President Donald Trump following Soleimani Assassination
President Donald Trump following Soleimani Assassination

President Donald Trump has given no indication that the United States will respond militarily to Iran‘s attacks on Iraqi bases hosting US troops, signalling a de-escalation in a major crisis triggered by the US assassination of a top Iranian commander.

Trump said on Wednesday there had been no US casualties and damage was minimal after Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles at the Ain al-Assad airbase in Iraq‘s Anbar province and a facility in Erbil.

Iran had pledged retaliatory attacks against the US for last week’s killing of Qassem Soleimani, the country’s most powerful and revered military leader, whom Washington accused of plotting imminent attacks against US forces in the region.

A Revolutionary Guards commander said Iran would take “harsher revenge soon”, Tasnim news agency reported.

The agency was quoting senior commander Abdollah Araghi, speaking after Trump said on Wednesday that Iran appeared to be “standing down” after the missile strikes that did not harm any US troops in Iraq.

In a separate report, Tasnim quoted the deputy Guards head, Ali Fadavi, as saying Iranian missile attacks on US targets were a display of Iran’s military power and said US forces “couldn’t do a damn thing”.

Iran’s UN envoy dismisses any cooperation amid sanctions

Iran’s ambassador to the UN dismissed as “unbelievable” what he said was Trump‘s call for cooperation given Washington was imposing sanctions on Tehran, Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported.

Majid Takht Ravanchi, in what appeared to be Iran’s first official reaction to Trump’s address after an Iranian missile attack on Iraqi bases housing US troops, was quoted as saying Washington had “initiated a new series of escalation and animosity with Iran” by killing Soleimani.

Soleimani commemoration ceremony in Tehran

A commemoration ceremony to celebrate the life of slain military commander Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was held in Tehran, close to the official residence of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig, reporting from Tehran, said: “Iran is still in a period of religious mourning and these ceremonies usually take place three days after somebody dies, another one after seven days, then after 40 days.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, heads of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and representatives of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group as well as from Iraq‘s political factions were in attendance, Baig reported.

Gulf stocks rise on hopes of easing US-Iran tensions

Gulf stocks rose in early trade, led by markets in Dubai and Kuwait, on optimism that tensions between the United States and Iran may be easing.

The Dubai index and Kuwait index were trading 1.3 percent higher, while the Abu Dhabi index rose 0.8 percent in early trade.

Iran not interested in war, says UN ambassador

Iran’s next move will depend on the actions of the US, Iran’s ambassador to the UN said, while calling for the removal of US forces from the region.

“Iran is not interested in war, Iran is not interested in escalation of tension in the region,” Majid Takht Ravanchi told.

“Increasing the tensions in the region will not be in the interest of anybody, so Iran definitely would like to have peace established in the neighbourhood and the first ingredient for peace in the region is the removal of the forces, the American forces, from our region.”

Asian shares rebound after anxiety eases

Stock markets in Asia rebounded as concerns over a potential war between the US and Iran eased.

Tokyo’s benchmark gained more than 2 percent, while Shanghai, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia markets also advanced.

Investors’ anxiety subsided after it emerged that the missile attack had caused no fatalities and Trump said Iran “appears to be standing down”.

The lack of casualties “gave the markets more confidence that the Iranians had instigated little more than the intention to make a public show of force mainly to save face at home,” said Stephen Innes of AxiTrader in a report.

US to UN: We’ll take more action ‘as necessary’ to protect troops in the Middle East

The US told the United Nations that it is prepared to take additional action “as necessary” in the Middle East to protect US personnel and interests in the region.

In a letter to the UN Security Council, US Ambassador Kelly Craft said the killing of Soleimani in Baghdad on Friday was justified under Article 51 of the UN Charter.

Under Article 51, countries are required to “immediately report” to the 15-member Security Council any measures taken in exercising the right of self-defence. The US used Article 51 to justify taking action in Syria against the ISIL (ISIS) armed group in 2014.

US senators denounce ‘lack of evidence’ to justify killing of Soleimani

Utah Senator Mike Lee, who belongs to Trump’s Republican Party, has questioned the administration’s classified briefing on the killing of Soleimani, calling it “the worst” he has ever attended.

In a press conference in Washington, DC, Lee told reporters that he found it “really upsetting” that Trump’s intelligence officials refused to provide information that led to the president’s decision to order Soleimani’s killing.

Republican Senator Rand Paul said he “did not learn anything from the hearing” that he had not seen in news reports, adding that prospects for diplomacy had diminished because of Trump’s action.

Meanwhile, in an interview with CNN, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said “there was no evidence of an imminent and specific threat” from Soleimani to justify the US’s action.

“That was fairly shocking to us, the lack of evidence. Without that, the president doesn’t have the authority to take military action without coming to Congress first.”

However, most Republicans, who control the Senate, defended Trump’s decision.

PM Morrison says Australia not withdrawing troops from Iraq

Australian troops and personnel will stay in Iraq to continue their mission, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, as tensions eased following an Iranian attack on US forces there.

Speaking to reporters, Morrison added that an Australian naval vessel would travel as planned towards the Strait of Hormuz this week to help protect shipping in the area.

Trump: US imposing new ‘powerful’ sanctions on Iran after attacks

Trump says no US troops hurt in Iran air raids, Tehran ‘appears to be standing down’.

08 Jan 2020 23:27 GMT

US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that Iranian missile strikes on bases in Iraq did not harm any US troops stationed there and damage was minimal, an outcome he said showed Tehran wanted to de-escalate a standoff.

 

Iran “appears to be standing down”, Trump said at the White House amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran over the US killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in Iraq last week.

Trump announced the US would immediately impose new “powerful” sanctions until “Iran changes its behaviour”.

The comments were Trump’s first televised remarks since Iran fired more than a dozen missiles at two Iraqi bases housing US troops. Trump also said there were no Iraqi casualties.

“The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it. American strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent,” Trump said in a speech that struck a noticeably different tone than his tweets following the attack on Soleimani in which he threatened to “fully strike back” if Iran attacked any US citizen or site.

Iran said Wednesday’s attacks against an Iraqi base in Erbil and the Ain al-Asad base in western Iraq were revenge for the killing of Soleimani. It warned the US against retaliating for the strikes.

Pieces of missiles are seen at the rural area of Al-Baghdadi town after Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) targeted Ain al-Asad airbase in Iraq, a facility jointly operated by U.S. and Ir

Pieces of missiles are seen at the rural area of Al-Baghdadi town after Iran targeted Ain al-Asad airbase in Iraq, which hosted US troops [Al-Baghdadi township/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images]

Earlier on Wednesday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei said Iran’s attacks were a “slap on the face” of the US and said US troops should leave the region.

Tehran’s foreign minister said Iran took “proportionate measures” in self-defence and did not seek an escalation.

Under pressure

The fallout for Trump’s order to kill Soleimani had been swift.

Iran vowed harsh revenge. Iraq’s Parliament voted to expel US troops from Iraq, which would undermine efforts to fight ISIL (ISIS) in the region and would strengthen Iran’s influence in the Middle East. And regional and world leaders called for de-escalation

The counterattack by Iran came as Trump and his top advisers were under pressure to disclose more details about the intelligence that led the US president to order the US strike that killed Soleimani. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi), an Iran-backed umbrella organisation comprising several militias, was also killed in last week’s strike.

Top Senate Democrats, citing “deep concern” about the lack of information coming from the Trump administration about the Iran operation, called on Defense Department officials to provide “regular briefings and documents” to Congress. The full Senate and House are expected to receive separate classified briefings later on Wednesday.

Trump and top national security officials have justified the air strike with general statements about the threat posed by Soleimani, who US officials said was planning an “imminent attack”.

But details have been scarce.

Trump on Wednesday said the US will continue to look at options to respond to the attacks, but did not elaborate. He said he will ask NATO “to become much more involved” in the Middle East.

Ukraine does not rule out attack as cause of plane crash in Iran

Canada, which had 63 nationals on board, calls for thorough investigation as Ukraine officials prepare to go to Iran.

08 Jan 2020 18:55 GMT

Authorities in Ukraine are not ruling out that one of the country’s planes, which crashed early on Wednesday in Iran killing all 176 passengers and crew, was brought down by a missile or an attack amid a sharp escalation of tension between Tehran and Washington.

The Ukrainian International airliner bound for the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, plunged from the sky minutes after takeoff from the Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran.

The Boeing 737-800 was last seen on radar at 2,400 metres, according to the FlightRadar 24 monitoring website, hours after Tehran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles at US facilities in neighbouring Iraq.

“We must investigate all possible causes,” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on Facebook, shortly after Iranian officials said the crash was caused by a fire that struck one of the plane’s engines, causing the pilots to lose control.

Zelenskyy has ordered Ukrainian prosecutors to open an investigation into the crash.

Shortly before Zelenskyy’s announcement, Ukraine’s embassy in Iran removed a statement that ruled out the attacks from its website, Ukrainian media reported.

Ukraine Iran plane

Relatives, colleagues, and friends pay their respects to the UIA crew who died when their plane crashed shortly after take off from Tehran on its way to Kyiv [Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA]

The Ukrainian UNIAN news agency quoted the Jordanian Al Hadath news outlet as claiming that the plane had been shot down by Iranian air force by mistake.

“Until the official investigation is over, naming any version would be manipulation,” Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk told a news conference in response to a question about the possibility of a missile or attack on the plane.

Canada offers expertise

He said a group of experts were heading to Iran to investigate the crash, collect victims’ remains and return them to Ukraine.

“We’re getting the group ready for departure,” he said.

According to international agreements, Ukraine can participate in the investigation as the state of registry and operator.

Most of the passengers on  board the plane were from Iran, but there were also 63 Canadian nationals, and 138 of those on board had onward connections to Canada. The Tehran-Toronto route via Kyiv route was  popular with Canadians of Iranian descent

The country’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada, which broke off diplomatic relations with Iran in 2012, should play a significant role in any investigation into the crash.

“Canada is one of a handful of countries with a high degree of expertise when it comes to these sorts of accidents and therefore we have much to contribute,” Trudeau said.

“I am confident that in our engagement both through our allies and directly, we are going to make sure that we are a substantive contributor to this investigation,” he told a news conference in Ottawa, adding that the foreign minister of Canada would talk to his Iranian counterpart to underline the need for a “thorough investigation.” It was “dangerous to speculate” on the possible causes so early in the investigation, he added.

Iranian officials said the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, known as “black boxes,” which will be crucial to establishing the cause of the crash, had been found.

“The rumours about the plane are completely false and no military or political expert has confirmed it,” General Abolfazl Shekarchi, spokesman for the Iranian armed forces, was quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency as saying. He said the speculation was “psychological warfare” by the government’s opponents.

Under international rules, responsibility for investigating the crash lies with Iran. Ali Abedzadeh, head of the Iran Civil Aviation Organization, earlier said that Tehran would not hand over to the US or Boeing the recovered black boxes.

Ukraine International airline said the three-year-old plane underwent a maintenance check on Monday and no technical problems has been identified.

“It was one of our best airplanes with a great, reliable crew,” the company’s CEO Yevhen Dykhne told a news conference in Kyiv through tears.

Challenging airport conditions

His colleague said that flight conditions at Tehran’s airport were complicated.

“Knowing that the Tehran airport is not an easy one, our flight training for all crews on [Boeing] 737s were held exclusively at the Tehran airport,” Ihor Sosnovsky, the airline’s vice president, told reporters.

Considering that the plane was 2,400 metres above ground before it disappeared off radar, crew error “was unlikely”, Dykhne said.

Ukraine plane

One of the engines from the crashed plane lies among the wreckage outside Tehran. [Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA]

He refused to comment on whether the plane was shot down by a missile.

In Washington, a Democrat who attended a classified briefing from Trump administration officials on Capitol Hill – including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and CIA Director Gina Haspel – said the briefers had no intelligence indicating the plane was shot down. The lawmaker spoke on condition of anonymity.

Five security sources – three Americans, one European and one Canadian – who asked not to be named, told Reuters the initial assessment of Western intelligence agencies was that the plane had suffered a technical malfunction and had not been brought down by a missile. There was evidence one of the jet’s engines had overheated, the Canadian source said

US aircraft surveillance firm Aireon said it would be sharing position data from the jet with appropriate authorities. The company’s satellite-based global tracking system provides more detailed information than is available on commercial websites like FlightRadar24

Chief pilot Volodymir Haponenko had flown more than 10,000 hours during hundreds of flights, UIA said.

“Aviation was his life, he was a great pilot,” his widow Yekaterina Haponenko, a mother of two, said in televised remarks.

Eleven Ukrainian nationals, including nine crew, were among the victims, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said.

As well as the 82 Iranians and 63 Canadians, there were 10 passengers from Sweden, four from Afghanistan, three Germans and three Britons.

Officials in Tehran said 147 of the victims were Iranian, which suggests many had dual citizenship.

Boeing’s 737-800 planes will face renewed international scrutiny after the crash.

In December, Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg was removed after one of the company’s most disastrous years. Two 737 Max planes crashed in 2018, and all Max planes worldwide have been grounded.

 

 

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