Donald Trump has said the US airstrike that killed a top Iranian general was designed to prevent a war with Iran – not start one.
The US president claimed Major General Qassem Soleimani had been planning “imminent and sinister attacks on US diplomats and military personnel” before he died in Friday’s drone strike near Baghdad airport.
In an address from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Mr Trump said: “What the US did yesterday should have been done long ago – a lot of lives would have been saved.
“We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.”
Just hours later, Iraqi army sources reported an another airstrike targeting militia forces on the Taji road north of Baghdad which killed at least six people.
Iranian defence minister Amir Hatami threatened “crushing revenge”after news ofSoleimani’s death, while Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said there would be “harsh retaliation”.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani added: “Soleimani’s martyrdom will make Iran more decisive to resist America’s expansionism and to defend our Islamic values.”
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The Pentagon has said Maj Gen Soleimani, 62, “orchestrated” attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the past few months and approved the attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad earlier this week.
Iran’s second most powerful person after the supreme leader, Maj Gen Soleimani headed the overseas arm of the Revolutionary Guards, the Quds Force, and was the spearhead of Iran’s growing military influence in the Middle East.
But Mr Trump declared that Maj Gen Soleimani’s “reign of terror” was over, adding that the general had “made the death of innocent people his sick passion”.
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Mr Trump added: “I’ve deep respect for the Iranian people – they are a remarkable people with an incredible heritage and unlimited potential.
“We do not seek regime change.
“However, the Iranian regime’s aggression in the region, including the use of proxy fighters to destabilise its neighbours, must end and it must end now.
“The future belongs to the people of Iran – those who seek peaceful coexistence and cooperation, not the terrorist warlords who plunder their nation to finance bloodshed abroad.
“The world is a safer place without these monsters.
“America will always pursue the interests of good people, great people, great souls, while seeking peace, harmony and friendship with all of the nations of the world.”
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Mr Trump’s words come hours after the US sent an extra 3,500 troops to the region and, while military sources say this was a long-planned deployment, some of the troops will be based in Iraq.
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The Pentagon said the strike was carried out “at the direction” of President Trump, who tweeted an image of the American flag several hours after vehicles carrying Maj Gen Soleimani were blown up by a drone missile.
It is unclear what legal authority the US relied on to carry out the attack.
However, American presidents claim broad authority to act without congressional approval when US personnel or interests are facing an imminent threat.
The US embassy in Baghdad has urged American citizens to depart Iraq immediately “via airline while possible, and failing that, to other countries via land”.