US-Iran tensions after Soleimani killing

Funeral processions to honour Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian military commander who was assassinated last week in an air raid by the United States in Baghdad, are underway in Iran.

Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was killed along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the 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 international 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.

Here are the latest updates.

Monday, January 6
Kremlin says Merkel, Putin to discuss Middle East crisis in Moscow
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Russia on January 11 to discuss the Middle East crisis with President Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader’s press service said.

The Kremlin said Merkel is travelling to Russia at Putin’s invitation and that the two leaders also plan to discuss the situations in Syria,

France: Middle East tensions could reinvigorate Islamic State
France’s finance minister said that currenty tensions in the region could affect global economic growth and reinvigorate Islamic State group extremists.

“You must always ask who is served by and who profits from this instability,” Bruno Le Maire told France-Inter radio. “The instability in the Middle East today benefits only organisation: The Islamic State group.”

Le Maire added that the “[instability] will increase the terrorist threat over France and Europe.”

Mourners flood the streets as Khamenei leads funeral prayers
Hundreds of thousands of people turned out in the capital to pay their final respects to Soleimani, as the multi-city ceremony for the slain commander continued in Iran.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei led prayers at the Tehran funeral, weeping at one point during the traditional Muslim prayers for the dead.

Hamas chief attends funeral
Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, in an address to Iranian mourners in Tehran described Soleimani as “the martyr of Jerusalem.”

Haniyeh vowed that Palestinian groups will walk Soleimani’s way “to confront the Zionist project and the American influence.”

Haniyeh’s visit to Iran comes after Egypt allowed him to travel for his first regional tour since his 2017 election into the Hamas leadership on the condition that he not visit Iran, according to Arab and Israel media reports.

In pictures: Tears, cries of vengeance as Tehran bids farewell to Soleimani
A sea of men wearing black and women in black chadors waited for the arrival of Soleimani’s remains, as loudspeakers blared mourning hymns throughout central Tehran.

A traffic jam formed in the intersections leading to the unfinished grand mosque, named after the late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, where Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei led the prayers for Soleimani.

Soleimani’s remains will be brought to his hometown of Kerman on Tuesday for final rites before his burial.

Go here to view pictures from the funeral procession in Tehran

NATO ambassadors to meet on Iran crisis: Official
NATO ambassadors will meet at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels on Monday amid mounting tensions following the killing of Soleimani.

“The North Atlantic Council will address the situation in the region,” a NATO official was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

“The secretary general decided to convene the meeting of NATO ambassadors following consultations with allies.”

Germany’s Maas: Sanctions threat against Iraq ‘not very helpful’
Germany’s foreign minister said threatening Iraq with sanctions is “not very helpful” after US President Donald Trump warned that Baghdad could be hit by sanctions “like they’ve never seen before” if US forces were forced to leave.

“I don’t think it works to convince Iraq with threats but with arguments,” Heiko Maas told Deutschlandfunk public radio.

He added that Germany, Britain and France would discuss the Iran nuclear deal on Monday and would react this week to Tehran’s recent announcement that it would further roll back its commitments to the 2015 landmark agreement.

“We will definitely talk to Iran again. What has been announced is, however, not consistent with the agreement,” Maas said.

“[The situation] has not got easier, and this could be the first step to the end of this agreement, which would be a big loss so we will weigh this up very, very responsibly now.”

China criticises US interventionism, urges restraint
China criticised the US for aggravating tensions in the Middle East through its military interventionism over the standoff between Washington and Tehran and urged all parties to exercise restraint to ensure peace and stability.

“Power politics are neither popular nor sustainable,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily briefing. “The US’s risky military behaviour in recent days goes against the basic norms of international relations.”

“We call on the US not to abuse its force, and appeal to relevant parties to exercise restraint to avoid the situation worsening,” he said, adding that China is “highly concerned” about the standoff between Iran and the US.

South Africa’s ANC party condemns US strike

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party condemned the US airstrike that killed Iran’s Soleimani as an “act of international terrorism.”

The statement appeared in a Facebook post over the weekend and was issued by party secretary-general Ace Magashule.

South Africa’s foreign ministry released a more measured statement Friday supporting Iraq’s sovereignty and calling for dialogue and calm.

In its statement, the former liberation movement, once led by Nelson Mandela, called the “raw aggression” an attack on Iran’s sovereignty and it called for maximum restraint.

Soleimani’s killing poses ‘serious risk for peace’: Turkey
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the “killing of Soleimani is a serious risk for peace in the region”.

“We will work with other countries to reduce tensions between the US and Iran,” Cavusoglu told reporters at the Directorate for EU affairs in the capital Ankara.

US and Israel face ‘dark day’: Soleimani’s daughter
Zeinab Soleimani, daughter of the slain general, told crowds at her father’s funeral procession in Tehran that the US and Israel faced a “dark day” for his death.

“Crazy Trump, don’t think that everything is over with my father’s martyrdom,” she said in an address broadcast on state television.

New Quds Force chief says he aims to remove US from region
Brigadier General Esmail Qaani, the new commander of the Quds Force, said he aimed to expel the US from the region in the wake of Soleimani’s killing.

“We promise to continue martyr Soleimani’s path with the same force … and the only compensation for us would be to remove America from the region,” Qaani was quoted as saying by state radio.

Sunday, January 5
House to vote on resolution to limit Trump’s war prerogatives: Pelosi
US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will introduce and vote on a war powers resolution this week to limit President Trump’s military actions regarding Iran.

“This resolution is similar to the resolution introduced by Senator Tim Kaine in the Senate,” Pelosi said in a statement late on Sunday.

“It reasserts Congress’s long-established oversight responsibilities by mandating that if no further congressional action is taken, the administration’s military hostilities with regard to Iran cease within 30 days.”

Trump reiterates threat against Iran cultural sites
Trump insisted on Sunday that Iranian cultural sites were fair game for the US military, dismissing concerns within his own administration that doing so would constitute a war crime under international law.

The president first raised the prospect of targeting Iranian cultural sites in a tweet on Saturday where he said the US had 52 targets in its sights.

Speaking to reporters as he returned to Washington, DC, from a holiday in Florida, he repeated the threat.

“They’re allowed to kill our people,” Trump said. “They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn’t work that way.”

Trump threatens Iraq sanctions after legislators call on US troops to leave
Trump threatened sanctions against Baghdad on Sunday after Iraq’s parliament called on US troops to leave the country.

Speaking on Air Force One, Trump said if Iraq asked US forces to leave and it was not done on a friendly basis, “we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”

He also said Iraq would have to pay for the cost of an airbase the US has helped develop in the country.

“We have a very extraordinarily expensive airbase that’s there,” he said. “It cost billions of dollars to build, long before my time. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it.”

Nader Hashemi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, told Al Jazeera Trump’s comments were cause for concern.

“This is someone who is completely surrounded by war hawks, is driven by his ego and is in a re-election campaign,” Hashemi said. “I think he’s calculating that this type of tough rhetoric plays well with his domestic base.”

France, UK, Germany: Iran must refrain from violence and respect nuclear deal
France, Germany and the United Kingdom called on Iran to refrain from any violent action and respect arrangements laid out in the JCPOA 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The three countries also highlighted the importance of de-escalating tensions in Iraq and Iran, and reaffirmed their determination to fight the ISIL (ISIS) group.

“We reaffirm our commitment to continuing the fight against Islamic State, which remains a priority. It is essential that we keep the coalition, in this regard. We call on the Iraqi authorities to continue to supply the necessary support to the coalition,” the three said in a statement.

“We are ready to continue talks with all parties in order to contribute to de-escalating tensions and re-establishing stability in the region.”

The office of French President Emmanuel Macron said he was expected to hold talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the coming days.

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