Iranians watch procession of top general's casket as nation plots retaliation

Jan. 5 (UPI) — Several thousand people packed the streets of Iranian cities to watch the procession of the body of the nation’s top general Sunday as the nation plotted revenge, likely against U.S. military sites.

In one repercussion to a U.S. drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Quds Force, on Friday, Iran announced it will no longer limit its commitment to a 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers — an accord already scrapped by the United States. After a cabinet meeting, Iran said in a statement that cooperation will continue with the U.N. watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program will be no more subject to any restrictions in the operational sphere … and from now on, Iran’s nuclear program will go on only according to its technical needs,” the statement said.

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called it the fifth and “final remedial step” Iran will take under the deal since it first started distancing itself from it in May, but that all moves are reversible upon its other signatories maintaining their obligations.

In Iraq, where Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the commander of Iraqi militia, were killed at Baghdad’s airport, the parliament voted unanimously in a resolution to expel foreign troops from the country. About 5,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq as part of an international coalition against the Islamic State.

Hassan Dehghan, the military adviser to Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, told CNN in an exclusive interview that “the response for sure will be military and against military sites” after the drone attack.

Dehghan, a former defense minister, said: “Let me tell you one thing: Our leadership has officially announced that we have never been seeking war and we will not be seeking war.”

On Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump posted on Twitter that if Iran attacks American assets, the United States will strike “very hard and very fast.”

“Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge for our ridding the world of their terrorist leader who had just killed an American, & badly wounded many others, not to mention all of the people he had killed over his lifetime, including recently hundreds of Iranian protesters,” Trump wrote in a series of tweets.

“He was already attacking our Embassy, and preparing for additional hits in other locations. Iran has been nothing but problems for many years. Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!”

That number matches hostages taken in the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Iran.

Dehghan described the tweets as “ridiculous and absurd,” saying Trump “doesn’t know international law. He doesn’t recognize UN resolutions either. Basically he is a veritable gangster and a gambler. He is no politician he has no mental stability.”

The Iranian military adviser noted that “it was America that has started the war. Therefore, they should accept appropriate reactions to their actions. The only thing that can end this period of war is for the Americans to receive a blow that is equal to the blow they have inflicted. Afterward, they should not seek a new cycle.”

While aboard Air Force One after departing from South Florida on Sunday night, Trump reiterated the United States will strike back if attacked. “If they do anything there will be major retaliation,” Trump said, including cultural sites, according to pool reports.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo backed Trump’s threats.

“The American people should know that we will not waver,” Pompeo told Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. “We will be bold in protecting American interests and we will do so in a way that is consistent with the rule of law.”

He added: “We’re trying to restore deterrence that frankly is a need that results directly from the fact that the previous administration left us in a terrible place with respect to the Islamic Republic of Iran … we have developed a strategy to convince the Iranian regime to behave like a normal nation. That’s what our strategy is about. We’ve been executing it.”

Pompeo’s comments came as Iran is in several days of national mourning.

A military band played as the general’s casket, which was wrapped in an Iranian flag, was unloaded from a plane in Ahvaz in southwest Iran.

Mourners, wearing black and carrying posters with Soleimani’s portrait, watched as the caskets of the general and Iranian-backed Iraqi militia leader moved through the streets in Ahvaz and Mashhad.

Demonstrators also carried red Shiite flags, which traditionally symbolize the spilled blood of someone unjustly killed and revenge.

A red flag also flies over the holy mosque of Jamkaran in Qom, Iran’s holiest city.

The procession traveled to Tehran, the capital of Iran.

The scheduled ceremony for Soleimani on Sunday night at Tehran’s Grand Mosalla was canceled because of the delayed procession caused by the large turnout of mourners who showed up in Mashad, according to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

On Monday, Khamenei will lead prayers for the general at the main ceremony in Tehran

Soleimani will be buried in his hometown of Kerman in southeast Iran on Tuesday.

In Iraq, the 328-member parliament passed the resolution by a vote of 170-0. The resolution is nonbinding but Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi had asked parliament to vote to end foreign troop presence.

“At the invitation” of the Iraqi government, American troops are in the nation, according to the resolution.

Trump threatened sanctions on Iraq should U.S. troops be expelled.

“If they do ask us to leave, if we don’t do it in a very friendly basis. We will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever,” Trump said Sunday night. “It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame.”

Trump added: “We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build. Long before my time. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it.”

In addition, Iraq’s Foreign Ministry filed a complaint in two letters to the president of the United Nations Security Council, Dang Dinh Quy, the ambassador of Vietnam, and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about the “American attacks and assaults against Iraqi military locations,” according to a Foreign Ministry statement.

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Iran-backed Lebanese armed group/political party Hezbollah, has promised to expel U.S. forces from the Middle East in “just retribution” for the killings.

“The US military presence in the region, US military bases, US military vessels, every US officer and soldier in our region and in our countries and on our lands,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech Sunday. “The US military are the ones who killed [Soleimani and al-Muhandis] and they are the ones who will pay the price,.”

He added: “Soleimani is not only an Iranian issue, he is all of the axis of resistance. Soleimani is the Muslim nation.”

On Sunday, the U.S.-led coalition suspended operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria because protecting U.S. forces at their bases “is our No. 1 priority.”

U.S. troops had been training Iraqi forces to take on the militants.

“Repeated rocket attacks over the last two months by elements of Kata’ib Hezbollah have caused the death of Iraqi Security Forces personnel and a U.S. civilian,” Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve said in a statement.

“As a result we are now fully committed to protecting the Iraqi bases that host Coalition troops. This has limited our capacity to conduct training and to support their operations against Daesh [Islamic State] and we have therefore paused these activities, subject to continuous review.”

Additional U.S. troops are being dispatched to the Mideast.

About 3,500 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C., are being deployed to Kuwait, The Fayetteville Observer reported. Soldiers are leaving within 18 hours of the call. More than 50,000 soldiers are based at Fort Bragg.

Relations had been strained with Iran even before the drone attack.

Trump withdrew the United States from the landmark nuclear deal and re-introduced sanctions that had been previously lifted in accordance with the accord. Trump has wanted to force Iran to negotiate a new deal that includes halts on the development of ballistic missiles.

But the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action had remained in effect with Britain, Russia, France, China, Germany and the European Union.

“The Islamic Republic will no longer observe any limits on the operational aspects of its nuclear program,” the government said, according to a Bloomberg report.

Iran will suspend limits on uranium enrichment, percentage of uranium enrichment, amount of enriched materials and research, and development linked to nuclear operations.

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