IRAN – (WARSOOR) – Iranian leaders have maintained a drumbeat of threats as the first anniversary of the assassination of top commander Major General Qassem Soleimani approaches, amid continued tension with President Donald Trump’s administration in its final weeks.
Soleimani—a national hero, confidante to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and widely considered the second most powerful figure in the regime—was killed in an American drone strike on January 3 this year.
Iran is preparing to mark the anniversary as regime leaders continue to vow revenge against the U.S. Iranian forces responded to the strike in January with ballistic missile attacks on Iraqi military bases housing American troops, wounding more than 100. But Iranian officials have promised more retaliation.
President Hassan Rouhani told reporters Wednesday the assassination had turned Soleimani from a “national hero” to an “eternal hero.”
Rouhani namechecked Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as the “main perpetrators” of the strike and said “our nation will not give up on them,” the Tasnim News Agency reported. “It is the right of the people to take revenge,” he added.
U.S.-Iran tensions are already running high, as they have for much of Trump’s presidency. Trump lost the presidential election and will leave office next month, but during the transition period has placed ever-harsher sanctions on Iran and warned he will respond aggressively to any Iranian aggression.
Top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed in November, reportedly in an Israeli operation outside Tehran. The regime has accused the U.S. of complicity, vowed vengeance and expanded its nuclear program in response.
Iraq has been the main battleground for the U.S.-Iranian conflict. Tehran-aligned militias have regularly targeted American interests there, and since November have resumed rocket attacks on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and IED attacks on American convoys elsewhere.
This prompted Trump’s warning of retaliation if any Americans are killed. The president posted photos of unfired rockets from the most recent attack on the U.S. embassy, warning: “Now we hear chatter of additional attacks against Americans in Iraq. Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over.”
Iran has long held sway in war-torn Iraq, expanding its influence massively during the disastrous American occupation of the country and the sectarian civil war that followed.
The country’s fight against Islamic State militants gave Iran and Soleimani further opportunities to increase Baghdad’s reliance on Tehran, and the campaign led to significant power for the Iran-aligned Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militia organization. The drone strike that killed Soleimani also killed PMF chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Iran’s ambassador to Iraq—Iraj Masjedi—told the Al-Ahed news website that Tehran’s Soleimani revenge could also be the expulsion of American troops from Iraq, a long-held goal for the Iranian regime and its proxy forces.
Soleimani’s assassination prompted Iraqi lawmakers to pass a resolution demanding full American withdrawal from the country, despite U.S. efforts to stop the vote.
Masjedi claimed Iran does not want Iraq to be dragged into its conflict with the U.S., but Iranian and allied activities tell a different story. Pressure on the U.S. embassy has prompted the State Department to draw staffing levels there down amid security concerns.
Pompeo has previously warned the facility may close down if the Iraqi government cannot guarantee its safety. Indeed, the Soleimani strike was partially prompted by the storming of the embassy by Iraqi protesters and militia members last December.
Amid the latest staff reduction, an unnamed defense official told CNN that the U.S. expects further retaliation for Soleimani’s assassination. “They aren’t going to give up,” the official said, adding that Tehran would likely not rush to follow through on its threats.
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