Iran’s Zarif says targeting cultural sites a ‘war crime’
Iran’s Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said any decision to target the country’s cultural sites would be a “war crime”, hours after US President Donald Trump threatened such action.
“Targeting cultural sites is a WAR CRIME,” Zarif said in a Twitter post.
“Whether kicking or screaming, end of US malign presence in West Asia has begun,” Zarif said.
-Having committed grave breaches of int’l law in Friday’s cowardly assassinations, @realdonaldtrump threatens to commit again new breaches of JUS COGENS;
-Targeting cultural sites is a WAR CRIME;
-Whether kicking or screaming, end of US malign presence in West Asia has begun.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 5, 2020
Iran army says US lacks ‘courage’ for conflict
Iran’s army chief said Washington lacked the “courage” to initiate a conflict, after Trump threatened to hit dozens of targets inside the Islamic republic.
“I doubt they have the courage to initiate” a conflict, Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.
Saudi ‘not consulted’ over Soleimani killing: source
Saudi Arabia was not consulted over the US air strike that killed Soleimani, as the kingdom sought to defuse soaring regional tensions, a Saudi official told AFP news agency, requesting anonymity.
“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia was not consulted regarding the US strike,” the official said.
“In light of the rapid developments, the kingdom stresses the importance of exercising restraint to guard against all acts that may lead to escalation, with severe consequences,” the official added.
Oman urges dialogue
Oman has urged the US and Iran to utilise diplomatic channels to resolve issues and called on the international community to increase their efforts to achieve security and stability in the region, according to a statement carried by state media.
“Oman is following the unfortunate developments and the state of tension and escalation between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran, and calls on both sides to turn to dialogue and diplomatic channels to resolve issues,” Oman news agency said.
Iraqi security forces on ‘high alert’
Iraqi security forces have been on high alert as they brace themselves for a potential reaction, Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid, reporting from Baghdad, said.
“We’ve also heard from one leader of the militia Kataib Hezbollah, which has been deemed as a terrorist organisation by the US, that all Iraqi forces should distance themselves from US bases from Sunday onwards,” Bin Javaid said.
US troops are invariably based in Iraqi military posts alongside local forces.
Bin Javaid said there has been a flurry of diplomatic activity to try to de-escalate the situation in the region, spearheaded by Qatar’s foreign minister.
Soleimani’s body to arrive in Mashhad
Soleimani’s body is due to arrive in the Iranian city of Mashhad in the next few hours, Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari said, where a ceremony will be held for him at the Imam Reza shrine – believed to be the holiest place in Iran.
“The whole country is in mourning … there is a lot of anger and frustration,” Jabbari said from Mashhad.
“Iranians want their government and their military to respond. They want revenge.”
Trump warns harsher response if Tehran retaliates
President Donald Trump warned that the US would hit Iran harder than ever before if Tehran retaliates for the assassination of Soleimani.
Trump wrote on Twitter: “If they attack again, which I would strongly advise them not to do, we will hit them harder than they have ever been hit before!”
He followed up with another tweet, saying the US would use its “brand new beautiful” military equipment “without hesitation” if the Iranians retaliate.
Ceremonies to honour Soleimani begin in Ahvaz
Thousands of mourners gathered in Iran’s southwestern city of Ahvaz, where funeral processions to honour Soleimani began on Sunday morning.
Footage on state television showed people dressed in black in Mollavi Square, holding flags in green, white and red – depicting the blood of “martyrs”, while others held portraits of the slain general.
Soleimani’s body arrives in Iran
Soleimani’s remains returned to Iran on Sunday and were flown to the city of Ahvaz in the country’s southwest, the official IRIB news agency reported.
Read earlier updates here.