The Mahdi is Resurrected (Revelation 13)

Shia cleric reactivates powerful anti-US army after airstrike kills Iran general

Richard Hartley-Parkinson

Friday 3 Jan 2020 7:38 am

Muqtada al-Sadr’s message told the anti-American paramilitary to ‘defend Iraq’

A prominent Iraqi cleric has called an anti-US army to arms following the death of a top Iranian general in an airstrike in Baghdad.

Muqtada al-Sadr tweeted that he was reactivating the army this morning following the death of Qasem Soleimani – an assassination that was ordered by Donald Trump.

He said ‘I, as the official of the Iraqi National Resistance, give an order to the readiness of the Mujahideen, especially the Imam Mahdi Army and the Promised Today Brigade and whoever commands our order from the national disciplined factions to be fully prepared to protect Iraq.’

This morning all US citizens were ordered to leave Iraq immediately.

The killing of the general – Iran’s second in command and head of the 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.

Iran’s Supreme Leader 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.

Muqtada al-Sadr pictured with Iran’s supreme ruler Ali Khamenei and assassinated general Qasem Soleimani  (Picture: EPA)

The aftermath of the airstrike that completely destroyed the car carrying Soleimani

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

The Defense Department said it killed 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 the orchestrated violent protests at the US Embassy in Baghdad earlier this week.

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.

The airport strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, and five others, including the PMF’s airport protocol officer, Mohammed Reda, Iraqi officials said.

Trump was vacationing on his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, but sent out a tweet of an American flag.

The dramatic attack comes at the start of a year in which Trump faces both a Senate trial following his impeachment by the Congress and a re-election campaign. It marks a potential turning point in the Middle East and represents a drastic change for American policy toward Iran after months of tensions.

Tehran shot down a US military surveillance drone and seized oil tankers last year. The US also blames Iran for a series of other attacks targeting tankers, as well as a September assault on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry that temporarily halved its production.

The tensions are rooted in in Trump’s decision in May 2018 to withdraw the US from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, struck under his predecessor, Barack Obama.

The 62-year-old Soleimani was the target of Friday’s US attack, which was conducted by an armed American drone, according to a US official. His vehicle was struck on an access road near the Baghdad airport.

A senior Iraqi security official said the airstrike took place near the cargo area after Soleimani left his plane and joined al-Muhandis and others in a car. The official said the plane had arrived from either Lebanon or Syria.

The wreckage from Suleimani’s car after it was destroyed in a US airstrike (Picture: AP)

PMF officials said the bodies of Soleimani and al-Muhandis were torn to pieces. A senior politician said Soleimani’s body was identified by the ring he wore.

It’s unclear what legal authority the US relied on to carry out the attack. American presidents claim broad authority to act without the approval of the Congress when US personnel or interests are facing an imminent threat. The Pentagon did not provide evidence to back up its assertion that Soleimani was planning new attacks against Americans.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the ‘highest priority’ was to protect American lives and interests, but that ‘we cannot put the lives of American service members, diplomats and others further at risk by engaging in provocative and disproportionate actions.’

‘Tonight’s airstrike risks provoking further dangerous escalation of violence. America – and the world – cannot afford to have tensions escalate to the point of no return,’ she said in a statement. She said Congress was not consulted on the strike and demanded it be ‘immediately’ briefed on the situation and the next steps.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said Trump had ‘tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox,’ and, like other Democratic White House hopefuls, criticised Trump’s order, saying it could leave the US ‘on the brink of a major conflict across the Middle East.’

The scene of the airstrike moments after the convoy was hit by an American missile

But Trump allies were quick to praise the action. ‘To the Iranian government: if you want more, you will get more,’ tweeted South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

For Iran, the killing represents the loss of a cultural icon who represented national pride and resilience while facing US sanctions. Although careful to avoid involving himself in politics, Soleimani’s profile rose sharply as US and Israeli officials blamed him for Iranian proxy attacks abroad.

While Iran’s conventional military has suffered under 40 years of American sanctions, the Guard has built up a ballistic missile program. It also can strike asymmetrically in the region through forces like Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels. The US long has blamed Iran for car bombings and kidnappings it never claimed.

Soleimani’s vehicle was struck on an access road near the Baghdad airport (Picture: AP)

As the head of the Quds, or Jersualem, Force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, Soleimani led all of its expeditionary forces and frequently shuttled between Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. Quds Force members have deployed into Syria’s long war to support President Bashar Assad, as well as into Iraq in the wake of the 2003 US invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, a longtime foe of Tehran.

Soleimani rose to even greater prominence by advising forces fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and in Syria.

US officials say the Guard under Soleimani taught Iraqi militants how to manufacture and use especially deadly roadside bombs against US troops after the invasion of Iraq. Iran has denied that. Soleimani himself remains popular among many Iranians, who saw him as a selfless hero fighting Iran’s enemies abroad.

Soleimani had been rumoured dead several times, including in a 2006 aeroplane crash that killed other military officials in northwestern Iran and following a 2012 bombing in Damascus that killed top aides of Assad. Rumours circulated in November 2015 that Soleimani was killed or seriously wounded leading forces loyal to Assad as they fought around Syria’s Aleppo.

Soleimani’s killing follows the New Year’s Eve attack by Iran-backed militias on the US Embassy in Baghdad. The two-day embassy attack, which ended Wednesday, prompted Trump to order about 750 US troops deployed to the Middle East. No one was killed or wounded in the attack, which appeared to be mainly a show of force.

It prompted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to postpone his trip to Ukraine and four other countries ‘to continue monitoring the ongoing situation in Iraq and ensure the safety and security of Americans in the Middle East,’ the State Department said.

The breach at the embassy followed US airstrikes Sunday that killed 25 fighters of Kataeb Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia operating in Iraq and Syria. The US military said the strikes were in retaliation for last week’s killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that the US blamed on the militia.

US officials have suggested they were prepared to engage in further retaliatory attacks in Iraq.

‘The game has changed,’ Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Thursday, telling reporters that violent acts by Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq will be met with US military force.

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