US President Donald Trump said on January 7 that America had killed a "monster" with the drone missile strike on top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.
Soleimani—who was regarded as Iran’s second most senior official as he moved between conflict-torn states effecting Tehran’s Middle East military and diplomatic policies—"was planning a big attack" when he was killed by the airstrike in Baghdad on January 3, Trump claimed.
He once more failed to provide any evidence that that was the case.
Trump’s words came on a day that 50 people lost their lives, and 200 were injured, during a stampede that broke out prior to the funeral of Soleimani in his home town of Kerman in southeastern Iran.
In further remarks at the Oval Office, Trump appeared to draw back from his previous threat to target Iranian cultural sites should Tehran respond to the assassination of Soleimani militarily. He also said a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, as called for by the Iraqi parliament after the killing of Soleimani, would be the worst thing for the country.
"He was a monster. And he's no longer a monster. He's dead," Trump said of Soleimani. "He was planning a big attack and bad attack for us. I don't think anyone can complain about it."
Adding to his remarks about destroying Iranian cultural sites, which many experts have said would contravene international laws and amount to a war crime, Trump conceded that "according to various laws" the US should not target these cultural sites. "You know what, if that's what the law is, I like to obey the law," he added.
Assessing claims by many experts that the assassination of Soleimani had united many Iranians previously at odds, Roham Alvandi, associate professor of International History at the London School of Economics, said on Twitter that “Trump severely underestimates Iranian nationalism.” He added: "Someone should tell him about the pilots of the Imperial Iranian Air Force, who were allowed out of their prison cells by their revolutionary jailers in 1980 to fly sorties against the invading Iraqis".
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper backed up Trump on the claim of an imminent attack orchestrated by Soleimani by saying at a briefing that US intelligence had expected an attack masterminded by the major-general Quds Force commander within days. More details would be passed to a select number of congressional figures, he said.
The secretary of Iran’s national security council, Ali Shamkhani, meanwhile, said 13 “revenge scenarios” were being considered in the wake of the assassination. Even the most limited options would be a “historic nightmare” for the US, he added.
Ali Shamkhani told the Tasnim news agency: “The 27 US bases that are closest to Iran’s border are already on high alert; they know that the response is likely to include medium-range and long-range missiles.”
Trump responded to Iranian threats, saying: “We’re totally prepared. And likewise, we’re prepared to attack if we have to.”
Analysts fear that the escalating exchange of rhetoric about retribution and counter-retribution could leave Iran’s leaders with little option but to attempt a major counter-attack, or else suffer a terrible loss of face.
Members of the “Resistance axis”, including pro-Iranian militias from across the Middle East, were due to meet in Tehran in the next 48 hours to discuss tactics.
Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, stated that the Iranian response to US “state terrorism” would be proportionate. “This is an act of aggression against Iran, and it amounts to an armed attack against Iran, and we will respond. But we will respond proportionately—not disproportionately… We are not lawless like President Trump,” he said.
“Unlike the United States, we do not take cowardly terrorist acts,” he added. “When we do it, we will declare it.”
In one sign the Trump administration is attempting to turn to diplomacy to defuse tensions, Bloomberg reported that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent a cable to all US embassies ordering diplomats not to meet with Iranian opposition groups without permission—the explanation was that such meetings could jeopardise diplomacy with Iran’s government. But at the same time, the US denied Zarif a visa to travel to New York to address the UN Security Council on the crisis.
In other developments, Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned Brazil’s charge d’affaires in Tehran on January 7 after Brazilian government comments that suggested it supported the killing of Soleimani.
Police in Kosovo arrested a woman on January 7 who was accused of inciting terrorist acts via social media in relation to the killing of Soleimani, Reuters reported.
Kosovan police said that Ikballe Berisha Huduti was detained on charges of "incitement to commit a terrorist offence".
Huduti, who has posted pictures of herself with former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is believed to have connections with the government of Iran. She previously ran an Islamic organisation called Kur’ani.
"By killing the master of the house you have killed all members of the family, then revenge is obligatory but it has no border," Huduti wrote on social media, before later deleting the post.
Huduti said her messages, written on her private Facebook page, were taken out of context by media in Pristina.
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