The blowback over the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general mounted Sunday as Iraq's Parliament called for the expulsion of American troops from the country — a move that could allow a resurgence of the Islamic State group.
Lawmakers approved a resolution asking the Iraqi government to end the agreement under which Washington sent forces more than four years ago to help fight IS. The bill is nonbinding and subject to approval by the Iraqi government but has the backing of the outgoing prime minister.
The vote was another sign of the backlash from the U.S. airstrike Friday that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and a number of top Iraqi officials at the Baghdad airport. Soleimani was the architect of Iran's proxy wars across the Mideast and was blamed for the deaths of hundreds of Americans in roadside bombings and other attacks.
Amid threats of vengeance from Iran, the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq said Sunday it is putting the battle against IS militants on hold to focus on protecting its own troops and bases.
In a strong speech before lawmakers in Parliament, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said that after the killing of Soleimani, the government has two choices: End the presence of foreign troops in Iraq or restrict their mission to training Iraqi forces. He called for "urgent measures" to remove foreign forces — including the estimated 5,200 U.S. troops.
Asked shortly before the parliamentary vote whether the U.S. would comply with an Iraqi government request for American troops to leave, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would not answer directly, saying the U.S. was watching the situation.
But the added: "It is the United States that is prepared to help the Iraqi people get what it is they deserve and continue our mission there to take down terrorism from ISIS and others in the region."
Abdul-Mahdi resigned last year in response to the anti-government protests that have engulfed Baghdad and the mostly Shiite southern provinces. Political factions have been unable to agree on a new prime minister, and Abdul-Mahdi continues in a caretaker capacity. Experts said such a government is not legally authorized to sign such a law.
Pentagon officials have said the Iraqi government does not have to give one year's notice to expel American troops, as was required under a previous U.S.-Iraqi agreement.
The death of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in the drone attack has especially drawn the ire of Iraqi officials, who considered the airstrike an infringement of Iraqi sovereignty. Al-Muhandis was deputy commander of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of mostly Shiite paramilitaries folded under the Iraqi military.
American forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011 but returned in 2014 at the invitation of the government to help battle IS after it seized vast areas in the north and west of the country, including Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul. A U.S.-led coalition provided crucial air support as Iraqi forces regrouped and drove IS out in a costly three-year campaign.
A pullout of U.S. troops could could cripple the fight against the Islamic State and allow it to make a comeback. Militants affiliated with IS routinely carry out attacks in northern and western Iraq, hiding out in rugged desert and mountainous areas. Iraqi forces rely on the U.S. for logistics and weapons.
An American withdrawal could also enable Iran to deepen its influence in Iraq, a majority Shiiite country like Iran.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Fox News that the parliamentary vote is "a bit concerning."
"The Iranian government is trying to basically take over Iraq's political system. Iran is bribing Iraqi politicians. To the Iraqi people, do not allow your politicians to turn Iraq into a proxy of Iran," the South Carolina Republican said.
The attack that killed Soleimani has dramatically escalated regional tensions and raised fears of outright war.
Because of the dangers, the U.S.-led military coalition said it it is suspending the training of Iraqi forces and other operations in support of the battle against ISIS.
Also, the leader of Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group vowed to end the U.S. military's presence in the Middle East, saying U.S. bases, warships and soldiers are now fair targets.
"The suicide attackers who forced the Americans to leave from our region in the past are still here and their numbers have increased," Nasrallah said. It was not clear which suicide bombings Nasrallah was referring to. But a 1983 attack on a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killed 241 U.S. servicemen and led President Ronald Reagan to withdraw all American forces from the country.
"When American troops return in coffins, when they come vertically and return horizontally to the United States of America, then Trump and his administration will know that they lost the region and will lose the elections," Nasrallah said.
He added that U.S. civilians in the region should not be targeted because attacking them would play into President Donald Trump's hands.
Nasrallah spoke from an undisclosed location, and his speech was played on large screens for thousands of Shiite followers in southern Beirut, interrupted by chants of "Death to America!" The comments were Nasrallah's first since Soleimani's killing.
The majority of about 180 legislators present in Parliament voted in favor of the troop-removal resolution. It 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.
"The government should work on ending the presence of all foreign forces," Parliament Speaker Mohamed a-Halbousi said after the vote.
Killing Iran's most powerful general — a step Abdul-Mahdi called a "political assassination" — marked a turning point in U.S. Mideast policy by elevating a conflict that had previously been more of a shadow war, and by putting in doubt the Pentagon's ability to keep troops in Iraq.
More broadly, the killing appears to have lessened chances that Trump will achieve the central goal of his "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran: to compel its leaders to negotiate a new, broader nuclear deal.
The administration also faces troubling questions about the legality of the Soleimani killing, its failure to consult Congress in advance, and the prospect of plunging America into a new Mideast war.
Iran's ancient and rich cultural landscape has become a potential U.S. military target as Washington and Tehran lob threats and take high-stakes steps toward a possible open conflict.
President Donald Trump tweeted Saturday evening that if Iran attacks any American assets to avenge the killing of a top Iranian general, the U.S. has 52 targets across the Islamic Republic that "WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD."
Some are "important to Iran & Iranian culture," Trump wrote on Twitter.
That vague comment drew immediate anger across Iran.
"I'm not sure when he says cultural sites, does he for example mean our Persepolis?" said Mehrdad Khadir, a cultural and political analyst in Tehran, referring to the ancient ruins invaded by the Greeks in 330 BC. "Does he want to be seen as the new Alexander (the Great) by Iranians?"
If the U.S. were to directly bomb Iran, it could spark a war and lead to region-wide violence, potentially drawing other countries into a global conflict.
Iran's earliest traces of human history reach as far back as 100,000 BC. Its historic monuments preserve the legacy of a civilization that has kept its Persian identity throughout the tides of foreign conquests, weaving in influences from Turkic, South Asian and Arab cultures, and the footprints of Alexander the Great and later Islam.
"Through MILLENNIA of history, barbarians have come and ravaged our cities, razed our monuments and burnt our libraries," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif tweeted in response Sunday. "Where are they now? We're still here, & standing tall."
Trump's threat also raised questions about the legality of such an attack on heritage of global importance.
Targeting cultural sites is a war crime under the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of cultural sites. The United Nations Security Council also passed unanimously a resolution in 2017 condemning the destruction of heritage sites. Attacks by the Islamic State group and other armed factions in Syria and Iraq prompted that vote.
"I'm really sorry that we are living in a world where the president of the biggest so-called superpower still doesn't know that attacking cultural sites is a war crime," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told journalists in Tehran.
Telecommunications minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi compared Trump's threats to strike cultural sites to the Islamic State group, Adolf Hitler and Genghis Khan, calling the U.S. president a "terrorist in a suit."
Trump's tweet also caused concern in Washington. One U.S. national security official said Trump's threat to target Iranian cultural sites had caught many in his administration off-guard and prompted calls for others in his government, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to clarify the matter. The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly to the issue, called such a clarification necessary to affirm that the U.S. military would not intentionally commit war crimes.
Among Iranians, pride in the country's culture supersedes the divisive and nationalistic fervor whipped up by current politics that has put a chasm between hard-liners in Tehran and the diaspora of Iranians in the West.
Tensions sharply escalated between Washington and Tehran following America's targeted killing early Friday in Iraq of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's powerful Quds Force. The U.S. Defense Department said it killed Soleimani because he was developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in the Middle East.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has vowed "harsh retaliation," calling Soleimani the "international face of resistance" against Western hegemony.
Zarif also wrote on Twitter Sunday that after committing "grave breaches" in killing Soleimani, Trump is now threatening a "WAR CRIME" in targeting cultural sites.
Long before the 1979 Islamic Revolution birthed Iran's Shiite theocracy, the land historically known as Persia was the birthplace of towering Islamic figures like the mystic poet Rumi and the philosopher Abu Hamid al-Ghazali. It's also home to the tombs of great scholars, including Ibn Sina, also known as Avicenna and the father of modern medicine.
Iran is home to two dozen UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Persepolis with its ancient ruins that date back to 518 BC, the 17th century grand mosque of Isfahan located in a teeming bazaar, and the Golestan Palace in the heart of Tehran, where the last shah to rule Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was crowned in 1967.
The country's cultural sites reflect the expanse of Iran's history: Geological and archaeological sites date back several thousand years, while 1,000-year-old sites reflect Iran's contributions to the Golden Age of Islam. In Qom, the Feizeh Religious Science School and a shrine of a Shiite saint, Masoumeh, attract Muslim pilgrims from around the world, reinforcing Iran's preeminent place among Shiite clerics, theologians and scholars.
More recently, though, some of the most iconic cultural sites have come to embody the nation's defiance in the face of the United States. For example, the iconic Azadi Tower, or Freedom Tower, with its famed white marble arch is where hundreds of thousands gather in Tehran each year and chant slogans against the U.S. to mark the anniversary of the 1979 revolution.
On Monday, the famed Musalla mosque in Tehran will be used by mourners to grieve Iran's fallen commander. Soleimani's body will lie in state there before his burial in the city of Kerman on Tuesday.
If culturally prominent sites were targeted, the Trump administration might argue they were being used to covertly stockpile weapons that could target U.S. interests and personnel in the region.
Iran's Revolutionary Guard has in the past deployed HAWK anti-aircraft missiles around the sprawling tomb complex of Ruhollah Khomeini where the Islamic Republic's late supreme leader is buried. The complex was attacked by Islamic State militants in 2017.
Iran said Sunday it would no longer abide by any of the limits of its unraveling 2015 nuclear deal with world powers after a U.S. airstrike killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad, abandoning the accord's key provisions that block Tehran from having enough material to build an atomic weapon.
Iran insisted in a state television broadcast it remained open to negotiations with European partners, who so far have been unable to offer Tehran a way to sell its crude oil abroad despite U.S. sanctions. It also didn't back off of earlier promises that it wouldn't seek a nuclear weapon.
However, the announcement Sunday represents the clearest nuclear proliferation threat yet made by Iran since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in May 2018. It also further raises regional tensions, as Iran's longtime foe Israel has promised never to allow Iran to be able to produce an atomic bomb.
The announcement came Sunday night after another Iranian official said it would consider taking even-harsher steps over the U.S. killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Friday. Hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets Sunday in Iran to walk alongside a casket carrying the remains of Soleimani, the former 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. A former Revolutionary Guard leader suggested the Israeli city of Haifa and "centers" like Tel Aviv could be targeted.
Iran's state TV cited a statement by President Hassan Rouhani's administration saying the country will not observe limitations on its enrichment, the amount of stockpiled enriched uranium as well as research and development in its nuclear activities.
"The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has in a statement announced its fifth and final step in reducing Iran's commitments under the JCPOA," a state TV broadcaster said, using an acronym for the deal. "The Islamic Republic of Iran no longer faces any limitations in operations."
It did not elaborate on what levels it would immediately reach in its program.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations watchdog observing Iran's program, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, Iran said that its cooperation with the IAEA "will continue as before."
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 has 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. 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.
Authorities then took Soleimani's body to the city of Mashhad later Sunday. State TV estimated that a million mourners came out to the Imam Reza shrine to pay their respects, although that number could not be independently verified. Soleimani's remains will go to Tehran and Qom on Monday for public mourning processions, followed by his hometown of Kerman for burial Tuesday.
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.
Mohsen Rezaei, a former leader of the Guard, told a crowd of mourners in Tehran that the Israeli city of Haifa and other "centers" like Tel Aviv could be targeted. Rezaei earlier alleged without offering evidence that Israel leaked information to the U.S. about Soleimani's whereabouts, which allowed them to carry out the drone strike.
"Rest assured we will level to the ground Haifa and Israeli centers so that Israel will be wiped out," he said. "The issue is very serious for the Iranian nation. You hit us and you should get hit. You attacked us and it is the Iranian nation's right."
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."
Rain fell at the shrine in Mashhad late Sunday as an imam delivered a sermon over the coffins of Soleimani and others stood. The crowd surged and shouted as he preached. Mourners threw clothing up to officials accompanying the remains to have the fabric be brushed against the caskets in a belief it would carry God's blessings to them.
Iraq's Parliament called for the expulsion of U.S. troops from the country Sunday in reaction to the American drone attack that killed a top Iranian general.
Lawmakers approved a resolution asking the Iraqi government to end the agreement under which Washington sent forces to Iraq more than four years ago to help in the fight against the Islamic State group.
A pullout of the estimated 5,200 U.S. troops could cripple the fight against ISIS and allow its resurgence.
The majority of about 180 legislators present in Parliament voted in favor of the resolution. It 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.
The daughter of Iran's Gen. Qassem Soleimani says the death of her father will "not break us" and the United States should know that his blood will not go for free.
Zeinab Soleimani told Lebanon's Al-Manar TV — which is linked with the Iran-backed Hezbollah group —that the "filthy" President Donald Trump will not be able to wipe out the achievements of the slain Iranian leader.
In the short interview aired Sunday, Zeinab Soleimani said Trump is not courageous because her father was targeted by missiles from afar and the U.S. president should have "stood face to face in front of him."
The young woman, who spoke in Farsi with Arabic voice over, said that she knows that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah will avenge the death of her father.
The U.S. has warned American citizens in Saudi Arabia "of the heightened risk of missile and drone attacks" amid soaring tensions with Iran.
A security alert message sent Sunday by the U.S. mission there said that in the past "regional actors hostile to Saudi Arabia have conducted missile and drone attacks against both civilian and military targets inside the kingdom."
It warned that U.S. citizens living and working near military bases, oil and gas facilities and other critical civilian infrastructure are at heightened risk of attack, particularly in the Eastern Province where the oil giant Aramco is headquartered and areas near the border with Yemen.
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 U.K. 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.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman says that officials in the Islamic Republic plan to meet Sunday night to discuss their next step out of the nuclear deal and that it will be even bigger than initially planned.
Abbas Mousavi made the comment Sunday during a briefing with journalists after a U.S. airstrike killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Mousavi said the step would be greater than planned as "in the world of politics, all developments are interconnected."
If taken, it would be the fifth step to break terms of Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Mousavi did not elaborate on what that step could be. Iran previously has broken limits of its enrichment, its stockpiles and its centrifuges, as well as restarted enrichment at an underground facility.
Major stock markets in the Middle East are trading down on fears of a conflict between Iran and the U.S. after an American drone strike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
The Boursa Kuwait closed down 4%. The Dubai Financial Market closed down just over 3%. Riyadh's Tadawul was down over 2% as trading continued. The Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange fell 1.42%.
Egypt's stock exchange also fell 4%.
Meanwhile, oil prices continued to rise. Brent crude traded up 3.5% to $68.60 a barrel.
The U.S. killed Soleimani on Friday. Early Sunday, as Iran threatened "harsh retaliation," President Donald Trump tweeted the U.S. was prepared to strike 52 sites in the Islamic Republic if any Americans are harmed.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says President Donald Trump is "worthy of all appreciation" for ordering the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Netanyahu told his Cabinet Sunday that Soleimani "initiated, planned and carried out many terror attacks" in the Middle East and beyond. Israel has long accused Soleimani of being the mastermind of Iran's belligerency in the region.
Netanyahu said Israel stood alongside the United States in its current campaign against Iran.
Netanyahu has been among the strongest voices against Iran's Islamic rulers in recent years. The Israeli leader pushed hard against the nuclear deal Western powers signed with Tehran in 2015 and which Trump later reversed.
The United States killed Soleimani in a drone airstrike at Baghdad's international airport early Friday. The Iranian commander was widely seen as the architect of Tehran's proxy wars in the Middle East.
The deputy leader of Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group says the United States carried out a "very stupid act" by killing Iran's Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Sheikh Naim Kassem made his comments on Sunday after paying a visit to the Iranian embassy in Beirut where he paid condolences. He said the attack will make Tehran and its allies stronger.
Kassem told reporters "now we have more responsibilities" adding that the United States will discover that "its calculations" were wrong.
Heazbollah is a close ally of Iran's and considered part of a regional Iranian-backed alliance of proxy militias.
Iranian officials are criticizing President Donald Trump's threats to target sites important to Iran's culture.
Trump threatened Iranian cultural sites would be hit fast and hard if Tehran attacks U.S. assets to avenge the killing of a powerful Iranian general.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter Sunday that after committing "grave breaches" in the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Trump is threatening new breaches of international law.
Zarif wrote: "Targeting cultural sites is a WAR CRIME."
Telecommunications minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi compared Trump's threats to the Islamic State group, Adolf Hitler and Genghis Khan.
"They all hate cultures. Trump is a 'terrorist in a suit'," Jahromi wrote on Twitter, warning that nobody can defeat Iran.
Iraq's Iran-backed militias say that some remains of the Iranian top general and Iraqi militant leader killed in the U.S. drone strike in Iraq were sent to Iran for DNA tests to identify their corpses.
The Popular Mobilization Forces said in a statement Sunday that the bodies of the two commanders as well as an Iraqi bodyguard were torn to pieces and mangled by the explosion of the American missiles near Baghdad's international airport.
It said the test will take few days after which the remains of the Iraqi commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, will be brought back to Iraq for burial in the holy Shiite city of Najaf.
Al-Muhandis was closely allied with Iran for decades.
Iran has declared three days of public mourning over Gen. Qassem Soleimani's death in the U.S. attack.
The body of a top Iranian commander, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike, has arrived in Iran as the crisis between the two countries escalates.
Throngs of mourners carried Sunday the flag-draped casket of Gen. Qassem Soleimani off a plane in Ahvaz in southwestern Iran.
The U.S. drone strike targeting Soleimani in Iraq Friday also killed a leader of an Iran-backed Iraqi militia, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
President Donald Trump threatened to bomb 52 sites in Iran if it retaliates by attacking Americans.
The tensions take root in Trump pulling out of Iran's nuclear deal with world powers. That accord soon likely will further unravel as Tehran is expected to announce as soon as Sunday another set of atomic limits the country will break.