Tensions between the United States and Iran escalated on Friday after a US air raid killed Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces, or PMF.
The Pentagon confirmed the attack at Baghdad’s international airport, saying it came “at the direction of the president”.
Soleimani and al-Muhandis’s deaths are a potential turning point in the Middle East and are expected to draw severe retaliation from Iran and the forces it backs in the region against Israel and US interests.
Here are all the latest updates amid the heightened tensions.
Saturday, January 4:
US senator urges oversight as Iran tension escalates
US Senator Brian Schatz has urged skepticism and “toughest oversight” as the Trump administration ramps up military operations in the Middle East, including the deployment of more troops to Iraq following the death of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.
“They have lied about almost everything. There is no reason to suddenly give them the benefit of the doubt because they took a precipitous military action. Instead, our deepest skepticism, our toughest oversight, our most probing questions, must come now,” Schatz wrote on social media.
Opposition members of the US Congress have accused President Donald Trump of carrying out the assassination of Soleimani without Congressional authorisation.
Friday, January 3:
White House: Iran retaliation for Soleimani killing would be poor decision
White House national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said on Friday that any Iranian retaliation in response to the US killing of Soleimani would be a “very poor decision”.
O’Brien, briefing reporters on the US operation in a conference call, said Soleimani was struck while travelling around the Middle East planning attacks against American military personnel and diplomats in the region.
Trump: Ordered killing of Iranian general to prevent war, not to start one
US President Donald Trump said he ordered the killing of Qassem Soleimani to stop a war, not to start one, saying the Iranian military commander was planning imminent attacks on Americans.
“Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel but we caught him in the act and terminated him,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
“We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war,” Trump said, adding that the US does not seek government change in Iran.
3,000 additional US troops heading to Middle East: Officials
The US said it is sending nearly 3,000 more troops to the Middle East with defence officials saying the soldiers are from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the officials said the troops are in addition to about 700 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne deployed to Kuwait earlier this week after the storming of the US embassy compound in Baghdad by Iran-backed militiamen and their supporters.
Read more here.
UN chief: ‘World cannot afford’ another Gulf war
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the “world cannot afford” another Gulf war.
“The secretary-general has consistently advocated for de-escalation in the Gulf,” a spokesman for Guterres said in a statement.
“This is a moment in which leaders must exercise maximum restraint. The world cannot afford another war in the Gulf.”
Trump: Soleimani behind ‘thousands’ of US deaths, ‘hated’ by Iranians
President Trump took to Twitter to defend his decision to kill Soleimani, claiming that the Quds Force commander was behind the deaths of “millions of people”, including US citizens and his own Iranian compatriots.
Soleimani “killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more”, Trump said.
“He was directly and indirectly responsible for the death of millions of people, including the recent large number of PROTESTERS killed in Iran itself,” he added.