01/04/2020, 08.00
IRAQ - IRAN - US
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Gen. Soleimaini's funeral in Baghdad. His deputy is new leader of Qods force

Khamenei promises a "harsh revenge" and appoints Esmail Qaani to lead the militia.  Zarif speaks of an "act of international terrorism".  Trump defends operation and sends an additional 3,500 troops to the area.  Tens of thousands on the streets in Tehran promise to avenge the murder.  Concern among international chancelleries.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - The funeral of the powerful Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, head of the Iranian special forces Qods, and Iraqi Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, leader of the PMU (Iraqi People's Mobilization Forces) were held in Baghdad this morning. 

Both were killed on Friday night during a raid by missiles and drones launched by the United States near the international airport of the Iraqi capital, where the convoy of cars with the two senior military men was traveling.  At least five people died in the operation, which sparked a fierce protest in the Islamic Republic, serious concern among international chancelleries and satisfaction along the Washington-Tel Aviv-Riyadh axis.

In a note published on social networks, the PMUs report that the funeral of both were held at 10 local time.  The "official" funeral, explains the statement, was followed by a "popular" function at the entrance of the Green Zone in Baghdad.  The leaders of the pro-Iranian Shiite militias have invited "all Iraqis" to participate.

Meanwhile, yesterday, tens of thousands of Iranians poured into the streets and squares of Tehran and other cities, denouncing what they call American crime and chanting slogans and songs including "Death to America".  Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the attack an "act of international terrorism", which sparked the immediate reaction of the markets with the price of oil rising by 4% in just a few hours.

According to some unconfirmed sources, Israel provided the coordinates for the attack to its US ally and thus completed a mission scheduled for some time.

The military operation threatens to further escalate between Washington and Tehran, with the risk of open conflict.  The two nations, which have no diplomatic relations, are already the protagonists of proxy wars from Syria to Iraq, up to Yemen.  The unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the nuclear deal (JCPOA) combined with the policy of maximum pressure with sanctions and the recent assault of pro-Tehran militias at the US embassy in Baghdad have accelerated the crisis.

Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei has promised "harsh vengeance" in response to the killing of Soleimani, which will double "resistance" against the United States and Israel.  The great ayatollah will lead a funeral ceremony tomorrow, to commemorate the general.  In the meantime, the country's top religious office has appointed Esmail Qaani, so far number two of the Qods Forces, to lead paramilitary training.

 On the US front, a few hours later, US President Donald Trump - who has ordered the sending of 3,500 more troops to the Middle East region in these hours - defended the operation stressing that "we should taken him out [Qasem Soleimani] years ago".  Speaking from  his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida, Trump added that Soleimani "is responsible for the death of thousands of Americans" and "was planning to kill many more.  We didn't let him ... ".

Instead, the divisions remain on the international scene, with Russia calling the attack a "murder" and a "crazy step" taken by the United States.  The pro-Shiite Lebanese group Hezbollah is calling for revenge, while Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi condemns a "murder" which threatens to trigger a "dangerous escalation" in the region.  Tomorrow the Iraqi Parliament will meet in extraordinary session to discuss the issue.

On the diplomatic front, a spokesman for the UN secretary general Antonio Guterres says that the world "cannot stand" another war in the Gulf.  For Israel, however, the United States exercised the "right" of defense;  Interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump's action by calling it "swift, strong and resolute".  Meanwhile, in the country, the alert is at the highest levels and the emergency cabinet met yesterday to discuss the measures to be taken in the coming days.

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