Tensions between the United States and Iran have escalated dramatically after a US air raid killed Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi), an Iran-backed umbrella organisation comprising several militias.
Soleimani and al-Muhandis’s deaths are a potential turning point in the geopolitics of the Middle East and Iran has promised a “harsh” response.
Here are all the latest updates amid heightened tensions.
Sunday, January 5:
Qassem Soleimani’s body was returned to Iran on Sunday and flown to the city of Ahvaz in the country’s southwest, the official IRIB news agency reported.
Saturday, January 4:
‘Left in the dark’: White House gives legislators formal notice of Iraq raid
The White House sent to Congress on Saturday formal notification of the drone attack that killed Soleimani, amid complaints from Democrats that President Trump did not notify legislators or seek advance approval for the attack.
The classified notification was sent under a 1973 US law called the War Powers Act, which requires the administration to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action or imminent actions.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said it raised more questions than it answered.
“This document prompts serious and urgent questions about the timing, manner and justification of the Administration’s decision to engage in hostilities against Iran,” Pelosi said in a statement.
She said the “highly unusual” decision to classify the entire document compounded her concerns and “suggests that the Congress and the American people are being left in the dark about our national security.”
Pompeo to meet UK’s Raab in Washington
British foreign minister Dominic Raab will travel to Washington to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday, after meeting his French and German counterparts earlier in the week, to discuss the US killing of Soleimani.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has yet to comment on the killing of Iran’s top military commander, will also talk to political leaders over the next two days, a spokeswoman said.
Johnson is likely to talk to President Trump, Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron, she added.
Saudi King Salman, Iraq discuss need to de-escalate regional tensions
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman discussed the importance of de-escalating regional tensions with Iraqi President Barham Saleh in a telephone call, the Saudi news agency reported.
King Salman told Saleh that Saudi Arabia supports the stability and security of Iraq.
Oil tankers pass through the Strait of Hormuz [File: Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters]
UK navy to accompany UK-flagged ships through Strait of Hormuz
Defence Minister Ben Wallace said he had ordered the warships HMS Montrose and HMS Defender to prepare to return to escort duties for all ships sailing under a British merchant flag.
“The government will take all the necessary steps to protect our ships and citizens at this time,” he said.
Multiple rockets fall in Baghdad: Iraqi military
Several rockets fell inside Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone, its Jadriya neighbourhood and the Balad airbase housing US troops, the Iraqi military said, adding that there were no deaths.
“Several rockets targeting Celebration Sqaure and the Jadriya area in Baghdad, and the Balad air base in Salahuddin province, with no loss of life. Further details to come,” the military said in a statement.
Read the full story here.
Macron discusses crisis with Iraqi, UAE leaders
“The two presidents agreed to remain in close contact to avoid any further escalation in tensions and in order to act to ensure stability in Iraq and the broader region,” Macron’s office said of his telephone discussion with Iraqi President Barham Salih.
Macron also discussed Middle East developments with the defacto ruler of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
The two leaders underlined the importance of fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) and dealing with the political crisis in Libya.
Afghanistan fears violence in the region after Soleimani’s killing
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani expressed concern over a possible rise in violence in the Middle East after Soleimani’s killing.
In a post on Twitter, Ghani said he had told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a telephone call “that Afghan soil must not be used against a third country or in regional conflicts,”
Read the full story here.
Palestinians in Gaza mourn Soleimani
Hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza mourned Soleimani’s death, erecting a tent in his honour in the heart of Gaza City.
Leaders of Hamas, which rules Gaza, and the Islamic Jihad – both backed by Iran – joined mourners at the tent, where US and Israeli flags were laid on the ground for visitors to tread on as they entered. The flags were later set on fire.
Palestinians burn US and Israeli flags at a memorial ceremony for Soleimani in Gaza [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]
“We are loyal to those who stood with the resistance and with Palestine and we hold the US administration and the Zionist occupation fully responsible for the consequences of this deplorable crime,” Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official, said.
US should not ‘abuse force’: China FM
China Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Iranian counterpart in a call that the US should not “abuse force” and should instead seek solutions through dialogue.
“The dangerous US military operation violates the basic norms of international relations and will aggravate regional tensions and turbulence,” Wang told Mohammad Javad Zarif according to a statement by China’s foreign ministry.
China, a permanent member of the UNSC, is a key partner of Tehran and a major buyer of Iranian oil [File: Jason Lee/Reuters]
“China opposes the use of force in international relations. There is no way out for military means, nor for extreme pressure,” the ministry quoted Wang as saying.
France discusses Middle East tensions with Germany and China
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement that he had discussed the situation in the Middle East with his German and Chinese counterparts.
He added that all three had agreed on the need to avoid any escalation in the tensions.
“We have all noted in particular our agreement in the importance of preserving the stability and sovereignty of Iraq, and the whole of the region in general, as well as the need for Iran to avoid any new violation of the Vienna Agreement,” he said, following a telephone call with Germany’s Heiko Maas and China’s Wang Yi.
Qatari FM meets Iranian counterpart
Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani met with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif in Tehran, state-run Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported.
The two officials discussed the latest developments in the region, “especially the events in Iraq as well as ways of calm to maintain collective security of the region,” QNA said.
NATO suspends training missions in Iraq
NATO has suspended training missions in Iraq, a spokesman for the alliance said, following the US killing of Soleimani.
“NATO’s mission is continuing, but training activities are currently suspended,” said the spokesman, Dylan White.
He also confirmed that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had spoken by telephone with US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper “following recent developments”.
The NATO mission in Iraq, which numbers in the hundreds, trains the country’s security forces at the request of Baghdad to prevent the return of ISIL.
Iran will punish Americans wherever they are within its reach: Guards commander
Iran will punish “Americans” wherever they are within reach of the Islamic republic in retaliation for the killing of Soleimani, Tasnim news agency quoted a senior Revolutionary Guards commander as saying.
General Gholamali Abuhamzeh, the commander of the Guards in the southern province of Kerman, raised the prospect of possible attacks on ships in the Gulf, and said Iran reserved the right to take revenge against the US for the death of Soleimani.
“The Strait of Hormuz is a vital point for the West and a large number of American destroyers and warships cross there … vital American targets in the region have been identified by Iran since long time ago,” Abuhamzeh was quoted as saying.
“Some 35 US targets in the region as well as Tel Aviv are within our reach,” he said.
Hezbollah official: US ‘made an error’ in targeting Soleimani
A Lebanese Hezbollah official said the response of the Iran-backed “axis of resistance” to the killing of Soleimaniwill be decisive, al-Mayadeen TV said on Saturday.
The leader of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc in Lebanon, Mohamed Raad, was referring to a raft of Iran-backed groups from Lebanon to Yemen which have increased Tehran’s military influence in the region.
Raad said the US “made an error” in targeting Soleimani and that they will recognise that in the coming days, the channel reported.
US-led coalition scales back operations
The US-led coalition fighting ISIL has scaled back operations, a US defence official told AFP news agency on Saturday.
“Our first priority is protecting coalition personnel,” the official said, saying the US-led force had “limited” their training and other operations.
“It’s not a halt,” the source said, adding: “We have increased security and defensive measures at Iraqi bases that host coalition troops.”
Qatari FM to visit Iran
Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani will visit Iran on Saturday, according to the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
During his visit to Tehran, the top Qatari diplomat will hold talks with Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Zarif, ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Twitter, without providing more details.
Iraqi PM attends funeral processions
Iraq’s caretaker prime minister attended a mourning procession underway in Baghdad for those killed in a US attack on Friday.
Adel Abdul Mahdi joined al-Muhandis’s associate Hadi al-Ameri, Shia scholar Ammar al-Hakim, and other pro-Iran figures in a large crowd accompanying the coffins.
UK warns nationals against travel to Iraq, Iran
The UK warned its nationals to avoid all travel to Iraq, outside the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, and to avoid all but essential travel to Iran.
“Given heightened tensions in the region, the Foreign Office now advise people not to travel to Iraq, with the exception of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and to consider carefully whether it’s essential to travel to Iran,” Foreign Secretary Raab said in a statement.
“We will keep this under review.”
Foreign Secretary @DominicRaab has issued a statement about updates to travel advice for Iraq and Iran
— Foreign Office 🇬🇧 (@foreignoffice) January 4, 2020
Iraqi parliament expected to meet
The Iraqi parliament is due to have an emergency session on Sunday in response to caretaker Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi’s call to take measures to preserve Iraq’s security.
“There are increasing calls for the full withdrawal of foreign troops, including US troops from Iraq,” Al Jazeera’s Simona Foltyn, reporting from Baghdad, said.
“It is unclear how the procedure for that would unfold.”
Funeral processions underway
Thousands rallied in Baghdad as a convoy carrying the bodies of those killed in the US air raid on Friday passes through the fortified Green Zone.
Al Jazeera’s Simona Foltyn, reporting from Baghdad, said the convoy is expected to be moving towards the other side of the Tigris River, according to a security guard guarding the Green Zone.
Mourners attend the funeral ceremony of Soleimani and al-Muhandis in Baghdad’s Green Zone [Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP]
The convoy included eight ambulances which carried the bodies of those killed, and several other vehicles full of PMF forces, Foltyn said.
“We can see and hear crowds of mourners and supporters of the PMF who are approaching one of the gates of the Green Zone. It remains to be seen if security forces will allow these crowds to march through across to the other side,” she said.
Iraq military denies air strike took place
Iraq’s military denied an air raid had taken place on a medical convoy in Taji, north of Baghdad.
Earlier on Saturday, Iraq’s state television reported that an attack was carried out by the US.
Read the full story here.
US-led coalition denies conducting new Baghdad air strike
The US-led coalition fighting ISIL said on Saturday it did not conduct any air raid near Camp Taji north of Baghdad, shortly after Iraq’s PMF said air raids near the area killed six people and wounded three others, adding that none of its top leaders was killed.
“FACT: the coalition @cjtfoir did not conduct airstrikes near Camp Taji (north of Baghdad) in recent days,” a spokesman said on Twitter.
Earlier on Saturday, Iraq’s state television reported the attack was carried out by the US, and that it was targeting a convoy of an Iran-backed militia.
Thousands gather for funeral procession
Thousands of people have joined a funeral procession in Baghdad for Soleimani, al-Muhandis, and others who died in the same air raid.
The procession started in Kadhimiya and was heading towards the Green Zone government and diplomatic compound, where a state funeral was due to be held.
Read earlier updates here.