Iran-US: coalition scales back Iraq operations for security reasons

2020-01-04 12:27
Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani and US President Donald Trump

Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani and US President Donald Trump (Michael Gruber, Getty Images; Olivier Douliery-Poo)

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US-led forces helping Iraqi troops fight jihadists have scaled back operations, a US defence official told AFP Saturday, a day after an American strike killed top Iranian and Iraqi commanders.

"Our first priority is protecting coalition personnel," the official said, saying the US-led force had "limited" their training and other anti-jihadist operations.

"It's not a halt," the source said, adding: "We have increased security and defensive measures at Iraqi bases that host coalition troops."

The official said the change came after a series of rocket attacks by pro-Iran factions on US troops in recent months.

Surveillance efforts were now focused on potential new attacks instead of the Islamic State group.

The rocket attacks, which killed one American contractor last month, have stoked fears of a proxy war between the United States and Iran on Iraqi soil.

Those worries skyrocketed Friday after a US strike in Baghdad killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Quds Force foreign operations arm.

The strike also killed the deputy head of Iraq's Hashed al-Shaabi, a network of mostly Shiite factions close to Iran and incorporated into the Baghdad government's security forces.

On Saturday, the Hashed said a new strike had hit a convoy of their forces north of the capital, with Iraqi state media blaming the United States.

But the spokesman for the US-led coalition denied it.

"There was no American or coalition strike," Myles Caggins told AFP.

Commander to be buried Tuesday

Soleimani will be laid to rest Tuesday in his hometown of Kerman as part of three days of ceremonies across the country, the Revolutionary Guards said.

The US military killed Soleimani in an air strike outside Baghdad international airport that shocked the Islamic republic and sparked fears of a new war in the Middle East.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps confirmed the commander of its Quds Force foreign operations arm had been killed on Friday by US forces in an air strike on Baghdad international airport.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei swiftly promised "severe revenge" and declared three days of mourning.

Soleimani's body was expected to arrive in Tehran on Saturday night before being taken to the Shiite holy city of Mashhad the next day for a ceremony to be held next to Imam Reza's shrine, a statement posted on the Guards website late Friday said.

"A ceremony will next be held in Tehran on Monday morning, and then the pure body of this soldier of the people and the nation will be buried in Kerman on Tuesday morning," it added.

A group of students also announced they would hold a vigil for Soleimani at Tehran University on Saturday before going to Tehran's Mehrabad airport for the arrival of his remains.

The general, who died aged 62, was one of Iran's most popular public figures.

After serving in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, Soleimani quickly rose through the ranks of the Guards to become commander of the Quds Force.

In recent years he became an unlikely celebrity in Iran and had a huge following on Instagram.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Tehran and other cities across Iran on Friday to protest the US attack.

Khamenei and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani paid separate visits to Soleimani's family at their home on Friday to offer them their condolences over his death.

Read more on:    donald trump  |  qasem soleimani  |  iran  |  iraq  |  us
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