Washington, 4 January 2020 (dpa/MIA) – US President Donald Trump on Friday defended his decision to order the killing of a top Iranian general in an airstrike in Baghdad, saying he had taken action “to stop a war.”
“We took action to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war,” Trump said at a press conference in Florida.
“We do not seek regime change in Iran,” Trump said, but added that the US had tabs on its enemies and that he was “prepared to take any action that’s necessary,” in particular regarding Iran.
The US airstrike killed Qassem Soleimani, the powerful commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, the deputy head of Iraq’s Hashd al-Shaabi militia, in a move that sharply escalated tensions across the region.
Some 24 hours later, another airstrike targeted a medical convoy affiliated with the Hashd Shaabi in Taji area, north of Baghdad, the militia said early Saturday, denying that senior members of the group were targeted in the latest attack.
It was not clear who carried out the strike.
Soleimani was considered one of Iran’s most powerful military leaders, wielding influence in Iraq, Syria and other areas of the Middle East where Iran has a foothold.
“He was plotting attacks against Americans but now we’ve ensured his atrocities have been stopped for good,” Trump told evangelical supporters later on Friday at a campaign event in a Miami megachurch.
“His bloody rampage is now forever gone,” Trump said, adding that Soleimani had killed “thousands and thousands” of people.
The US president also said his administration was committed to “peace and harmony.”
Trump has sought to reverse the diplomatic overtures reached between his predecessor, Barack Obama, and the Iranian regime.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have escalated since Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and reinstated US sanctions in what his administration calls a “maximum pressure campaign.”
Tehran vowed revenge after the attack, with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei threatening the US with “harsh retaliation.”
Iran’s Security Council called the attack the US’ “biggest strategy mistake in the region” in a statement after an emergency meeting.
Iran’s revenge will take place “at the appropriate time and place,” it added, without giving further details on what it was planning.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo phoned his counterparts in several countries on Friday to stress Washington’s “commitment to de-escalation,” including Britain, Germany, Russia and China.
Lawmakers in Washington were divided on the US airstrike, with some Republicans praising Trump while some Democrats questioned the legality and consequences of the attack.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, urged Democrats to withhold judgement until the administration had briefed them.
“The architect and chief engineer for the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism has been removed from the battlefield at the hand of the United States military,” McConnell told the Senate.
The Democratic Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, said that while “no one should shed a tear” over Soleimani’s death, the administration should have consulted Congress.
“When the security of the nation is at stake, decisions should not be made in a vacuum,” Schumer said, adding that, in his view, the president does not have the authority for a war with Iran.
Trump would need congressional approval for a large increase in troops, he added.
The US is deploying additional troops from the Immediate Response Force of the from the 82nd Airborne Division to the Middle East, the Pentagon confirmed.
“The brigade will deploy to Kuwait as an appropriate and precautionary action in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities,” a spokesperson from the Department of Defense said.
Around 3,000 additional troops were being deployed, joining 750 troops from the same unit sent to the region after protesters attacked the US embassy in Baghdad, broadcaster CNN reported, citing US defence officials.
There are currently around 5,000 US soldiers stationed in Iraq, with thousands more in other countries in the region, such as Bahrain.