The latest news: Politics, war and 'all developments are interconnected'

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo participates in an interview with Fox and Friends at the State Department, in Washington D.C., on December 30, 2019. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain]

Iraq's Parliament calls for expulsion of U.S. troops, halt to fighting against Islamic State

Associated Press

The U.S-led coalition in Iraq says it is pausing operations in support of Iraqi forces in the fight against Islamic State militants. 

The coalition says it's focus will now be on protecting U.S. personnel and bases in Iraq, and it is suspending training for Iraqi forces. 

The coalition's decision Sunday comes days after a U.S. drone strike killed Iran's top commander in Baghdad. 

The killing has heightened tensions in the region and tested the U.S.-Iraq alliance. Attacks on bases that house U.S. forces are expected to increase. 

Iraqi lawmakers also voted Sunday in favor of a new bill that calls for the expulsion of all 5,000 US troops from Iraq. 

In Baghdad, Iraqi lawmakers voted Sunday in favor of a resolution that calls for ending foreign military presence in the country. The resolution's main aim is to get the U.S. to withdraw some 5,000 U.S. troops present in different parts of Iraq.

The vote comes two days after a U.S. airstrike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani inside Iraq, dramatically increasing regional tensions.

The Iraqi resolution specifically calls for ending an agreement in which Washington sent troops to Iraq more than four years ago to help in the fight against the Islamic State group.

The resolution was backed by most Shiite members of parliament, who hold a majority of seats.

Many Sunni and Kurdish legislators did not show up for the session, apparently because they oppose abolishing the deal.

Global reaction

Britain's foreign minister says it is trying to "de-escalate" a volatile situation after a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Sunday in an interview with broadcaster Sky News that Soleimani "was a regional menace." 

Raab added that the UK understood the U.S.'s "position" and "right to exercise self-defense."

But Raab said the UK was discussing with top officials in the U.S. and Europe, as well as Iran and Iraq, about how to avoid a war, which he said wouldn't be in anyone's interests. Britain's Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said late Saturday that he had ordered two British Navy warships, the HMS Montrose frigate and the HMS Defender destroyer, to return to the Strait of Hormuz amid the soaring regional tensions. 

Pompeo: US is targeting`actual decision-makers'

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday the U.S. strategy in countering Iran is to target the country's "actual decision-makers" rather than to focus on Iranian proxy forces in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Pompeo was explaining U.S. strategy in the aftermath of the U.S. drone strike that killed Iran's most powerful general, Qassem Soleimani, who was mastermind of the country's military operations outside Iran. That killing has sent shock waves across the Middle East, with expectations that Iran will make good on its threat to strike back, with unpredictable consequences for the U.S. and the rest of the world.

Pompeo spoke on ABC's "This Week" amid rising uncertainty about next steps in the U.S.-Iran crisis and the breadth of its ramifications. The U.S. acknowledged an attack Sunday by an al-Qaida affiliate on a Kenyan airfield used by American military forces. It was not immediately clear whether there were U.S. casualties.

In Beirut, Lebanon's Hezbollah chief, Hassan Nasrallah, said the U.S. military in the region, including bases and warships, were fair targets after the killing of Soleimani. Hezbollah is a primary ally of Iran with broad influence. The U.S. has tens of thousands of troops throughout the region, including in Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar — all within range of Iran or its proxy militias. 

Iraq's parliament on Sunday called for the expulsion of U.S. troops from the country in the wake of the attack in Baghdad that killed Soleimani. There are 5,200 American forces in Iraq. At issue is the fate of the agreement under which Washington sent troops to Iraq more than four years ago to help in the fight against the Islamic State group. 

Meantime, the U.S. coalition combating IS in Iraq and Syria announced that it has "paused" training of Iraqi security forces in order to focus on protecting coalition personnel. 

Pompeo strongly criticized the Iran policy of the Obama administration, saying it fruitlessly focused on Iranían proxies rather than on Iran itself.

He said the U.S. had previously sought to "challenge and attack everybody who was running around with an AK-47 or a piece of indirect artillery. We've made a very different approach. We've told the Iranian regime, 'Enough. You can't get away with using proxy forces and think your homeland will be safe and secure.' We're going to respond against the actual decision-makers, the people who are causing this threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran."

In that context, Pompeo said that if the U.S. military were to strike inside Iran, in the event Iran retaliated against America for the Soleimani killing, those strikes would be legal under the laws of armed conflict.

"We'll behave inside the system," Pompeo said. "We always have and we always will."

Pompeo was responding to a question about President Donald Trump's assertion Saturday on Twitter that the United States has 52 Iranian targets in its sights, "some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture."

Targeting cultural sites is a war crime under the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of cultural sites. The U.N. Security Council also passed unanimously a resolution in 2017 condemning the destruction of heritage sites. Attacks by IS and other armed factions in Syria and Iraq prompted that vote.

"Every target that we strike will be a lawful target, and it will be a target designed with a singular mission — defending and protecting America," Pompeo said. He did not explicitly contradict Trump on targeting cultural sites. In insisting that any U.S. attacks will be legal, Pompeo said Trump "was getting to this point" without making it in his tweet Saturday.

Hundreds of thousands mourn Iran general

Hundreds of thousands flooded streets in Tehran Sunday in Iran to walk alongside a casket carrying the remains of a top Iranian general killed in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad, a slaying one Iranian official suggested would see Tehran break further out of its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.

Mourners beat their chests, wept and cried out carrying posters bearing the image of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of its expeditionary Quds Force that organizes Tehran's proxy forces in the wider Mideast. 

The leader of one such proxy, Lebanon's Hezbollah, said Soleimani's killing made U.S. military bases, warships and service members spread across the region fair targets for attacks. Meanwhile, Iraq's parliament voted in favor of a resolution calling for an end of the foreign military presence in their nation, an effort aimed at expelling the 5,000 U.S. troops stationed there over the war against the Islamic State group.

Soleimani's killing Friday escalated the crisis between Tehran and Washington after months of trading attacks and threats that have put the wider Middle East on edge. The conflict is rooted in Trump pulling out of Iran's atomic accord and imposing sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy.

Iran has promised "harsh revenge" for the U.S. attack, which shocked Iranians across all political lines. Many saw Soleimani as a pillar of the Islamic Republic at a moment when it is beset by U.S. sanctions and recent anti-government protests. 

Retaliation for Soleimani could potentially come through the proxy forces which he oversaw as the head of an elite unit within the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. Soleimani's longtime deputy Esmail Ghaani already has taken over as the Quds Force's commander. 

The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia separately warned Americans "of the heightened risk of missile and drone attacks."

Late Saturday, a series of rockets launched in Baghdad fell inside or near the Green Zone, which houses government offices and foreign embassies, including the U.S. Embassy.

Trump wrote on Twitter afterward that the U.S. had already "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."

Trump did not identify the targets but added that they would be "HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD."

The 1954 Hague Convention, of which the U.S. is a party, bars any military from "direct hostilities against cultural property." However, such sites can be targeted if they have been re-purposed and turned into a legitimate "military objective," according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Iran, home to 24 UNESCO World Heritage sites, has in the past reportedly guarded the sprawling tomb complex of the Islamic Republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, with surface-to-air missiles.

After thousands in Baghdad on Saturday mourned Soleimani and others killed in the strike, authorities flew the general's body to the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz. An honor guard stood by early Sunday as mourners carried the flag-draped coffins of Soleimani and other Guard members off the tarmac. 

The caskets then moved slowly through streets choked with mourners wearing black, beating their chests and carrying posters with Soleimani's portrait. Demonstrators also carried red Shiite flags, which traditionally both symbolize the spilled blood of someone unjustly killed and call for their deaths to be avenged.

Officials brought Soleimani's body to Ahvaz, a city that was a focus of fighting during the bloody, 1980-88 war between Iraq and Iran in which the general slowly grew to prominence. After that war, Soleimani joined the Guard's newly formed Quds, or Jersualem, Force, an expeditionary force that works with Iranian proxy forces in countries like Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. 

This marks the first time Iran honored a single man with a multi-city ceremony. Not even Khomeini received such a processional with his death in 1989. Soleimani on Monday will lie in state at Tehran's famed Musalla mosque as the revolutionary leader did before him.

Soleimani was the architect of Iran's regional policy of mobilizing militias across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, including in the war against the Islamic State group. He was also blamed for attacks on U.S. troops and American allies going back decades.

Although it's unclear how or when Iran may respond, any retaliation was likely to come after three days of mourning declared in both Iran and Iraq. 

Iranian officials planned to meet Sunday night to discuss taking a fifth step away from its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, one that could be even greater than planned, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told journalists. 

"In the world of politics, all developments are interconnected," Mousavi said. 

Iran previously has broken limits of its enrichment, its stockpiles and its centrifuges, as well as restarted enrichment at an underground facility.

The Iranian parliament on Sunday opened with lawmakers in unison chanting: "Death to America!" Parliament speaker Ali Larijani compared Soleimani's killing to the 1953 CIA-backed coup that cemented the shah's power and to the U.S. Navy's shootdown of an Iranian passenger plane in 1988 that killed 290 people. He also described American officials as following "the law of the jungle."

Comments