Iran has vowed ‘crushing revenge’ on the US for the airstrike ‘assassination’ of Major General Qassem Soleimani.
Defence minister Amir Hatami, who is also top commander of the elite Quds, said: “A crushing revenge will be taken for Soleimani’s unjust assassination…
“We will take revenge from all those involved and responsible for his assassination.”
Maj Gen Soleimani was killed in a drone airstrike on Baghdad airport by US forces and US forces in the region have been warned about possible retribution.
The Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi has warned that the rocket attack ‘will spark a devastating war in Iraq’.
The US embassy in Baghdad has urged citizens to ‘depart Iraq immediately’.
US citizens in Iraq have been warned to leave the country ‘immediately’ by the US state department.
Soleimani was killed in retaliation for attacks against the embassy in Iraq’s capital just days ago.
In the aftermath of Friday’s attack, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned a “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the US – describing the commander as the “international face of resistance”.
Regional neighbour Syria has condemned ‘treacherous, criminal American aggression’ that led to the killing of Soleimani, state news agency SANA cited a foreign ministry source as saying on Friday.
The source said the attack constituted a “serious escalation” and reaffirmed US responsibility for instability in Iraq, according to SANA.
Tensions have been high ever since the American embassy in Iraq came under threat from what was initially described as protesters.
However it is now thought they were backed by Iran.
Muqtada al Sadr , an Iraqi Shia cleric and militia leader, has given orders to revive Al Mahdi Army and Al-Yom Al-Maw’oud militias, according to press reports.
The Mahdi Army was formed by Muqtada in June 2003 in response to the US invasion of Iraq.
China has urged the relevant sides, especially the US, to remain calm and exercise restraint to avoid further escalating tensions, said Geng Shuang, a ministry spokesman, adding that peace and stability in the Middle East must be upheld.
The airstrike could also have implications for Israel, the US’s strongest ally in the region.
Today Israel’s defence minister summoned the country’s military and security chiefs to Tel Aviv in the wake of the airstrike.
Israel Army Radio said the military had gone on heightened alert, amid fears that Iran could strike through its regional allies such as Tehran-backed Lebanese movement Hezbollah to the north, or through Palestinian militant group Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.
“They will wait for the right moment to exact revenge, perhaps by firing into Israeli territory through Shiite militias in Syria and perhaps even from Gaza,” Ron Ben-Yishai, a commentator for Israeli news outlet Ynet, wrote on its website.
In Gaza, Hamas – which has long enjoyed financial and military support from Tehran – condemned Soleimani’s killing and sent its “dearest condolences” to Iran.
A Pentagon spokesman said: “General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.
“General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.
“He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months – including the attack on December 27th – culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel.
“General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week.”