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January 6, 2020

Installations on target…: Iran-US exchange threats

Top Story

January 6, 2020

TEHRAN/WASHINGTON: The US and Iran on Sunday exchanged threats of targeting installations and assets of each other after the killing of Iran’s military commander Qasem Soleimani in a US drone attack in Baghdad on Friday.

Iran condemned Donald Trump as a "terrorist in a suit" after the US president threatened to hit 52 Iranian sites hard if Tehran attacks Americans or US assets in retaliation for the killing of the commander.

Iran's army chief, Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi, was quoted by the state television on Sunday as saying the United States lacked the courage for military confrontation with Iran. "In a potential conflict in the future, which I don’t think they (Americans) have the courage to carry out, there it will become clear where the numbers five and two will belong," he said.

The military adviser to Iran’s supreme leader said the Islamic republic’s response to a US strike will be military, CNN reported Sunday. "The response for sure will be military and against military sites," Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan told CNN in Farsi, according to a translation by the US news network.

As the two countries assailed each other in a war of words, the European Union, Britain and Oman urged the parties to seek to de-escalate the crisis.

"Like ISIS, Like Hitler, Like Genghis! They all hatecultures. Trump is a terrorist in a suit. He will learn history very soon that nobody can defeat 'the great Iranian nation and culture'," Information and Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi tweeted.

Trump responded with a series of tweets on Saturday, saying the US has "targeted 52 Iranian sites", 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", he said.

In a saber-rattling tweet, Trump said 52 represents the number of Americans held hostage at the US embassy in Tehran for more than a year starting in late 1979.

Any US military action against Iran will be in line with international law, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday. "We’ll behave lawfully. We’ll behave inside the system," Pompeo told the ABC network’s "This Week" program. "We always have and we always will."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran will probably try to attack American troops. "We think there is a real likelihood Iran will make a mistake and make a decision to go after some of our forces, military forces in Iraq or soldiers in northeast Syria," he told Fox News in remarks aired Sunday.

The two countries have no diplomatic relations and on Sunday, Iran summoned the Swiss envoy representing US interests in Tehran to protest at "Trump's hostile remarks", according to Iranian state television.

Meanwhile Iran cancelled a Tehran ceremony on Sunday night to honour slain general due to an overwhelming turnout by mourners in second city Mashhad, the Revolutionary Guards said.

"Considering the glorious, intense and million-man presence of the revolutionary people of Mashhad in the ceremony to bid farewell to Islam and Iran’s great general Qasem Soleimani and since the program is still continuing... it is not possible to hold the event in Tehran," the Guards said.

The statement called on people to attend a ceremony scheduled to take place at Tehran University on Monday.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged Iran's foreign minister by phone on Sunday to work to de-escalate the situation and invited him to Brussels to discuss ways of preserving world powers' 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

Oman has called on the United States and Iran to seek dialogue to ease tensions, Oman News Agency reported on Sunday. British foreign minister Dominic Raab described Soleimani as a "regional menace", while also calling for crisis diplomacy to avoid war.

"There is a route through which allows Iran to come in from out of the international cold," Raab told Sky News.

In an apparent effort to defuse tensions, Qatar's foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, made an unplanned trip to Iran where he met with Rouhani and other senior officials.

Qatar hosts American forces at the Al-Udeid Air Base and shares a massive offshore oil and gas field with Iran.

Iraq’s parliament urged the government on Sunday to end the presence of US-led coalition forces in the country, outraged by an American strike that killed Iranian and Iraqi commanders last week.

"The parliament has voted to commit the Iraqi government to cancel its request to the international coalition for help to fight IS," speaker Mohammed Halbusi announced.

In Iraq, many people including opponents of Soleimani have expressed anger at Washington for killing him and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis on Iraqi soil and potentially dragging their country into another war.

The Iraqi foreign ministry on Sunday summoned US ambassador Matthew Tueller to condemn American strikes on Iraq that killed a top Iranian general, an Iraqi commander and other local fighters. "They were a blatant violation of Iraqi sovereignty," the ministry said in a statement, and "contradict the agreed-upon missions of the international coalition."

Saudi Arabia was not consulted by its ally Washington over a US drone strike that killed a top Iranian general, an official said Sunday, as the kingdom sought to defuse soaring regional tensions.

Saudi Arabia is vulnerable to possible Iranian reprisals after Tehran vowed "revenge" following the strike on Friday that killed powerful commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad.

"The kingdom of Saudi Arabia was not consulted regarding the US strike," a Saudi official told AFP, requesting anonymity.

"In light of the rapid developments, the kingdom stresses the importance of exercising restraint to guard against all acts that may lead to escalation, with severe consequences," the official added.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both allies of Washington, are also vulnerable to Iranian counter strikes, analysts say.

A string of attacks blamed on Iran has caused anxiety in recent months as Riyadh and Washington deliberated over how to react.

Meanwhile, Jihadists from Somalia’s Al-Shabaab group on Sunday attacked a military base used by US and Kenyan forces in Kenya’s coastal Lamu region, the army spokesman said.

The strike on the base known as Camp Simba in Manda Bay near the picturesque tourist drawcard of Lamu Island is the latest by the group in Kenya since Nairobi sent troops across the border in 2011.

Al-Shabaab said the attack was part of its "Al-Quds (Jerusalem) shall never be Judaized" campaign -- a term it first used during an attack on the upscale Dusit hotel complex in Nairobi in January last year that left 21 people dead.

Separately, a group claiming to be hackers from Iran breached the website of a little-known US government agency on Saturday and posted messages vowing revenge for Washington's killing of Qasem Soleimani.

The website of the Federal Depository Library Programme was replaced with a page titled "Iranian Hackers!" that displayed images of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Iranian flag.

"This is only small part of Iran's cyber ability !" another caption on the page read in white text on a black background.

Meanwhile, a new Iranian general has stepped out of the shadows to lead the country's expeditionary Quds Force, becoming responsible for Tehran's proxies across the Mideast.

Like his predecessor, a young Esmail Ghaani faced the carnage of Iran's eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s and later joined the newly founded Quds, or Jerusalem, Force. While much still remains unknown about Ghaani, 62, Western sanctions suggest he's long been in a position of power in the organisation.

Elsewhere, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Sunday said the US army will "pay the price" for killing top Iranian general and a senior Iraqi commander in a strike.

"The American army killed them and it will pay the price," the Iran-backed head of the Lebanese Shiite group Hassan Nasrallah warned in a televised speech. "The only just punishment is (to target) American military presence in the region: US military bases, US warships, each and every officer and soldier in the region," Nasrallah said.

He added however that American civilians such as "businessmen, engineers, journalists and doctors" should be spared.

"When the coffins of American soldiers and officers... start to return to the United States, (US President Donald) Trump and his administration will realise they have lost the region," he said.

Nasrallah’s speech was beamed to black-clad supporters gathered in southern Beirut, who waved Hezbollah’s yellow flag or held up portraits of Soleimani and Muhandis.

Nasrallah also called on Iraq to free itself of the American "occupation".

"Our demand, our hope from our brothers in the Iraqi parliament is... to adopt a law that demands American forces withdraw from Iraq," he said.

Hezbollah is the only side not to have disarmed after Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.