Archive for January 5, 2020

Iraqi parliament passes resolution to end foreign troop …

January 5, 2020

IRAQ-SECURITY/PARLIAMENT-RESOLUTION (URGENT):Iraqi parliament passes resolution to end foreign troop presence

Source: Iraqi parliament passes resolution to end foreign troop …

(Updates throughout)

By Ahmed Rasheed and Ahmed Aboulenein

BAGHDAD, Jan 5 (Reuters) – The Iraqi parliament called on the government on Sunday to work to end all foreign troop presence as a backlash grew after the killing of a top Iranian military commander and an Iraqi militia leader in a U.S. strike in Baghdad.

A resolution passed by a special session of parliament said the government should cancel its request for assistance from a U.S.-led coalition.

Parliament resolutions, unlike laws, are non-binding to the government. But this one is likely to be heeded: Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi had earlier called on parliament to end 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 said.

The special session was called after a U.S. drone strike on Friday on a convoy at Baghdad airport that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Since the killings, rival Shi’ite political leaders have called for U.S. troops to be expelled from Iraq in an unusual show of unity among factions that have squabbled for months.

“There is no need for the presence of American forces after defeating Daesh (Islamic State),” said Ammar al-Shibli, a Shi’ite lawmaker and member of the parliamentary legal committee, before the parliamentary meeting.

“We have our own armed forces which are capable of protecting the country,” he told Reuters.

Despite decades of enmity between Iran and the United States, Iran-backed militia and U.S. troops fought side by side during Iraq’s 2014-2017 war against Islamic State militants.

Around 5,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, most of them in an advisory capacity.

Abdul Mahdi, who holds the post in a caretaker role after resigning in November amid street protests, called on Friday for parliament to convene the extraordinary session to take legislative steps to protect Iraq’s sovereignty.

Hadi al-Amiri, the top candidate to succeed Muhandis, repeated his call for U.S. troops to leave Iraq on Saturday during a funeral procession for those killed in the attack.

Many Iraqis, including opponents of Soleimani, have expressed anger at Washington for killing him and Muhandis on Iraqi soil and potentially dragging their country into another conflict.

(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed, Ahmed Aboulenein and Maha El Dahan Editing by Frances Kerry)

 

Hezbollah chief urges attacks, including suicide bombings, on US bases in region

January 5, 2020

Source: Hezbollah chief urges attacks, including suicide bombings, on US bases in region | The Times of Israel

Nasrallah says Israel asked Americans to kill Quds Force commander Soleimani, predicts US will leave the Middle East ‘in coffins,’ followed by ‘Zionists’

Supporters of Shiite Hezbollah terror group watch a speech by its leader Hasan Nasrallah, broadcast on a screen, in the Lebanese capital Beirut's southern suburbs, January 5, 2020. (Anwar Amro/AFP)

Supporters of Shiite Hezbollah terror group watch a speech by its leader Hasan Nasrallah, broadcast on a screen, in the Lebanese capital Beirut’s southern suburbs, January 5, 2020. (Anwar Amro/AFP)

The leader of the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist organization said on Sunday that the United States’ killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike in Iraq marked the start of a “new war” on the US in the Middle East.

He called on Shiite militias to attack US military assets throughout the Middle East — including suicide bombings — and predicted that the Americans will leave the region in “coffins,” taking Israel with them.

“This was not a separate assassination operation. This is the start of a new US war in the region,” Hassan Nasrallah said, according to a translation by the Lebanese Naharnet outlet.

Nasrallah said the January 3 airstrike will remain 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 claimed that Israel had requested that the US kill Soleimani.

Early Friday, a volley of missiles hit Baghdad’s international airport, striking a convoy belonging to the Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iraqi paramilitary force with close ties to Iran. Just a few hours later, the Revolutionary Guard Corps announced Soleimani “was martyred in an attack by America on Baghdad airport this morning.”

Supporters of Hezbollah terror chief Hassan Nasrallah chant slogans ahead of his televised speech in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Jan. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

“Israel wanted to assassinate the Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in Syria, but it couldn’t or didn’t dare. It turned to the United States, which did it openly,” Nasrallah said.

“Israel saw Soleimani as the most dangerous man since the state was established, since he encircled the country with missiles,” he said.

The Lebanon-based Nasrallah praised Soleimani’s “martyrdom,” while blaming Washington for the “crime” of his death.

“This is not an ambiguous assassination… This is a blatant and clear crime. [President Donald] Trump ordered the US Army to carry out this crime,” he said.

Addressing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Nasrallah said: “I’m telling Pompeo today, look at the masses that came out to Soleimani’s funeral — this is the power of Iran. The goal now is to completely remove the American occupiers from Iraq. The Iraqi opposition won’t allow a single American soldier to remain in Iraq.”

Nasrallah promised that if Shiite militias attack US military assets in the Middle East, the Americans will eventually leave the region in humiliation — and will take Israel with them.

“We won’t allow our region, its holy places and its natural resources to be handed over to the Zionists,” the Hezbollah chief said.

He called on Shiite forces, the “axis of resistance,” to attack the US military, including with suicide bombers.

An image published on Ali Khamenei’s official website on September 25 showing Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader, left, alongside Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, center, and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani. (Khamenei.ir)

“If the resistance axis heads in this direction, the Americans will leave our region, humiliated, defeated and terrified. The suicide martyrs who forced the US out of the region before [still] remain,” he said, according to translator David Daoud.

“If our region’s peoples head in this direction, when the coffins of US soldiers and officers — they arrived vertically, and will return horizontally — Trump and his administration will know they lost the region, and will lose the [2020] elections,” he threatened.

“[The] response to the blood of Soleimani… must be the expulsion of all US forces from the region. When we accomplish this goal, the liberation of Palestine will become imminent. When US forces leave the region, these Zionists will pack their bags and leave, and [we] might not need a battle with Israel,” he said.

“Trump and the fools with him don’t realize what they’ve done, but time will show them,” he said.

Nasrallah said that Soleimani had visited him a few weeks ago.

“I told him, ‘your face is in the American newspapers, they’re going to assassinate you.’ He said, ‘I wish.’”

“The dear and beloved brother Soleimani achieved what his heart desired. He died a martyr,” Nasrallah said.

Hezbollah is a close ally of Iran and considered part of a regional Iranian-backed alliance of proxy militias.

On Friday, Nasrallah mourned Iran’s Quds Force leader as a “master of resistance.”

Iranians burn an Israeli and a US flag during an anti-US protest in the capital Tehran on January 4, 2020, over the killings during a US airstrike of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Soleimani had close ties with Hezbollah and was heavily involved in its operations. In a rare interview late last year, Soleimani claimed he and Nasrallah escaped an Israeli assassination attempt when Israeli aircraft targeted them in Beirut during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

Soleimani has for years been seen as the architect of much of Iran’s malign activities in the Middle East, including attempts to gain a foothold in Syria and rocket attacks on Israel.

Soleimani had long stayed in the shadows while directing the Quds Force. But he rose to prominence by advising forces fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and in Syria on behalf of embattled dictator Bashar Assad.

 

Israel to Buy an Additional 50 F-35 Fighter Jets

January 5, 2020

 

 

BREAKING: Islamic Terrorist Group Attacks Military Base Used By U.S. Forces In Africa 

January 5, 2020

Source: BREAKING: Islamic Terrorist Group Attacks Military Base Used By U.S. Forces In Africa | The Daily Wire

DailyWire.com
Al-Qaeda linked al-shabab recruits walk down a street on March 5, 2012 in the Deniile district of Somalian capital, Mogadishu, following their graduation. The walls of the former Shebab base in Baidoa, Somalia, are littered with rudimentary drawings of machine guns and tanks, a note reading "Fear God, don't write on these walls" and a sketch of an Al-Qaeda flag, homage to the rebel group's international allies. The crumbling building is now occupied by Ethiopian troops who nearly two weeks ago forced Shebab rebels out of Baidoa, their former Shebab stronghold and Somalia's third-largest city.
Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP via Getty Images

Al Shababb, Somalia’s largest Islamic terrorist organization, launched an attack on a military base in Kenya used by U.S. forces during the early morning hours on Sunday.

A military source told Reuters, “They have attacked Manda airstrip in Lamu, which is just next to the military camp that hosts military personnel from many countries including Kenya and the U.S. We are informed that fighting is still ongoing.”

The U.S. military said in statement, “U.S. Africa Command acknowledges there was an attack at Manda Bay Airfield, Kenya and is monitoring the situation. Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the incident. As facts and details emerge, we will provide an update.”

US AFRICOM

@USAfricaCommand

Reuters’ source said that the terrorists were trying to get to the military base by going through the airstrip.

The report from Reuters also included the following statement from the terrorist organization:

An elite group of soldiers from Harakat Al-Shabaab Al Mujahideen’s ‘Martyrdom Brigade’ launched a daring dawn raid on a U.S. naval base known as ‘Camp Simba’ in Lamu County, Kenya. … the base is home to hundreds of U.S.military personnel and Kenyan soldiers and serves as one of the many launch pads for the American crusade against Islam in the region.

The attacks comes as U.S. forces are on high alert for possible attacks after President Donald Trump authorized an airstrike late last week that killed Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, which is a designated terrorist organization.

An Iranian official indicated that it was considering some 35 different U.S. targets to strike in response to the U.S. killing its top terrorist leader.

Trump responded via Twitter late on Saturday night, writing, “Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American, & badly wounded many others, not to mention all of the people he had killed over his lifetime, including recently hundreds of Iranian protesters.”

“He was already attacking our Embassy, and preparing for additional hits in other locations. Iran has been nothing but problems for many years,” Trump continued. “Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some 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. The USA wants no more threats!”

The U.S. State Department reported in October 2019 that the most recent terrorism statistics available indicated that Al-Shabaab was the third deadliest terrorist organization in 2018 as it conducted 535 attacks in Somalia and Kenya that resulted in the 2,062 deaths and 1,278 injuries.

The fact that the terrorist group, according to Reuters, had accepted responsibility for the attack appears to be out of the ordinary given how Al-Shabaab reportedly operates. The State Department said that Al-Shabaab has “a known policy of not claiming responsibility for incidents outside Somalia even though they are active in neighboring countries.”

The State Department further noted that of the 306 assassinations that happened in 40 countries around the world in 2018, Somalia accounted for 60 of them and Al-Shabaab was responsible for 51. Al-Shabaab also deployed the use of IEDs more frequently than any other terrorist organization.

The Counter Extremism Project reported that Al-Shabaab has reportedly received funding from the government of Iran.

Journalists posted the following videos and images of the purported attack on Twitter:

Samira Sawlani

@samirasawlani

Al-Shabaab has attacked a US military base in Lamu, Kenya.
No news on casualties etc as gunfire exchange continues

Harun Maruf

@HarunMaruf

Hussein Mohammed@huseinmoha

BNO News

@BNONews

This is a breaking news story, refresh the page for updates

 

Iran pushes back after US threatens to target dozens of sites

January 5, 2020

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Source: Iran pushes back after US threatens to target dozens of sites | The Times of Israel

Army says US military lacks ‘courage,’ and Tehran’s top diplomat protests that hitting cultural sites is prohibited; Iran MPs chant ‘Death to America’ after Soleimani killing

A large crowd surrounds the coffins of slain top commander Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, as they are transported atop a vehicle after their arrival at Ahvaz International Airport in southwestern Iran on January 5, 2020. (FATEMEH RAHIMAVIAN / fars news / AFP)

A large crowd surrounds the coffins of slain top commander Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, as they are transported atop a vehicle after their arrival at Ahvaz International Airport in southwestern Iran on January 5, 2020. (FATEMEH RAHIMAVIAN / fars news / AFP)

Iran’s army chief said Sunday that Washington lacked the “courage” to initiate a conflict after US President Donald  Trump threatened to hit dozens of targets inside the Islamic Republic, should Iran attack Americans in retaliation for the US strike that killed top general Qassem Soleimani.

“I doubt they have the courage to initiate” a conflict in which the Americans threatened to strike 52 targets, Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi said, quoted by state news agency IRNA.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also pushed back against Trump, saying targeting “cultural sites is a WAR CRIME,” in a Twitter post.

Iran has promised “harsh revenge” for the US drone strike Friday that killed Soleimani in Iraq.  Already, a series of rockets launched in Baghdad late Saturday fell inside or near the Green Zone, which houses government offices and foreign embassies, including the US Embassy.

Trump wrote on Twitter afterward that the US would target “52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture.”

Trump did not identify the targets but added that they would be “HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.”

He later threatened to send “brand new beautiful [military] equipment their way…and without hesitation!”

But Iran’s army chief dismissed the threats as an attempt to distract the global opinion “from the heinous and unjustifiable act they have done.”

As Soleimani’s body arrived Sunday in Iran to throngs of mourners, Iranian lawmakers opened a parliamentary session with chants of “Death to America” on Sunday. The chant in Tehran lasted for a few minutes during a regular session, ISNA reported.

“Trump, this is the voice of the Iranian nation, listen,” speaker Ali Larijani was quoted as saying.

roi kais • רועי קייס

@kaisos1987

הפרלמנט האיראני הפך למקהלה הבוקר

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Soleimani’s death Friday in Iraq further heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington after months of trading attacks and threats that put the wider Middle East on edge.

After thousands in Baghdad on Saturday mourned Soleimani and others killed in the strike, authorities flew the general’s body to the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. An honor guard stood by early Sunday as mourners carried the flag-draped coffins of Soleimani and other Guard members off the tarmac.

Officials brought Soleimani’s body to Ahvaz, a city that was a focus of fighting during the bloody 1980-88 war between Iraq and Iran in which the general slowly grew to prominence. After that war, Soleimani joined the Guard’s newly formed Quds, or Jerusalem, Force, an expeditionary force that works with Iranian proxy forces in countries like Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

Authorities also plan to take Soleimani’s body to Mashhad later Sunday, as well as Tehran and Qom on Monday for public mourning processions, then onto his hometown of Kerman for burial Tuesday.

Senior Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, attends a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (not seen) and Revolutionary Guard commanders in Tehran, Iran, September 18, 2016 photo. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s regional policy of mobilizing militias across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, including in the war against the Islamic State terror group. He was also blamed for attacks on US troops and American allies going back decades.

Though it’s unclear how or when Iran may respond, any retaliation was likely to come after three days of mourning declared in both Iran and Iraq. All eyes were on Iraq, where America and Iran have competed for influence since the 2003 US-led invasion.

Israel has also taken some precautions amid fears of being targeted by Iran, though most analysts believe the Jewish state to be an unlikely target.

After the airstrike early Friday, the US-led coalition has scaled back operations and boosted “security and defensive measures” at bases hosting coalition forces in Iraq, a coalition official said on condition of anonymity according to regulations.

Meanwhile, the US has dispatched another 3,000 troops to neighboring Kuwait, the latest in a series of deployments in recent months as the standoff with Iran has worsened. Protesters held demonstrations in dozens of US cities Saturday over Trump’s decisions to kill Soleimani and deploy more troops to the Mideast.

In a thinly veiled threat, one of the Iran-backed militia, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, called on Iraqi security forces to stay at least a kilometer (0.6 miles) away from U.S. bases starting Sunday night. However, US troops are invariably based in Iraqi military posts alongside local forces.

Iraq’s government, which is closely allied with Iran, condemned the airstrike that killed Soleimani, calling it an attack on its national sovereignty. Parliament is meeting for an emergency session Sunday, and the government has come under mounting pressure to expel the 5,200 American troops who are based in the country to help prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State group.

 

The rise, unrivaled reach and inevitable fiery death of Qassam Soleimani

January 5, 2020

Source: The rise, unrivaled reach and inevitable fiery death of Qassam Soleimani | The Times of Israel

Meir Dagan bitterly called him ‘a very good friend.’ He ran much of 2006 Lebanon War against Israel, enabled Assad’s survival, intervened in Iraq. Then Trump okayed an airstrike…

Protesters demonstrate over the US airstrike in Iraq that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in Tehran, Iran, Saturday Jan. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Protesters demonstrate over the US airstrike in Iraq that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in Tehran, Iran, Saturday Jan. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

TEHRAN, Iran — For Iranians whose icons since the Islamic Revolution have been stern-faced clergy, Gen. Qassem Soleimani was a popular figure of national resilience in the face of four decades of US pressure.

For the US and Israel, he was a shadowy figure in command of Iran’s proxy forces, responsible for fighters in Syria backing President Bashar Assad and for the deaths of American troops in Iraq. In a rare interview aired on Iranian state television in October, he said he was in Lebanon for almost the entire 34-day duration of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, overseeing the conflict. Western leaders saw him as central to Iran’s ties with terror groups including Hezbollah and Hamas. He was active in Iraq, central to its current politics, and consequently loathed by Iraqis who have demonstrated for months against a government they see as beholden to Iran.

A 2013 New Yorker profile quoted John Maguire, a former CIA officer in Iraq, describing him as “the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today.” The piece said that since he took over the Quds Force, whose numbers it put at 10,000-20,000, Soleimani “has sought to reshape the Middle East in Iran’s favor, working as a power broker and as a military force: assassinating rivals, arming allies, and, for most of a decade, directing a network of militant groups that killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq.”

Meir Dagan, a former Mossad chief, attending the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism ceremony in Jerusalem, May 30, 2011. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90/JTA)

Penned by Dexter Filkins, the article described Soleimani flying repeatedly to Damascus and assuming “personal control of the Iranian intervention” that ultimately enabled Assad to retain power — orchestrating arms shipments, deploying Hezbollah, turning the tide of the conflict in Assad’s favor. The article also quoted the late Mossad chief Meir Dagan calling him “politically clever.” Inside the Iranian regime, “he has a relationship with everyone,” said Dagan. “When I called Dagan… and mentioned Soleimani’s name,” wrote Filkins, “there was a long pause on the line. ‘Ah,’ he said, in a tone of weary irony, ‘a very good friend.’”

“To Middle Eastern Shiites, he is James Bond, Erwin Rommel and Lady Gaga rolled into one,” wrote former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack in a profile for Time’s 100 most influential people in 2017. “To the West, he is… responsible for exporting Iran’s Islamic revolution, supporting terrorists, subverting pro-Western governments and waging Iran’s foreign wars,” Pollack added.

A Foreign Policy profile last year, headlined “Iran’s Deadly Puppet Master,” called him “arguably the most powerful and unconstrained actor in the Middle East today.”

And for US President Donald Trump, who authorized his killing in a missile strike in Baghdad early Friday, Soleimani was a terror chief “directly and indirectly responsible for the death of millions of people” who “should have been taken out many years ago!”

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

The US airstrike killed Soleimani, 62, and others as they traveled from Baghdad’s international airport early Friday morning. The Pentagon said Trump ordered the US military to take “decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing” a man once referred to by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a “living martyr of the revolution.”

Soleimani’s luck finally ran out after he was rumored dead several times over the years. There was a 2006 airplane crash that killed other military officials in northwestern Iran and a 2012 bombing in Damascus that killed top aides of Assad. More recently, rumors circulated in November 2015 that Soleimani had been killed or seriously wounded leading forces loyal to Assad as they fought around Syria’s Aleppo.

Relentless rise

Born March 11, 1957, Iranians say Soleimani grew up near the mountainous and historic Iranian town of Rabor, famous for its forests, its apricot, walnut and peach harvests and its brave soldiers. The US State Department has said he was born in the Iranian religious capital of Qom.

Little is known about his childhood, though Iranian accounts suggest Soleimani’s father was a peasant who received some land under the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the monarch who was toppled in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

By the time he was 13, Soleimani was working construction, later as an employee of the Kerman Water Organization. After Iran’s Islamic Revolution swept the shah from power, Soleimani joined the Revolutionary Guard. He deployed to Iran’s northwest with forces that put down Kurdish unrest.

Soon after, Iraq invaded Iran and began the two countries’ long, bloody eight-year war. The fighting killed more than 1 million people and saw Iran send waves of lightly armed troops into minefields and the fire of Iraqi forces, including teenage soldiers. Solemani’s unit and others also were attacked by Iraqi chemical weapons.

Iran’s Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani (left) with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (Wikipedia)

Amid the carnage, Soleimani became known for his opposition to “meaningless deaths” on the battlefield. He wept with fervor when exhorting his men into combat, embracing each individually.

For several years after the Iraq-Iran war, Soleimani largely disappeared from public view, something analysts attribute to his wartime disagreements with Hashemi Rafsanjani, who served as Iran’s president from 1989 to 1997. But after Rafsanjani, Soleimani became head of the Quds Force, responsible for the Islamic Republic’s campaigns abroad. He also grew so close to Khamenei that the Supreme Leader officiated the wedding of the general’s daughter.

Relatively unknown in Iran until the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Soleimani’s popularity and mystique grew after American officials called for his killing. A decade and a half later, Soleimani had become Iran’s most recognizable battlefield commander, ignoring calls to enter politics but growing as powerful, if not more, than its civilian leadership.

‘I control the policy’

As chief of the Quds Force — or Jerusalem Force — Solemani oversaw the Guard’s foreign operations and soon would come to the attention of Americans following the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

In secret US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, US officials openly discussed Iraqi efforts to reach out to Soleimani to stop rocket attacks on the highly secured Green Zone in Baghdad in 2009. Another cable in 2007 outlines then-Iraqi President Jalal Talabani offering a US official a message from Soleimani acknowledging having “hundreds” of agents in the country while pledging, “I swear on the grave of (the late Ayatollah Ruhollah) Khomeini I haven’t authorized a bullet against the US.”

US officials at the time dismissed Soleimani’s claim as they saw Iran as both an arsonist and a fireman in Iraq, controlling some Shiite militias while simultaneously stirring dissent and launching attacks. US forces blamed the Quds Force for an attack in Karbala that killed five American troops, as well as for training and supplying the bomb makers whose improvised bombs made IED — improvised explosive device — a dreaded acronym among soldiers.

An image published on Ali Khamenei’s official website on September 25 showing Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader, left, alongside Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, center, and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani. (Khamenei.ir)

In a 2010 speech, US Gen. David Petraeus recounted a message from Soleimani he said explained the scope of Iranian’s powers.

“He said, ‘Gen. Petreaus, you should know that I, Qassem Soleimani, control the policy for Iran with respect to Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan,’” Petraeus said.

The US and the United Nations put Soleimani on sanctions lists in 2007, though he continued to travel. In 2011, US officials named him as a defendant in an outlandish Quds Force plot to allegedly hire a purported Mexican drug cartel assassin to kill a Saudi diplomat. The 2013 New Yorker profile, which detailed that 2011 plot, also noted that, a year earlier, according to Western officials, Soleimani’s Quds Force and Hezbollah “launched a new campaign against American and Israeli targets — in apparent retaliation for the covert effort to slow down the Iranian nuclear program.” Since then, it added, “Soleimani has orchestrated attacks in places as far flung as Thailand, New Delhi, Lagos and Nairobi — at least thirty attempts in the past two years alone.”

“Over the years, the Quds Force has built an international network of assets, some of them drawn from the Iranian diaspora, who can be called on to support missions,” the New Yorker article reported. “They’re everywhere,” it quoted a Middle Eastern security official saying. The piece also linked the Quds Force, in the years just before Soleimani took command in 1998, to the two major terrorist attacks on Jewish targets in Buenos Aires — at the Israeli Embassy in 1992, where 29 people died, and at the AMIA Jewish community center in 1994, where 85 people were killed.

More popular than the politicians

The attention the West gave Soleimani only boosted his profile at home. He sat by Khamenei’s side at key meetings. He famously met Syria’s Assad in February together with the supreme leader — but without Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, sparking a short-lived resignation by the top Iranian diplomat.

A pedestrian walks past banners showing portrait of Quds Force chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US airstrike early Friday in Iraq, in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Polling data routinely showed Soleimani rated more favorably than other public figures, according to the Center for International Studies at the University of Maryland. A survey published in 2018 found Soleimani had a popularity rating of 83 percent, beating President Hassan Rouhani and Zarif. But Soleimani refused entreaties to enter politics.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force commander, Qassam Soleimani, in an Iranian TV interview, October 1, 2019 (YouTube screenshot)

In his TV interview last October, Soleimani described at considerable length what he claimed an effort by  Israeli aircraft to target him and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut. He said he and Nasrallah hid from what he described as Israeli heat-tracking drones under a tree at one point, and later used underground garages to switch cars and lose Israel’s tail.

On Friday, he was less successful. As the vehicle in which he was traveling headed down a Baghdad airport access road, the US drone unleashed four Hellfire missiles — obliterating the car and those inside it.

 

Given many options, aides were reportedly surprised Trump ordered Soleimani hit 

January 5, 2020

Source: Given many options, aides were reportedly surprised Trump ordered Soleimani hit | The Times of Israel

US president was reportedly angered by killing of US contractor and TV images of Baghdad embassy attack; Trump told Mar-a-Lago guests there would be ‘big’ response

A billboard bearing a portrait of slain Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, the deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards, hangs on a main road in the Iranian capital Tehran on January 4, 2020, one day after Soleimani and other members of the pro-Iranian Iraqi paramilitary group Al-Hashed Al-Shaabi were killed in a US air strike near Baghdad international airport (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Aides to US President Donald Trump reportedly did not expect him to approve the killing of Iran’s top general, which was presented to him as one of a range of options as a response to the killing of an American contractor and the storming of the US embassy in Baghdad by pro-Iranian protesters.

The Pentagon said the US military killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, in Baghdad Friday at the direction of Trump.

Trump was told that Soleimani was linked to the contractor’s killing and the embassy attack. The Iranian general was also said to be orchestrating planned attacks on American targets in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

The Defense Department said Soleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” The attack is expected to draw severe Iranian retaliation, potentially against both American and Israeli interests.

Trump’s final pre-strike consultations were held over the past few days behind the palm trees at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, where the president has spent two weeks largely out of sight before his impeachment trial in the Senate. In the days before the attack, Trump huddled with aides, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his national security adviser, Robert O’Brien.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, listens as Secretary of Defense Mark Esper delivers a statement on Iraq and Syria at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property, Dec. 29, 2019, in Palm Beach, Florida (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

According to the LA Times, Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff traveled to Florida to brief the US president.

A senior official familiar with the discussions who was not authorized to talk about the meeting on the record told the newspaper that Trump picked the killing of Soleimani out of a number of options proposed.

According to the outlet, Trump’s decision was influenced by Iran hawks among his advisers.

Aides told the New York Times that Trump’s decision was made due to his anger about a rocket attack that killed an American civilian contractor, as well as television images of pro-Iranian protesters storming the US Embassy in Baghdad. Trump spent much of this vacation angry about the the killing of the contractor, and stayed largely out of sight in Florida, emerging only for rounds of golf at his other nearby club and mingling with guests at a New Year’s Eve party.

Wearing a tux at the party, Trump was asked by a reporter if he foresaw a chance of war with Iran. Raising his voice to be heard over the holiday revelers, Trump said he wanted “to have peace.”

“And Iran should want peace more than anybody,” he said, giving no indication of the momentous decision he was already weighing.

“So I don’t see that happening. No, I don’t think Iran would want that to happen. It would go very quickly,” Trump said.

The Pentagon has said Soleimani had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the past few months, including on December 27, the day the contractor was killed.

Soleimani “also approved the attacks” on the US embassy in Baghdad, according to the Pentagon.

Supporters of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force and Iraq’s Hezbollah brigades attend the funeral of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani (portrait) and Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Baghdad’s district of al-Jadriya, in Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone, on January 4, 2020 (Ahmad AL-RUBAYE / AFP)

An anonymous American official told the New York Times that advisers to Trump were increasingly concerned that his continued assertions that he did not want a war with Iran meant that Tehran no longer feared a response.

After the decision was made, US intelligence services worked to locate Soleimani, knowing the Iranian general was in the middle of an extended trip around the region, and discovered that he was due to fly from Damascus to Baghdad.

Most national security officials did not want to attack Soleimani in Iraq, given the presence of US troops there and the already tenuous situation on the ground. Some argued for the operation to occur when Soleimani was traveling in Lebanon or Syria. But when they learned Soleimani would be traveling to Baghdad on January 2, they decided targeting him at the airport was their best opportunity.

“He was personally going to a few locations for final planning authority for what we assessed to be something big,” officials told the LA Times.

Officials believed they had a legal justification and would cite intelligence suggesting that Soleimani was traveling in the Middle East to put final touches on plans for attacks that would have hit US diplomats, soldiers and American facilities in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.

US officials have not been more specific about the intelligence. A congressional aide briefed by the administration on Friday said officials offered compelling details about Iran’s intentions and capabilities, but not about the timing of the supposed attacks on Americans.

The deliberations and Trump’s final decision came quickly enough that in the hours before the attack early Friday in Baghdad, contingency plans for a potential Iranian response were still being finalized. The White House communications team was not given a heads-up about the strike, leaving the staff scrambling as news of the explosion spread.

The president told one confidant after the attack that he wanted to deliver a warning to Iran not to mess with American assets. Trump said he was also eager to project global strength and replicate the message he believed he sent last year after approving the raid to kill Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: the US would find its enemies anywhere in the world.

In the days following his decision to order the killing of Soleimani, Trump dropped multiple hints to guests at his Mar-a-Lago resort that he was working on a “big” response to Iran that they they would hear about “soon,” the Daily Beast reported.

The hints to guests at the Florida club came despite complaints from leading Democrats that there was no advance notification of the strike to Congress.

The White House traditionally notifies senior members of both parties in the Senate and House of Representatives ahead of major military action. But top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer “was not given advanced notice” of the strike, a senior Democratic aide told AFP.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the administration conducted the airstrike without consultation of Congress or an authorization for use of military force against Iran. The strike conducted against Soleimani “went forward with no notification or consultation with Congress,” House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel similarly said in a statement.