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Iraq official says air strike targets Iran-backed militia

A boy carries a portrait of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. air strike in Iraq, prior to the Friday prayers in Tehran, Iran.   | Photo Credit: AP

An Iraqi official says an air strike has hit two cars carrying Iran-backed militia north of Baghdad, one day after U.S. attack on top Iranian general Gen. Qassem Soleimani. The official said five members of the militia were killed. The official said the identity of those killed was not immediately known. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

Analysis | The importance of Qasem Soleimani

Iran promised to seek revenge for a U.S. air strike near Baghdad’s airport that killed the mastermind of its interventions across the Middle East, and the U.S. said Friday it was sending thousands more troops to the region as tensions soared in the wake of the targeted killing.

The death of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, marks a major escalation in the stand off between Washington and Iran, which has careened from one crisis to another since President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and imposed crippling sanctions.

Also read: Who was General Qasem Soleimani and why was he so popular?

The targeted strike, and any retaliation by Iran, could ignite a conflict that engulfs the whole region, endangering U.S. troops in Iraq, Syria and beyond. Over the last two decades, Soleimani had assembled a network of heavily armed allies stretching all the way to southern Lebanon, on Israel’s doorstep.

"We take comfort in knowing that his reign of terror is over,” Mr. Trump said of Soleimani.

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Still, the United States said it was sending nearly 3,000 more Army troops to the Middle East, reflecting concern about potential Iranian retaliation for the killing. The U.S. also urged American citizens to leave Iraq “immediately” following the early morning airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport that Iran’s state TV said killed Soleimani and nine others. The State Department said the embassy in Baghdad, which was attacked by Iran-backed militiamen and their supporters earlier this week, is closed and all consular services have been suspended.

More troops sent in

Around 5,200 American troops are based in Iraq to train Iraqi forces and help in the fight against Islamic State group militants. Defense officials who discussed the new troop movements spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a decision not yet announced by the Pentagon. A Pentagon official who was not authorized to be identified said the U.S. also had placed an Army brigade on alert to fly into Lebanon to protect the American Embassy. U.S. embassies also issued a security alert for Americans in Bahrain, Kuwait and Nigeria.

The U.S. announcement about sending more troops came as Mr. Trump said Soleimani’s killing was not an effort to begin a conflict with Iran. “We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war,” Mr. Trump said, adding that he does not seek regime change in Iran.

Reactions pour in

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed “harsh retaliation” after the air strike, calling Soleimani the “international face of resistance.” Khamenei declared three days of public mourning and appointed Maj. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s deputy, to replace him as head of the Quds Force.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the killing a “heinous crime” and said his country would “take revenge.” Iran twice summoned the Swiss envoy, the first time delivering a letter to pass onto Washington.

Iranian Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the U.S. attack a “cowardly terrorist action” and said Iran has the right to respond “in any method and any time.”

Thousands in Tehran took to the streets after Friday prayers to condemn the killing, waving posters of Soleimani and chanting “Death to deceitful America.”

The killing promised to further strain relations with Iraq’s government, which is allied with both Washington and Tehran and has been deeply worried about becoming a battleground in their rivalry. Iraqi politicians close to Iran called for the country to order U.S. forces out.

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 6:57:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/iraq-official-says-air-strike-targets-iran-backed-militia/article30475940.ece

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