Sunday 26 January 2020

Iran in mourning as Iraq votes to expel US army

Tehran pulls out of deal to limit nuclear plans over Soleimani missile killing

Mourners in the Iraqi city of Najaf carry the coffin of paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who died alongside Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad. Picture: AFP via Getty
Mourners in the Iraqi city of Najaf carry the coffin of paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who died alongside Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad. Picture: AFP via Getty

Finbar Anderson in Beirut

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians poured onto the streets yesterday to mourn General Qasem Soleimani as Iraq's parliament voted to expel US forces from the country over his assassination in Baghdad.

The momentous Iraqi vote came as Iran said it would ditch all limitations on its uranium enrichment programme under the 2015 nuclear deal in response to the killing.

The US-led coalition fighting Isil in Iraq halted operations because of fears of revenge attacks by Iranian-­allied groups.

Adil Abdul-Mahdi, Iraq's acting prime minister, told an extraordinary session of parliament that the killing of General Soleimani was an "unacceptable" violation of sovereignty and asked for MPs' backing to end the US-led coalition's stay in the country.

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The resolution passed despite a boycott by most Kurdish and Sunni MPs.

The coalition is in Iraq on the basis of a letter of request from the Iraqi government in 2014 to help fight Isil. It was not immediately clear how quickly the troops would be asked to leave.

Yesterday's vote will be seen as a posthumous victory for General Soleimani, who had directed a proxy war against Western forces in the Middle East for years.

The influential leader of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was killed on Friday in a US airstrike as his convoy left Baghdad airport.

FEARED LEADER: Qasem Soleimani in his IRGC uniform. Photo: Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP, File
FEARED LEADER: Qasem Soleimani in his IRGC uniform. Photo: Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP, File

American officials say they killed the general, who was in charge of Iran's main expeditionary covert warfare unit and is believed to have co-ordinated terrorist attacks across the region, to prevent attacks he was allegedly planning against US personnel.

Iran has described the attack as the illegal murder of a national hero and has vowed to retaliate, raising fears of a regional war with the US and its allies.

An honour guard paraded as General Soleimani's remains were flown to the south-western Iranian city of Ahvaz, a key battlefield in the Iran-Iraq war in which he first rose to prominence, early yesterday morning.

The flight also carried the bodies of other Iranian Revolutionary Guards and an Iraqi militia commander.

State television showed vast crowds of people, many dressed in black and beating their chests, thronging the caskets as they were driven slowly through the city.

General Soleimani's body was flown to Mashhad, a shrine city in north-east Iran, for another public procession later yesterday. It will be taken to Tehran and the holy city of Qom today before being finally buried in his hometown of Kerman tomorrow.

The scale of the crowds, which clogged streets for miles, was said by witnesses to dwarf anything seen in Iran since the funeral of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, in 1989.

Although Iran's regime is known to order people on to the streets for pro-government demonstrations, they seldom muster a few thousand.

Military tensions continued to rise across the region over the weekend as Iranian officials and allied groups vowed to take revenge.

Mohsen Rezaei, a former commander of the IRGC, said yesterday that Iran's retaliation would also include the Israeli city of Haifa and Israeli military installations.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, of the Iran-allied Lebanese militant group Hizbollah, told a memorial service in Beirut that US military assets were "fair targets".

Read More: Iran steps back from nuclear deal after US air strike kills Soleimani

A rocket fell on Saturday evening inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, where the US Embassy is located, and two were fired at the Balad airbase north of the capital, where US troops are stationed.

Mr Trump said the US would hit back if Americans or US assets were targeted by Iran.

But he was immediately accused of planning to commit war crimes when he said on Twitter that he had drawn up a list of 52 Iranian sites "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."

He stirred further controversy with a tweet threatening "disproportionate" retaliation. "These Media Posts will serve as notification to the United States Congress that should Iran strike any US person or target, the United States will quickly & fully strike back, & perhaps in a disproportionate manner. Such legal notice is not required, but is given nevertheless!" (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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