Donald Trump warned Iran the US had identified 52 targets that it would “hit very fast and very hard” if Tehran retaliated over the assassination of top military commander Qassem Soleimani.
The US president tweeted on Saturday night: “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!”
Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani on Saturday drew parallels between the killing of Soleimani, who controlled Tehran’s extensive influence across the Middle East from Lebanon to Iraq, Syria and Yemen through the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, and the US-engineered coup that reinstated the Shah in 1953, vowing “tough revenge” and warning that Iran’s response would be long and drawn out.
The leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Major General Hossein Salami, said on Saturday that the country would adopt “strategic revenge” to “put an end to the US presence in the region”.
He said the assassination of Soleimani in a US drone strike helped to “create a new energy over an expansive geography” by which various Islamic groups would “act spontaneously . . . and determined to take revenge . . . over time and with lasting impacts”.
The Trump administration insists it killed Soleimani to thwart imminent threats to US personnel in the region and has worked hard to convince allies that it does not want to trigger war.
However, officials throughout the region fear a significant escalation in violence, and it has drawn criticism from Democrats as Mr Trump pursues re-election in November.
Mr Trump has ordered as many as 3,500 extra troops to the region since a US contractor was killed in a rocket attack in Iraq that Washington blamed on Iran.
The US president also tweeted: “The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment. We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World! If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way . . . and without hesitation!”
Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to Mr Trump on Twitter on Sunday, saying a red line had been crossed.
“Those masquerading as diplomats and those who shamelessly sat to identify Iranian cultural & civilian targets should not even bother to open a law dictionary. Jus cogens refers to peremptory norms of international law, i.e. international red lines. That is, a big(ly) “no no”,” Mr Zarif posted.
He also said the US attack that killed Soleimani on Friday was a grave breach of international law and that threats to target cultural sites of Iran would be a war crime if carried out. “Whether kicking or screaming, end of US malign presence in West Asia has begun”.
Militants on Saturday fired rockets at an Iraqi base housing US personnel and into an area close to the US embassy in Baghdad.
Iraqi security forces said a number of rockets had fallen on a parade ground in Baghdad’s Green Zone, the fortified home to the US embassy and offices of many Iraqi officials, and at Balad air base in Salahuddin province north of the capital, where US troops were stationed.
The attack came hours after tens of thousands of people took to the streets in a funeral procession for Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, one of Iraq’s most powerful Shia paramilitary chiefs and the commander of Kata’ib Hizbollah, who was also killed in the air strike.
Iraq’s caretaker prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi attended the Baghdad funeral procession, and on Saturday announced there would be three days of national mourning.
Kata’ib Hizbollah on Friday night warned Iraqi security forces to move 1km clear of “American bases” by Sunday night, the pro-Iran Al Mayadeen channel reported.
Kata’ib Hizbollah’s provocation, and the flurry of rockets, come as lawmakers prepare for an emergency parliamentary session, with deputy speaker Hassan al-Kaabi calling for a decision on the future of US troops in Iraq.
UK offers naval assistance to British ships in Gulf
The UK government has announced that the Royal Navy will offer to accompany British-flagged commercial vessels through the Strait of Hormuz in light of the increased threat caused by Qassem Soleimani’s death, writes Helen Warrell.
Explaining the move, Ben Wallace, the UK defence secretary, said he would take “all necessary steps to protect our ships and citizens at this time”.
The British military already has two warships in the Gulf — HMS Montrose and HMS Defender — which are part of an international monitoring operation prompted by Iran’s seizure of a British tanker last summer. The navy was providing “close accompaniment” of British-flagged vessels until early November, when the threat level was thought to have subsided.
Mr Wallace’s announcement signals that British assets in the Gulf are once again considered to be at higher risk since the Iranian commander’s death. However, accompaniment services will only be provided to vessels that request assistance.