In the letter, released Monday, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. William H. Seely III said that U.S. forces “respect your sovereign decision to order our departure.” A U.S. military official confirmed the letter’s authenticity.
But on a day of confusion, Esper said he could not confirm the authenticity of the letter because he had seen it only after it was leaked, adding that it is “inconsistent with where we are right now.”
Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the letter incorrectly implies withdrawal and “was a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released.”
Asked whether the U.S. military was prepared to strike Iranian cultural sites, as President Trump has suggested, Esper said the military would “follow the laws of armed conflict.”
Esper said that the United States remains prepared for any contingency with regard to Iran and that the message to Tehran is that the “ball remains in their court.”
Here are key points of what we know:
●The U.S. military said in a letter to Iraqi officials that it will reposition troops within Iraq in preparation for a possible withdrawal, but Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said shortly after that the United States has not made any decision to leave Iraq.
●Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the letter was “a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released.”
●Lawmakers are expected to be briefed by top U.S. officials on the strike that killed Soleimani, according to three people familiar with the plans.
●The Pentagon has told the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group to be ready to support Middle East operations, a defense official said.
●The funeral in Tehran for Soleimani was a stark display of his importance to the regime.
●In the aftermath of the strike that killed Soleimani, Iran has discarded more internationally mandated curbs on its nuclear program.
January 6, 2020 at 7:00 PM EST
Defense minister says no decision on pulling Canadian troops from Iraq, calls situation ‘complex’
TORONTO — Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said Monday that no decision has been made to pull Canadian troops from Iraq and stressed the need for de-escalation in the region.
In a television interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., Sajjan said that the Iraqi parliament’s decision to pass a nonbinding resolution calling on all foreign troops to leave the country created a “complex” situation.
“We know the current situation is now far more complicated, and we have to accept their process,” he said, “but it is more complicated than just one vote.”
Canada has hundreds of military personnel in Iraq as part of both the NATO mission and the global coalition fighting the Islamic State. It has suspended both of those missions, but Sajjan said he hopes they will continue.
He told the CBC that Canada has taken the “appropriate steps for force protection” in Iraq and that some “nonessential” personnel have been moved out of the country in the wake of Soleimani’s killing.
Asked if U.S. officials had given Canada notice of their plan to kill the Iranian general, Sajjan said that Canada had “an indication something was going to happen” but “did not know what was going to happen.”
In a television interview on Monday with CTV News, Sajjan condemned Iran’s actions in the region but would not comment on whether he thought Soleimani’s killing was legal.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted on Monday that he met with Sajjan and Jonathan Vance, the chief of the defense staff, in the morning. He said the safety of Canadians in the region is his “top priority.”
By Amanda Coletta
January 6, 2020 at 6:15 PM EST
Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman denies reports that intelligence that led to U.S. killing of Soleimani was razor-thin
WASHINGTON — Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, denied reports that the intelligence that led to the U.S. killing of Soleimani was razor-thin.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Milley said “very, very few people saw the intelligence,” which he said demonstrated that Soleimani was planning imminent operations against U.S. forces in the region.
“I would be happy when the appropriate time comes, in front of proper committees and anybody else, in history, I will stand by the intelligence I saw. That was compelling. It was imminent. It was very, very clear in scale/scope,” Milley said.
“Did it exactly say who, what, when, where? No. But he was planning, coordinating and synchronizing significant combat operations against U.S. military forces in the region — and it was imminent,” Milley added.
Milley said he wouldn’t give any more details about the intelligence because such a disclosure would jeopardize the sources and methods of the U.S. intelligence apparatus.
“I know people say, well, you’re hiding behind it, and you lie. That’s not true. I know what I saw,” Milley said.
“Those of us who were involved in the decision-making of that, we would have been culpably negligent to the American people had we not made the decision we made,” Milley added.
By Paul Sonne
January 6, 2020 at 5:55 PM EST
Iran’s mission to U.N. says it has not received notice that its foreign minister will be denied entry to U.S.
WASHINGTON — A spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations said in an email that the mission has “not received any official communication” from the United States or the United Nations regarding Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s visa, after a report in Foreign Policy magazine that the Trump administration is blocking Zarif from entering the country. According to the report, Zarif requested a visa weeks ago to attend a U.N. Security Council meeting.
By John Hudson and Siobhán O’Grady
January 6, 2020 at 5:35 PM EST
Trump overstates military spending and readiness as conflict looms
WASHINGTON — In recent days, Trump has made several claims that U.S. military equipment is ready for a potential conflict with Iran, claiming in a tweet Sunday that the United States has spent “Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment” that could be used to hit Iran “very fast and very hard.”
But Trump has actually spent closer to $420 billion on military equipment since he was elected, according to Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The rest of the money was spent on personnel, operations and maintenance, and research and development.
By Erica Werner and Aaron Gregg
January 6, 2020 at 5:30 PM EST
In response to Trump threat, Iran’s president invokes 1988 tragedy many Americans have forgotten
WASHINGTON — On Saturday, Trump invoked history when tweeting out a threat to destroy “52 Iranian sites … some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture.” He said the potential targets represent the 52 Americans who were held hostage there for 444 days from 1979 to 1981.
On Monday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also invoked history in response to Trump’s threat. “Those who refer to the number 52 should also remember the number 290. #IR655 Never threaten the Iranian nation,” he wrote.
His hashtag “#IR655” refers to Iran Air Flight 655, a commercial jet shot down by the U.S. military by mistake July 3, 1988, killing all 290 civilians and crew on board, including 66 children. Though the incident is nearly forgotten now in the United States, it is etched deeply in memory in Iran, where the country is mourning the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani.
By Gillian Brockell
January 6, 2020 at 4:50 PM EST
U.S. general calls letter to Iraqis an honest mistake
WASHINGTON — After the U.S. military’s letter describing plans to reposition troops within Iraq in preparation for a possible withdrawal leaked, Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the commander of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the Middle East. McKenzie told him the draft letter was an honest mistake, “but used other words that were a little more colorful than mistake,” Milley said.
The U.S. military drafted the letter because it is moving forces around the region, within Iraq and from Kuwait into Iraq, and anticipates increased helicopter movement, Milley said, noting that draft letters are often coordinated with partners in advance, but are circulated without the signature of the official sending the communication.
The leaked letter wasn’t signed. Milley said that McKenzie, the top U.S. commander overseeing the Middle East, said the letter should never have happened. “We understand U.S. government policy — nobody is leaving, there’s no onward movement, we got all that. Honest mistake. Draft,” Milley said McKenzie told him.
By Paul Sonne
January 6, 2020 at 4:30 PM EST
Esper says U.S. has not made any decision to leave Iraq; Milley calls letter to Iraqi officials ‘poorly worded’ and ‘a mistake’
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said during a briefing at the Pentagon that the United States has not made any decision to leave Iraq.
“We are repositioning forces throughout the region … beyond that, with regard to that letter, which I have read once, I can’t tell you the veracity of that letter, I can tell you what I read, that letter is inconsistent with where we are right now,” Esper said.
Milley said the letter was a draft that the U.S. military sent to Iraqi military officials for coordination purposes but hasn’t been signed or finalized.
“That letter — it was a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released,” Milley said. “And the first part of it, which says ‘repositioning forces over the course of the coming days to prepare for onward movement’ … [was] poorly worded, implies withdrawal. That is not what’s happening.”
Asked whether the U.S. military was prepared to strike Iranian cultural sites, as President Trump has suggested, Esper said the military would “follow the laws of armed conflict.” Asked whether that means no, because international law prohibits targeting such sites during war, Esper said: “That’s the laws of armed conflict.”
Esper said the United States remains prepared for any contingency with regard to Iran, and the message to Tehran is that the “ball remains in their court.”
By Paul Sonne
January 6, 2020 at 4:00 PM EST
U.S. military says it will reposition troops in Iraq in preparation for possible withdrawal
WASHINGTON — In a draft letter released Monday, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. William H. Seely III said that U.S. forces will be relocated “to prepare for onward movement” and that “we respect your sovereign decision to order our departure.” A U.S. military official confirmed the letter’s authenticity.
The letter was released one day after Iraqi lawmakers passed a nonbinding resolution calling for foreign troops to leave the country. But because Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned in November and is now acting only as a caretaker, he was not authorized to sign it into law.
But a defense official speaking on the condition of anonymity said the letter was “Gen Seely’s attempt to notify the Iraqis that we are going to be moving people around Iraq … This is not an indication that we’re leaving.” The official said that because the United States had suspended at least some training activities, it was moving training-related forces out of Iraq and bringing force protection forces into the country. “We’re not making plans to leave,” the official said.
By Missy Ryan, Kareem Fahim and Siobhán O’Grady
January 6, 2020 at 3:25 PM EST
Senators expected to be briefed by Pompeo, Esper, Milley and Haspel
WASHINGTON — Senators are expected to receive a briefing Wednesday afternoon from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, and CIA director Gina Haspel about the strike on Soleimani, according to three people familiar with plans.
House members are also expected to receive a similar briefing, but the time for their session had not been set as of midday Monday, people familiar with the matter said.
By Karoun Demirjian
January 6, 2020 at 2:50 PM EST
Iran releases satellite images showing crowds gathered for Soleimani’s funeral
WASHINGTON — Iran released photos Monday that showed massive crowds attending a funeral ceremony for Soleimani and others killed in the U.S. drone strike in Baghdad last Friday.
Millions of people, most clad in black, attended the services Monday, according to Iranian state media. Other photos showed Iran’s supreme leader, Khamenei, weeping as he presided over the ceremony.
By Siobhán O’Grady
January 6, 2020 at 12:55 PM EST
Chevron pulls foreign workers out of Iraqi Kurdistan as ‘precautionary measure’
WASHINGTON — Chevron announced Monday that it has pulled out expatriates working in its oil fields in the Iraqi region of Kurdistan. A company spokesperson described it as “a precautionary measure.”
The California-based oil giant shut down drilling in the region in 2015 because of the threat posed by Islamic State fighters at the time. Drilling resumed in 2017.
For now, in contrast, work is continuing in the Kurdish fields with all-local workers. The company characterized the decision to withdraw foreign workers as “not a huge evacuation,” but it would not provide details on the numbers of people involved.
By Will Englund
January 6, 2020 at 12:30 PM EST
Pentagon tells force of 4,500 sailors and Marines to be ready to support Middle East operations if necessary
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has told the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, a force of about 4,500 sailors and Marines aboard Navy ships, to be ready to support operations in the Middle East if required, a defense official said Monday, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
The official declined to specify the location of the group, led by the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan. A second official said Friday that the ships were approaching the Mediterranean Sea and could be called upon if needed.
The decision could bolster the number of U.S. troops in the region by about 10,000, as the Trump administration and Iranian officials threaten each other following numerous attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and the U.S. killing of Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad last week.
Those troop increases come on top of the Pentagon’s deployment of an additional 14,000 troops to the Middle East in 2019, citing the need to counter Iranian aggression.
By Dan Lamothe
January 6, 2020 at 12:00 PM EST
E.U. foreign ministers to hold emergency meeting Friday to respond to Iran crisis
BRUSSELS — European Union foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting on Friday in Brussels to discuss how to respond to the escalating crisis with Iran, diplomats said Monday, including whether Europe starts the process that could lead to the eventual reimposition of sanctions on Iran.
The unusual gathering will give Europeans a chance to coordinate plans among all 28 member states. Leaders have been reluctant to publicly condemn the United States for Soleimani’s killing, focusing most of their ire on Iran, which they view as the core threat to their security interests. But they have invested more than a year of efforts to try to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal following Trump’s pullout. Many European diplomats view Soleimani’s death as the final blow to hopes that the accord could hold together until the possible election in November of a U.S. president more supportive of the nuclear agreement than Trump.
Iran on Sunday announced that it would take major additional steps to depart from the terms of the nuclear accord, although it stopped short of saying it would significantly increase its uranium enrichment. Europeans took that as a sign that Tehran is still interested in extracting concessions in exchange for returning to at least partial adherence to the deal, rather than walking away from it altogether.
Triggering the process that could lead to the reimposition of sanctions would entail additional months of negotiations. If sanctions were reimposed, that would likely mark the end of any effort by Iran to uphold the deal.
By Michael Birnbaum
January 6, 2020 at 11:55 AM EST
Iraqi prime minister meets U.S. ambassador after lawmakers call for U.S. troops to leave the country
BAGHDAD — Matthew H. Tueller, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, met Monday with Iraq’s caretaker prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, one day after Iraqi lawmakers passed a nonbinding resolution calling for foreign troops to leave Iraq. Abdul Mahdi resigned in November and is not authorized to sign the bill into law, but he urged lawmakers ahead of the vote to take “urgent measures” to force foreign troops to withdraw.
In a statement Monday, Abdul Mahdi’s office said he stressed to Tueller “the need for joint cooperation to implement the withdrawal of foreign forces in accordance with the decision of the Iraqi parliament.”
The statement said Abdul Mahdi noted “that Iraq is making all possible efforts to prevent the slide into open war.”
By Mustafa Salim and Siobhán O’Grady
January 6, 2020 at 11:35 AM EST
NATO suspends training mission in Iraq, calls for ‘restraint and de-escalation’
BRUSSELS — NATO ambassadors met Monday for an emergency session to discuss Iran and called for “restraint and de-escalation,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, as he condemned Iranian actions and declined to offer his own thoughts about Soleimani’s killing.
The 29-nation alliance suspended its training mission in Iraq for the country’s security forces following the attack early Friday. Stoltenberg said NATO ambassadors received a briefing from several U.S. officials about the American reasoning for the mission against the senior Iranian military leader. He did not say when the training mission might resume.
“A new conflict would be in no one’s interest,” Stoltenberg said. “We are ready to restart the training when the situation on the ground makes that possible.”
NATO allies are wary of being sucked into a conflict between Iran and the United States. The alliance’s response would be tested if Tehran attacked the United States and U.S. leaders were to trigger NATO’s all-for-one, one-for-all mutual-defense clauses as they did in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
But Stoltenberg insisted that there was “very strong unity from all allies” in response to a reporter’s question about whether there was any concern about Soleimani’s death.
By Michael Birnbaum
January 6, 2020 at 11:15 AM EST
Schiff calls for open hearings on escalating tensions with Iran
WASHINGTON — Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said the House should hold open hearings on the escalating tensions between the United States and Iran.
“I think there should be open hearings on this subject,” Schiff told Greg Sargent, an opinions writer for The Washington Post. “The president has put us on a path where we may be at war with Iran. That requires the Congress to fully engage.”
Schiff also said he believes that Trump’s threats against Iranian cultural heritage sites do not reflect any consultation between the White House and the Pentagon. “None of that could come out of the Pentagon,” Schiff said. “Absolutely no way.”
By Siobhán O’Grady
January 6, 2020 at 10:20 AM EST
U.S. strike gave Netanyahu reprieve from his own political woes, but it was short-lived
JERUSALEM — When U.S. drones killed Soleimani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got three things he dearly wanted: a strong blow against Iran, relief from growing fears that President Trump was backing out of the Middle East and a change of subject from the corruption indictments dogging his campaign two months before a national election.
Of the three, it seems Netanyahu’s reprieve from the media’s corruption focus may be the shortest-lived. Three days after the strike, Netanyahu’s efforts to shield himself from prosecution and a string of controversial appointments has returned to front pages here (along with heartbreaking coverage of a Tel Aviv flood that caused a young couple to drown in an elevator).
For Netanyahu, any shift to security is considered a topical safe haven for the hawkish hard-liner.
“People feel secure with Bibi,” said Gil Hoffman, chief political correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “If we’re talking about security, they will feel, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”
Netanyahu’s chief rival, former military chief of staff Benny Gantz, joined Netanyahu in hailing the killing of Soleimani. But it is Netanyahu who has promoted himself as uniquely influential over Trump. Whether he lobbied directly for the strike or not, he is likely to benefit from it.
“We have no idea if he had any influence at all, but voters will give him credit because he’s Trump’s rabbi,” Hoffman said.
But after a weekend dominated by coverage of the attack on Soleimani’s convoy outside Baghdad’s airport, Israeli media was again filled with news of Netanyahu’s legal woes.
By Steve Hendrix
January 6, 2020 at 10:15 AM EST
After Trump threatens Iranian cultural sites, UNESCO says U.S. has previously pledged not to target heritage sites
WASHINGTON — The United Nations’ top cultural body said Monday that the United States is a signatory to a 1972 treaty pledging not to attack cultural sites, two days after Trump tweeted that if Iran strikes “Americans, or American assets,” the United States would target 52 Iranian sites, including some that are important to “Iranian culture.”
“Those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD,” he wrote.
In a statement, UNESCO said that Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO’s director general, met with Ahmad Jalali, Iran’s permanent representative to UNESCO, to discuss “tensions in the Middle East with particular regard to heritage and culture.”
In Washington, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway offered contradicting responses to questions about Trump’s tweets threatening Iranian cultural sites, telling reporters that he “didn’t say he’s targeting cultural sites,” according to a White House pool report.
A senior administration official said later Monday that no cultural sites were ever presented for the president to strike, and DOD had not prepared plans to hit the 52 targets the president tweeted about.
By Siobhán O’Grady
January 6, 2020 at 9:52 AM EST
Trump says Iran will not obtain nuclear weapons
WASHINGTON — Trump tweeted Monday that “IRAN WILL NEVER HAVE A NUCLEAR WEAPON!”
The declaration came after Iran said in a statement carried by state news agencies Sunday that it is suspending its commitments to the nuclear deal it struck with world powers in 2015. “Iran’s nuclear program will now be based solely on its technical needs,” the statement said.
By Siobhán O’Grady
January 6, 2020 at 9:40 AM EST
Moscow says it sees no threat of nuclear weapons proliferation after Iran’s withdrawal from 2015 deal
MOSCOW — In the wake of Iran’s announcement that it is suspending its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal, abandoning the accord’s restrictions on uranium enrichment, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday that it sees no threat of nuclear weapons proliferation.
The ministry explained that by saying Iran “carries out all its activities in close cooperation and under the constant supervision of the IAEA,” referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency, a U.N. watchdog.
The statement reaffirmed Russia’s commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear deal that Tehran struck with world powers in 2015. Iran’s decision to discard the plan unless U.S. sanctions are lifted is “the result of contradictions that have accumulated within the agreements and all current participating countries need to continue to work hard to overcome them,” the statement said.
Russia has criticized the U.S. airstrike that killed Soleimani. Konstantin Kosachev, head of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament, wrote on his Facebook page Friday, “The last hopes for resolving the problem of the Iranian nuclear program have been ‘bombarded.’ ”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke by phone Monday with Mohammad Bagheri, chief of staff for the Iranian armed forces, about Soleimani’s killing, the Russian Defense Ministry told reporters.
The conversation addressed “practical steps to prevent an escalation” in the region, the ministry said in a statement, according to Interfax.
By Isabelle Khurshudyan
January 6, 2020 at 7:40 AM EST
Iranian media shows huge numbers filling the streets of Tehran at slain commander’s funeral
BEIRUT — The streets of Iran’s capital Tehran flooded with millions of people clad in black on Monday, Iranian state television said, during a funeral ceremony for Soleimani, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike.
“Have you EVER seen such a sea of humanity in your life, @realdonaldtrump?” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter, addressing Trump. “And do you still imagine you can break the will of this great nation & its people?” he added.
Iran’s supreme leader, Khamenei, who earlier wept as he presided over the funeral, tweeted in the afternoon: “Bidding farewell to the pure body of the Iranian nation’s hero and the international figure of Resistance. You were assassinated by the most barbaric of mankind.”
Since Friday’s killing of Soleimani, Iran’s leadership has repeatedly vowed to take revenge on U.S. military and political targets.
Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ aerospace division, also said Trump “should order more coffins.”
Soleimani was seen as a hero not only in Iran, but also by Iranian-allied groups in the region — including in Yemen and Lebanon.
In Yemen’s city of Saada, held by the Iran-allied Houthi rebels, thousands of mourners filled the streets to protest the strike that killed him. Lebanon’s Hezbollah, a militia and political party that also holds seats in parliament, held a funeral for Soleimani on Sunday.
Soleimani’s body will be carried to the holy city of Qom, where a ceremony will be held five hours late, delayed by the massive crowds in Tehran, Iranian state television said. His body will be buried in his hometown of Kerman.
By Sarah Dadouch
January 6, 2020 at 7:09 AM EST
Putin, Merkel to discuss Iran in Moscow
MOSCOW — At the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Moscow on Saturday with plans to discuss escalating tensions in the Middle East in the wake of Soleimani’s killing, the Kremlin announced.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is accompanying Merkel on the trip. Maas said Monday that President Trump threatening Iraq with heavy sanctions if U.S. troops are forced to leave is “not very helpful.”
Russia has been even more critical of the U.S. airstrike that killed Soleimani. Its Foreign Ministry denounced the move as “reckless” on Friday, although Putin himself has been publicly mum on the issue with the country still enjoying its New Year’s holidays.
He spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron by phone Friday evening, and the Kremlin announcement of the call said “both sides expressed concern” and agreed “that this attack could escalate tensions in the region.”
Moscow has quietly benefited from Soleimani’s death, with oil prices spiking. Now Putin will weigh in on the state of the Middle East twice this week, when he meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul on Wednesday and then with Merkel over the weekend.
By Isabelle Khurshudyan
January 6, 2020 at 5:15 AM EST
France, Germany and Britain call on Iran to refrain from violence and honor nuclear deal
BEIRUT — In a joint statement on Monday, France, Germany and Britain appealed to Iran to stick with its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal and refrain from responding violently to a U.S. attack.
On Sunday, Iran announced that, unless U.S. sanctions are lifted, the country would abandon the accord’s “final restrictions” on uranium enrichment. The decision followed a U.S. drone attack that killed Soleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force.
“We specifically call on Iran to refrain from further violent action or proliferation, and urge Iran to reverse all measures inconsistent with JCPOA,” the statement said, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal that Tehran struck with world powers.
The joint statement also stressed the need for de-escalation in the region, where tensions have escalated to a new level over the weekend, and it condemned attacks on forces in Iraq under the U.S.-led coalition to fight the Islamic State.
“The current cycle of violence in Iraq must be stopped,” it said.
By Sarah Dadouch
January 6, 2020 at 5:00 AM EST
Removing U.S. troops from Iraq may not be that hard
President Trump may have balked at the idea of U.S. troops being asked to leave Iraq, but ending America’s 17-year military presence there may be easier for the country’s government than he thinks.
Unlike most deployments stretching back to the aftermath the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, American troops in Iraq are not operating under a conventional status of forces agreement approved by the Iraqi parliament, according to experts.
The presence of 5,000 U.S. troops as part of a global coalition fighting the Islamic State is based on an arrangement that is less formal and, ultimately, on the consent of an executive branch that urged parliament on Sunday to tell foreign forces to leave.
“The current U.S. military presence is based of an exchange of letters at the executive level,” said Ramzy Mardini, an Iraq scholar at the U.S. Institute of Peace who previously served in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.
“If the prime minister rescinds the invitation, the U.S. military must leave, unless it wants to maintain what would be an illegal occupation in a hostile environment,” Mardini said.
Addressing Iraq’s wood-paneled parliament on Sunday, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi urged lawmakers to take “urgent measures” to force the withdrawal of foreign troops. Shortly after, the chamber passed a nonbinding resolution to that effect, and Abdul Mahdi’s office said that legal experts were drawing up a timetable for the pullout.
“At this moment in time [the] government has not yet decided to remove foreign troops but it is probable soon as things stand,” Sajad Jiyad, managing director of the Baghdad-based Bayan Center think tank, wrote on Twitter.
By Louisa Loveluck
January 6, 2020 at 3:00 AM EST
Iran’s supreme leader weeps at funeral of commander killed by U.S. drone strike
ISTANBUL — Facing a sea of mourners in central Tehran on Monday, Iran’s supreme leader, Khamenei, openly wept as he prayed over the body of Soleimani, the slain commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force.
The commander’s death has galvanized Iranians who have rallied in major cities, including Ahvaz, Mashhad and now Tehran.
Hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets of the capital Monday to pay homage to Soleimani, a larger-than-life figure who oversaw the rapid expansion of Iranian influence across the Middle East. A U.S. drone targeted Soleimani as he left the Baghdad airport in a two-car convoy last week. U.S. officials cited what they said was his role directing rocket attacks on U.S. military bases in Iraq.
Khamenei, who observers said rarely presides over the funerals of senior officials, was flanked Monday by President Hassan Rouhani; Soleimani’s successor, Brig. Gen. Ismail Qaani; and other key security and political figures.
The supreme leader has vowed revenge for his killing.
As the crowds wailed in Tehran on Monday, Khamenei recited the Namaz-e Meyet, or prayers of the dead, and choked back tears before beginning to sob.
“We have not witnessed any sins from him,” the supreme leader said.
Soleimani’s body will be carried next to the holy city of Qom, after which he will be buried in his hometown in Kerman.
By Erin Cunningham
January 6, 2020 at 3:00 AM EST
China slams U.S. attack on Iranian commander
BEIJING — China on Monday heavily criticized the U.S. killing of Soleimani as a violation of international norms and said it would work with Russia to “maintain international justice.”
In a flurry of calls with his Russian, Iranian and French counterparts over the weekend, Beijing’s top diplomat Wang Yi criticized what he called a “risk-taking” U.S. military strike and urged a halt in the American “abuse of force,” according to statements released by China’s Foreign Ministry.
Wang and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed during their phone call to “strengthen joint strategic coordination to maintain international justice,” the ministry said without giving details.
China, which has increasingly close military ties with Moscow, has long sought a neutral position in the Middle East, with friendly relations with Iran, Israel and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf.
At a regular press briefing, ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China would uphold an “objective and just position” in Middle East politics but lambasted the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and America’s “ignorance of international obligations and international law” as the “root cause of the tension.”
When asked by reporters, Geng declined to say whether China would increase its security presence in the region.
“We urge the U.S. not to abuse force and the relevant parties to exercise restraint to prevent a spiraling of tensions,” he said.
By Gerry Shih
January 6, 2020 at 1:30 AM EST
Germany says Trump’s threats against Iraq ‘not helpful’
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Monday that Trump’s threats against Iraq were “not very helpful at this point.”
Maas added in an interview with German public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk that the international community “has invested a lot, not only militarily but also in terms of support for stabilization.” Those efforts, said Maas, were now at risk of “being lost if the situation continues to develop this way.”
Maas remained vague when asked whether Germany would side with the United States on Iran.
“As Europe, we have to make an effort to ensure that we try everything to give diplomacy another chance,” he said.
By Rick Noack
January 6, 2020 at 12:30 AM EST
Successor to slain Iranian commander vows to drive U.S. from region
The general succeeding the Iranian commander slain in a U.S. drone strike vowed to continue his predecessor’s work and expel the United States from the Middle East.
Brig. Gen. Ismail Qaani was appointed the head of the powerful Quds Force, the expeditionary wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard tasked with spreading the country’s influence abroad.
As Soleimani’s deputy, he worked closely with the slain commander on developing Iran’s proxy forces in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.
“We promise to continue down martyr Soleimani’s path as firmly as before with the help of God, and in return for his martyrdom we aim at getting rid of America from the region,” he said in an interview with state television.
Soleimani’s daughter also addressed the funeral ceremony for her father in Tehran, saying that Israel and the United States would soon face a dark day.
By David Crawshaw