Monday 6 January 2020 21:01
Donald Trump has warned he may retaliate with “disproportionate” force if Iran hits any US targets, using a Twitter post to “notify” Congress of his intentions while more bombs fell near the American embassy in Baghdad.
Hinting at sanctions against Iraq if the country moves to enforce Sunday’s vote to expel foreign troops, he also doubled down on his threat to target Iranian cultural sites, despite Mike Pompeo’s protestations the president’s comments had been misinterpreted.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands mourned Qassem Soleimani’s killing at an emotional ceremony in Tehran amid vows to avenge his death, as Boris Johnson, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron urged Iran to reconsider its decision to effectively abandon 2015’s nuclear deal.
Doubts are beginning to circulate over the veracity of the letter purporting to show an agreement over the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
Instead troop movements in the region are said by some to be entirely strategic, and not based on a planned withdrawal from the country.
The Pentagon is still yet to confirm the document’s veracity.
A congressman for Arizona has faced criticism for sharing a photoshopped image of former president Barack Obama shaking the hand of Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani.
The image, which was shared by Paul Gosar and features an awkwardly angled second thumb overlapping the former world leader’s hand, appears to have been doctored from a meeting between himself and the Prime Minister of India in 2011.
No US president – Mr Obama included – has met with the leader of Iran since the 1979 Iranian revolution.
US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said congress should wait for the facts before criticising Donald Trump’s decision to kill Qassem Soleimani.
“We can and we should learn more about the intelligence and thinking that led to this operation and the plan to defend American personnel and interests in the wake of it,” McConnell said at the Capitol building after lawmakers returned from winter break.
“Unfortunately, in this toxic political environment, some of our colleagues rushed to blame our own government before even knowing the facts. Rushed to split hairs about intelligence before being briefed on it.”
More on the letter which, if verified, could signal the end of US military involvement in Iraq following 17 years of deployment:
The relatively short correspondence, addressed to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, warns of increased helicopter travel in the region triggered by the withdrawal.
Helicopters have since been heard above the skies of Baghdad, according to reports.
However so far the Pentagon has not verified the authenticity of the document.
The US military has reportedly said it will withdraw from Iraq out of respect for the nation’s sovereignty – according to a letter handed to officials in Baghdad.
Forces are expected to reposition over the coming weeks and days, ending military involvement from the US that began some 17 years ago in the 2003 invasion of the country.
The United States has warned its citizens in Israel and Palestine to be vigilant, citing the risk of rocket fire, three days after a U.S. drone strike killed an Iranian military commander in Iraq.
The alert issued on the websites of the US State Department and the US embassy in Israel did not specifically mention the killing of Qassem Soleimani but referred to heightened tensions in the Middle East.
Israel has not issued a similar warning to its own citizens, though Army Radio reported the military had been put on alert.
China’s ambassador to the United Nations on Monday urged the United States not to escalate tensions in the Middle East.
Zhang Jun, speaking to reporters at the UN, called on all parties to exercise restraint in the region.
It comes after the US hit out at Chinese officials for blocking the United Nations Security Council from issuing a statement protesting last month’s attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq.
The assassination of Qassem Soleimani has capsized Iraqi politics in the most dangerous of ways, making it possible that the country will be plunged once again into a state of permanent crisis and war from which it has escaped in the last two years – writes David Cockburn.
He adds: “Some commentators draw comfort from the fact that any official move by the Iraqi government to kick out US troops is far down the road and so, consequently, are any counter-measures by Mr Trump.
“In reality, the crisis over the presence of US troops on the ground in Iraq is already with us and will get worse.”
The UK’s Foreign Secretary has reiterated that any US attack on Iranian cultural sites would be a breach of international law.
It comes after Donald Trump warned the US had sized up 52 targets for military strikes – identifying some as “important to Iran and the Iranian culture”
Dominic Raab told reporters: “We have been very clear that cultural sites are protected under international law and we would expect that to be respected.”
France’s foreign minister has claimed the substance of the Iran nuclear deal is slowly disappearing – and European powers would decide in the coming days whether to launch a dispute resolution process over Iran’s latest violations.
“The latest decisions mean that the Iranians can now enrich uranium without any constraints, with the quantities they want, in the areas they want, and with the number of centrifuges they want,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told BFM TV.
“The repeated violations leave us today asking about the long-term validity of this accord. We are considering launching the dispute mechanism resolution … we will take a decision in the coming days.”
On the financial side of the tensions oil prices rose again on Monday, pushing past $70 per barrel for the first time in seven months as fears grow about a potential war between the US and Iran.
Brent crude added another 2 per cent to Friday’s gains and experts warned the price could more than double to $150 if the tense situation in the Middle East escalates to a full-blown conflict.
He writes: “President Trump has in turn warned that 52 sites “at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture” will be targeted should the regime retaliate.
“If that warning is not heeded and Iran does lash out, the US could find itself at war and the impeachment process left looking like a decidedly secondary concern.”
Iran’s president has warned to “never threaten the Iranian nation” in a response to Donald Trump’s tweet announcing he would strike sites across the country.
Referencing the US leader’s warning that he would strike 52 Iranian locations to represent 52 US hostages taken by Iran in the late 1970s and 1980s, Hassan Rouhani wrote “Those who refer to the number 52 should also remember the number 290”.
In 1988 an Iran Air passenger jet was accidentally shot down over the Persian Gulf by a US Navy missile, killing 290 people.
The 2015 nuclear agreement has been on life support since Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned it in 2018, triggering sanctions that have hurt Iran’s moribund economy. Since then, Tehran has gradually rolled back its commitment to the deal.
And after its top general was assassinated in a US drone attack, Iran announced it would no longer respect limits set on how many centrifuges it can use to enrich uranium.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell expressed “deep regret” at the news. He tweeted that full implementation of the nuclear deal by all parties “is now more important than ever, for regional stability and global security.”
“We have to rely on, and see, what the International Atomic Energy Agency says about the deeds on the ground,” Mr Borrell’s spokesman, Peter Stano, told reporters.
The IAEA said that it was aware of Iran’s announcement, but noted that Tehran’s statement “also said that Iran’s cooperation with the Agency will continue as before.”
“IAEA inspectors continue to carry out verification and monitoring activities in the country,” the agency said in a statement. “The IAEA will keep its member states informed of any developments in this regard in a timely manner as appropriate.”
Two powerful Democrats in the Senate are demanding that Donald Trump publicly release the notification he sent to Congress after the killing of a top Iranian general, which has raised concern of major armed conflict between the US and Iran in the Middle East.
In a letter to the president on Monday, senators Chuck Schumer and Bob Menendez urged Mr Trump to release the notification, which is required under the US War Powers Resolution.
More from Clark Mindock below:
The U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad was stormed by Iran-backed Shiite militias on New Year’s Eve – a move which impacted President Trump’s decision to fire on Iranian general Qassem Soleimani according to media reports.
In a statement the mission added it “would not tolerate attacks on U.S. personnel and facilities and will respond decisively to protect our interests, citizens, and allies.”
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that “geopolitical tensions are at their highest level this century” – and called on world leaders to stop escalating tensions, exercise maximum restraint and re-start dialogue.
Without naming any speicific countries, Guterres told reporters: “This cauldron of tensions is leading more and more countries to take unpredicted decisions with unpredictable consequences and a profound risk of miscalculation.”
Donald Trump has reverted back to talking about impeachment after tweeting that Iran “WILL NEVER HAVE A NUCLEAR WEAPON” – sharing 15 minutes of video from Fox news in which pundit Jesse Watters attacks Democrats over the bid to remove the president from office.
“The prime minister stressed the importance of mutual cooperation on implementing the withdrawal of foreign troops, in line with the Iraqi parliament’s resolution, and to set relations with the United States on a proper foundation,” his office said in a statement.
“He stressed how dangerous the situation is right now and its potential consequences, adding that Iraq is doing everything it can to prevent the descent into open war.”
Donald Trump’s threat to destroy Iranian cultural sites would be a war crime if carried out, legal experts have claimed, as the US president doubled down on his comments over the weekend.
Andrea Prasow, acting Washington director at Human Rights Watch, said “President Trump should publicly reverse his threats against Iran’s cultural property and make clear that he will not authorise nor order war crimes.
“The US Defence Department should publicly reaffirm its commitment to abide by the laws of war and comply only with lawful military orders,”
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