|Date: Jan 7, 2020|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Nasrallah: American troops will return home ‘in coffins’|
|Emily Lewis| The Daily Star|
BEIRUT: Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah warned that U.S. military across the region would return home “in coffins” as “just retribution” for the death of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, while Iraq’s parliament approved a bill to expel U.S. forces from the country.
Speaking from an undisclosed location during a memorial service for Soleimani, who headed Iran’s elite Al-Qods Force, and the nine others killed in Friday’s drone strike, Nasrallah clearly stated that U.S. bases, troops, officers and warships were all “fair targets.”
“The U.S. military is the one who killed Soleimani and [Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi] al-Muhandis, and they will pay the price,” he said, addressing thousands of Hezbollah supporters attending the service.
Whenever Nasrallah paused for breath, the crowd chanted in unison “Death to America.” Many held photographs of Soleimani and signs that vowed retaliation.
Soleimani was killed with a group of other Iranian and Iraqi fighters, including Muhandis, in a strike near Baghdad airport in the early hours of Friday morning.
In a thinly veiled threat, Nasrallah said that suicide bombers “who forced Americans out of our region” had increased in number to become “armies.”
It was not clear which suicide bombings Nasrallah was referring to. A 1983 attack on a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon killed 241 U.S. servicemen. President Ronald Reagan eventually withdrew all American forces from the country. Suicide bombings in Iraq in the 2000s also put pressure on the Americans to withdraw.
Nasrallah added that once “the coffins of American soldiers and officers begin returning home, Trump and his administration will realize they have lost the region.”
However, he specified that American civilians living, working or studying in the region would not be targeted, as this would “serve Trump’s interests.”
Nasrallah distinguished the response of “resistance” groups from that of Iran, which he said “has not and will not ask anything” of the groups and will take action in its own way.
“Iran responds the way it wants, but that doesn’t stop the ‘Axis of Resistance’ from also responding,” he added.
A former chief of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said the Israeli city of Haifa and Israeli military centers would be included in Tehran’s retaliation.
Nasrallah also called on Iraq to free itself of U.S. “occupation,” saying that President Donald Trump had only ordered troops into the country to control oil and ensure “the continuation of Daesh (ISIS).”
“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.
Shortly after the speech ended, the Iraqi parliament voted in favor of a bill to expel the more than 5,000 U.S. troops stationed in the country. The Iraqi government had invited the U.S. military to assist the country with the fight against Daesh (ISIS) in 2014.
Earlier, Nasrallah had said that regardless of the result of the vote, Iraqi resistance fighters would ensure that “not a single U.S. soldier remained” in the country.
The night of Jan. 2, when the killings took place, marked a “new era” for the Middle East and the dawn of a “new type of war,” he said.
Since Friday’s drone strike and Iran’s promise of “harsh revenge,” the U.S. has announced the deployment of an additional 3,000 troops to the region and called on its citizens to evacuate Iraq.
Trump threatened Sunday to strike 52 sites in Iran, representing the 52 hostages taken in the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979.
Trump said in a speech Friday evening that he had ordered Soleimani’s killing to “stop a war,” claiming that the Quds Force head was “plotting imminent and sinister attacks” against U.S. citizens.
Nasrallah described the attack as an “open and brazen crime,” the
responsibility for which lies solely with Trump.“All previous attempts [to kill Soleimani] failed ... that’s why they did it this way,” he said. Soleimani, who headed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ foreign force since 1998, had survived multiple assassination attempts.
Nasrallah said he had previously warned Soleimani of the risk of assassination: “I told him ... there is great focus on you in the American media, press and magazines and they’re printing your pictures on the front page as ‘the irreplaceable general,’ this is media and political priming for your assassination,” Nasrallah said. “Of course he laughed and told me, I hope so, pray for me.”
He said that Soleimani’s “martyrdom” was what he had wanted.
Nasrallah revealed that Soleimani had visited him in Beirut on Jan. 1 to convey his best wishes for the new year.
The Iranian general was one of the key figures in the transformation of Hezbollah into a heavily armed, well-organized military force.
Praising the late general, Nasrallah said that “Soleimani’s shoe is worth Trump’s head” and spoke of his key role in bolstering Hezbollah’s defensive capabilities.
Much of the first part of Nasrallah’s speech was devoted to an attack on Trump, in which he listed what he described as the president’s “failures” in the region since his election in 2016, including the wars in Yemen, Syria and Iraq.
Nasrallah made little mention of Israel, which is usually a major feature of his speeches.
Increased sanctions on Hezbollah officials in Lebanon, he said, have also failed to impact the power of the “Resistance,” as the group is often known.
In July, the U.S. Treasury Department slapped sanctions on two Hezbollah MPs, Amin Sherri and Mohammad Raad, in the first such move against sitting lawmakers. It also sanctioned Wafiq Safa, Hezbollah’s security chief.
A month later, the Lebanese financial institution Jammal Trust Bank was sanctioned for allegedly “knowingly facilitating” Hezbollah’s banking activities and subsequently forced to close. - with Reuter