|Date: Jan 7, 2020|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Iran considers retaliation options as it buries Soleimani|
|35 killed in stampede at funeral for slain general|
TEHRAN: Iranian state television says 35 people have been killed and 48 others injured in a stampede that erupted at a funeral procession for a general slain in a U.S. airstrike.
The broadcaster stated that the stampede erupted in Kerman, the hometown of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, where the procession was underway on Tuesday.
A procession in Tehran on Monday drew over 1 million people in the Iranian capital, crowding both main thoroughfares and side streets in Tehran.
Iran Guard leader threatens to 'set ablaze' U.S.-backed areas
TEHRAN: The leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard threatened Tuesday to "set ablaze" places supported by the United States over the killing of a top Iranian general in a U.S. airstrike last week, sparking cries from the crowd of supporters of "Death to Israel!"
Hossein Salami made the pledge before a crowd of thousands gathered in a central square in Kerman, the hometown of the slain Gen. Qassem Soleimani. His vow mirrored the demands of top Iranian officials - from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to others - as well as supporters across the Islamic Republic, demanding retaliation against America for a slaying that’s drastically raised tensions across the Middle East.
Mourners in Kerman dressed in black carried posters bearing the image of Soleimani, a man whose slaying prompted Iran's supreme leader to weep over his casket on Monday as a crowd said by police to be in the millions filled Tehran streets. Although there was no independent estimate, aerial footage and Associated Press journalists suggested a turnout of at least 1 million, and the throngs were visible on satellite images of Tehran taken Monday.
The outpouring of grief was an unprecedented honour for a man viewed by Iranians as a national hero for his work leading the Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force. The U.S. blames him for the killing of American troops in Iraq and accused him of plotting new attacks just before his death Friday in a drone strike near Baghdad’s airport. Soleimani also led forces in Syria backing President Bashar Assad in a long war, and he also served as the point man for Iranian proxies in countries like Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
His slaying already has pushed Tehran to abandon the remaining limits of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as his successor and others vow to take revenge. In Baghdad, the parliament has called for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi soil, something analysts fear could allow Islamic State militants to mount a comeback.
Soleimani's remains and those of the others killed in the airstrike were brought to a central square in Kerman, a desert city surrounded by mountains that dates back to the days of the Silk Road where he will be buried later on Tuesday.
Salami praised Soleimani's exploits and said as a martyr, he represented an even greater threat to Iran's enemies.
"We will take revenge. We will set ablaze where they like," Salami said, drawing the cries of "Death to Israel!"
Israel is a longtime regional foe of Iran.
Iran's parliament, meanwhile, passed an urgent bill declaring the U.S. military's command at the Pentagon in Washington and those acting on its behalf "terrorists," subject to Iranian sanctions. The measure appears to mirror a decision by President Donald Trump in April to declare the Revolutionary Guard a "terrorist organisation."
The U.S. Defense Department used the Guard’s designation as a terror organisation in the U.S. to support the strike that killed Soleimani. The decision by Iran’s parliament, done by a special procedure to speed the bill to law, comes as officials across the country threaten to retaliate for Soleimani’s killing.
Also Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the U.S. had declined to issue him a visa to travel to New York for upcoming meetings at the United Nations. The U.S. as the host of the U.N. headquarters is supposed to allow foreign officials to attend such meetings.
"They fear that someone comes to the U.S. and reveals realities," Zarif said and added: "The world is not limited to New York and you can talk to the American people from Tehran and we will do that."
The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Iran considers retaliation options as it buries Soleimani
DUBAI/BAGHDAD: Iran is considering 13 scenarios to avenge the killing of Qassem Soleimani in Iraq by a U.S. drone attack, a senior Tehran official said on Tuesday as the general's body was brought to his hometown for burial.
In Washington, the U.S. defence secretary denied reports the U.S. military was preparing to withdraw from Iraq, where Tehran has vied with Washington for influence over nearly two decades of war and unrest.
The killing of General Qassem Soleimani, who was responsible for building up Tehran's network of proxy forces across the Middle East, has prompted mass mourning in Iran.
U.S. and Iranian warnings of new strikes and retaliation have also stoked concerns about a broader Middle East conflict and led to calls in the U.S. Congress for legislation to stop U.S. President Donald Trump going to war with Iran.
"We will take revenge, a hard and definitive revenge," the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, General Hossein Salami, told tens of thousands of mourners in Soleimani's hometown of Kerman.
Many chanted "Death to America" and waved the Iranian flag.
Soleimani's body has been taken through Iraqi and Iranian cities since Friday's strike, with huge crowds of mourners filling the streets.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and military commanders have said Iranian retaliation for the U.S. action on Friday would match the scale of Soleimani's killing but that it would be at a time and place of Tehran's choosing.
Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, said 13 "revenge scenarios" were being considered, Fars news agency reported. Even the weakest option would prove "a historic nightmare for the Americans," he said.
Iran, whose southern coast stretches along a Gulf oil shipping route that includes the narrow Stait of Hormuz, has allied forces across the Middle East through which it could act. Representatives from those forces, including the Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, attended the funeral.
Despite its strident rhetoric, analysts say Iran will want to avoid any conventional conflict with the United States but assymetric strikes, such as sabotage or other more limited military actions, are more likely.
Trump has promised strikes on 52 Iranian targets, including cultural sites, if Iran retaliates, although U.S. officials sought to downplay his reference to cultural targets.
Reuters and other media reported on Monday that the U.S. military had sent a letter to Iraqi officials informing them that U.S. troops would be repositioned in preparation to leave.
"In order to conduct this tast, Coalition Forces are required to take certain measures to ensure that the movement out of Iraq is conducted in a safe and efficent manner," it said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said there had been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq.
"I don't know what that letter is," he said.
U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the letter was a "poorly worded" draft document meant only to underscore increased movement by U.S. forces.
The letter, addressed to the Iraqi Defence Ministry's Combined Joint Operations and confirmed as authentic by an Iraqi military source, had caused confusion about the future of the roughly 5,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq, where there has been a U.S. military presence since Saddam Hussein was toppled in a 2003 invasion.
On Sunday, Iraq's parliament, dominated by lawmakers representing Muslim Shi'ite groups, passed a resolution calling for all foreign troops to leave the country.
Iraq's caretaker Prime Minister Abdel Abdul Mahdi told the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad on Monday that both sides needed to work together to implement the parliamentary resolution.
Friction between Iran and the United States has risen since Washington withdrew in 2018 from a nuclear deal between Tehran and other world powers.
The United States has imposed economic sanctions on Iran and Tehran said on Sunday it was dropping all limitations on uranium enrichment, its latest step back from commitments under the deal.
The U.S. administration has denied a visa to allow Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to attend a U.N. Security Council meeting in New York on Thursday, a U.S. official said.
"The United States will get the decisive, definite answer for its arrogance at the time and place when it will feel the most pain," Zarif said in a speech broadcast on state television.
Trump's U.S. political rivals have challenged his decision to order the killing of Soleimani and its timing in a U.S. election year. His administration said Soleimani was planning new attacks on U.S. interests but has offered no evidence.
U.S. general Milley said the threat from Soleimani was imminent. "We would have been culpably negligent to the American people had we not made the decision we made," he said.
Trump administration officials will provide a classified briefing for U.S. senators on Wednesday on events in Iraq after some lawmakers accused the White House of risking a broad conflict without a strategy.